Archive for the ‘Uncategorized’ Category

Let’s hear it for Sobeys.

Saturday, December 5th, 2020

The other day we were whining about the rapidly rising prices at our grocery stores. We hear today that Sobeys and the rest of the Empire stores (including Safeway) are breaking with the solidarity of the Loblaw and Metro chains. They have restored their employee’s s bonus for working in lock-down areas because of the pandemic and have refused to go along with the industry-wide increase in display fees that they charge to their suppliers.

Much of the credit for this stance by the grocery chain is given to Empire CEO Michael Medline. He puts commitments to employees and the community ahead of profit and, oddly enough, the profit tends to look after itself.

Medline has also been credited with the rebuilding of the Safeway chain in western Canada after a rocky start after the takeover by Empire a few years ago. Food stores work on tight margins and my impression over the years is that happy employees are the key to a successful store.

And that is all I have for today. I think I will check out the fiasco in the White House for tomorrow—Mr. Trump is always guaranteed to be doing something wrong.


Copyright 2020 © Peter Lowry

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Pandemic Profiteers.

Saturday, November 21st, 2020

As a young man, I was trained by two different grocery chains in management of large grocery stores. Later in life, traveling around the world, I would often visit grocery stores, not to see what was different but to admire what was the same. From Hamburg to Kyoto, I could drink in the familiar odours, measure the familiar aisles and re-orient myself.

But today there is a difference in my home town grocery outlets. It is a sense of mounting annoyance. It is a less civil environment. It is the edginess of the staff. It is in the hurries of store management. It is the mounting prices for bread and bacon, milk, butter and potatoes.

The newspapers are finally catching the unrest and reporting on the unconscionable profits being harvested by the publicly reported grocery chains. Reporters are aghast at what they see as skyrocketing prices. Housewives on tight budgets wear worried frowns.

What is worse; nothing will be done about it. Our politicians have been enslaved to the food chain for many years. The conservatives live and die by the farmer voters. The liberals are caught up with the processors and middle marketers. And the NDP are supposed to be the last bastion for the urban consumer. Nobody rocks the boat.

But it is not like the integrated oil companies that merely ensure their profits with managed retail pricing of their goods. Purveying groceries is a much more complicated business. Food chains can stretch many thousands of miles as the seasons mitigate the supply. Processing is often concentrated in low-labour cost countries. A can of peas can have a low percentage mark-up because of its long shelf life, while a head of lettuce loses value daily. And meats make the profits for the chains.

But prices are gouging as each retail chain follows the other up the pricing for profit path. No chain backs down when it comes to dividends.

And what greater profits will they reap as the pandemic denies us the ability to fight back as recalcitrant politicians are baffled by the coronavirus?


Copyright 2020 © Peter Lowry

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The perils of pandemics.

Sunday, November 15th, 2020

Pandemics kill. Pandemics are economic disasters. Pandemics can be the great equalizer. Pandemics can be a bonanza for the unscrupulous. Pandemics can trap the unwary. Pandemics can destroy plans in process. Pandemics can offer opportunity.

But in opportunity comes failure. The failure of Donald Trump in the United States will go down in history. He put his political future on the line while seeking a second term. He failed his country. He failed in his quest. His blunder cost hundreds of thousands of American lives.

Pandemic: 1. Donald Trump: 0.

Alberta premier Jason Kenney also failed to see the dangers in not recognizing the possibilities of the pandemic. He needed the health professionals as allies. He needed them on side. He fought with them instead of making them his frontline in the battle against the pandemic.

Pandemic: 1. Jason Kenney: 0.

Even those who see the opportunity can stumble. They become overconfident. Take premier Doug Ford in Ontario. He had the formula working for him. He had the health professionals on side. Until one day, he cut them out of his planning. It was his urge to colour-code. He coded himself out of cooperation with the professionals.

Pandemic: 1. Doug Ford: 0.

There are even those who think they can do better than the politicians. Take the fat cats at Loblaw, for example. They saw opportunity in the pandemic. They were going to profit from the pandemic. They were going to convince the public they were the good guys. They stayed open in adversity. They bribed their employees to defy the pandemic with a pay raise. When they felt their point was made, they canceled the pay raise and started raising prices. They launched an industry move to capitalize on the pandemic.

Pandemic: 1. Loblaw 0.


Copyright 2020 © Peter Lowry

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A Capital Idea.

Saturday, November 14th, 2020

It is fun to remember that, as a youngster, I was looking forward to a career as a writer. Writing an unedited blog can have serious consequences for those hopes. Nothing cuts deeper than the e-mails I get from readers about an occasional grammatical or spelling error. I even had a blistering comeuppance from a reader the other day on my errant ways of using capitalization.

In defence (or defense) let me remind you that there is no authority on the English language in Canada. No doubt William Shakespeare received harangues on his sonnets in his time. What might be an errant use of the language today might be common usage tomorrow. English is a living language, subject to constant change, new words and evolutionary pressures.

Have you noticed, for example, in the Toronto Star, certain writers are allowed to capitalize the skin colour black with a capital ‘B.’ Aboriginal friends, whom I have asked, really do not give a damn if indigenous is spelled with or without a capital ”I.”

I, for one, have been trying to join the trend to fewer capital letters. There is still a need for capitals when you mention the White House in Washington as opposed to a white house. Though the current resident president in that white house is hardly deserving of capitalization.

I find that capitalization in headlines is a matter of choice. The use of all caps is still a form of shouting—quite unnecessary. Recently I have been experimenting with lower case for political parties. People seem only to use capitals to differentiate between a person who might be liberal and the Liberal Party—and that should be obvious by context. I must admit that I could be causing confusion between the colour ‘green’ and the ‘green’ party. I might also be abusing some rules in French grammar if I write about a Quebec block party instead of the Bloc Québécois.

It comes down to a very simple rule. You can use capitals where and when you want but their purpose is to avoid ambiguity for the reader.


Copyright 2020 © Peter Lowry

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In the silence of Ottawa.

Saturday, November 7th, 2020

Our not too silent members of parliament have hardly been ignoring what has been going on south of the border. They are as enthralled as the rest of us with the ups and downs of the political drama unfolding. They have reason to be concerned about the impact of trends in the U.S. on Canadian voters.

The intensity of the polarization of voters in the U.S. has probably caused Canadian politicians the most concern. The question is will Canadian voters polarize in the same way? I doubt it. There are always some Canadians who follow the American trends but there continue to be differences.

The first difference is in immigration. Canada continues to increase its immigration. While there are always those who foolishly resent these new Canadians, the truth is that immigrants contribute to our economic growth. And the current plan is to increase immigration to 400,000 per year for the next three years. These numbers will help accelerate our economic recovery from the pandemic.

The second difference is in religion. That might be questionable to some people but the trends in the U.S. and Canada diverge on religion. The first factor is in Quebec. The trend away from the Catholic faith has now covered a large share of the Quebec population. Attitudes on abortion and same-sex marriage have moved the province into being a secular society more so than the western provinces. The most populous province, Ontario is close behind Quebec in becoming more secular.

While there is a great deal of hypocrisy about religion in the United States, there is no denying the influence religion has on the political divide in the country. There is also a greater sense of hopelessness among some of the demographics in the U.S. than there are in Canada.

We always had this feeling when visiting our American friends that the national moto there should be changed from “In God We Trust” to “It ain’t my responsibility.”


Copyright 2020 © Peter Lowry

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When one black MP is not enough.

Tuesday, November 3rd, 2020

There was an amusing political op-ed in the Toronto Star on the weekend. It was by Tiffany Gooch, one of the Star’s ‘Black is Beautiful’ writers. Her point was that one black woman member of parliament was not enough.

Ms. Gooch thinks it is wrong, at the current time, to have 100 women as members of parliament but only one is black. I wonder if she would be much happier if only 50 women were in parliament and half of them were black.

The entire question is about as silly as prime minister Justin Trudeau’s answer in 2016 about his cabinet choices. A news media person had counted and asked him why half his cabinet were women. Trudeau’s answer was a trite comment about it being 2016. Some of the questionable choices he made to force that balance came back later to bite him on the ass. We have heard no words from him on gender equality in cabinet since.

What the PM found was that gender and experience and competence were not as equally dispersed as one might suppose. And I think I will be concerned about that impression until the day I see a cabinet with more than an equal number of women.

It is sad that Ms. Gooch assumes any female black candidate will have to withstand constant racist and misogynistic attacks.

What was really amusing about the Gooch article was her advice to black women such as Kamala Harris, who is running for vice-president in the United States. She tells them that “one must be firm, avoid coming off as angry. It is important to be knowledgeable, but one risks criticism for trying to hard.”

Maybe Ms. Gooch should take her own advice.

My advice to future candidates will probably remain the same. Man or woman, I always advise the hopeful to bring more to the job than just their loyalty to this or that party.


Copyright 2020 © Peter Lowry

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The only fair vote is a run-off vote.

Sunday, October 11th, 2020

Nobody claims first-past-the-post (FPTP) voting is perfect. What it gives us is a means to get things done. It is fast, efficient and trusted. It is the solution to the tendency in many forms of voting of not being able to form a cohesive government.

As a long-time proponent of FPTP voting, it sometimes surprises people when I point out that, it is not the best system. It works just fine for a two-party system when your choice is between party A or party B. It creates complications and frustrations for situations when there are three or more parties in contention.

Simply put, in the FPTP system, you tend to have fewer political parties. This is because the parties will have made many of their compromises on policies before the election. You get what are called ‘big tent’ parties whose policies can span a broad segment of the political spectrum. These parties sometimes spend an inordinate amount of their time arguing about their public pronouncements.

In systems with a large number of parties, you find that the tendency is for the parties to be more tightly knit—devoted to a major cause or singular objective.

A good example of this is the situation with Canada’s Green Party. While nobody misses the ecological objective of the party, it can leave voters in the dark about its objectives in other areas such as foreign policy.

Having managed major campaigns, and played many different roles in Canadian elections, my only compromise on solving the problems of FPTP is to suggest that if you want a 50 per cent choice (or more) for your politicians, you have run-off elections. This enables the electorate to decide if they want a majority or minority government. It enables the politicians to clarify the issues they consider important. It makes for better decision making.

This is not preferential voting. Where people vote on choice one, two, three etc.—what some people call an instant run-off—is a cop-out. When dealing with a large number of candidates, preferential voting tends to come down to the least contentious candidate—not the most preferred.

In the age of the computer, Internet voting is becoming practical, safe and increasingly inexpensive. That will allow us to have fast, effective run-off voting.


Copyright 2020 © Peter Lowry

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A Paywall for All?

Sunday, September 6th, 2020

It looks as though the news media people who are trying to collect from Facebook, Google, et al for using their output are going to regret it. Having government involved could cost them far more than they have gained. We have to face the fact that governments are better at collecting money for their efforts than the rest of us.

And media people need to face the fact that what is one person’s garbage can be another person’s treasure. Databases, archives and collections have been gathered on computers from many years before the standardization of the World Wide Web. And for every verifiable fact there are probably two or three times the dubious data.

It is the source of the information that matters. I expect that within reasonable time we will have algorithms that will measure the validity of the data for us. In the meantime, we will just put our trust in the paywalls, we can afford.

Or contrarily, we can put our trust in the sources, our enemies hate. My favourite non-North American source is the Economist. CNN in the U.S. and the Toronto Star in Canada. I am probably showing my age by staying mainly with print media.

I once wasted some time on Twitter because my grandson suggested it. Frankly, I could not see the point.

I recently spent three weeks in the hospital with nothing better to do than watch CBC News Channel. For the life of me, I could not believe I put myself through that experience.

But pick your poison. The government is soon going to get into the act and I think we will all regret it.


Copyright 2020 © Peter Lowry

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Doing it the old-fashioned way…

Thursday, September 3rd, 2020

In taking over the Multiple Sclerosis Society of Canada in the 1970s, we did it the old-fashioned way: We cared. There was no involvement for government. There was no need to institutionalize a voice for the charitable sector across government. And, if anyone thought to ask, we could have told them what a dumb idea it was to give one charity money to give out money to other charities to create short-term jobs.

One of the first moves I made as head of the MS Society was to sit down with the chief medical officer of health for Canada and ask a lot of questions. I remember my last question. I asked if there was anything I could do for him? He said keep asking questions.

At the time the basic research into MS was equalled by the government. We were both spending about $180,000. per year on multiple sclerosis-related research. The society’s fund-raisers had already raised the $180,000 for the next year and were coasting.  At least they did until they were told it looked like we would need at least $5 million.

What we had done was bring together all the top neurological disease research specialists in Canada at a Quebec resort. They were asked how much they would need if they could get serious about MS research. They saw $5 million as the going in guess. In three years, we were up to $15,000,000.

The next chore was to light a fire under the society across Canada. We built up the society where we were already strong. We reformed the weak links. We built new divisions. Cancer and Heart were the leaders in the charity sweepstakes but MS soon joined them.

And we did it without the expertise of the policy framework needed today. Opportunity was the challenge. Those who see the opportunity are the ones to get it done.


Copyright 2020 © Peter Lowry

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Please do not label me.

Monday, July 13th, 2020

While this is not about me, I admit that I do not like being labelled by people who do not know me. It matters not what my racial origin might be. It has no matter how my skin colour might be described. I am not racist. And I am becoming more and more annoyed with those who claim that our society is systemically racist.

I am starting to wonder just who might be the racists here? I can only speak for myself. I was not brought up in a household that defined people by the colour of their skin or their choice of deity. Discovering racism and tribalism as a young person came as a surprise.

And the racism that existed when I was young was open and crude. Few people give vent to their racism today. As a writer, I pay special attention to gender issues, words with racial connotation. Criticism of an individual only deals with actions or words, not their race, religion, sex or sexual orientation.

But I keep hearing from so-called spokespersons for racial groups and I do not like what I am hearing.

We are told, for example, that our Royal Canadian Mounted Police are systemically racist. That is a stupid statement from people who do not seem to understand the meaning of the word ‘systemic.’ The RCMP has more important tasks. I also believe that any words or actions that are determined to be racist from a member should be immediate grounds for dismissal from the force.

If we go back to those times when humans defined each other by their race, we will be the poorer for it. When you define everyone by their race and their actions as racist or not racist, you are falling into the trap of being racist yourself. Is not the very name of the Canadian Black Lives Matter organization racist?

We Canadians have a marvelous advantage. Ours is a land of opportunity for all. The more we live harmoniously with each other, the more we can accomplish. Our country should be a beacon to humanity that says ‘Look at what people from all parts of the world can achieve by working together.’


Copyright 2020 © Peter Lowry

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