Archive for the ‘Municipal Politics’ Category

What’s with bicycles in Toronto?

Thursday, June 9th, 2016

We always agreed with the healthy aspects of cycling and never thought much about bike lanes on city streets. That was until city council’s passion for cycling got carried away. They are spending millions of taxpayers’ money on restricted bike lanes and further tying up traffic. Are these people nuts?

You really have to wonder where the councillors think they are? Toronto has annual rainfall of about 831 mm and another 122 centimetres of snow. And the combination of snow, sleet and rain leaves damn few days each year to consider the joys of cycling. And as long as you are only going east-west, you are in luck because the north-south routes are all uphill.

One of my friends on council years ago used to take his bike down to city hall to be greeted by the news media. He never told the media that his driver put the bike in the trunk of the car for the trip home.

As a kid, biking around Toronto was a joy. Did we mention that we got a hand-me-down bicycle in 1948? For the next several summers, Toronto was ours to explore. From Swansea to Scarborough, from Forest Hill to the Beach, there were fewer people and few cars. The old streetcars of the era would always clang their bells at us if we wandered on to their rails.

But the city was growing. Did you know that today there are more than 4100 people per square kilometre in Toronto? There are now more that 2.6 million people in the city? And cars carrying commuters are not the enemy of cyclists. The enemies of all of us are the trucks, the delivery vans and the taxis. These people have their deliveries and time is precious to them. They are not the tourist gawkers and country cousins lost in the melee of traffic gridlock. The city depends on its commerce to survive. You cannot freight the goods for the Eaton Centre on the subway.

Somebody has to show some common sense. Those are supposed to be adults that the voters select for city council. You will have to ask them how many are riding their bikes to city hall in snow storms or cold driving rain? Even the city cops who ride bicycles in their short pants know when to park their bike. There is a time and place for bicycles. That is not year-round in Toronto.


Copyright 2016 © Peter Lowry

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Politicians are just like us.

Monday, June 6th, 2016

Maybe it is because they are never a hero to their valets that we have never been overly impressed with politicians. As a publicist and confidante to many politicians over the years, we have found that they share the same foibles, failures and frustrations as anyone else. Nobody is perfect and the person offering to represent us that does not share any weaknesses with the electorate is usually unable to serve them.

These weaknesses are usually more obvious in populist politicians and can raise or destroy their hopes. The greatest weakness is vanity. An excellent example of this weakness is Donald Trump. It is his vanity—and some possibly sociopathic characteristics—that drive him. His misogyny, his bigotry and his bluster are also weaknesses that will bring him fame but keep him from the American presidency.

There have been many populists in Canadian politics over the years. One of the most interesting was Prairie populist John George Diefenbaker. ‘Dief the Chief’ was brought down finally by the president of his own party, Dalton Camp. Dalton was convinced that Diefenbaker had taken the reins of the Conservative Party for too long and called for a leadership convention. Dief tried to succeed himself and it was a sad end to a fascinating career.

The most celebrated populist in Canadian politics—and also the most successful—was Justin Trudeau’s father. Compared to Pierre, a populist, his son is a politician. The son identifies with the populist father but uses the relationship effectively as a politician.

We can always start arguments among our New Democratic friends by pointing out that Saskatchewan’s Tommy Douglas was very much a populist. There are quite a few others but the most obvious was Toronto’s late councillor and mayor Rob Ford.

Ford failed finally as a politician when cancer brought him down. What also failed him was the effort to create a dynasty. Ford used his bombast and ‘in your face’ style effectively but no other Ford can match it. And he really did—for a while—call people back.

But politics can hardly survive on the few populists—good or bad—that come forward from time to time. We need good people who care. We need people who understand and want to help their fellow Canadians build a country with a rich and fulfilling future.


Copyright 2016 © Peter Lowry

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A Richler’s epiphany on Toronto.

Thursday, May 26th, 2016

In a somewhat rambling op-ed for the Toronto Star the other day, Noah Richler tells us of his experience as a sacrificial lamb (candidate) for the New Democrats last year. He also explains (sort of) why Bombardier cannot seem to deliver Toronto’s streetcars.

Being a Montrealer by birth, Richler’s decision to run in Toronto-St.Paul’s was fuel for a Babel-on-the-Bay commentary last July. Our concern was that the NDP were just using him and his father’s name in a meaningless cause. There was just no way Mordecai Richler’s fame would help his son defeat the Liberal’s Caroline Bennett.

And it turns out the son really did not understand Toronto. He says he thought Toronto—St. Paul’s was just like all other Toronto electoral districts. He was actually surprised that people at their door accused him of being a parachute candidate.

Now he tells us this entire political business was to research a book he has written on being a candidate. We doubt that it could ever be turned into a movie starring someone like Robert Redford as “The Candidate.” That movie has already been made.

But what ticks us off about this article is that Richler accuses the Toronto MPs—who are all Liberals—of being unable to articulate the city’s needs in Ottawa. Frankly there are some that do a poor job of that but overall, there are some very good representatives for the city in Ottawa today.

In the negative, is the example of MP Adam Vaughan from Spadina—Fort York who thinks he can speak for all Toronto by getting Transport Minister Marc Garneau to end all speculation about Bombardier whisper jets flying out of the Island Airport. To get Garneau to blatantly interfere in that way with a city council decision is not representing the city.

But what Richler really does not realize that among the people guilty of not taking a unified approach in supporting the city are his fellow NDP. All he had to do was look around and see who the best supported candidates were. They were the downtown clique of NDP candidates in Toronto who neither understand nor want to understand the needs of the suburbs.

And anyone who thinks that you can beat up on Quebec-based Bombardier over late delivery of Toronto streetcars is not very political. Toronto is trying to help Bombardier solve their problems. Richler just wants to stir up trouble for the company.


Copyright 2016 © Peter Lowry

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Doors still open to municipal corruption.

Tuesday, April 26th, 2016

If virtue is its own reward, what is the reward for hypocrisy? And what does it mean when municipal politicians tell you that there will be no more corruption when they ban corporate and union donations? What problems does that solve?

What is the point when the most important contributions to campaigns are not recognized as being of value? These contributions can create literature, develop campaign strategies, plan and prepare speeches and create a persona for a candidate that might be far from reality. When companies, unions, and community organizations decide to support a candidate, how does the voter separate the truth from the image that has been created? And what is the value of the campaign work ‘contributed’ at the urging of the employer or union? That is the hypocrisy of municipal politicians not accepting money from corporations and unions.

What is more serious is continuing to allow candidates to self-finance their campaigns? Why have no limits been set in Ontario on what municipal candidates can spend? Do we only want the rich to control our municipalities?

But there are still so many ways around the rules. Developers who really want the support of city councillors can find many routes for their donations to reach the intended candidate. There are many pressure points.

And yet the Ontario government keeps polishing their buttons on their pledges to end possible corruption in provincial and municipal politics. The only problem is that the people who really know how the system works are never asked to help solve the problems. It is the people skilled in running political campaigns who know the work-arounds, the loopholes, the opportunities to make things happen.

Instead it is the politicians themselves who make the decisions and it is the academics who pontificate on the process. The apparatchiks who make things happen are kept hidden from the light of day.


Copyright 2016 © Peter Lowry

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Toronto’s organized hypocrisy.

Saturday, April 16th, 2016

Would someone please explain to Professor Patrice Dutil at Toronto’s Ryerson University that the city already has party politics at City Hall. Of course—wink, wink, nudge, nudge—it is all kept quiet because we never want anyone to be held accountable. And if the Ryerson prof wants confirmation, he should ask our old friend from Ryerson, David Crombie.

When David’s Civic Action Party (CIVAC) put together a motley group of mostly Conservatives by another name in 1969, the late Senator Keith Davey spearheaded our openly Liberal attack on City Hall and the New Democrats profited from our mistakes. It gave the New Democrats the stronger base they wanted in city politics, Crombie became the ‘Tiny Perfect Mayor’ and a thoroughly chastened group of Liberals went back to their day jobs.

We had walked into a trap. Professor Dutil should appreciate it. It is taught as Hypocrisy 101 in politics and city administration. Almost to a person, the aldermen, controllers and mayors throughout the various parts of Toronto at the time wrapped themselves in the cloak of purity and their devotion to representing their constituents. The Liberals were made out as the bad guys. And the choice of Professor Stephen Clarkson from the University of Toronto as leader of the loosely aligned Liberal mob was a disaster.

It would be nice to say that we learned from our mistakes but no such luck. Using Professor Dutil’s check list we can report that nothing was gained.

First the professor tells us that parties can educate. Hell, it is almost impossible to educate parties. Just look at the mess the Conservatives and New Democrats are in today. And the day that a party label means any consistency in programs, promises or actions, check the number of blue moons in the skies.

He thinks that parties do a good job of screening the individuals they recruit. Tell that to the Senate of Canada! And tell that to the voters in Peterborough where the former MP is still appealing his prison sentence.

The political scientist professor thinks parties can punish the miscreants in their midst. Holding MPs and MPPs accountable seems hard enough. Despite parties being behind most individual municipal representatives, they are responsible to nobody but themselves.

The prof also thinks parties can be held accountable for their promises to the voters. Good grief, we can only hope he is not telling that to impressionable young Ryerson students.

The simple answer to the professor’s ambitious ideas is that the city is a creature of the province. The provincial parties will never allow Toronto to be run by any party other than the party in charge at Queen’s Park.


Copyright 2016 © Peter Lowry

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Don’t forget Canada’s Minister of Pot.

Saturday, April 9th, 2016

Canada is certainly a slow-moving country. It takes six years to get the right just to have your day in court. How long it will take to actually get a class-action case to court is another matter. The only thing is that as time marches on, we should never forget the role played in the G-20 abuse of human rights by then Toronto Police Chief Bill Blair.

He might now be spending his days checking out the marijuana quality across Canada for the Trudeau government but he is still the person who could have stopped the entire G-20 embarrassment for Toronto.

In 2010, Blair asked the Attorney General’s office at Queen’s Park what law would authorize the police-state measures he was being asked to use during the G-20 meeting hosted by Prime Minister Harper in Toronto that summer. They could not find a reference to support it so the Ontario government gave him the wrong legal reference. He had a responsibility to question the obvious error. He did not. He let the events of that summer weekend in Toronto happen. He failed in his responsibility to his job and to the citizens of Toronto and Canada.

Bill Blair had been the poster boy for chiefs of police across North America. It took the Toronto Police Services Board another five years to get rid of him.

Imagine the embarrassment to the Liberal Party when Justin Trudeau personally picked the former police chief to be the Liberal candidate in Scarborough-Southwest. The embarrassment was felt strongly by progressive Liberals. Justin not only broke his promise to the party but showed very poor political judgement.

But there is a wide gulf between bad judgement and criminal responsibility. Toronto never even got an apology from Blair about the events of the G-20. He dumped the blame on an underling who was supposedly the only senior police presence in Toronto at the time.

We are obviously supposed to believe that Blair and the other chiefs were all enjoying a peaceful weekend at their summer cottages while police cars were being torched in Toronto. It seems nobody thought to interfere with a few stupid anarchists from Montreal rampaging and doing malicious damage on our city streets. Yet the next day, innocent pedestrians were rounded up like cattle and illegally searched and imprisoned.

It was a time of infamy. And Bill Blair has to take his share of the blame.


Copyright 2016 © Peter Lowry

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The manipulation of preferential voting.

Wednesday, April 6th, 2016

Back in the 1970s, we elected two aldermen (now called councillors) in each Toronto ward. The person with the most votes was known as the senior alderman and was given more perks and opportunities. The toughest part of campaigning for an aldermanic post at that time was convincing your supporters to not vote for a second choice. They thought if they did not vote twice, they might be doing something wrong.

It is the same problem you run into with preferential voting. The voters are told to list their preference for first, second or third choice. They end up voting for people that they do not even know. You do not want your voters to do that if you are serious about winning. And, if they insist on making a second choice, you want their second choice vote to be for losers, not front-runners. You hardly need to spend 50 years in Canadian politics to learn to manipulate preferential voting.

But here are those brain-dead, so-called Liberals at Queen’s Park promoting preferential voting for Ontario municipalities. The City of Toronto has thankfully rejected this form of voting after some reconsideration. At least other cities are being allowed it only as an option.

But there are those who think preferential voting is a great idea. They suggest that preferential voting will increase voter engagement. How it will do this is never mentioned. Frankly the concern is that it will confuse more voters than it will intrigue.

And anyone who thinks the need for second and third choice selections will reduce negative campaigning is day dreaming.  The funniest claim of all is saying that it will give the voters a greater say. In what?

Preferential voting is supposedly designed to make sure that the person elected has broad and even majority support. Doing that in a field open to as many candidates as want to run is an almost impossible challenge. That is why primaries and run-off election systems were developed. If you really want to have someone whom the majority of voters can approve, the only workable system is to have a second vote for the top candidates.

As the voters in France say about their run-off system, you vote with your heart in the first go-around and you vote with your brain in the second. For volatile voters such as the French, the system seems to work.

In Ontario, we just need smart voters who can do the math on who is helped by preferential voting.


Copyright 2016 © Peter Lowry

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Don’t get between the Photogs and Politicos.

Friday, April 1st, 2016

Years ago at a dinner three of us were chatting at the head table reception. There was the Ontario party leader, a prominent member of the federal cabinet and this writer. The three of us were discussing nothing important and we studiously ignored the photographers and TV camera people recording our innocuous three-part tête-a-tête. It would have been a pleasant chat except for the constant pokes in the back from party wannabes who wanted to get in the shot.

It is why at Rob Ford’s funeral the other day you saw this mixture of politicos among the losers from Ford Nation. At least the politicos were able to reserve seats in St. James Cathedral. The losers were outside in the circus tents. (Their time was later at the Ford-funded wake.)

But there was the Premier, former premiers, the Ontario Cabinet, MPs and MPPs, the Mayor and councillors who were allowed inside with the family.

And the widow Ford had never looked so good. She looked like Cinderella, freed from life as a scullery maid. Even the kids did their bit for the family. The only sour note was brother Doug Ford weeping as he tried on Rob Ford’s political mantle.

The best photo shots of the event were the hundreds of Ford Nation people and others who followed the hearse on the way to the Anglican cathedral.

Frankly this commentator was not invited. Anyway, we refuse to go to the funeral of someone we disliked in life. We have known too many Rob Fords in politics and there will obviously be more in the future. You could swear that American presidential hopeful Donald Trump is a graduate of the Rob Ford Finishing School.

Funerals are for the living as we understand it. Just who the funeral was for on Wednesday in Toronto is an open question. It made a substantial contribution to the news media needs. It brought politicos out where they could be seen and heard weeping crocodile tears for Rob Ford. It brought out Ford Nation for a last hurrah—the food and circuses circuit will hardly be the same under his older brother.

But however fleeting, the politicos had their moment in the cameras’ eyes. The publicity at this level of event is free. And not since William Shakespeare wrote of Marc Antony’s eulogy, nobody expects anything meaningful or important to be said at a funeral.


Copyright 2016 © Peter Lowry

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It’s leadership that builds our future.

Sunday, February 21st, 2016

This is just an idle thought for a bleak February in Barrie. It is what a difference leadership can make. This comes to mind with the sour grapes announcement by Laurentian University that they are dumping their partnership staff and students at Georgian College. It reflects the abysmal failure of the Ontario Ministry of Training, Colleges and Universities, Barrie City Council, Georgian College and the college’s University Partnership program. There was no leadership.

And it is leadership that greases the gears of this world in which we live. And frankly, Barrie will have none of that. This city is run by a grossly conservative cabal of civil servants, pathetic politicians and outside interests that hardly give a damn for our city.

There is no better example of this disgrace than Patrick Brown MPP. In years of representing this city in Ottawa, he never once demonstrated any leadership that would aid his city. As Ontario opposition leader, Brown harps at the Wynne government over the Hydro One fiasco that has already left the barn. Yet what did Brown say about the Ministry of Training, Colleges and Universities denying Barrie a university? Nothing.

Did you know that Kingston, Ontario that hosts the prestigious Queen’s University is much smaller than Barrie? The very successful Georgian College could become Georgian University at the stroke of a pen at Queen’s Park and it would open an entirely new vista for the city and for Simcoe County.

But do not look to City Council for help. Those milk toasts get their leadership from the city’s civil servants and that is taking the city nowhere. One look at that train station to nowhere on the bay will tell you where this city is headed—but watch the realty taxes keep rising.

Barrie City Council is so weak and leaderless it cannot even save Central Collegiate from being demolished. It is the only high school available in downtown Barrie and Simcoe County’s school ‘experts’ are going to bus our downtown students to portables in the burgeoning suburbs. This city cannot even look after its high school students.

And please do not laugh at the Liberal MPP presently representing Barrie at Queen’s Park. She was picked to be exactly what she is: a vote for Ms. Wynne.

Now if we had someone such as former Georgian College president Brian Tamblyn running provincially two years from now, we could have a Member of the Legislature who knew what he was talking about and could get things done. He is a potential MPP who would stand up for Barrie and make sure that the city had the facilities it needs. You wonder who could talk him into running?


Copyright 2016 © Peter Lowry

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It’s not the pipelines, it’s the bitumen.

Friday, February 5th, 2016

Thank goodness for mayors who can call a spade a spade. Not every city enjoys that luxury. The only problem is that mayors and their municipalities have no jurisdiction over pipelines. What they do is posture for their voters and then conveniently remember it is not their bailiwick when the going gets tough.

Toronto Mayor John Tory blew by the pipeline issue in the last Toronto election because he did not want a fight with fellow Conservative Stephen Harper at the time. Toronto has a pipeline right through the city that is currently preparing to pump diluted bitumen through high density housing areas. It was quietly given the final go-ahead in the middle of last year’s federal election.

But if it was just crude oil, there would not be the concern. The Enbridge Line 9 is an old pipeline that has pumped crude oil back and forth for almost 40 years. With increased line pressure and the corrosive nature of bitumen, it is a disaster waiting to happen. What is particularly grating is that the National Energy Board approved the Line 9 reversal to specifically pump crude oil at a variety of high pressures. There is no mention of bitumen in the NEB order.

Bitumen is what you get when you wash the sands out of tarsands. Bitumen is a potpourri of chemicals in a viscous tarry substance that can be converted to synthetic oil. It can be pumped through a pipeline by diluting it with hydrocarbons, heating it and pumping it at high pressure. When it gets to a refinery, the conversion process creates vast quantities of what is called bitumen slag which can be used as a highly polluting fuel. This is a major component of what is referred to as downstream carbon emissions. Bitumen is polluting our environment even before it becomes fuel for your gas-burning automobile.

Bitumen is a triple threat polluter. The tar sands exploiting companies are polluting the Alberta environment with vast acreages of settling ponds for the polluted water and tar sands residue. The refineries dread the bitumen slag that can blow like a dirty cloud over their communities. And bitumen spills from a pipeline are a triple threat that can never come clean as on water the hydrocarbon thinner floats and the bitumen goes to the bottom, while on land the bitumen can seep down and pollute the water table.

While Prime Minister Trudeau will bend over backwards to try to save the Alberta tar sands, the mayors are right. There is no redemption for bitumen to be shoved down a pipeline. Rebuilding the Canadian economy has to be high priority but it cannot be done at the expense of our environment.


Copyright 2016 © Peter Lowry

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