Archive for the ‘Uncategorized’ Category

Not all pipelines are created equal.

Wednesday, February 19th, 2020

It would appear there are questions about pipelines that are dividing this country. They are dividing people, they are dividing scientists, they are dividing concerned environmentalists. The only problem is that maybe 10 to 15 per cent of the population understand what the argument is about and the other 85 per cent will take a stand anyway.

As a writer I have always taken some pride in my ability to research complex issues. I think I have spent most of the last two days researching Coastal Gaslink’s pipeline proposal and actions on this file and I honestly cannot fault the company. I see that they have done a responsible job in meeting the concerns of the government and of the native peoples whose lands they are crossing.

These Coastal Gaslink people are laying a 48-inch pipeline to transport natural gas within B.C. that is far safer and far more environmentally friendly than the twinning of the Trans Mountain pipeline to pump tar sands bitumen to Vancouver. I, quite honestly, would rather have neither, as I fear the long-term consequences of shale fracking for natural  gas, but, between the two, Trans Mountain is a disaster waiting to happen. A leak from the Trans Mountain pipes can be irreparably destructive; a leak from the Coastal Gaslink pipe dissipates in the wind.

It is important to remember that natural gas does not become LNG until it is cooled to -160° C. That only happens to load it on a specially-built ship.

Yet all the general public hears is that pipelines are safer than trains and/or that pipelines are bad. Most people neither know nor care about what is being shipped in either. Nor are many drivers in Canada and the United States aware that most of the carbon-based fuel for gas or diesel powered vehicles and equipment arrives in their area via a vast network of pipelines.


Copyright 2020 © Peter Lowry

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Politician or diplomat for Washington?

Thursday, February 6th, 2020

It has always been the argument. Does Canada need a diplomat or a political apparatchik representing us in the American capital? I also expect some humourist to suggest we go back to having the British Embassy in Washington represent us.

Canada was a footnote at the British Embassy in Washington until Vincent Massey presented his credentials to the U.S. State Department in November 1926. Massey was ranked as an envoy. I had fun 25 years ago in my book My American Mother, creating a fictious conversation between, then foreign affaires employee, Lester B. Pearson and my book’s hero. Pearson is telling the fellow foreign affairs employee why Vincent Massey hated Washington in the summer months.

If he were alive today, Massey would be more than pleased with the modern—and fully air-conditioned—Canadian Embassy at 501 Pennsylvania Avenue.

But the argument today is whether we should have a politico or a diplomat, representing us as ambassador. And believe me, we have had the good and the bad of both over the last 90 some years. What makes the argument more fun is appointments such as prime minister Jean Chrétien appointing his nephew Raymond. Chrétien, the foreign affaires employee, was fully qualified for the posting.

And that is saying more than we would for some of the political appointments over the years. Michael Wilson, the conservative finance minister for Brian Mulroney—who ran up some of the biggest deficits for Canadians—should have been sent further away than that by prime minister Stephen Harper.

Many liberals were disappointed when David McNaughton was sent to Washington after his less than stellar job on the 2015 liberal election campaign. Luckily that campaign did not require much effort. That seemed to me to be what he gave it.

The current discussion is whether civil servant and acting ambassador Kirsten Hillman should be named ambassador. She is the one who really provides the expert advice any way.


Copyright 2020 © Peter Lowry

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Who do you trust?

Tuesday, January 28th, 2020

Trust seems to be on a sliding scale throughout your life. Trust is as simple as giving your baby a small toss and the loving feeling as the child squeals with laughter as you catch and hold the little tyke to you. Trust is family. Trust is in holding the child’s hand as you teach him or her how to safely cross a street. And trust transfers over the years as the young adult steadies the elder as you also journey through life.

Trust is earned. Trust is learned. Trust is what helps sustain us through our years. The retailer wants our trust in the products and services offered. The police, fire and emergency services want our trust should their services be needed. The news media want our trust that their reporting is fair and balanced. Our teachers and educators want our trust of their lessons. Our neighbours want our trust in exchange for theirs. Communities live and thrive in trust.

And yet, how can we trust politicians? Do they all speak the language of ambiguity? Do they speak through a smoke-screen of ‘ifs’? Do they consider their knowledge and logic superior to ours? Do they offer a future or are they locked into the fixed tenets of their ideology?

It would pay us well to consider. Are we seeking Aldous Huxley’s ‘Brave New World’ or are we enjoining other locked-in visions of long-dead philosophers? Since Marx and Engels did not envision a vibrant, educated middle class, who then represent today’s proletariat?

What we have to face today is the growing dissatisfaction with our politicians. The reality is that we need politicians who can prove they have earned our trust. We want to be represented by the person who grew up next door. We want them to be tireless in negotiating a better life for all.

We want to be able to trust them.


Copyright 2020 © Peter Lowry

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On being royal refugees.

Tuesday, January 14th, 2020

It was hardly just the Downton Abbey dowagers who were clucking over the American divorcée marrying into Brit royalty. Well, their predictions of trouble are in, fast and furious. Harry and Meghan are rebelling against the vacuous life of the royal family. The very good news is that Harry’s gramma reacted as a loving grandmother, not as a queen. Good on her!

The trouble is that those kids have absolutely no idea of the problems such a fall from grace can present. There is far more to the separation of royals and their estates than naming your kid Archie.

And hiding out in a millionaire’s estate on Vancouver Island is far from the fun times in Toronto.

What makes you think you could live in a little two-bedroom apartment in St. James Town and find jobs immediately. At least you speak the local language—sort of. That apartment would fit in a very small corner of your Kensington Palace digs.

Will you get those acting jobs because you are a former duchess? Does it make it easier for you to find baby sitters or daycare for when both you and Harry are working? And, what is Harry good at? If he could learn to drive in the right lane, he could get a job as an Uber driver—no experience required. Hey, McDonald’s is also hiring.

Just wait until the immigration people hear he has only been trained to shoot a machine gun and how to wave to crowds.

It is not likely that Harry would be interested in the types of jobs being offered to former dukes. He does have a pleasant demeanour and does know something about charities. He would likely have some good ideas about planning fêtes.

And would he ever get used to the casual way Canadians would approach him and say “Aren’t you a prince or something?” Nobody is going to pay to keep the riffraff away. And what about the ones too polite to say anything, who just stare?

I think the toughest challenge will be with those Canadians who have no respect for royals and do not believe that your gramma should be Queen of Canada. And then there are those who think the whole idea of royals is a crock. Welcome to Canada.


Copyright 2020 © Peter Lowry

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They can help you write right.

Wednesday, January 8th, 2020

You cannot be sure here, just who is the problem? It is all about a program called My Analytics from Microsoft and another program called Grammarly. Both programs are intrusive and trying to sell us something. They both present themselves as though they have groups of monkeys in lab coats ready to analyse us and our writing.

The first problem is that I do not like Microsoft. If I can avoid it at all, I do not do business with Microsoft. I consider the company to be intrusive, incompetent and inhuman. Its only advantage is that it is often half the price of Apple. It just never stops trying to get more money from us.

And it is an appalling thought to have Microsoft routinely analyzing my work habits, my washroom breaks, my cooperation with others and how I behave on play dates.

And add to that, this company out of San Francisco, that thinks it can make your American English more perfect. Perfect American English is an oxymoron. The Grammarly program says my productivity has been nil for the past week but my mastery of the language must be perfect because they can find no errors.

That is certainly the way I like it. Yet, I doubt that I have cracked open the second edition of Fowler’s Modern English Usage on my bookshelf once in the past 30 years. I learned, a long time ago, that effective communications are not always rule-based.

As an editor, I learned that all that need to be corrected are errors that get in the way of effective communications. Errors that facilitate understanding are welcome. Though, I do think it helps to know the rules before you discard them.

No doubt, I make enough errors in these commentaries to keep the monkeys at Microsoft and Grammarly busy. But, sorry folks, no sale.


Copyright 2020 © Peter Lowry

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Unity in the eye of the beholder.

Monday, December 30th, 2019

It was June 17, 2019 and I rarely watch any television during the day but curiosity had me turn it on—and the wife and I were caught up in the most amazing event. Born in Toronto, we have always considered it to be our city. On this day we shared that ownership with several million other Torontonians—and many more millions of Canadians.

At the time I turned it on, the parade organizers were trying to figure out how to get the old double-decker buses safely through the thousands of people around the Princes’ Gate of the Canadian National Exhibition grounds—where the parade was supposed to have already passed through.

But this was a day of celebration and the basketball players on top of those buses were already partying. This was great fun. And where did all these people come from? Well, they had not seen anything yet.

Okay, we all know Toronto traffic is getting worse every day. Those buses took four hours to get to Toronto city hall. People were crowding into Nathan Phillips Square before the buses were out of the Ex. It got me worried as to whether the city had arranged for enough portable toilets. And how could the hot dog vendors arrange for more supplies?

We listened to hoop star Kawhi Leonard. We were awed by the uncountable crowds. We were proud. We were all basketball fans that day.

The funny thing is, my wife was the one who encouraged me to turn on the last couple games in the NBA championship series. I never was a basketball fan. I was always a bit chunky as a kid and I was built better for baseball and football. And we had only been to one Raptor game in downtown Toronto. Who can afford pro-sports tickets?

But I saw Canadian unity that day in June. We were all Raptor fans. We were all happy to boo premier Ford and cheer Toronto’s mayor and Canada’s prime minister. We could all agree as Canadians that having our basketball players beat all the American teams was great. Stick that in your hairdo Donald Trump!


Copyright 2019 © Peter Lowry

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The year that was.

Thursday, December 26th, 2019

It’s been a tough year. Commenting on politics in such a fluid situation as we find in North America and Europe requires considerable dedication. It is also getting expensive and more time consuming to keep abreast of rapidly changing circumstances.

The idea was that I had a leg up because of my expertise in the political ground game and experience in Ottawa and Washington. The only problem is that our current crop of politicians is inventing brand new games. We can become just as confused by their antics as the talking heads who are paid to comment.

And those of us who labour over our blogs are getting some unfair competition from the news media in the form of free newsletters. So far, they have not been monetizing these efforts, but when they do, life for bloggers will return to normal. By ‘normal’ I mean the usual complaints and kudos about our opinions.

Babel-on-the-Bay also gets the occasional complaint about our policy of not providing space for people to complain about our opinions. Mostly, we get interesting e-mails both pro and con as well as when we make a boo-boo. A good example was the guy who must be from Ingersoll, Ontario who tells me they are still assembling some General Motors SUVs down there. I seem to also remember some government funding for that CAMI plant when it was built for GM and Suzuki.

But to me, General Motors’s last gasp was in Oshawa where it had made the deal with Colonel Sam McLaughlin. The company has broken its trust with Canadians. It will take much more that a few SUVs in Ingersoll, to restore our faith in General Motors.

And we are happy to say that kudos from Babel-on-the-Bay readers outweigh complaints by about three to one. Mind you, I obviously have a good number of new democrat readers as I get the most complaints from them.

If I am looking for some interesting arguments, I just have to run a comment about voting systems that are not as good as first-past-the-post. That brings out readers from all levels of politics. They tried out preferential voting in London, Ontario last year. They found the results were the same as though they had used first-past-the-post. I could have told them that.

But I find that, in politics, there are many things that people have to figure out for themselves.


Copyright 2019 © Peter Lowry

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Requiem for GM.

Friday, December 20th, 2019

After a lifetime of driving North American cars, I switched to a Korean import this year. Price was just one reason. It was heart-wrenching to give up the comfort and easy ride of my last Buick. Yet how could you stay with a company with no soul. The company broke faith with their founder, William Durant, and with his partner, Sam McLaughlin who, more than 100 years ago, created General Motors of Canada. GM finished their last Canadian-assembled vehicle (in Oshawa) this week.

We were supported by the Auto Pact that enabled Canada and the U.S. to share production. We were betrayed by the NAFTA agreement that sent assembly jobs to low-wage Mexico. We were betrayed by our politicians who did not get us the trade-offs when plants were moved and jobs in the hundreds and then thousands were lost.

But it is General Motors that lacks the understanding and the humanity here. When a company grows as big as General Motors, it becomes a larger fiscal entity than many of the countries of the world. With revenues in the billions of dollars, it becomes far more important than just quarterly returns to the stockholders.

We Canadians came to the corporation’s aid when it felt the effects of   the financial crisis of 2008. Nobody complained about the production quality of GM’s Canadian plants. Canada stood by GM. There has been no quid pro quo! Only memories are left.

Years ago, we learned the lyrics of the commercial that asked us to “See the U.S.A. in your Chevrolet” and Canadians became staunch fans of the ‘working man’s’ (or working woman’s) favourite car.

But Americans are beginning to note that there are fewer Canadians travelling in the increasingly angry, divided and isolationist U.S.A. these days. There are fewer GM cars being sold in Canada. Nobody is arranging this sales resistance and nobody wants to be angry at Americans. When you treat people with indifference, as though they do not matter, the consequences come with time.


Copyright 2019 © Peter Lowry

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Who will rule? Google, Huawei or Microsoft?

Monday, November 25th, 2019

Who is kidding who in the high-tech wars? Based on what Google Analytics can tell us about readers of this web site, I think you should all sit up straight and try not to drool as you keyboard. No, it’s not that bad. It’s worse. Big Brother is alive and well and running the World-Wide Web. Why wait for Huawei?

Google’s Sidewalk Labs only wants to take over Toronto. I just found out that Microsoft is making a lunge for the whole country. And I would trust the Peoples’ Republic of China before I would ever trust the evil empire of Bill Gates and Company.

I did not spend 30 years in the computer industry, just learning how to keyboard. I remember a conference sponsored by Gates and Friends in Seattle one time. When the guru from Microsoft finished his presentation, I grabbed a floor microphone and told the audience of over a thousand techies “I might speak with a Canadian accent but when it comes to Microsoft’s promises, I’m from Missouri.” There was a lot of laughter before Microsoft lackies could recapture the mic.

And yet, the other day, Microsoft sent me an e-mail offering me, the Microsoft version of MyAnalytics, for my exclusive use. It seems this small addition to my software could help me improve my focus and wellbeing. Not only that but it promises to improve my networking and collaboration. With Microsoft?  And they tell me this is for my personal use. Oh?

Now, how quickly can you tell me how many of you use Windows? And how often do you accept Microsoft updates to your software? And you do know that information goes both ways when you do, don’t you?

It is certainly not my intent to create any paranoia here but you would be amazed at what Microsoft already knows. It might not be as exciting as the traces of bodily fluids that you and a friend left on the back seat of your daddy’s Chevrolet but almost as embarrassing.


Copyright 2019 © Peter Lowry

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Alberta should say no to own police.

Friday, November 15th, 2019

We are hearing a lot of bad ideas from Alberta of late. When premier Kenney gets into a hissy-fit, he rails and rants a lot and he comes up with some really dumb suggestions. The dumbest of them is the one where Alberta would create its own pension plan and put all the money into the tar sands. Another is the idea of firing the RCMP as the provincial police in Alberta and creating their own provincial police.

The policing idea has merit but I would suggest that the start-up costs for an Alberta force would be sizeable and there could be unnecessary levels of chaos in the transition. What Kenney and his friends should do is hire the Ontario Provincial Police to do the job. The OPP has the training facilities, the people and the skills to provide a seamless transition. And the good news is that Doug Ford was never allowed to put his people in charge of the OPP. They are untouched by politicians.

It makes them one of the best police forces in North America. Compared to the nearby New York State Police, headquartered in Albany, the OPP are paragons of virtue. They always stood a head taller than the Quebec Provincial Police but I am told by Quebecers that the QPP are no longer the bunch of thugs, they used to be.

While my experience with RCMP headquarters in Ottawa was always friendly and interesting, I could not say that for the kids fresh out of training in Regina who travelled the roads of Alberta looking for someone to harass.

But just why the dismissal of the RCMP as provincial guardians of law and order in Alberta would be a blow for freedom by Kenney is beyond me. It is easy enough to imagine that pulling four million people out of the Canada Pension Plan would be a small set back for the larger plan but the entire idea is that the larger the plan’s base the easier it is to ensure growth in its asset base. Small plans are more vulnerable.

Especially if you put the Alberta portion into as polluting an industry as Alberta tar sands.


Copyright 2019 © Peter Lowry

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