Archive for the ‘Federal Politics’ Category

Ralph Goodale: The Great Obfuscator.

Tuesday, February 28th, 2017

One of the secrets of individual longevity in politics in Saskatchewan is that nobody in the province can tell a Conservative from a Liberal. This came to mind last weekend watching Global Television’s program The West Block. The new program host, Vassy Kapelos, asked Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale a couple questions and virtually turned the program over to him.

With more than 40 years in both federal and provincial politics, veteran Ralph Goodale is never at a loss for something to say. In fact, he is about the most boring politician in Canada.

What Vassy got was vintage Goodale. A question to him is an opportunity to take off on a flight of fancy. The only appreciation you can attain from the experience of listening is that you are thankful when he finishes. At one point Vassy looked like she was falling asleep. And he never really answered one of her questions.

When Prime Minister Trudeau first appointed Goodale, John McCallum and Stéphane Dion as the greybeard triumvirate of his cabinet, you could assume that the newbies in the cabinet would gain from the experience but have few chances to speak.

John McCallum will be forever known as the Canadian Minister of National Defence who was not aware of the role of Canada in the Dieppe Raid during the Second World War. To be fair though, he earned approbation for the fine job he did as Immigration Minister in the early Justin Trudeau cabinet on the Syrian refugee file. He might have crossed swords with Trudeau though when he urged restraint on higher numbers of refugees in the following year.

But for whatever reason, Minister McCallum has gone on to his reward as Ambassador to China.

It was not as easy to dump Foreign Minister Stéphane Dion. A cerebral friend of the environment, Dion might not have been the most willing of the cabinet to go along with Trudeau’s decision to approve the Kinder-Morgan pipeline expansion in B.C. Dion might have seen the various environmental trade-offs by Trudeau as betrayal.

Dion created an interesting problem for Trudeau when he at first turned up his nose at taking the ambassadorial role offered in Europe. Yet, who could resist the challenge of being ambassador to both Germany and the European Union simultaneously? Mind you, the German elections coming up later this year could end the German dominance of the EU and that would make the job more difficult.

And this is why Ralph Goodale’s role in cabinet has become more important. As the last guru and greybeard, right-wing influence and obfuscator, we will likely be seeing more of Goodale than we really want to.


Copyright 2017 © Peter Lowry

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Of politicians and sleeping dogs.

Wednesday, February 22nd, 2017

It is hard to believe that anyone would want former Prime Minister Brian Mulroney to be brought out of retirement—even just to sing an Irish ballad! And for those of us who have always considered Mulroney the epitome of sleaze in Canadian politics, he should be right at home in the loving arms of his good friend Donald Trump.

Brian Mulroney has been constantly surprised throughout his life at how much he could achieve. The achievements were helped by a somewhat serious lack of scruples. From that time, in the early 1980s when he brought down his ‘friend’ Joe Clark, Mulroney built his dreams on the backs of those he climbed over to get to the top. When he finally read the portends and got out before the election debacle of 1993, he was the most reviled prime minister in Canadian history.

It is not that Brian Mulroney is not a pleasant person. If you are of any importance at all, he will cozy up to you. All he wants to know is what you can do for him. He was close pals with U.S. President Ronald Regan but nobody knows just how far Regan was lost to Alzheimer’s at the time.

He has been buddies with Donald Trump for the past 25 years. The Donald likes being buddy-buddy with a former prime minister and Brian seems to be most at home with billionaires. God forbid that he does not have his gated community in Florida to get away from those rotten Canadian winters.

Maybe it is Brian who told his friend Donald that the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) needs some tweaking. After all, Brian gave away the store when his people negotiated the original deal. Canada has been bleeding away manufacturing jobs ever since.

But it is Mulroney’s contacts with the senior Republicans and their minions in Washington that has brought him out of retirement. These people are all reassuring the Canadians that President Trump will be Canada’s friend.

Mind you, come the day that Trump wakes with a belly-ache, all bets are off. He will strike out at the first thing he sees among the ‘fake’ news of the nation’s television networks.

And Brian Mulroney will be sleeping in at his Florida retreat. Can you not see the sign: do not disturb!


Copyright 2017 © Peter Lowry

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Is the political middle just one?

Tuesday, February 21st, 2017

Nobody seems to be able to nail down this middle ground in politics. It is like the middle class that Justin Trudeau chased in the last federal election. Did Trudeau even suspect that they would add up to almost 40 per cent of the voters?  And were they all centre-right voters or was there a mix of centre-left voters included?

But somewhere in Canada, there must be that one person who stands squarely in the middle of the political spectrum. Whomever this person might be, could it be another person next week?

And what does this political centre represent? Does it fight to maintain a fully funded Medicare or does it allow the encroachment of for-profit medicine for those who’s money allows them the right to jump the queue? Does this centre encompass environmental standards along with pipelines for tar sand’s bitumen? And how does a centrist government so blindly accept the European trade agreement that was negotiated by a right-wing government?

But does a right of centre government pay out tax money in the form of a child tax benefit? Is this not the same as we used to call a Baby Bonus? And why in the last election did the left-of-centre New Democrats insist on having balanced budgets? Why do these left, right and centrist parties not stay in place to help the voter make a decision?

Yet the truth is that a large part of the Liberal vote in the last federal election came from both the left and right. There was a clear desire across the political spectrum to end the Conservative Party of Canada oligarchy under Stephen Harper. It had run its term. It was tired and needed renewal. It was becoming too mean-spirited and defeated itself.

And we still have no idea whether Canadians expect the Liberal government of Justin Trudeau to rule from the right or the left. As long as the government keeps that ambiguity going, it might keep enough support from both sides to stay in power.

But how far is this government from the ideal of a centrist government? Is it protecting our individual rights and freedoms? Is it addressing the problems connected to our old and creaky constitution or is it wallpapering them? Are its elitist appointments to the Senate and the higher courts just tired solutions of an elitist right? We have chosen a leader but do we know where the hell he is going?


Copyright 2017 © Peter Lowry

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Watch out, the bigots are out.

Monday, February 20th, 2017

The problem for the pundits today is the presence of bigots in the Conservative Party. They are not the majority. They are barely a faction. They exist. They hurt the cause. They are something of a wild card.

But some of the candidates for the Conservative Party leadership will cater to this faction. It hardly helps though when some Liberal MPs do not know the difference between bigotry and a deep-seated psychological disorder. Bigotry and Islamophobia might produce some of the same consequences but a motion in the House of Commons is not likely to help cure a phobia. A motion such as the one proposed should serve to put bigots on notice.

It is just that making this subject a matter of debate in the House is going to bring out the bigots who relish the argument. They want the exposure. They want the heated arguments. They are delighted to hear of the 50,000 (sic) communications claimed to be received by a Muslim M.P. It gives the bigots amongst us support.

A few years ago, we saw a predominantly Muslim area (Thorncliffe Park) in Toronto organized to protest against a revised sex education curriculum for schools. It was a clear indication of the power of Ontario Conservatives to organize and use that community for its political purposes. It was a warning.

That foolish ‘hijab’ debate in the last federal election was another example of political use of bigotry. Thomas Mulcair thought he could use the subject to help hold Quebec seats. He had already lost most of those seats, so he paid the price for the error in Ontario. Yet the argument helped the Conservatives hold some of their Quebec City area seats.

It was also in that election that M.P. Kellie Leitch got her start at a ‘barbaric cultural practices’ tip line. Along with then Conservative M.P. Chris Alexander, this announcement was roundly criticized as pandering to bigotry.

And yet, here are both those spokespeople for their party, running for its leadership.  Chris Alexander had the disadvantage of losing his seat in the last election and that puts a serious crimp in his campaign. Not that Kellie Leitch is expected to do much better. Her strength will be concentrated in her first-choice ballots. She will be second choice of only a few.

But that is also what makes the federal Conservative race so hard to dope out. Conservative Party voters can indicate their preference in order. If many go past a third or fourth choice is up to them. It is what makes this race one that will be decided by the losers.


Copyright 2017 © Peter Lowry

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More fallout from voting reform.

Thursday, February 16th, 2017

This subject would have been ignored if another commentary on it had not run in the Washington Post. The writer accused the Canadian prime minister of looking “both incompetent and cynical in abandoning the promise of (voting) reform.” It would have become an international incident but we have reason to think the writer is Canadian.

There was also the national day of protest last Saturday organized by Fair Vote Canada. It looked like a couple dozen people turned out in Nathan Philips Square in Toronto with their signs saying Justin Trudeau let them down. There were similar efforts in a few other cities—everyone gets together with their homemade signs, their bluster and their tired arguments and then head for the nearest pub to get warm, quaff a few and argue some more.

It is hardly that Prime Minister Trudeau was being cavalier about the subject. He was obviously sincere—though wrong—when he said in the last election campaign that 2015 was the last election under first-past-the-post. He got the Fair Vote people excited and Canada’s New Democrats and Greens on side fast enough. It proved that he had not read the entrails on that election very well. He seemed to have no idea how well he was going to do.

And it was not as though he did not try to keep his word. He might not have given the file to the smartest member of his cabinet but she seemed to be doing as she was told. After a false start with a Liberal majority committee, he agreed to having a more balanced special committee created to investigate the best route to follow.

That committee certainly worked hard. They listened to so-called experts from across Canada and from selected countries. They even listened—grudgingly—to some non-expert citizens. They spent the summer of 2016 in cloisters in Ottawa doing their duty. They did marathon travelling around the country in the fall. And they filed their report.

They were insulted by Prime Minister Trudeau’s minister for not providing an answer. They did the best job they could. They reported that there is no perfect answer. They reported that Canadians were either divided on the issue, happy with first-past-the-post or possibly just not interested. It was obvious that a great deal more work needed to be done.

So what did anyone expect Prime Minister Trudeau to do? As a politician, he listened to his cabinet, his caucus and to parliament and to the citizens of his country. After due deliberation, he admitted that we will just have to use first-past-the-post again in the next election.

He is not the first politician to break a promise to the voters. He will not be the last. He admitted he made a boo-boo.


Copyright 2017 © Peter Lowry

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Wasted hours in Washington.

Tuesday, February 14th, 2017

Did you think President Trump was going to slice and dice our prime minister for lunch the other day? First of all, Donald Trump seemed to like Justin Trudeau. He would think of Trudeau as a younger version of himself. This young guy was manor born. It is all so easy for him. He was polite and always seemed to say the right things.

If he even thought about it, Trump would seek Trudeau’s approval. More likely it was just some down time to stay out of trouble.

Whoever dreamed up that stunt of the meeting with the female business executives was lucky Trump did not recognize he had been had. It was an effective piece of manipulation.

It is also lucky the current U.S. President is no student of history. He is too young to remember when U.S. President Johnson grabbed Canadian Prime Minister Pearson by the lapels in the Oval Office and told him not to piss on his rug. He would not understand that informality in the relationship between the two countries.

And it is certainly not Trump’s style to put his arms around Trudeau and hug him as President Obama could. Nor would Trump understand President Ronald Regan and Prime Minister Brian Mulroney singing Irish ballads to each other on a stage in Quebec City.

Mind you this could be the reverse of John Kennedy’s relationship with Prime Minister Diefenbaker. Diefenbaker gave Kennedy the creeps.

The worst president-prime minister relationship between the two countries was President Richard Nixon and Justin Trudeau’s father. Nixon was reported to have called the elder Trudeau an asshole. Trudeau later responded that he had been called worse things by better people.

It will probably be a long time before Trudeau writes a memoir and admits how he felt about Trump. It will probably not be flattering.

It was probably just as well that Trudeau brought a lot of back-up from his cabinet. It would have been a waste of time for what Trudeau and Trump got out of that meeting.

Trump looked bored; Trudeau looked wary. Neither could get on to their normal way of doing things soon enough.

The obligatory invitation to Trump to come to Ottawa will be some time in future. Trump is certainly in no rush. He will not be getting an invitation to address Parliament.


Copyright 2017 © Peter Lowry

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A cri de coeur for Canada’s Conservatives.

Sunday, February 12th, 2017

For the benefit of M.P. Kelly Leitch and that O’Leary person we should translate: a ‘cri de coeur’ is an impassioned plea from the heart. And that is what this is. Sometime in the next month, Babel-on-the-Bay will publish its morning line on the current Conservative Party of Canada leadership contest. This is a public service to assist conservatives, reporters and other political punters to establish a base line when analyzing the statistics for the rather large field of candidates.

And we respectfully ask that readers be aware that a morning line is not a prediction of a race’s outcome. It is an assessment of the political potential of the various candidates by a politico who has some expertise to share.

But by no stretch of the imagination would we try to forecast the moods and frustrations and motivations of the voting members of the Conservative Party of Canada. Whether an individual is a religious conservative, a financial conservative or just mean spirited is not something that you can easily tell at a glance.

And just because we gave Donald Trump longer odds than Hillary Clinton in the recent American fiasco, it hardly meant that he could not win.

The reason for our cri de coeur today is that there is a growing concern that the Conservative Party is letting all of us down. Maybe the party was just in power too long under that guy with the funny hairpiece. And that lady you have as interim leader is hardly showing the attention to detail that could keep the current prime minister’s nose to the grindstone, so to speak.

This is a call for Canada’s Conservatives to smarten up. You can hardly let the current mess in Alberta throw you off your game. And if the Conservatives there give that trouble-maker Kenney license to lead their provincial party, good luck! He has made it very clear that he intends to destroy the provincial party and replace it with the Wildrose Party.

The facts are that we have a situation in Ottawa today where we have a lame-duck opposition. We have a prime minister learning his job with limited critiquing. And there is very little time left to find which one of those no-name candidates has the potential to make the right kind of name for himself or herself.

The only good news for you today is that the federal New Democrats are in far worse shape. They do not even have any real candidates.


Copyright 2017 © Peter Lowry

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We all need editors.

Friday, February 10th, 2017

Wandering through the web site called Progressive Bloggers the other day, we found a writer who inadvertently referred to a clique as a ‘click.’ That is one way to get noticed! It happens to all of us though as we keyboard our frustrations without the aid of that second look.

That particular blog needed more than just an editor. It would have been more merciful to spike it. It called for an insurrection because Prime Minister Trudeau put an end to possible change in how we elect our members of parliament. Luckily, Canadians are more peaceful than that and his call is being ignored.

But it was read. He also wanted a People’s Reform Referendum—whatever that might be? This was also where the ‘click’ was noticed. He asked if Canadians should “let a small click (sic) of gutless politicians decide their political future?” Since that is what we elect them to do, there is an obvious answer to that question.

Are you still trying to get your mind around the idea of a People’s Reform Referendum? The writer thinks individuals across Canada would be willing to donate to pay for this idea. He thinks they should trust the Fair Vote Canada organization to run the referendum. And he even thinks that the New Democratic Party and the Greens would help launch the effort.

And who would be foolish enough to think Fair Vote Canada would be fair? It is hardly in that organization’s interest to be fair. It has been a lobby for proportional representation for the past sixteen years. It is a ‘Johnny-one-note’ group since it is modelled on the American organization.

Fair Vote’s claims for proportional representation border on the ludicrous. The organization claims that when parties supply their lists for appointment to a legislative body, they make sure that minorities are well represented. What really happens is that many pressure groups form their own parties in hopes a larger party, trying to form a government, will make a deal with them. The proportional system actually works against good government.

What people do not notice in their scurry to change how we vote is that Canadians have one of the best developed voting systems in the world. First-Past-the-Post is easy for everyone to understand, makes it easy to vote, easy to verify and we trust it. No system is perfect but we have been unable to find one better.


Copyright 2017 © Peter Lowry

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Waiting for Mr. Trump.

Monday, February 6th, 2017

The reporters and pundits are causing unnecessary concerns. Does anyone really believe that Justin Trudeau cannot handle a meeting with Donald Trump? What is to worry about? Trudeau meets Trump; each takes a couple selfies; they ask about the respective families; tell each other, we’ve got to get together for a state dinner sometime and kissy, kissy, goodbye. And then act coy with the media.

It is a no-brainer for both leaders. Is there anything that Donald Trump does not think he knows about Canada? Is there anything that Donald Trump might know about American history that school teacher Trudeau does not already know?

Do you think it might be a contest of egos? They both have lots of that. We have never seen Trump without a shirt but he is a lot older than Trudeau and arm-wrestling might be out. Nor would either care to try to outdrink the other. These guys have nothing in common. The possibility that Trump might be a billionaire is not something that would matter to Trudeau. He is comfortably off and would not be impressed. And he knows better billionaires.

And does Trump even know that Canada is a signatory to the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA)? Does he have a clue as to how the Canada-U.S. Auto Pact came about and what the almost 50-year old agreement means to both countries?

If Trump dares to tear up NAFTA, Americans are going to find that the fool is playing a zero-sum game. Trade is a two-way street. For every Canadian or Mexican he puts out of work, he can count on losing an American job. Trump could drive all of North America into a depression.

The truth is that Donald Trump is a bully. We all saw how he backed off when he met the Mexican President during last fall’s campaign. He gushed like a school girl when meeting British Prime Minister May recently. He will be hopelessly jealous of Trudeau’s relative youth and good looks.

But he does not seem to multi-task well. That can be beneficial to a business person who takes on one task at a time but the U.S. presidency requires an incumbent who can quickly move from one problem to the next. The Canadian’s visit will be a vague memory the day after they meet.


Copyright 2017 © Peter Lowry

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A better role for NDP’s Nate Cullen.

Sunday, February 5th, 2017

Frankly, it has been disappointing. Nate Cullen MP from British Columbia has been so busy bitching and whining, he is missing the real opportunity. He has the right to complain about what seemed like a wasted summer of 2016 studying vote reform. It was no waste of time; it was the best exposure he has had since being first elected. He can now step up to the bar and accept the leadership of Canada’s New Democratic Party.

And he is allowed to change his mind about that. In the fractious and demoralized New Democratic Party that had just fired Tom Mulcair, he said he did not want the leadership job. Nobody did. They hardly wanted the expensive, frustrating and unrewarding job of trying to bring the party back together. Now the party has to draft Cullen.

What the party knows now is that there never was an Orange Wave. They also know that the Leap Manifesto is as out of date as the original Regina Manifesto. Looking backwards is not meeting the needs of Canadians.

It is not that there is anything basically wrong with Leap but it seems almost defensive. You just cannot put those words to music. They do not show you the possibilities of a better future for Canadians. They fix what is past, not what is future.

Listening to Cullen on the special commons committee on voting reform last summer and fall, he showed an affinity for Canadians that other members of the committee seemed to miss. He outshone the erudite Elizabeth May of the Green Party. They were both on the same path for proportional representation but he made it more real.

While this writer was hardly swayed by Cullen’s support for proportional systems, you had to give him credit for listening to all sides of the argument. You could see some of his words in the all-party committee’s report. He represented his party better than the party deserved.

As much as the NDP needs to modernize its thinking and its policies, what there is, Cullen presents them well. There were times during the 2015 federal election that you wondered where Thomas Mulcair was finding the ideas he was presenting. It was bad enough that some seemed right wing, but there was no logical connection to New Democratic philosophy.

A reader told us in very strong terms a while back that Babel-on-the-Bay has no right to be telling the NDP what to do. It is just that you can get tired of writing about Trump. It is nice to write about a real politician occasionally.


Copyright 2017 © Peter Lowry

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