Archive for the ‘New’ Category

Change the future; Not the past.

Sunday, July 23rd, 2017

It seems to be the rage these days to want to tear down icons of the past. Why are we wasting so much time, rhetoric and effort in this pursuit? What can it gain us if we do not look to our future?

There is a framed front page of the Toronto Globe from 1893 hanging over my computer as I write. It features a story about a distant relative, Sir Oliver Mowat, then Premier of Ontario. My old friend Bob Nixon, when he was Leader of the Ontario Liberal Party, once referred to old Ollie in a speech as “that myopic little man.” In his day, Sir Oliver worked very hard for Ontario. Why criticize him just because times have changed?

Similarly, I have a picture of Sir. John A. Macdonald prominent on another wall. Sure, Sir John was a drunk and a racist, he was also a damn effective politician in his day and Canada is here to prove it.

But the current contretemps about historic figures Egerton Ryerson in Toronto and Edward Cornwallis in Halifax are ridiculous. As something of a student of Canadian history, I will cheerfully admit that neither of the gentlemen live up to our standards in the 21st century.

When Cornwallis was sent by the British to establish a colony at what is now Halifax, Nova Scotia in the mid-18th century, a standard means of dealing with the local aboriginals was a bounty for scalps. Despite his efforts to make peace with the local bands, he was not knowledgeable enough to deal with the right ones. It was not until he found for himself that the trade in scalps was counterproductive that he again sued for peace with the local Mi’kmaq. Cornwallis was only in Halifax for three years and he can hardly be blamed for everything that went wrong.

And then you have fusty old Egerton Ryerson in Toronto. Yes, he did his best to tell the federal government in the late 1800s what to teach the youngsters in the residential schools but he was neither responsible for the people doing the teaching nor the overall management of the schools.

Ryerson might have been a hide-bound Methodist but he made a major contribution in launching one of the finest public education systems in the world here in Ontario. We should worry more about its future than its past.


Copyright 2017 © Peter Lowry

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What comes ‘AFTA’ NAFTA?

Saturday, July 22nd, 2017

Back in the first round of North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) negotiations, it was Prime Minister Brian Mulroney who caved in to the American negotiators. In this upcoming go-around, our Canadian negotiators have to show a great deal more backbone. We also have to have a game plan in place just in case Donald Trump’s negotiators take their ball and bat and go home.

Mind you, Donald Trump facing the combined fury of North American automobile manufactures would probably allow a grandfathering of that sector. We can assume that the older Auto Pact would survive.

But from there the future is less clear. Replacing as much as $400 billion in non-automotive, two-way trade with the United States would be a gut wrenching experience. A tariff war would be for losers and more serious than the Mexican wall.

The beneficiaries of no NAFTA would be China and Europe. China has already surpassed Canada to become the American’s number one trading partner. The only problem is that to channel U.S.-bound goods from Canada through China adds heavy shipping costs and serious price increases.

Just maybe, before things get too far off the rails, someone has to convince Donald Trump that he will be beggaring his own base if he loses NAFTA. There would have to be a transitional period to soften the economic blow but there seems no way Trump could win a second term at the White House in the face of such a stupid move.

His ‘show and tell’ for his base the other day when he was showing off a fire truck for the kids in all of us, missed making the point. This seems to be a foolish negotiation in which he has given away his objectives while the Canadians and Mexicans have been sitting back saying little. The opposition parties in Ottawa have been demanding that Trudeau and Company say what their objectives are—which would be stupid given the circumstances,

Of course, Canada will stand its ground on Trump’s demands on softwood lumber. We have already won that case more than once. And we are not about to give up an adjudication process that seems to work.

The Harper government was willing to turn on Quebec and weaken our supply management for the Europeans but we would be crazy to do it for the Americans. What would be the point of beggaring our dairy industry the same way the Americans are destroying theirs?

If it all ends up as the status quo, is that a win?


Copyright 2017 © Peter Lowry

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Gambling with losers.

Friday, July 21st, 2017

You find by being observant that the people in a hurry to get to the cashier at a casino are usually the ones wanting to get more money to gamble. Why a casino would extend credit to people is a question that is hard to answer.

The question was partly answered recently when it was noted in a newspaper article that Ontario casinos had recently written off $10 million in bad debts. That is a very small percentage of their more than a billion in revenues each year but a surprisingly high percentage of the money advanced to gamblers. If you were in a large cash business such as a casino, you would question hard the wisdom of advancing money to people who would default on that much money.

The rationale we are offered is that the casino does not want their whales to be bringing suitcases full of money to the casino. They do not want to encourage criminals to try to harpoon their high-rollers before the casino gets a chance at the money.

The argument seems to be a bit silly when you consider that people who can support a habit such as high-stakes gambling can also draw money directly from automated teller machines on the floor of the casino. Yes, the fees are high on those machines but it costs the casinos less than writing off millions.

Our experience in casinos over the years is that there is very little difference between gambling at low or high stakes tables, penny slots or $100 slots. There seems to be no change in the law of averages. And nobody ever wins because they need to win.

You should look on gambling as fun. You are in for a lot of pain if you gamble with more than you can afford to lose. Always look around that casino and understand that it is the gamblers who pay to keep the lights on, pay the salaries and keep the facilities looking attractive.

The smart gambler: knows the odds and knows when to quit, increases their bet when winning and keeps to a minimum when losing and never tries to guess the number on the next roll of the dice.


Copyright 2017 © Peter Lowry

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Our Prime Minister grunts.

Thursday, July 20th, 2017

Despite teaching public speaking, I occasionally took someone else’s course on public speaking just to make sure I was not slipping into bad speaking habits. We are all guilty of that. And teachers can be the harshest critics. You can include a former school teacher in that: The Prime Minister of Canada.

The first time I saw the newly elected Justin Trudeau MP in action with an audience, it was obvious he would go to the top job with ease. He was relaxed and enjoyed the interaction with his audience. He had a well memorized speech for them and I cannot remember a single word in it. It was personable, socially acceptable, politically somewhat neutral, feminist friendly and not overly critical of other politicians. The person thanking him was more political but for some reason the microphone started to act up for her and the thanks became meaningless and garbled.

But what impressed me the most is that he wanted to be sure that every person in that room had an opportunity to have a picture with him. He did not give much importance to the words being spoken. He was counting on his presence to do the job.

And here I thought only royalty were allowed to think that way.

But today, people are listening to him.

And that is not good because Justin Trudeau grunts. In this case the grunt comes out of his mouth as an “Ah.” This is a quirk of people who are thinking about what they intend to say next and are afraid of dead air. The “Ah” is drawn out to accommodate the thinking time needed. It becomes irritating.

You would have to get him to listen to a recording of his speech for him to realize what he is doing.

Luckily, when he is using a teleprompter, he does not have to grunt. There is no “Ah’ for him to read and he has little need to think ahead.

Where the grunts are most evident is in the House of Commons when he is answering the opposition and when answering media questions. He starts to talk before he has decided how to answer the question. He needs some remedial public speaking training.


Copyright 2017 © Peter Lowry

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The art of changing minds.

Wednesday, July 19th, 2017

Author and columnist Susan Delacourt asked her readers last week in a Toronto Star column to help her understand how views can be shifted in politics. Having observed this phenomenon in politics for many years, I can only assume that Susan is contemplating another book.

Back when I was teaching executive classes in public speaking, I would spend at least a couple of hours of class time in discussion of a classic speech. It is the funeral oration for Julius Caesar by Marc Antony as written by William Shakespeare. What we had the class discussing was the art of changing minds. Somewhere in my files is a carefully annotated copy of Shakespeare’s speech with analysis of how every sentence contributes to the process.

It starts with getting attention and identifying with your audience. If you cannot get them to listen, you have little hope of convincing anyone.

Once the attention is gained, you have to take your audience on a journey. In this journey, you always have one foot firmly planted in the past while the other proceeds into the future. Bearing that in mind, you never step too far. Changing minds is not a short journey.

In trying to think of a recent speech that changed my mind, I would suggest that reporters such as Delacourt could take another look at Chrystia Freeland’s recent speech to the House of Commons. It was certainly different enough in intent and content that it deserved far better treatment than the scathing outrage of Sun Media.

I feel now that I might have been careless in writing off Freeland in the foreign affairs portfolio. What the Sun called a gutless attack on Trump was, in effect, necessary diplomacy. I was also struck by the fact such a major speech was made in the House. Neither the prime minister nor our national defence minister could have been as effective. And when you consider the constant embarrassment inflicted on Canadians in foreign affairs under the previous government, Freeland deserved a standing ovation.


Copyright 2017 © Peter Lowry

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Who’s congratulating Trudeau?

Tuesday, July 18th, 2017

Stephen Harper’s PMO had a revolving door for communications people, so it is not too surprising if we do not remember one of them. This is in reference to an op-ed in the Toronto Star last week by someone named ‘MacDougall.’ What was noticeable about the article was that he claims to be a Tory and was congratulating the Liberal prime minister. How rare is that?

This Conservative communications expert was congratulating Justin Trudeau for the smart way he is handling Donald Trump. What else can our prime minister do? Donald Trump is a 70-year old dirty old man who has landed in the White House. He acts like an uncontrollable 12-year old. And since he is president, you are not allowed to spank him.

Of course, Trudeau is trying to do a work-around. He had appointed David MacNaughton as ambassador to Washington before Trump rose to a level of concern on the horizon. The job was MacNaughton’s pay-off for the slip-shod effort he did in running Ontario for the Liberals in the last election. Trudeau might still have to replace him with someone with more diplomatic skills and knowledge of American politics and politicians.

Canadian diplomacy has come a long way since the quintessential diplomat Prime Minister Lester B. Pearson was dressed down by President Lyndon Johnson for “pissing on his rug.”

And only a conservative would think it was a win for Trump to approve the Keystone XL pipeline for Justin Trudeau. Pipelines for bitumen are the noose that will eventually hang our ’ecology-minded’ Trudeau.

And the writer might have thought we handled the milk production charges with derision but anyone knowledgeable knew that the NAFTA milk concerns sit entirely on the U.S. side of the border. Overproduction is a U.S. problem when you consider that Wisconsin has more dairy cows than all of Canada.

Usually in politics when someone pats you on the back as effusively as Mr. MacDougall, you expect he is checking for the best place to thrust the (rhetorical) knife. We better keep an eye on him.


Copyright 2017 © Peter Lowry

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Is there any hope for Horwath?

Monday, July 17th, 2017

Every once in a while, we are reminded that there are three parties at play for the right to hold the lease on the Pink Palace looking down University Avenue from Queen’s Park. We know lots about the Liberals that currently hold the lease. We know more than we want to know about the Conservatives and their corrupt leadership. What has us stumped is the lack of direction of Ontario’s New Democratic Party.

It is easy to blame NDP Leader Andrea Horwath. After eight years of her desultory leadership, you really wonder about the death wish of her and her party. If she ever had a good idea, the Liberals have stolen it. And she spends most of her time trying to explain why the Liberals are not going far enough or fast enough. Even when she is right, she does not have the political smarts to take advantage of being right.

Earlier this year, Horwath received a letter signed by 34-longtime party supporters in the Toronto area questioning her leadership. Frankly, they could have asked ‘What leadership?’ The very fact that one of those signatures was that of long-time NDP supporter Michele Landsberg, wife of former party leader Stephen Lewis, was serious enough.

You would think that Horwath would take some of this criticism to heart. She seems to have no understanding of the art of leadership. She almost seems to be apologizing for her concerns. Her policies appear to be borrowed from the right wing rather than developed on the left. She seems to lack any understanding at all for social democratic politics and where those politics could take us.

Given the chance to reprise her almost absent-minded campaign of 2014, Horwath will find herself well behind the political sentiment of the province. People are uneasy about the stability of the recently improved economy. The number of jobs might be growing but how many are part-time, lacking benefits and insecure? They see the political situation in the United States as dangling us over a precipice. They are worried about the chances of bringing the continued turmoil of the Middle East to North America.

What all Ontario parties lack is leadership. There is no trust for any of the three leaders or their parties. Leadership polls at this stage are meaningless. The election is scheduled for next June and somebody has to get serious.


Copyright 2017 © Peter Lowry

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It’s always controversy for PC leader Brown.

Sunday, July 16th, 2017

The leader of Ontario Conservatives has too many balls in the air. Here he is trying to run the strategy, organize the electoral districts, pick the candidates and run the nomination meetings. The only jobs he has forgotten is to show leadership and to help the party choose policies. Since the party seems to have no policies, that last part is easy.

Without policy direction, the party has become a magnet for unscrupulous political candidates with their own agendas. They are looking at the polls that currently show the Ontario Conservatives with the most support from Ontario voters. They are betting on an easy win.

It is also easy to steal nominations. In a party with an unscrupulous leader who stole his position as leader, who cares about the dirty tricks in individual ridings? It is getting so bad that Brown has charged PriceWaterhouseCoopers with the task of keeping things on the up and up. They seem to have gone downhill instead. This might be a task that is beyond the expertise of the accounting firm.

One of the major problems is that it is often Conservative Party officials who are accused of manipulating nomination meetings in favour of one candidate or another. In a Scarborough electoral district, an ethnic Tamil candidate—who was not even a party member until the month before—showed up with large numbers of recent Tamil newcomers and party officials accepted many questionable party memberships.

The same thing happened in reverse in a Hamilton area riding where the Sikh-Canadian candidate has charged that he was defeated by party officials manipulating the election process and maybe doing some ballot box stuffing.

And if you think this is just smoke, you need to check Conservative Party meetings around Ontario. Nomination meetings in Ottawa, Newmarket, Grimsby, Toronto, Hamilton are all being challenged because people are disrespecting the rules.

What the Conservatives should do is forget the accounting firm and hire some Liberal and New Democrat party members to run their meetings. They might at least know a bit about rigging a nomination meeting.


Copyright 2017 © Peter Lowry

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The history of image politics.

Saturday, July 15th, 2017

It must be your age that determines when history began. Reading an op-ed in the paper last week, there was a public relations guy who thought that image politics only went back to the time of American President Ronald Regan. He must have missed the lecture on the image of President Theodore Roosevelt.

Teddy, as he was known, was a hero of the Spanish-American War. He was the first ‘progressive’ to ever achieve the presidency of the United States. His ‘Bull Moose’ Party almost established third-party politics in America. He was the first president to stand up to big business. And where did you think his distant cousin Franklin Roosevelt got the idea for the ‘New Deal.’

And speaking of FDR, his use of the medium radio for his regular fireside chats created a lasting image of a caring and concerned national leader. It was a surprisingly few American voters who knew he was mostly confined to a wheelchair while serving them in the White House.

The image of John F. Kennedy through the medium of television was all it took to beat a stiff-necked Richard Nixon as early as 1960.

And what was the 1968 election federal election in Canada with its Trudeaumania? Pierre Trudeau was elected for his image, not for what he was saying. He almost lost the subsequent election in 1972 because he believed his own image.

Image control is a tightly woven tapestry with which people can be shielded from the confusion caused by exposure. Designing an image is as simple as drawing a line down the middle of a blank page. On one side, you headline ‘Do’s and on the other side, you headline ‘Don’ts.’ We will bet that public relation’s pioneer Ivy Lee drew up something like that for John D. Rockefeller in the early 1900s.

If any of his communications people had tried that with Pierre Trudeau, he would have perversely tried all the ‘Don’ts.’

We also had Marshall McLuhan’s Understanding Media available to us at that time and we have mistrusted the media ever since.

And what the late Professor McLuhan would make of the Internet-based social media of today would just be conjecture.


Copyright 2017 © Peter Lowry

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‘Chuckles’ leads from the rear.

Friday, July 14th, 2017

It is embarrassing. ‘Chuckles’ Scheer showed up on television last week from the Calgary Stampede to blast the federal government for its generosity to Omar Kadr. It was a classic illustration of a political brain fart. It was bigoted, it was inaccurate, it was mean-spirited and it was knee-jerk Conservatism from the newly chosen Conservative leader.

But what was really wrong was that he was feeding the growing sentiment of anti-Muslim bigotry in Canada. It is getting out of hand.

We have to understand that Omar Kadr was born in Canada and is a Canadian citizen. He has the same rights as any Canadian under the protection of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

When the Canadian government refused to intervene in his illegal confinement, torture and kangaroo court justice under the Americans, it denied him his rights as a Canadian citizen. We should all worry about that. The Canadian courts ruled in favour of Kadr when his lawyers sued the government. The Supreme Court ruled on it three times. He deserved an apology. He had to be paid. It was a modest amount for 15 years of injustice.

And yet, the narrow-minded bigots among us resent the size of the settlement. They resent it because he is a Muslim. They resent that it is being paid to him (and his lawyers). It is hoped that it will finally buy Omar Kadr some peace and anonymity.

But when the Official Opposition uses the settlement as a stick to flail at the government (and Muslims), they are failing us as Canadians. They are promoting bigotry. Their attacks on Kadr are creating further attacks on the Muslim religion and the Canadians who follow that religion. They are promoting hatred.

‘Chuckles’ Scheer should not be proud of his performance to-date as Conservative leader. So far, he has been taking his lead from the red necks.


Copyright 2017 © Peter Lowry

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