Archive for the ‘Municipal Politics’ Category

All parades need elephants.

Wednesday, July 6th, 2016

It was great wrap to the Pride month the other day when Toronto’s Pride Parade made its way down Yonge Street. It was also good to see Canada’s Prime Minister taking part. The only glitch in the day’s proceedings is when a group invited to be specifically honoured by the parade got carried away with its own importance.

Until this event, the group known as “Black Lives Matter” had done a good job of making its case in Toronto. Their cause is important and while some of their claims are related more to American circumstances than Canadian, the politicians need to hear what they are saying.

But it is just too easy to blow away all the good you have done with one stupid gesture. It is hubris (self-importance) that is the downfall of so many. And as they say: ‘Pride goeth before the fall.’

And as if the Pride Parade organizers do not have enough problems without a self-important group holding it up for their ‘demands.’ And it was not as though the parade organizers did not give a rat’s ass for the particular demands. They were self evident and mostly complied with. The only exception was the foolish request to exclude Toronto police in uniform and their floats from future Pride Parades.

What those so-called activists do not realize is that the police uniform is a uniform of service to the community. If they think it is a costume of conquest, they have a problem.

For a parade that celebrates inclusion to exclude anybody is to deny the very heart and soul of the event. Excluding the police is to insult some of the very strong supporters and participants in the parade. If these black activists have a problem with the Toronto police, let them take it to the police or the politicians. The Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender community that certainly includes blacks counts on the support of the police who keep this a safe city. They are not about to throw away years of building good relations.

Here is a tip for the parade organizers: If Black Lives Matter want to be in the parade next year, they should be at the end of the parade. You can tell them that it is the place of honour. It is the position Santa Claus gets in his parade and who is more important than Santa? And if they want to have a sit down on the parade route, leave them to it. They will find that the police will be very helpful.

The only major difference for Black Lives Matter is that each of their participants should be handed a broom, a shovel or a garbage can on wheels to push. After all, somebody has to clean up after the elephants.


Copyright 2016 © Peter Lowry

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Who is reforming policing?

Friday, June 17th, 2016

It seems everybody is in on the act these days. The Province of Ontario is reviewing the Police Services Act. The City of Toronto keeps appointing committees to solve its budget problems with policing. And the cops are just digging in their heels against change.

But the question that has to be asked is, “Who is in charge?” The citizens of Toronto used to respect and like their police. The courts are befuddled by the cases of police malfeasance finally brought to them. A judge docked a Toronto police superintendent 30 days of holiday pay for abusing the civil rights of hundreds of citizens six years before. A court found a police officer guilty of attempted murder when he shot a confused young man with a pen knife repeatedly after he had already killed him.

And why are police officers paid over a $100,000 a year to direct traffic around construction sites? Nobody understands that.

But if you are waiting for wisdom from Queen’s Park in how we are running our police services, you can forget it. Police services boards are political fiefdoms for the party in power to pay political debts. Neither the provincial nor municipal politicians want to lose those payoff opportunities. And the public be damned.

You wonder sometimes about the spillover influence from America. Incidents of police brutality south of the border are played well by Canadian media. It is that old adage of news directors: If it bleeds, it leads.

Obviously many of those guns in the hands of young hoodlums in Toronto are being smuggled across the border. It is not ease of access to guns in Canada that is the first problem. The first problem is attitude. It is the collegial attitude of the police and their fellow officers protecting that long blue line. We still have had no accounting with former Toronto Police Chief Bill Blair for the incidents of the Summer of 2010. (He is busy as the Ambassador of Pot for the Trudeau government.)

What about the conservative attitude of the Ontario Government? They make the rules for polices services. The only problem with that is that we have to change the mindset of what policing is all about. ‘To Serve and Protect’ is not just a public relations slogan. It has to mean something. It has to be a creed.

It always impressed us when we were young that the Toronto police were always friendly and helpful. We liked those men and women. We supported them. We wish that was the case today.


Copyright 2016 © Peter Lowry

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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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