Archive for the ‘Federal Politics’ Category

With thanks to Rona Ambrose.

Thursday, May 25th, 2017

Rona Ambrose M.P. is cleaning out her desk. With a new leader to be chosen this weekend, Ms. Ambrose is packing it in and going home to Alberta. It is a smart move for her at the right time.

And Canadians owe her special thanks for the job she did as interim leader of the Conservative Party of Canada. She took on a dispirited and unruly caucus in Ottawa after the last election. Rona created some order and made sure the job of official opposition was fulfilled. She did it well. She did it with style. She had us almost forgetting the arrogance of Stephen Harper.

Rona Ambrose brought humanity and decency to the job. She did it by giving no quarter to the Liberal government. She was tough when she needed to be tough. She was understanding when she needed to be understanding. She was not there to obstruct but to give thoughtful opposition.

It hardly helped that Rona had to do the job while the Conservative Party was running a 14-ring circus of a leadership contest across the country. That was tough competition for public attention. And the race was opening new and sometimes unintended pathways to impoverished policies.

The confusion caused by the structured voting method chosen by the party, left Rona and the caucus with no idea as to who will wear the leadership ring next week. She will have no ownership of the outcome.

But Rona Ambrose will be missed. Somehow, we sense with her that once a politician, always a politician. Maybe this new amalgamated Conservative party in Alberta will need her. Maybe the Prime Minister has a worthy appointment in mind. Rona Ambrose is an outstanding Canadian.


Copyright 2017 © Peter Lowry

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The infrastructure bank argument.

Wednesday, May 24th, 2017

As a general rule, it seems useless to respond to e-mails from readers that are longer than the original commentary. It also seems useless to try to correct someone’s misconceptions on the subject. Besides, if federal finance minister Bill Morneau is not interested in better explaining his new infrastructure bank to Canadians, why should others feel responsible?

The recent Babel-on-the-Bay commentary on the infrastructure bank drew such a long and obviously annoyed comment from a Nova Scotia reader that it needs an answer.

First, the reader seems to have confused infrastructure funding with public-private partnerships. While an infrastructure bank might decide to support a P-3 project, it handles it as a business case. The deal has to produce a revenue stream that can repay the bank’s investment.

Canada is a particularly attractive place for safe and secure investment today and the infrastructure bank would just be one more investment opportunity. It will attract both Canadian and foreign investment.

The infrastructure bank will be no “give away.” The larger the funds the bank gathers from investors, the larger the projects it will be able to fund for Canada. There might be people who think we should only spend money that we have and not use debt financing but you can also make a very strong case for what infrastructure can earn.

It is definitely not “running up our credit cards.” It has taken more than 40 years for Ontario to get started on inter-city high-speed trains. The availability of funds from the infrastructure bank might just break through some of the political inertia in this country.

It might have been in the heat of the moment that the reader suggested that your writer was not very bright to be promoting something that he considered to just be a give-away to the private sector. Having been chair of the federal government’s very thorough study of the potential for public-private partnerships back in the middle of the 1980s, this writer does know a bit about the subject.


Copyright 2017 © Peter Lowry

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Why progressive elites are losing.

Tuesday, May 23rd, 2017

The disappointment progressives have felt with the New Democratic Party over the last couple decades has been something we have argued about but maybe not understood as well as we should. Maybe Robin V. Sears of the NDP put his finger on it the other day when complaining in print about the ease with which Donald Trump took much of the angry underclass away from the Democrats in the American’s 2016 presidential campaign. Donald Trump caught all of us progressive pundits with our pants down.

In Canada, we were still wondering why it was that NDP leader Thomas Mulcair blew away a sizeable lead towards winning the 2015 federal election. He could not even hold on to the seats in his own province brought to his party by former NDP leader Jack Layton.

But when the biggest policy argument of the NDP convention that fired Mulcair was the shallowness of the LEAP Manifesto, we should have twigged to what was wrong. This is a party that is out of touch with the people about whom it is supposed to care. It is a party dominated by unions that hardly know how to serve their own members.

What academics explain as the anger of the white working class is supposedly caused by the job losses to automation and the corporate ability to move production to lowest-wage jurisdictions. Add to that the realization that all politicians lie to them and that nobody can solve global warming and you can see how the frustration is building.

When stressed, voters turn to extremes. In America, we saw the accident of Trump. In Europe, we saw Brexit and the close call with Marine Le Pen. Canada picked the untried and unproven Justin Trudeau.

What the public is looking for are politicians that put principals ahead of promises. That is the lesson that at least Mulcair learned in the last federal election. Who was going to believe a socialist who promised a balanced budget? And where was the decency in arguing about Niqabs?

In the American tragedy of their last election, voters saw what anger, lies and distrust can produce. The only politician who came out of that horrendous selection process with honour was an aging democratic socialist by the name of Bernie Sanders. We should all take a page from his book.


Copyright 2017 © Peter Lowry

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On the road to mediocrity.

Thursday, May 18th, 2017

Do you know who will be the new leader of the Conservative Party of Canada on May 27? With a third of the votes already in and more trickling in every day, it is a very frustrating guessing game to determine who will win. The problem you are facing is that the people who preferred the losers are choosing the winner. It seems as though the party contest is designed to choose the mediocre.

If you are a CPC member you can vote for one of 14 candidates—even for one who has already withdrawn from the race. Never fear though, on the second series of voting, withdrawn candidates as well as the one with the fewest votes will have their second choices credited with the vote.

There are a number of candidates who will also have their votes quickly lost and their second choices will earn the support. If a voter’s second choice is dropped, their third choice will be credited with the vote. It is something like the spiral that develops around a drain. This system will continue until we have someone with more votes than everyone else combined.

But, hold fast, there is another factor to consider. Not all votes in this system are created equal. The simple way to explain this is that if there are 300 members voting in an electoral district, each membership will be worth 33.3 per cent of a vote. If there are only 50 members, each vote will be worth 200 percent of a vote. It is mind boggling. The weakest electoral districts will have more say per member than the strongest. Does that seem backward to you?

But this is how our Conservatives are choosing their new leader. If you know a Conservative Party member, you might send them a sympathy card.


Copyright 2017 © Peter Lowry

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The poster boy and the NDP.

Wednesday, May 17th, 2017

Charlie Angus meet Jagmeet Singh. No doubt Charlie Angus MP, candidate for the New Democratic Party leadership has met Jagmeet Singh MPP, the newest candidate for the NDP leadership, before, but not likely as a competitor. The only surprise about this meeting is that both these gentlemen are in the same political party.

What is also obvious is that the 38-year old turbaned Sikh is in the wrong party. This is also the problem he has as deputy leader of the Ontario NDP and it will follow him into the leadership race for the federal party. Jagmeet Singh is not a union man. He seems to have had little or no experience with unions. With the ongoing role of unions in the NDP, that could be a liability.

That lack of understanding of the New Democrats and their socialist past by Jagmeet Singh has been obvious for some time. All you have to do is read back through the bills he has presented to the Ontario Legislature during his six years there representing Bramalea-Gore-Malton. You will see a person who is concerned with individual rights more than the collective rights of unions. Jagmeet Singh would probably be comfortable in a more progressive Liberal Party.

It is easier for a guy like Charlie Angus to deal with the problems that the unions present. He stood up to his Catholic church on the question of same-sex marriage and he is used to the rough and tumble of Northern Ontario union activists.

But the double problem for Ontario is that the union movement has been losing ground as well as seeing some key unions (temporarily, maybe) shifting over to support the Liberals. The New Democrats have not handled these problems well and both federal and provincial parties have been losing in the polls. Thomas Mulcair federally and Andrea Horwath provincially have been feeling the shifting ground that they stand on and you could see in recent elections the problems they faced in trying to tell us where their party is going.

While Jagmeet might already have the notoriety as one of the best dressed New Democrats or Sikhs in Canada, most interest will be in what he will say in the leadership about where the NDP is headed. This is a party that is desperately in need of some direction—and the contestants so far, Ashton, Angus, Caron and Julian, have come across as an anemic barbershop quartet.


Copyright 2017 © Peter Lowry

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Infrastructure bank belongs in Toronto.

Tuesday, May 16th, 2017

The good news is that Canada’s new infrastructure bank will be in operation by the end of this year. Despite the complaints of other centres, Toronto is the city where it belongs. The bank will be launched with $35 billion in capital from the federal government and will seek Canadian and foreign investors looking for productive investments in Canadian infrastructure needs.

And that makes a great deal of economic sense. Any objections to it being in Toronto are nothing but sour grapes. And any objections some have to where the government is getting advice are way off base.

It was no surprise that the Chamber of Commerce in Montreal was disappointed the bank was not located there. If the bank was set up to just fund infrastructure projects in Quebec, that would make a lot of sense but since the project covers the entire country, Toronto is the truly international financial centre for it.

And for the Conservative opposition in Ottawa to complain about the influence the world’s largest investment management firm telling the government what is needed is silly. If you want to attract investment capital, who would you want to talk to, a tiddly-winks manufacturer or an organization that already does large capital investment.

An infrastructure bank such as is proposed has to have people who can talk to investors in all parts of the world. It has to attract some of their capital to Canada where it can help meet infrastructure needs. It has to create the kind of revenue streams that will interest these investors. If you are going to invest in electrifying the commuter trains in southern Ontario, you want to be sure that your money will produce a reliable return.

The good news is that people do want to invest in Canada. It is no surprise that a Spanish consortium bought Ontario’s Highway 407, an electronic toll road that constantly earns money for their investors. Drivers have a choice, they can pay the toll and drive relatively quickly across the top of Toronto. They can refuse to pay the toll and sit in grid lock.

Commuter trains, subways, light rail tramways, bus tramways and streetcars all deal in funds for use. We can wait for your taxes to pay for these services or we can have them sooner with the aid of a properly functioning infrastructure bank. What is your choice.


Copyright 2017 © Peter Lowry

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Taking back our civil rights.

Thursday, May 11th, 2017

You hate to have to remind our Liberal government in Ottawa that one of the basic tenets of liberalism is human rights. It is as though the cabinet members get elected and then forget what party supported their election. It is even worse when the Liberals on the parliamentary committee on public safety have to remind the minister to do his job.

And if we have to trample over conservative Ralph Goodale, minister of public safety, so be it. The Saskatchewan Liberal(?) is noted for his ability to obfuscate on any topic but this is a topic in need of real action.

The Conservative government of Stephen Harper challenged our civil rights when it passed what is known as Bill C-51—the purported anti-terror law. Under the guise of protecting our citizens, the Conservatives trampled on numerous rights of individuals in our society.

It has long been the fashion of fascists to say they are taking away your freedoms to protect your freedoms. That seems like a good way to end up with no freedoms at all.

The smart way to go would be to refute everything in Harper’s Bill C-51 and start over. Mind you, one cannot disagree with the parliamentary committee’s request for drastic changes to the act. And they had a long list of them.

The recommendations ranged from a specific agency to oversee the Canada Border Agency to a combination of groups overseeing our security agencies.

But rather than discuss the specifics of the committee’s report, we need to look at the principles involved. The committee’s tendency was to refer individual rights to the courts to decide between infringement of rights and the protection of society. This is not in line with liberal principles.

Frankly, it makes no sense to put up barriers to the freedoms of our society because an occasional crazed individual runs amok and hurts someone. You are in more danger of being run over trying to cross the road ahead of an inattentive driver. And when you see people lined up with their shoes in hand to be searched before boarding an airplane we seem to have reached the zenith of our own stupidity.

The objective of terrorists is to spread fear. Why should we want to cooperate with them?


Copyright 2017 © Peter Lowry

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Conrad Black on Donald Trump.

Tuesday, May 9th, 2017

“He knows what he wants,” was the message by Conrad Black to a parliamentary committee examining the current situation on trade relations with the United States. The former Canadian and now an ex-convict and Lord Cross-the-Pond or some such title, was telling the committee about his friend Donald Trump who is currently President of the United States. He said “We are not dealing with a monster here. We are dealing with a reasonable person.”

In thinking about that claim of reasonableness, we need to consider who is making the claim. Since his childhood in Toronto, Conrad Black has been swathed in a context of entitlement. It was the same for a young Donald Trump growing up in New York City. Donald Trump devoted his learning to the horse-trading skills of the confidence man in the development business. Along the way, he tried various routes to gaining excessive wealth. He won some gambles and he lost others. He also pulled off some elaborate development schemes and made money.

In some ways, it was the same for Conrad Black. From the foot-hold he gained in Argus Corporation and its anchor Massey Ferguson, he fashioned a business empire that he then converted to a publishing empire. He raced against the clock building his media empire as the news business fell away behind him.

But for the vagaries of American justice and the time he spent in incarceration for fraud and obstruction of justice, Black would today be enjoying the perks of the British House of Lords. Instead, a non-citizen, he is sequestered in his ‘modest’ retirement home among the multi-millionaires’ mansions on Toronto’s Bridal Path.

But one must still put on the right attitude and do one’s bit for Queen and non-country. Conrad was pleased to share his knowledge of his friend Donald Trump with the Canadian parliamentarians.

He explained that in his business dealings with Trump, the man proved quite consistent in the positions he “ultimately takes.” One gets the impression from Black that Trump can take you on a rather violent roller coaster ride before you find out what he really wants.

Black assured the politicians that any suggestion of Trump being angry with Canada were overblown. He suggested that the current slamming of Canada’s supply management and the tariffs on soft-wood lumber were just Trump’s way of getting our attention.

It seems to work.


Copyright 2017 © Peter Lowry

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In the Senate: “Some are more equal.”

Thursday, May 4th, 2017

In George Orwell’s Animal Farm we were told that some animals are more equal than others. This makes it an appropriate analogy for the institution in Canada known as the senate. The senate was created 150 years ago as a chamber of sober second thought to rein in any excesses of the citizens elected to the house of commons.

But nobody ever thought about the possible excesses of the citizens selected to serve in the senate. Can the senate write its own rules as to who is fit to serve in the institution? Are some animals more equal than others?

And it is not just today’s controversial senator. The senate has had its rogues going back more than 100 years. When you give people carte blanche, you often get individuals who want to steal the carte! Greed and avarice are not just conditions of those deprived in life.

Are all senators pure of heart? What is the point of being a senator if what the senate really represents is entitlement? Whether it is creature comforts in the perks or sexual gratification, some will always go further than others in fulfilling needs.

And are we going to allow the senators to police themselves? When the power of appointment rests solely with the prime minister, how can the senate bar a member? The senator serves to age 75. There is no mechanism nor custom other than a failure to attend for a period of time to remove a senator from office. They are all honourable persons.

The only answer is to amend Canada’s constitution. The writer once discussed that with the prime minister and was surprised at the vehemence with which that option was rejected. As a child, Justin Trudeau saw his father struggling with the constitutional conundrum of Canada. He wants no part of dealing with the constitution.

It must be part of the reason the prime minister gave up on his promise to change how Canada votes. While the act of voting is one change that can escape our constitutional straightjacket, it would take constitutional change in how parliament functions to then make a voting change work effectively.

Constitutional change must happen eventually. With the imbalance of Canada’s provinces, the commitments to provincial rights and outdated religious school commitments, our constitution has to be rescued from the 19th Century. The world keeps changing and Canada has to have a government that can deal with the issues of the times.

In these times, only an elected constitutional conference to find a new framework, can be considered. Even then, all citizens should have a say on what is implemented.


Copyright 2017 © Peter Lowry

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Speechwriters and old soldiers never die.

Wednesday, May 3rd, 2017

This writer would have serious doubts taking on writing speeches for an old soldier such as Canada’s defence minister Harjit Sajjan. There are a series of problems involved, not the least of them being the mistake of trying to present an apolitical Sikh in the guise of a politician. There is no fit.

The first mistake most people make when a decorated military veteran is appointed defence minister is to assume he knows his job. No, he does not. It is a political job and, as it turns out, Sajjan is not all that political. His political career is at the mercy of the political people working for him.

Not the least of these political flunkies would be the speechwriters who have their own way of doing things. They would hardly be likely to have any understanding of the cultural divide faced by Canadian Sikhs. While conceit is considered one of the hated five thieves of their religion, Sikhs take considerable pride in their military history. And like many other sects, their oral history can be enriched with hyperbole.

But what Sajjan saw in politics was the day-in-day-out glossing over the facts. He saw how people would keep their more positive stories in the forefront and bury the less savoury. And we need to face the fact that to Sikhs, he was not just part of Operation Medusa in Afghanistan but the highest-ranking Sikh playing a key role. To a Sikh, the claim of his being an architect in the operation, became being the architect. He knew this was an exaggeration but was convinced that this is how it is done in politics.

So you have the combination of misconceptions about politics. First by the inexperience in politics of Sajjan and then by the misconceptions of speechwriters. And when you have speechwriters who might not understand the military chain of command in battlefield operations, you have the combination that caused the problems.

We should remember though that as soon as he was called on this as being inaccurate, Sajjan apologized. He made no pretense nor did he take the usual political defense of stonewalling the complaint.

As are more than a few of Sajjan’s cabinet colleagues, he is a neophyte in this field. To be fair, we need to cut him some slack. He should have had an easier introduction to politics and learned to be a politician in a different parliamentary job. He might become Canada’s first veteran to get PTSD in the House of Commons.


Copyright 2017 © Peter Lowry

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