buckets over at Bouquets of Gray has been doing some terrific sleuthing in uncovering an avowed Alberta separatist who's been managing Conservative incumbent MP Peter Goldring's campaign for Edmonton-East. The campaign manager has been posting at the right-wing Free Dominion message board under the name of 'Psycho', and buckets recounts his escapades in great detail here, here, here, here, and here. This information unambiguously identifies Mr. Psycho as Gordon Stamp, who right up until today was a central figure in the Alberta Conservative Party.
I say "right up until today," of course, because only two hours and twenty-two minutes after Paul Wells got a hold of the story, Peter Goldring's campaign manager position became vacant. Yep, Wells got another one, this time with the help of the groundwork done by the incomparable buckets.
In case anyone needed any more ammunition against Stamp, though, there's plenty over at another web-based forum called Project Alberta. Unlike Free Dominion, which defines itself as a mere "Canadian conservative news forum for the discussion of conservative philosophy and activism," Project Alberta clearly aligns itself with separatists. Their stated purpose is as a forum that "seeks to advance Alberta's interests regardless of Canada - we seek to improve Alberta and Albertans PERIOD, whether that is in or out of confederation." Stamp began posting there in July of this year, and has been a frequent enough poster to ascend to the level of "Power Member."
In this conversation about the differences between the Alberta Alliance and the Separation Party of Alberta, Stamp has this to say:
The SPA goal (separation) is straightforward. But it is not sellable because many voters are thinking the possibility but do not want to jump right into the water. While Albertans are less cautious than most Canadians, we still prefer to stick our toes in the water to be sure the temperature is okay...In another posting about a dinner appearance by Ted Morton in Edmonton, Stamp contributed the following:
The AA philosophy resonates with more people because it recognizes the same abusive concerns of the federal Liberals. The AA has a list of demands that voters (and the media) recognize as truths. If those concerns are not rectified, then and only then will the separation question be presented to Albertans.
The AA follows the philosophy of "How to make friends and influence people" - the SPA strategy is to bulldoze everyone who stands in their way (as verified by the SPA supporters on this topic thread).
Considering that separation needs support (votes) from Albertans, I will follow the path that gets those votes..
Morton's Edmonton dinner last night was very well attended - approximately 170 people at $30 each.To add insult to injury, Stamp's "signature" in that forum at the time was "Canada as a nation has no moral justification to exist..."
As expected, Ted knew his stuff. He spoke fairly well with a few slips of the tongue - almost as if he was nervous with such a large gathering.
The thing I liked was that he did NOT skirt any questions from the audience after his speech. In fact he came across better answering off the cuff than when he read his prepared speech.
As expected, he re-iterated that he was 100% opposed to Alberta separation. (That is his only flaw with me because I really respect his platform.)
There's more where that came from, but I'll stop there.
How many other Alberta CPC candidates have avowed separatists in high positions, I have to wonder? One posting over at Free Dominion written by someone named Hailey suggests the following of two Edmonton-area incumbents:
I've heard that Rahim Jaffer has a significant number of western separatists working on his campaign and I quite believe that. That's Rahim.And over at Project Alberta, this rumour of other separatists working for other Conservative candidates seems to have been confirmed by someone who posts as GoTedGo:
I've heard the same thing about Rajotte - not sure I am convinced though.
I too am working for a campaign that has a federalist leader. That campaign does not know I in fact support independence. For Gord to tell Peter Goldring of his separatist leanings puts Goldring in a very difficult position. He should not have done that, so that Goldring would have deniability.The Bloc Québécois may be working to end Canada as we know it, but at least they're honest about their ambitions rather than trying to hide them behind a supposed federalist agenda.
[CTV Update: CTV is reporting the story now.]
[FreeDominion update: Dan McKenzie of the Dan Report finds that Free Dominion did some late-night maintenance last night.]
[MoreMedia update: The Globe and Mail, the Edmonton Journal, and the Edmonton Sun are reporting on the Gordon Stamp story now.]
[Goldring update: buckets has noted that Peter Goldring, who called the Free Dominion "extreme" when being interviewed by the Edmonton Sun, once spoke at their banquet.]
[Level-headed update: Stageleft tries to cut through the insults on both sides and figure out what's going on here. I don't agree with all of his conclusions, but it's a great post and it has some great comments as well.]
Resisting the pull of cynicism since 1969.
Friday, December 30, 2005
buckets over at Bouquets of Gray has been doing some terrific sleuthing in uncovering an avowed Alberta separatist who's been managing Conservative incumbent MP Peter Goldring's campaign for Edmonton-East. The campaign manager has been posting at the right-wing Free Dominion message board under the name of 'Psycho', and buckets recounts his escapades in great detail here, here, here, here, and here. This information unambiguously identifies Mr. Psycho as Gordon Stamp, who right up until today was a central figure in the Alberta Conservative Party.
If the Globe and Mail keeps this up, I'm going to have to renege on my promise to provide my readers with large portions of their proportional representation columns as a public service--I'm not any more interested than you are in seeing this blog become all PR, all the time. They're not quite to that point, though, and besides, this is a particularly good one. I promise I'll have something to say on another subject before the end of the weekend!
Over to John Ibbitson:
We'll know by the end of next week whether the income-trust scandal (the mere fact that it now has a name is a disaster for the Liberals) is resonating with the public.I said it first, of course, but Ibbitson said it prettier.
Even if it has, though, the most the Tories can reasonably hope for is to close the gap between themselves and the Grits. Barring an electoral earthquake, nothing is going to push either party far enough ahead of the other to prevent another minority government.
In fact, as last Friday's column observed, the mostly likely outcome is a hung Parliament, with both the Liberals and Conservatives possessing between 115 and 120 seats, the NDP with far too few seats to influence the outcome of any vote, and the government of the day largely depending on the all-powerful Bloc Québécois for its survival.
Ugly, ugly, ugly.
So it's time for opponents of proportional representation to explain themselves.
The argument most often put forward by detractors of PR is that it will lead to unstable Parliaments in which larger parties are held hostage to the agendas of smaller, special-interest parties, leading to repeated political crises and frequent elections.
The rebuttal is self-evident.
The Bloc is now in its fifth election, and has never been stronger. Even if its support wanes in future votes, there is no reason to think it will drop much below 40 seats, making it highly unlikely that either the Liberals or the Conservatives will be able to form a majority government in any future election. That's the political irony: Moving from first-past-the-post to proportional representation would actually make the House of Commons more stable.
Let's construct a PR Parliament, based on an unscientific blend of recent polls: We'll give the Liberals 34 per cent of the popular vote, the Tories 30 per cent, the NDP 17 per cent, the Bloc 14 per cent, and the Greens 5 per cent.
The 39th Parliament would consist of 105 Liberals, 92 Conservatives, 52 New Democrats, 43 Bloquistes and 15 Greens (in a 307-seat House). Such a House would invite a stable coalition of the Liberals and the NDP.
But what if, thanks to Trustgate (it has a nice ring, don't you think?), the Conservatives get 34 per cent of the vote and the Liberals only 30 per cent? How could the Tories ever govern with the support of the NDP? Would a coalition with the Bloc and the Greens be any less improbable?
Who knows? But such extrapolations can go only so far. After all, in a House based on proportional representation, the Green vote could go up and the NDP vote down; the Tories could break apart into two parties (and so, for that matter, might the Liberals), and entirely new parties could be born.
The point is that aspiring prime ministers would have to put their coalition cabinets together before they met in Parliament, complete with manifestos and memorandums of agreement, rather than lurching from Throne Speech crisis to budget crisis to Gomery crisis to dissolution, which was the history of the 38th Parliament.
A PR-based House would also be far more regionally representative. So strong is the Bloc right now, neither the Conservatives nor the Liberals may be able to form a cabinet containing elected francophone Quebeckers. But a PR-based system would ensure that the 50 per cent of Quebeckers who vote for a federalist party in a federal election would be appropriately represented in the government, just as the roughly 15 per cent of Canadians who vote for Quebec sovereignty would be appropriately represented in the House.
There are plenty of other reasons to support proportional representation: It tends to improve voter turnout, and it more closely represents the popular will. But the most potent argument in favour of voting reform is the one that has most recently emerged: PR might finally put an end to Canada's spaghetti Parliaments.
Trustscam. How does that sound?
Tuesday, December 27, 2005
Three stories appeared in the mainstream media today that may be of interest to electoral reformers. The first is a CTV piece about Jack Layton, who's saying that proportional representation really will be the key to NDP cooperation in a minority parliament. And yes, he's said that before, but there's an explanation for why it didn't work out that way in the article. Good to finally hear the whole story on that.
The second is an election special on Fair Vote Canada and proportional representation--nothing new to most of you, I suspect, but it's quite informative for people who have just started to hear about the concept and are curious about what it's all about. It's a nicely balanced article, a mixture of proponents and detractors, with smart people on both sides. (What I really want, though, is to get these people in a room together and make them debate the issue, backing their arguments up with real-life examples from comparative politics. I'd buy a ticket to that.)
The other story doesn't actually mention the words "proportional representation," but it's arguably the most interesting of the three. It's an article in the National Post that started out with Harper's statement that the Conservatives wouldn't be willing to form a coalition with any party, but which ends up being about coalitions in general. It quotes Rick Anderson, a senior advisor to former Reform leader Preston Manning:
[Anderson] has become so disillusioned with the prevailing political culture that he has founded the Fireweed Democracy Project, which aims to promote democratic reform in federal politics. "If ever there was a country needing a coalition governance model in its democratic institutions and culture, it is 21st century Canada," he says. "[The political system] remains stuck in the past, better suited to excessively partisan combat than to legislative co-operation. This needs to change."The article's exploration of coalition-based models fits in quite nicely with my own discussion of coalitions toward the end of my proportional representation FAQ. Coalitions are, of course, possible under first-past-the-post as well, but historically they haven't been a part of Canadian political culture, and it may well take PR to change that. It makes me wonder how things would have been different if Manning hadn't been ousted in favour of Stockwell Day way back when, actually. (Who knew there would come a day when I'd be pining for Preston Manning?)
Hat tip to the Jurist at Accidental Deliberations.
Monday, December 26, 2005
I wonder if Klander will also be stepping down as the Liberal riding association president for Toronto-Danforth? Toronto-Danforth being the riding currently held by one Jack Layton, natch...whom Klander has dubbed "an asshole":
I'm going away for a couple of days so I thought I would find something smart and witty to put up on my blog before I left. Unfortunatley I couldn't think of anything so I just want to say that I think Jack Layton is an asshole... for no reason other than it makes me feel good to say it...and because he is.
According to a few scattered, unlinkable comments in various conservative blogs, Sun columnist Charles Adler seems to have reported via his radio show Adler On Line that Mike Klander has resigned. This was confirmed by CBC Radio in their hourly news report moments ago, by CFRA News Talk Radio, and by this Canadian Press article. The CBC referred to Klander as "this election's first blogging casualty."
[Update: Paul Wells on the CP article: "CP is quoting a long-suffering Liberal spokesman to the effect that Klander was "a volunteer" who had no official role in the current campaign. This rather understates the guy's significance. He delivered Tony Dionisio to the Martin camp in '02, and together, they delivered Ontario. When Sheila Copps got uppity, Klander was dispatched to take proper care of her in Hamilton in '04. I fondly recall the first place I ever saw the guy: in the union-hall basement where Paul Martin announced to a breathless world in 2002 that he wasn't sure he could work with Jean Chrétien any more. That whole event was a Klander/Dionisio special. But they were just volunteers, you understand."]
[Sundate: The Sun newspapers are now reporting the story in their online edition as well.]
[Stardate: The Toronto Star has the story now, as well.]
[Macdate: Macleans is also reporting it.]
[CBCupdate: The CBC has their own story online now, rather than just recycling the Canadian Press story as all the other online media have done so far. It's also arguably a better story, quoting more of the blog rather than just paraphrasing, and it doesn't repeat that ridiculous quote from Stephen Heckbert about how Klander wasn't really all that important anyway. Good for them.]
[Sinister update: Greg from Sinister Thoughts lets us in on the fact that Klander's Liberal Party buddy and fellow blogger of questionable taste Chris Wakelin has also taken down his blog. Wakelin's google cache is here. Apart from a bunch of swearing, some nasty words about the CBC, and a likening of the sentiments in fuckthesouth.com to how he feels about the rest of Canada, though, there isn't anything too heinous there. But if you scroll down to the post he made on April 21st, you see the following: Decided to take down my last post. Even though it was in no way a criticism of anybody in Ottawa, I fear it may have been taken in different contexts than the satire of a speech. I sincerely, do not want to be seen as piling on. So I will self censor. While I admit to being extremely curious what, exactly, he took down, I have to applaud him for his prudence. Too bad a little of that didn't rub off on his friend Klander; he might not be out of work now.]
[CanWest udpate: CanWest has offered up its own story now, which has been reprinted in the Saskatoon StarPhoenix, the Edmonton Journal, and the Vancouver Sun. Each paper writes its own headlines, though, and these are telling. The StarPhoenix opts for the benign "Grit resigns over Chow blog," the Journal says "Offensive blog costs Liberal organizer his job," and the Vancouver Sun story reads "Liberal organizer leaves over anti-Chinese remarks".]
[Globe update: The Globe and Mail wrote its own piece on the story, which differs from the others by quoting a lot more than just the Chow and Layton remarks. It also mentions that "a snapshot of the site is now being circulated on the Internet."]
[Citizendate: The Ottawa Citizen also wrote its own piece, and that piece also delved further into the nastier quotes from Klander's blog than the wire service stories did.]
[OttawaSundate: Columnist Michael Harris starts out his piece on the Klander story by saying "According to the latest CPAC-SES nightly tracking poll, the Liberals have a 10-point lead over the Conservatives. There is mystery in this."]
[Coppsdate: Former Liberal MP Sheila Copps writes a fairly damning column about Klander in the Toronto Sun.]
It's Boxing Day, and it's time for some boxing. In a sheer wordsmithery sense, that is.
Around noon on Christmas Day, journo-blogger Paul Wells made a post proporting to reveal a blog maintained by the Sheila-Copps-busting, Tony-Ianno-running senior executive in the Liberal party, Mike Klander. Said blog included such gems as a picture comparing Trinity-Spadina NDP candidate (and Jack Layton's wife) Olivia Chow to a dog, musing over what makes people "look gay," and insults hurled at Layton and at Stephen Harper. Why the past tense? Well, it seems the blog has been taken down, and can only be viewed in the google cache, minus the damning pictures. The post also talks about a Toronto Star reporter who faced Klander's wrath after the story was exposed.
After all the gaffes made by Martin Liberals thus far in this campaign, I believed them to be capable of just about any level of stupidity. So I sat back, grabbed some beer and some popcorn, and waited for the media onslaught via a google news search on "klander". And waited, and waited. As of the stroke of midnight on December 26th, the only hit has to do with a Duluth, Minnesota Target assistant store manager. That gives me pause.
In the comments on Calgary Grit's post on the topic, buckets of Buckets of Grewal fame shares my growing skepticism. He points out that the URLs are different on the blog itself and on the google cache, and also says:
Yes, google cache can show you that there used to be a blog at klander.blogspot.com.Other commenters go on to dismiss buckets' concern, even going so far as to suggest it might be a result of da drugs. Boxing ensues.
But we don't know who set up that blog and when the postings were made.
In theory, it's a great trick, no? Set up a blog in someone elses name. Make them look like an ass-hole. Then do a screen capture. Then delete the blog.
I haven't seen the Toronto Star story you mention yet: there is nothing at their site.
Honestly, I have no idea what to think at this point. Do I believe senior Liberals like Klander are capable of this sort of behaviour? Oh, yes. Do I believe some individual from one of the other parties is capable of setting up a fake blog to make it look like Klander did something on this level of awful? Sadly, that's also a yes. There are clearly more questions than answers here: If there's truth behind the Wells exposé, then why didn't even one mainstream media source pick it up over the course of Christmas Day? I realize that Christmas Day is the ultimate slow news day, but not even a tiny little mention? And yet if it isn't true, then why haven't we seen Mr. Klander broadcasting a denial all over kingdom come and threatening to sue the person who made him look like a complete jerk in front of God and the world?
Either way, though, heads are going to roll. And I suspect there will be more news on this when we wake up in the morning. Happy Boxing Day. Box away.
[Update: After finding the original Toronto Star article through Lexis-Nexis, buckets takes back his skepticism over in his other blog, Bouquets of Gray. Although there's no link to this on the Star's website, I have confirmed this through looking it up on Lexis-Nexis myself. This suggests that this is almost certainly real, but that no other media outlets picked up on it. Curiouser and curiouser.]
[Upperdate: Conservative blogger Stephen Taylor has sifted through Klander's ex-blog and summarized some of the worst of his posts. Taylor also has access to the so-called apology Klander posted before his entire blog was taken down. It read: It would appear that more people viewed my blog than the small circle of friends it was intented (sic) for. I apologize if anyone was offended by my comments...they were meant to be in jest. Anyway, I have removed my previous posts... Methinks Klander should be reminded that "I apologize if anyone was offended by my comments" is not actually an apology.]
[Upper-dupper-date: Angry in the Great White North has some more where Stephen left off.]
[Upper-dupper-date-date: Greg from Sinister Thoughts makes a connection between Klander and a 'Mike' who recently got a prominent mention in Warren Kinsella's blog, though he later discovers that it may have in fact been Mike Eizenga.]
[And another: Dr Dawg calls not only for Klander's resignation, but for his prosecution under section 319 of the Criminal Code of Canada.]
[Update the final: According to a few scattered, unlinkable comments in various conservative blogs, Sun columnist Charles Adler seems to have reported via his radio show Adler On Line that Mike Klander has resigned. This was confirmed by CBC Radio in their hourly news report moments ago (4:04PM Mountain Time on December 26th).]
Friday, December 23, 2005
First of all, let me say that I have to take back at least part of the snarky post I made about Anne McLellan earlier this week. While I still think it's incredibly arrogant for her to think that she represents everyone in Alberta who doesn't vote Conservative, there may actually have been an intentional--albeit subtle--proportional representation message behind her rather odd comments at the Alberta Liberal strategies press conference.
Why do I say that? Well, she showed up on the doorstep of a friend of mine the other day, a friend who happens to be one of my Fair Vote Canada colleagues. When McLellan asked for his support in the upcoming federal election, he asked about her views on electoral reform and proportional representation...and believe it or not, she actually came out in favour of it. She stopped short of embracing the citizens' assembly plan so dear to Fair Vote Canadians--she thinks government should play a key role in any electoral reform--but the fact that she wasn't just agreeing with everything my friend said actually gives me hope that this was more than just an election promise. So here I am with egg on my face. Sorry, Anne.
And speaking of Liberals for proportional representation, the Globe and Mail's Roy MacGregor brought us this terrific column yesterday in which Lester Pearson's former EA comes out in favour of what sounds like Mixed-Member Proportional representation. It's a day old, but I was busy yesterday, and I wouldn't be me if I didn't provide the few stragglers still reading political blogs at this time of year with all their electoral-reform-Globe-and-Mail-column needs.
He is, many will say, The Grand Old Man of the Ruling Party -- and he, too, thinks the system is broken.A nice little present for electoral reformers everywhere.
Tom Kent is 83 years old. The former principal assistant to prime minister Lester Pearson -- as well as former deputy minister, former Crown corporation head, former chair of a royal commission and lifelong intellectual spark of the Liberal Party of Canada -- believes that Canadian democracy is currently in such a bad state that the future of the country itself is endangered by elections such as the one we are now well into.
He even says that the current Prime Minister, Paul Martin, rose to power "in the most undemocratic way possible." He won the party leadership through money; he won the last election, barely, through a system that no longer reflects the country or the reality of 21st-century politics.
Then, to compound matters, the Prime Minister failed to follow through on his promise to fix what virtually everyone concedes no longer works as it should.
"He talked about democratic reform," says Kent from his home in Ottawa, "but he failed to do anything about it."
Earlier this week, Kent was one of 60 prominent Canadians offering his name to a Fair Vote Canada petition aimed at persuading broadcasters to commit debate time to this topic.
Democratic reform is, as all politicians and media are finding out as they travel about this grumpy country, a simmering issue that is thought to be tied directly to voter disenchantment and declining turnout.
Rethinking Canada's anachronistic first-past-the-post electoral system is nothing new to Kent. He began to worry about the "winner-take-all" riding system as far back as the 1960s, only then it wasn't nearly the destructive force he sees it as today.
"It didn't work as badly then as it does now," he says. "Back then, there were the two major parties and some smaller parties. And while it could be exhausting for the ministers to be in minority governments, it actually worked out pretty well.
"At that time, first-past-the-post had not produced what is now the fatal thing in Canadian democracy: the fracturing of the country through regionalism."
In Kent's opinion, the system "really broke" in 1993, when the long-standing Progressive Conservative Party fell to only two seats in the House of Commons and a new reality fell into place where Reform would stand for the West and the Bloc Québécois for Quebec, and Ontario would essentially decide who held the prime minister's chair.
Kent sees nothing in the immediate future but further fracturing of the notion of Confederation, an entangled and broken cat's cradle that includes Quebec separation, western alienation and confusion throughout the rest of the country.
Change, he says, is absolutely necessary, but change will come "only when people have reconciled themselves to the fact that without reform we're going to have continued fracturing." No one knows what the exact solution is to the first-past-the-post system -- that, presumably, would evolve over time -- but Kent himself favours a "mixed proportional" system much like that first suggested a generation ago in the Pepin-Robarts commission on Canadian unity.
Kent believes in a system that would combine some proportional representation with the current system of single-member constituencies.
As there are currently 308 seats in the House of Commons, each one held by the candidate who gets the highest number of votes in each riding, Kent suggests 300 such seats continue on that basis, and another 100 be added to more fairly represent general voting patterns. This would ensure everything from seats for the Green Party to extra seats to compensate for areas where the established parties showed well but not well enough to claim victory.
"The real question," Kent says, "would be if you went for such a system would you build a new chamber to accommodate the 400 seats, or would you just tear out the desks?" Kent believes tearing out the desks in the Commons would vastly improve decorum, making Parliament Hill more like Westminster.
"I think it would improve the level of debate," he contends.
But he would hardly stop there. He'd return power to constituencies so that policy bubbles up rather than filters down. He'd have the election financing money go to the constituencies rather than to party headquarters. Much of the current dysfunction has been caused by "the collapse of the party process" and the increasing consolidation of power at the top.
He'd set fixed election dates. He'd work to restore a proud, workable system of government to replace the current reality where "the policy people have all drifted away, the mechanics have taken over and the only policy discussion we have comes from an imported rock star."
But is it possible?
"Yes," he believes, though he's hardly optimistic.
His one hope, he says, is another minority system where the New Democratic Party clearly holds the balance of power.
And where the price of their support is not about taxes and programs. But rather the NDP "insisting" on real electoral reform.
Wednesday, December 21, 2005
Roy MacGregor rocks my world. But the Globe and Mail's columnists are (still) behind the subscriber wall, so (again) I'll cut just enough so as to not to enrage the copyright gods:
Is there a doctor in the House? The Peace Tower has gone limp; democracy is drooping.The whole thing is here.
In an attempt to show a bit more "edge," hoping to reach out to a younger audience, Fair Vote Canada is today launching a two-minute video on its website [starring Don Ferguson of the Royal Canadian Air Farce] that wonderfully parodies the well-known erectile dysfunction advertising campaigns.
Whether anything changes in time for the next election beyond this one is anyone's guess. Yes, as any politician knocking on doors these days is finding out, or any journalist tapping shoulders in Tim Hortons will tell you, the one absolute of this current campaign is a widespread sense among the voters that the system is "broke."
Earlier this week, more than 60 well-known Canadians -- including former politicians, current academics, authors and the cast of Air Farce -- joined with Fair Vote Canada in denouncing the current debate format and demanding that electoral reform be the focus of at least a portion of the remaining debates.
So many Canadians are just walking away from political participation that Fair Vote Canada says it has reached "crisis" proportions. In Iraq, 70 per cent of voters risked their lives to vote; in Canada, the turnout on Jan. 23 is likely to be the lowest on record, even if risk amounts to an icy driveway.
"There's such a deep visceral anger out there," says Larry Gordon, executive director of Fair Vote Canada and author of the Dr. Ferguson video. "People are convinced the system is broke."
Fair Vote has spent considerable time breaking down past results to show just how fractured it is.
"Did you know," Gordon asks, "that more people voted for the Conservatives in Ontario last election than the combined total for British Columbia, Alberta and Saskatchewan? It's true. But that translated into only 24 seats in Ontario versus 61 in the western provinces. [Preston] Manning and [Stephen] Harper are always chastised for not having that breakthrough in Ontario -- but, in fact, there are Conservatives voting in large numbers in Ontario."
More dramatic is how the Canadian system of "first past the post" skews representation in Quebec. The Bloc Québécois received 1.7 million votes in 2004, which translated into 54 seats in a 308-seat Parliament. The New Democratic Party, on the other hand, received far more votes -- 2.1 million -- and yet ended up with only 19 seats.
As for the little Green Party, it received more votes in total than the Liberal Party got throughout the Atlantic provinces. The East put 22 Liberals in Parliament. The Greens got not a single seat.
"These are not flukes," says Gordon. "These are not anomalies. This is the way it is. We are not getting what we voted for at the ballot box." The notion behind the "electoral dysfunction" video is that a little satire might bring the discussion to "a whole new group" -- disenchanted young voters.
"We have reams of reports," says Gordon. "We have all the facts and studies. But young people tell us, 'You guys are a little stodgy.' We know this topic can be an eye-glazer. We know this is not a sound-bite issue."
One of the problems, he thinks, is the phrase "proportional representation" itself.
"It's a bad label. It misses our core principle, which is voter equality -- a belief that every ballot has equal value and should have equal effect in determining fair representation." Change will come, Gordon believes, only when continuing minority governments and rising regional tensions force the issue. And it will have to come, he equally believes, from the people.
"Politicians elected under the current political systems have tremendous conflict of interest," Gordon says. "Politicians tend to fall in love with the system that puts them in." People, on the other hand, are increasingly demanding change to a system they no longer have faith in.
"It's up to us," he says.
"We can't just roll our eyes and shrug our shoulders and walk away saying, 'It makes my head hurt.'"
While it's not exactly something they test for in the infamous Canadian "points system," one of the things that always helps any new immigrant integrate is a certain knack for armchair anthropology. After all, it's only when you can figure out the differences between your culture of residence and your culture of origin that you have the option of altering your behaviour so that you come across the way you want to come across. But some differences are more elusive than others, and one of the things that took me an embarrassingly long time to figure out was the Canadian cultural norms for vote disclosure.
Case in point: I have frequent and regular discussions about politics with several of my local friends. These aren't political junkies like you and me, but they do pay attention to the news, and they think about politics pretty much every day. Sometime over the course of the 2004 federal election, though, I finally realized that not a single one of them had ever told me how they voted. Without even thinking about it, I asked one of them how he was planning to vote this time. He told me, but his body language and shocked expression told me that it had been a major faux pas to ask.
I've always been the type to poke at something until it makes sense to me, so I responded to this by taking an informal poll in a forum that consisted of about a third Canadians and half Americans. The question: "Are you comfortable with telling your friends how you're planning on voting in an upcoming election?" This prompted not only a terrific discussion, but also answers: of the Canadians who responded, two said they were comfortable, and eight said they weren't. Of the Americans who responded, every last one of them said they were. Light dawned. It's hardly publishable data, but the trend is pretty clear.
This is a fascinating distinction, and it's made all the more fascinating by the fact that the two cultures seem to completely switch places when it comes to disclosing your vote to a campaign worker. I've volunteered for a couple of campaigns since moving up here, and I'm constantly stunned by just how willing Canadians are to tell complete strangers how they're voting. If they're supporting that candidate, they'll tend to say "yes, he has my vote," or "I always vote [party x]," or "I'm afraid I'm voting for [party y] this time." The volunteers will spend hours asking people the same questions, and only very rarely is anyone unwilling to spell out who they're voting for. This is quite the opposite of my mother's experience doing similar work last fall for one of the U.S. presidential campaigns, in which every second person she phoned told her it was none of her business.
Monday, December 19, 2005
At the press conference where the Liberals announced their Alberta strategy today, they focused in on various things they want to accomplish in the province. Between announcements about transportation and infrastructure, one of the more self-serving goals Deputy Prime Minister Anne McLellan mentioned was better representation for Albertans who don't vote Tory:
Over a third of this population in every federal election voted for a party other than the Conservatives. Mr. Harper, we have a right to exist, and those people have a right to a voice.I admit to being a bit confused by what her core message is supposed to be, here. If she's saying that the people of Edmonton-Centre should reelect her as their MP so that she can speak for all non-Conservative voters in the province of Alberta, well, that would seem to be a fundamental misconception of how representative democracy is supposed to work. If she's saying that the seat counts in Parliament should really reflect the percentage of the vote received by each party on election day, though, then I couldn't agree more.
Sunday, December 18, 2005
I'm not generally a fan of just linking to another post without adding my own content, but James Bow made a really interesting post today about how Conservative-NDP cooperation might work in the case of a Tory minority government. It's something we should be discussing, and unfortunately the post has gotten woefully little substantive commentary so far.
So go, argue, stir up controversy!
When I first moved to Canada in the late '90s, there was a lot I knew about this country, having lived quite close to the border for most of my life, but there was even more I didn't know. To sort of poke fun at myself and my steep learning curve, I used to write down little anecdotes about crazy or amusing consequences of my ignorance of everything from car block heaters to postal outlets to Gravol. I called these the "silly immigrant" stories. If I were still keeping track of those now, I'd add this one to the list:
At the end of the Trudeau miniseries (which I'm embarrassed to say I didn't get around to watching until this week) there's a scene that takes place at a dinner at the Governor General's residence. I found the scene quite confusing--for the life of me, I couldn't figure out why the Governor General would be having a dinner without being present herself. I mean, she clearly wasn't there. Everyone around the table was a man, after all.
By the time I finally thought through what my assumptions were and consciously realized how faulty they were, the scene was over, and I had to rewind and watch it again.
It's always the little things, you know?
Friday, December 16, 2005
You know, I'm very much a "look on the bright side" sort of person, but somehow I can't manage to come out of this debate with all that much good to say about anybody.
I expected Martin to be lousy, and he didn't disappoint. He seemed frighteningly out of touch, particularly when he essentially told the disabled woman to get a job, and when he had the temerity to utter the words "the major cities are doing well." (Does he not realize that this country is second only to Australia in its urbanness? Does he not realize that many of those city-dwellers vote Liberal?) He stumbled through most of his responses, his "they" rather than "we" when he was talking about Quebecers was a big no-no, and the my-father-was-Tommy-Douglas bit was truly annoying. He did hit a home run in response to the Quebec question, though, when he turned to Duceppe and ranted, and the angle on him was just perfect. I'd bet good money that that picture is going to be on the front page of the Globe and Mail and the Star tomorrow, too. [Edited to add: Wow! I must be psychic!]
I had high expectations of Duceppe, but he did disappoint. I think he's better in the other format; in 2004 he looked laid back, like he was just going to take it easy while the other guys got all riled up. This year he just looked bored. His one really good line was "the West wants in, and Quebec wants out." Clever. Although I did have to wonder, if he really believes so strongly that they shouldn't have a free vote on a question that has already been answered, as he said in response to the same-sex marriage question, then what's all this fuss about another referendum?
Harper was the surprise of the night--he is a superb debater, but tonight, at least 75% of the time, he was bad, bad, bad. It's funny, because I remember him being so excellent in 2004, and wishing "my side" were as good at making strong, rational arguments. This year, though, he had no energy. He'd clearly been told to smile, but when he tried, he just looked creepy. When he didn't, he looked depressed, as if he'd just found out his dog had died. I did enjoy it when he indirectly accused Ralph Klein of "dishonest fiscal management," but otherwise this was a terrible evening for Mr. Harper.
Layton was very hot and cold. When he was good, he was great. When he was bad, he was cringeworthy. The opening statement--bad. The turning toward Martin and ending up turning his back on the camera--really bad (though I suspect a lot of that was the camerawork rather than his doing). He also did the worst job of all four men of coping with being cut off prematurely. On the other hand, he was terrific on same-sex marriage--he looked both serious and sincere. Mentioning Saskatchewan directly was incredibly savvy, and I'm sure it won him some votes. He seemed like a really genuinely good person much of the time, with very little of the "Guy Smiley" that he's been so chastised for. My personal disappointment of the night, though, was that he didn't bring up proportional representation as a partial solution to western alienation. I know why he didn't--it's not something that you can explain in thirty-second sound bites, after all--but it was such a missed bet.
I sent in a question, and it even got as far as them writing back for my phone number, but apparently I didn't make the final cut, alas. Here's to a better round in January.
If anybody out there has ever been curious what my mug looks like in real life, I was interviewed for a CBC story on blogging and the election this morning. It will apparently air either tonight at 5:30 (Mountain Time) before the debate, or sometime on Monday. They're trying to get Monte Solberg, too. Fun, fun.
Of course, I looked at myself in the mirror after the journalist and cameraman left, and my head is one huge mop of frizz. I suppose that's what you get when you haven't bothered to get your hair cut since August. Sigh.
Wednesday, December 14, 2005
A while back, I wrote a post musing about how left-wing Americans spout off constantly about the possibility of moving to Canada, but right-wing Canadians never ever spout off about the possibility of moving to the U.S.
I guess I spoke too soon.
Interlocutor from Civilization as We Knew It makes four seriously freakish predictions about the outcome of the January election. The most "out there" of the four include "at least two federal elections in 2006" and the prospect of there never again being a majority government "unless Quebec separates, the Bloc disbands, or the electoral system is significantly reformed." The most unnerving thing is that he may well be right--I can't fault his reasoning, anyway. And if he is, then this last minority government was just the beginning of a really major shakeup of federal political culture in Canada. Scary.
On the bright (although seriously weird) side, if Interlocutor is right, then we may well be able to gain support for some form of proportional representation on the grounds that endless minority governments are too unstable. Since, after all, proportional electoral systems tend to solve the minority instability problem by encouraging stable coalition governments. How's that for turning an anti-PR argument on its head?
Tuesday, December 13, 2005
I held my nose when Macleans brought back Barbara Amiel. When they promoted Steve Maich, I swore a lot, but I hung on. When they wrote a cover story called "Why Wal-Mart Is Good" with "facts" stitched together from an incredibly suspect Ryerson University study, I stared in disbelief, but I didn't cancel my subscription.
When they screwed around with the format, though, enough was enough. I'm hardly a granny, but there's only so long that I can squint at the page without getting a headache, and it's nearly impossible to tell advertising from news stories anymore. I was sad that I'd be missing all that great Paul Wells election coverage, but I was going to stick to my guns, read it until it lapsed, and then just not re-up. I could get my Wells fix in his blog.
That was then, though, and this is now. Because now Wells is following up his tremendous interview with new University of Alberta president Indira Samarasekera by revealing that he's going to start challenging the party leaders on post-secondary education. This makes it a whole new ballgame. So while others may be canceling in disgust, there's at least one subscription that Wells has single-handedly rescued by the skin of its teeth. Though I still have my hopes that he'll kick some sense into Kenneth Whyte...or at least kick him around a little bit.
(He's even a cutie, too. Who knew?)
Last week, an editorial appeared in the right-wing Washington Times about how having Stephen Harper as Prime Minister would be a late Christmas present for Bush. It described him as "pro-free trade, pro-Iraq war, anti-Kyoto, and socially conservative." Well, that characterization didn't sit well with Harper--at least not in the middle of an election--and he responded to the editorial himself (scroll down a bit). In his letter, he clarifies his positions on softwood lumber, the Iraq war, the Kyoto accord, abortion rights, and same-sex marriage.
At times like this, I'm always torn between two different mes: the dyed-in-the-wool-lefty-IP, and the immigrant-from-the-U.S.-IP. The former wants to stand up and say: "Yeah? Well, he's still wrong, and here's why!" The latter, on the other hand, is content to say: "Oh, my god, I get to live in a country where one of the most conservative politicians expresses great disappointment about the failure to substantiate the weapons-of-mass-destruction intelligence! And who openly says to right-wing Americans that he won't restrict abortion, and will hold the U.S. to their trade agreements! Oh, frabjous day!"
Both versions of me can't help but notice, though, that he doesn't utter a peep about the original editorial's charge that "If Martin's Liberal Party is re-elected for the fourth consecutive time, Canadian taxpayers will continue footing the bill for an expensive welfare state epitomized by its archaic government-run health-care system." Interesting.
Monday, December 12, 2005
I do agree with all the people who are saying that the Liberals' pressure on Harper to confirm his stance on the notwithstanding clause and same-sex marriage is nothing but an attempt to distract from the Liberals' own screwups. But still, I'd like to extend a challenge to any journalists reading: the first one of you to ask Harper whether he supports homosexual sex marriage gets a big fat smooch from yours truly.
Listening to the latest Meet the Suppressed podcast by bloggers Greg Staples of Political Staples, Greg of Sinister Thoughts, James Bow of Bow, James Bow, and Bob Tarantino from Let it Bleed, I was struck by the fact that each of the three men present (James was absent--ironically because he was home with his newborn daughter) was talking about the daycare issue from a personal point of view. This meant that Greg Staples kept bringing up the fact that his family had decided to keep one parent home to take care of their kids, Greg of Sinister Thoughts countered that by saying that he and his wife had put their children in daycare, and Bob Tarantino said that he didn't "have a dog in that fight."
All that was certainly a nice, anecdotal break from the endless discussion about Scott Reid's "popcorn and beer" gaffe, but what was missing--just as it's been missing all along--was a discussion of the benefits and drawbacks of daycare as social policy, rather than as individual family choices. Unlike the Blogging Gregs, daycare will never be a personal issue for me, but it's still absolutely relevant to me in terms of my desire to live in a decent society that treats its young citizens well. Saying "I don't support a national daycare policy because I don't put my kids in daycare" sounds a little too much like "I don't support a national healthcare policy because I don't get sick very often."
So here goes: Although I have serious problems with the Liberals' proposed non-program, I do support some sort of social program in which daytime childcare is subsidized in some way. Everything I know about the way society functions suggests that we would all be better off if poor single parents were able to go off to their low-wage jobs every day without having to worry too much about where the money to pay for their kids' care was going to come from. And as with healthcare, we'd also be better off if this system were universal rather than simply targeted at poor single parents, because that would put enough children of middle-class, high-earning parents into the system to keep quality high.
I don't have any children, and I'm not going to be having any children, but I'm still perfectly happy to kick some of my tax dollars into a well-implemented program that helps people who have made different choices breathe a little easier at night. Because as nice as it would be if caring for our society's children were nothing but an issue of personal choice, the real world doesn't actually work that way.
Sunday, December 11, 2005
While I agree in principle with James Bow that Liberal party members don't stop being ordinary Canadians simply by virtue of being Liberal party members, that doesn't keep the unmasking of the "ordinary Canadians" in the Liberals' television ads from being pretty damn funny. The NDP sure are waging war on the Liberals this time around, aren't they?
And this bit on the proposed Liberal handgun ban from a conservative blogger in Calgary made me laugh out loud:
So Martin has decided to ban hand guns. This is an interesting move, since nobody in Canada actually owns any hand guns, except cops (who are exempt from the proposed ban), licensed gun collectors (who are also exempt) and criminals (who will likely be disinclined to observe the ban). This move opens up the door for the Liberals to ban all sorts of things that don't exist, such as Bigfoot or the Tooth Fairy.Back to your regularly scheduled, mostly quiet blog.
Yesterday an article appeared in the Globe and Mail about the Conservatives' brave new plans for a "national cancer strategy." This strategy is quoted as being, in essence, a "computerized internet database to keep Canadian doctors up to date on ways to treat the large array of cancers that afflict Canadians."
Buried down in the last paragraph, though, was this bit:
Dr. Whylie said that the consensus in the cancer-research community is that an additional $50-million per year in federal funding is needed for direct cancer research, but none of the political parties have promised such an increase.Now, I'm hardly an expert on cancer research, but I do happen to know a cancer vaccine researcher at Washington D.C.'s National Institute of Health--a Canadian who's down there to gain experience she couldn't gain in her own country--rather intimately. I asked her about it, and she had this to say:
Although there are times when information about new possibilties for treatments are not disseminated widely enough or fast enough, it's hardly the biggest hurdle we have to overcome in our desire to save lives. I'm afraid I don't really see the benefit of spending a big chunk of money just on keeping track of what treatments are being used successfully. Clinical trials get published. And the U.S. has public databases with at least some of this information.She then showed me their database. Now, like I said, I'm no expert, but it sure looks an awful lot like, um, a "computerized internet database to keep American doctors up to date on ways to treat the large array of cancers that afflict Americans" to me. Maybe the Conservatives think American cancer is different, somehow?
Let's recap, then: the Conservatives are faced with the task of improving on the Liberals' dismal performance in the fight against cancer. They could choose to spend money on a public database that duplicates something already being done by our biggest trading partner, or they could put that same money toward an attempt at adequately funding cancer research. They choose the former.
No wonder Canada's best cancer researchers are finding jobs in other countries.
Monday, December 05, 2005
The inevitable argument about strategic voting has started early this time. Buzz Hargrove is telling us to vote Liberal to keep the Conservatives out. Paul Wells is telling us that any NDP supporter who votes Liberal to keep the Conservatives out is shooting himself in the foot. Well, guess what? They're both wrong.
It's all well and good to say that this election should be about issues, and I don't disagree. In principle. But strategic voting is an inevitable by-product of our electoral system. There's a huge body of political science scholarship on it, and while the experts may not agree on everything, they certainly agree that it's here to stay. Simply saying "don't vote strategically! ever!!!" makes you look idealistic to the point of naiveté, and people will simply tune you out. Where the real problems occur is when people try to vote strategically and end up using faulty strategy. This is what happened all across Saskatchewan in 2004 when the NDP lost seat after seat to the Conservatives by only a handful of votes, with nary a Liberal to be found. In other words, I'm with the guy on the fence: if you must vote strategically, make sure you know what you're doing.
The key to making sure you know what you're doing, of course, is knowing a lot about the individual riding you live in. The biggest mistake people make in a strategic voting decision is thinking the big national polls about how each party is doing across the country are relevant to how they should vote. Until we have proportional representation, the national percentages have nothing at all to do with your vote, so you can ignore them completely. Concentrate instead on two things: 1) your riding's results in the last election, and 2) this year's campaigns in your riding. By looking at last time's results, you can figure out whether your riding is a safe seat, a seat contested between two parties, or a seat contested between three parties (rule of thumb: a "safe" riding is usually one that was won by at least 50% of the vote last time, a two-way race is one where two of the parties each got around 40% with everyone else lagging behind, and a three-way-race is one where three different parties each got at least 20%). Looking at this year's campaigns can tell you who's running serious candidates with well-funded and well-organized campaign teams behind them, and who's not really trying to win that riding (have the candidates been doorknocking like crazy? have they been sending out lots of campaign literature, do they have an informative campaign website? do they have lots of events planned, have you seen them in the media?). Once you have both of those pieces of information, then, you can move on to some actual informed strategy.
If you're living in a "safe" riding according to the 2004 results, double-check to make sure something hasn't changed drastically since then. If your current MP hasn't retired or died, if the opposition parties aren't running high-profile candidates with really well-organized campaigns, then you can safely assume you're going to end up with the same MP this time. This means that you can choose the candidate you most prefer without worrying about trying to vote strategically. Vote anyway, of course--each vote your party of choice receives means another $1.75 into their coffers, and this year's results will also help influence how each party decides to approach the next election. But you can safely vote your conscience.
If your riding is contested between two parties and the other parties are non-entities, then your strategy is simple. First, again, check to make sure something hasn't changed drastically since last time. If things look pretty much like they did in 2004, then look at the two candidates who have a chance at winning and vote for the one you prefer. This is a classic strategic vote, and it makes a great deal of sense.
If your riding is contested between three parties, then your race is wide open. I'd actually advise not trying to vote strategically in a case like this because it's too easy to get things wrong and adversely affect the party you really want to see win. But if you really feel strongly about trying to cast a strategic vote, then you've got to make that decision based on more than just numbers. Who's running--are all three candidates known quantities? How much visible support do they each have in terms of lawn signs or media attention? How well-organized are the three campaign teams--do they have good communications material, and are they taking part in events that make their candidates more visible? If you've met the three candidates, which ones seem more qualified than others? Other people are going to be facing the same decision, and they're going to have the same kinds of information you have, so there's a good chance they're going to be taking the same factors into account.
If you're not sure what to do after looking at all of the information at your disposal, then just vote for the candidate you'd most like to see in Ottawa. Voting strategies only make sense when they have an actual chance at affecting the outcome, and if you've taken a good look at the situation and see no obvious patterns, odds are it's a pretty close race. Vote your conscience, and may the best candidate win.
It's our first-past-the-post electoral system that makes this kind of thing necessary, and until we reform the system, we're stuck with it. Use it wisely, and if you must, use it strategically. But when you do, make sure you know your individual riding's situation well enough to make a truly informed decision.
Saturday, December 03, 2005
I've been following the "destruction of Christmas" debate in the U.S. this year with some interest. It raises its ugly head every year, of course, but all the lawsuits add a certain twist that somehow makes it that much more sordid. And I'm struck by something: are the "you should say 'happy holidays' instead of 'merry Christmas'" people not missing the point just as badly as the "saying 'happy holidays' instead of 'merry Christmas' is destroying Christmas" people?
I mean, if you assume--and say--that a little girl is someday going to have a husband, people (justifiably) call that heterocentrism. Making the same statement and replacing the single word 'husband' with 'man by her side' doesn't fix this, because the real problem wasn't the use of the word 'husband', but the fact that they assumed that if this girl was going to become partnered, it was going to be with a guy. Isn't putting up a Christmas tree and calling it a "holiday tree" pretty much the same thing? Some cultural groups don't celebrate any holidays in December. Some of the cultural groups that celebrate holidays in December celebrate much more meaningful holidays at other times. Calling December "the holiday season" doesn't fix the problem of those cultural groups feeling marginalized at this time of year; if anything, it exacerbates it. Someone else's culture is still someone else's culture, even when it's got a faux-inclusive name slapped on it.
If someone celebrates Christmas, I wish them a Merry Christmas when that time grows close. If someone celebrates Hanukkah, I wish them a Happy Hanukkah when that time rolls around (but I also wish them l'shanah tovah during Rosh Hashanah in the fall, which is a far more important holiday in Jewish culture). If I don't know, or if they don't celebrate anything, I just say "have a nice long weekend" or "have a nice time off." The basic point isn't "let's turn Christmas into something devoid of all religious meaning," but "don't assume everybody out there celebrates the same holidays you do." Is that really so hard?
Friday, December 02, 2005
This morning, I learned via Political Staples that Canadian Auto Workers' Union leader Buzz Hargrove had been voicing some questionably supportive comments about the NDP. Today, then, he made it official: he's endorsing the Liberals. Well.
Now, some folks are saying that this might be a good thing--it might just prove to people once and for all that the NDP isn't in the pocket of the unions (and that the Liberals are). One thing's for sure, though, this is going to have repercussions that stretch far beyond the election, no matter what happens on January 23rd.
After thinking about this for a couple of hours, I have no predictions, but I do have two questions. One, if Hargrove thinks that the unions' best interests are "not served by the NDP, but by a minority Liberal government," then how exactly does he propose this mythical minority Liberal government will function if he succeeds in draining away all the NDP's support? And what on earth could Layton possibly have done to piss Buzz off this much?
Tuesday, November 29, 2005
Some fresh air for those of us who are depressed today about the miserable defeat of the PEI electoral reform referendum: it seems that the Globe and Mail's Jeffrey Simpson may be coming around on just that topic. Now, granted, he's not exactly standing up and saying: "I once was lost, but now am found, was blind but now I see," but there's certainly something different going on in that bespectacled little head of his. His latest column (behind the subscriber wall) predicts "major changes" for Canadian federal politics in the future, and includes the following fascinating paragraphs: Another shapeless, shameless Parliament such as the one just ended will produce change. Here are some options. A structured coalition government will emerge -- a Liberal/NDP coalition, for example -- that will bring somewhat greater stability than the issue-a-day manoeuvring of this Parliament. Or, another shapeless, shameless Parliament will cause Canadians to admit that the day of national parties is largely over. As a result, more voices will demand that the electoral system be changed to make coalitions among parties the norm, as in all countries with proportional representation.
Minority government circuses, such as the one Canadians just witnessed, could continue with a series of similar parliamentary shows, but that's unlikely. This minority Parliament has been quite disgusting at a theatrical level. It has featured what minority governments usually exhibit: orgies of spending, short-term survival tactics, wheeling and dealing, and extensive bad manners. The way politicians and the political process are now perceived, combined with the winter weather, will make the voter turnout the lowest on record. Can this really be the same Simpson who, just two months ago, wrote a whole column about how the crazy German and New Zealand election results could be blamed on That Evil Proportional Representation? The guy who threw two entirely different forms of government into the same pot by coining the nonsensical phrase "minority/coalition governments"? The guy who said that the inevitable results of proportional representation were regional and ideological parties, small parties lording massive amounts of power over parliament, and dogs and cats sleeping together? (Okay, maybe he didn't say that last part.)
Did the bloggers and letters-to-the-editor writers spank him hard enough that he finally got the message? Did he figure out on his own that his anti-reform stance was not only completely misinformed, but a little silly? Or is there a Dr. Jekyll/Mr. Simpson thing going on here? Inquiring (albeit pleased) minds want to know.
Another shapeless, shameless Parliament such as the one just ended will produce change. Here are some options.
A structured coalition government will emerge -- a Liberal/NDP coalition, for example -- that will bring somewhat greater stability than the issue-a-day manoeuvring of this Parliament.
Or, another shapeless, shameless Parliament will cause Canadians to admit that the day of national parties is largely over. As a result, more voices will demand that the electoral system be changed to make coalitions among parties the norm, as in all countries with proportional representation.
Monday, November 28, 2005
To the visitor who just found my blog by searching on bad Mixed Member Proportional System PEI: I hope you enjoyed your stay. Don't forget to check out the other post I made this morning, too.
Why would we want to switch to a different voting system? The existing one has worked just fine for hundreds of years.
If you really look at what tends to happen in Canadian elections, it becomes pretty obvious pretty quickly that First Past the Post isn't working very well at all. Representative democracy is about two things: one, every citizen has the right to representation, and two, the majority win the right to make decisions. Under the current system, it rarely works out that way--in the 2000 federal election, for example, the Liberals won only 41% of the vote, but more than 57% of the seats in Parliament. When we consistently have "majority" governments that weren't actually elected by a majority of voters, there's a huge problem for the basic concept of representative democracy. In Canada, First Past the Post has been neither representative nor democratic.
This is a simple principle, and it's the one and only reason to switch to a fairer system. But a look at how proportional systems function in practice across the world suggests that there might also be several desirable side effects. Proportional systems tend to lead to a larger voter turnout. They tend to produce legislatures with a greater proportion of women. They tend to be less likely to produce strategic voting, allowing people to vote for the people and/or parties they truly like best. They tend to promote more civility in the political process. Every country is different, of course, so there's no promise that these things would all happen in Canada, but comparative evidence suggests that at least some of them would be likely. And those would all just be bonuses on top of fixing the democracy problem.
Okay, the existing system isn't perfect, but isn't it the best we can do in practice?
It really isn't. I, too would find the status quo to be an acceptable situation if there were no decent alternatives--after all, nobody's ever died or had their lives ruined because Canada doesn't have real representative democracy. But there are better alternatives, and they've been working well in most of the democratic countries of the world for decades. Proportional representation isn't just for wide-eyed idealists; it's a pragmatic solution to the inherent failings of First Past the Post.
Admit it, don't you just want the system to change so that smaller parties like the NDP will do better in elections?
No. My interest in electoral reform in Canada didn't start with the NDP; it started with Germany. After growing up mostly in the U.S., the first parliamentary democracy I experienced "up close and personal" was Germany's Mixed Member Proportional system. When I first started paying attention to Canadian politics, my naive assumption was that things worked the same way here, but over the course of my attempts to understand the 1993 federal election (in which the Progressive Conservatives received 16% of the vote but only two seats), it became abundantly clear that this wasn't the case. I was shocked--why on earth would the otherwise oh-so-practical Canadians tolerate a voting system that produced such skewed results?
Years later I'm far more informed, but I'm still asking that question. So far, the only reasonable answer I've come up with is that while many people realize that the system is broken, they don't realize that there are viable ways of fixing it. That hardly sits well with an idealistic pragmatist. And while I'd be happy to see the NDP gain greater political clout, I only want that to happen if it's what Canadians actually vote for. Democracy should take precedence over ideology.
Okay, but be honest--it's still about giving more power to smaller parties, right? Wouldn't proportional representation hurt all the parties but the NDP and the Greens?
Proportional representation isn't about giving more power to smaller parties, it's about giving each party no more and no less clout than that given to them by the voters. That said, it's certainly the case that the NDP and the Greens would benefit most from an electoral system change, at least on the federal level. But the two big parties would benefit, as well. The existing system exaggerates regional differences in our federal politics, making it almost impossible for a Liberal to win a federal seat in Alberta, or for a Conservative to win one in Atlantic Canada or in urban areas like Vancouver, Montreal, or Toronto--even though many people in those regions vote for those parties. This distortion regionalizes our politics in an extremely unhealthy way, and a proportional voting system would set that right. This may be part of why prominent Liberals like Alberta's Anne McLellan and prominent Conservatives like Ontario Conservative MP Scott Reid have come out in favour of proportional representation.
Aren't proportional voting systems really complicated? I like being able to go to the polls, check a single box with a pencil, and be done with it.
The math behind proportional voting systems is complicated, but the voting itself isn't. Pure party list systems are extremely simple--you just vote for a party rather than a person. Under a Single Transferable Vote system, you vote by ranking candidates, and who hasn't had the experience of making some sort of "top ten list"? Voting is easy under a Mixed Member Proportional system, too, because all you have to do is vote once for a person to represent your riding, and once for a party. Following the unification of East and West Germany, they even managed to explain that last system to lots of new citizens who'd never voted in a democratic election before at all. Canadians aren't somehow inherently less intelligent than the people living in the rest of the world's democracies, where proportional voting systems are the norm.
Don't proportional voting systems mean that we wouldn't have ridings anymore? I wouldn't want a system that meant MPs would no longer be accountable to a particular riding.
In general, I agree that Canada would be better off with an electoral system that retains the function of small local areas being represented by an MP or MLA/MPP. Fortunately, it's possible to keep that aspect of the existing system and still have proportionality. One option that would retain ridings and direct representation would be the Single Transferable Vote system as proposed in the B.C. referendum. Under that system, voters would rank their preferred candidates, and ballots would help several people get elected. The urban areas would retain single-member ridings, while the rural areas would have large, multi-member ridings.
Another possibility would be the Mixed Member Proportional system as used in Germany, which retains the concept of single-member ridings across the country. Under MMP, you get two votes. In the first vote--the riding vote--you vote for the person who you think can best represent your riding in parliament. In the second vote--the party vote--you vote for the party whose policies are most closely aligned with your preferences. Approximately half of the seats in parliament are then filled through the riding vote and half are filled through the party vote, by candidates from party lists. This might be a good model for Canada on the federal level because Germany is another country with very diverse region-specific issues--after all, they were actually two separate countries until fifteen years ago.
Don't proportional systems distort the vote and allow tiny regional or ethnic parties to gain huge amounts of power?
This can sometimes be an issue with certain kinds of proportional systems, such as the pure party list system used in Israel. On the other hand, there are other countries that use that system (such as the Scandinavian countries and the Netherlands) which haven't had these kinds of problems. Also, our existing First Past the Post system distorts the vote in precisely these ways already--in the 2004 federal election, for example, the Bloc Québecois received 54 seats with only 12.4% of the vote. So even if Canada did go with a pure party list system, there's every reason to believe that this aspect of things would still be better than it is now.
In general, though, I agree that it's a good idea to prevent tiny, single-issue parties from gaining too much power, which is why it's a good thing that there are proportional systems that prevent these problems. Under Mixed Member Proportional, each party is required to surpass a threshold of 5% in order to assume seats. Single Transferable Vote also has a built-in threshold that functions similarly.
I'm not crazy about this whole "party list" concept. If parties got to choose who went on their lists, wouldn't that end up turning into a patronage factory, giving us a bunch of lousy MPs?
It could happen that way, but it wouldn't have to. A look at the world's electoral systems provides us with a whole bunch of different ways of compiling party lists without backroom jockeying. An "open list" would allow voters to arrange the order of list candidates. A "zippered list" would require every other candidate to be a woman, and serve to make Parliament more gender-representative. A list could be assembled through primary elections, or be composed of those who ran in riding elections but lost by a tiny portion of the vote. It could be assembled at the regional or even the local level, perhaps by riding associations instead of by those at the top. With so many choices, surely we'd be able to find something that would be right for Canada.
Wouldn't proportional representation produce minority governments forever and ever, though? That sounds incredibly unstable.
It's certainly the case that minority governments (in which the governing party or parties fail to attain a majority of the voices in parliament) have been historically unstable across the board. On the other hand, proportional systems don't tend to produce them any more frequently than First Past the Post does. In the entire post-war history of Germany, for example, there have been only three minority governments on the national level (Ludwig Erhard's 1963 government, Willy Brandt's 1972 government, and Helmut Schmidt's 1982 government). Each was very short-lived.
What proportional voting systems do tend to produce is coalition governments, which are about as similar to minority governments as apples are to kumquats. I'm not talking about informal agreements such as the one we saw between the federal Liberals and the NDP in 2005, but formal coalitions, where the involved parties agree to divide up cabinet positions among them, and work together as a single government to make and implement their common policy. Coalitions are formed precisely to do away with the kind of instability inherent in minority governments, and in practice, they have been extremely effective at doing just that. Again, look at Germany. The recently defeated coalition between the Social Democrats and the Greens was stable enough not only to last out its term, but to be reelected in 2002. Extremely stable coalition governments of the conservative Christian Democrats and the Free Democrats have also existed under chancellors Adenauer, Erhard, and the seemingly undefeatable Helmut Kohl, who was reelected a total of five times.
Wouldn't coalitions mean that a party with only 5% of the vote could end up with 50% of the power, though? That doesn't sound any more democratic than First Past the Post.
Certainly the situation in Canada in 2005--in which the minority Liberal government was propped up by the NDP--made it look like that's how a coalition might work. That's how things work in a minority government, though. A coalition functions quite differently, as a look at proportional systems across the world can tell us. A coalition government tends to allot cabinet positions to the involved parties depending on how well each did in the election, and then they sit down as a single government and develop policy together. In Germany's last coalition between the centre-left SPD and the left-wing Greens, for example, the Greens had to give a lot more than the SPD did initially because the SPD had received more votes and therefore more political clout. The ideas of the dominant party carry more weight, because they have more members in cabinet and more people sitting on the government side of the aisle. Then the parties act as a team to implement this jointly-made policy.
Compromise is inherent in a system like this, but you don't get the kind of "do this, or I'll stop propping you up" maneuvering that you saw in the informal Liberal-NDP agreement in 2005, because nobody's propping anybody up--the government consists of the whole coalition. Once the government parties agree on a political direction in the weeks following the election, it's in everybody's best interest to stick to the policies that have been devised and actually see them through to completion.
You keep going on about Germany, but didn't you talk here in this very blog about how crazy it was that they were having so much trouble forming a government after their last election? And didn't the same thing happen in New Zealand?
It's easy to try and blame the 2005 German and New Zealand election results on proportional representation (both countries use Mixed Member Proportional), but those who do that are misinformed. The problem wasn't the way the Germans and New Zealanders elect MPs, but the positively miserable performance of the two major parties in both countries.
Under proportional systems, it's typical for the major parties to have plans for potential coalition partners before going into an election. Once the result is known, then, the winning party can establish a working government right away. But in both Germany and New Zealand, the two major parties did much worse than they'd expected, making either of their preferred coalitions impossible. The blame for that muddle needs to rest with the current unpopularity of those parties, not with an electoral system that has worked perfectly well for decades. Close elections where the dominant parties perform badly are problematic under any electoral system, not just under proportional ones.
I don't know. If all these things were really true, then wouldn't we have already switched to a fairer system? There's got to be a catch somewhere.
It's really all true. Don't take my word for it, though--educate yourself. Read a book or two on electoral systems--they can be a little dry, but check one out from the library and page through it; it might surprise you. Canada-specific resources are unfortunately pretty scarce, but if you can get your hands on Steps Toward Making Every Vote Count edited by Henry Milner, it's new, well written, and very much worth your time.
As for the reason why we haven't already switched, well, there are two major ones. The benign reason is that there's so much misinformation out there about proportional representation that people don't realize what a good, practical solution it would be to the problems with our current electoral system. It can be very hard to educate an entire population without a lot of help from the people in power. Which brings me to the more sinister reason we haven't already switched--the fact that the people who have the power to change the system were elected by it, so it's in their best interests to make sure that the misinformation persists.
But this is why electoral reformers in Canada are starting out with local and regional grassroots initiatives, educating people and getting them interested in the issue. We do have a few allies among federal politicians, such as Ed Broadbent and Scott Reid, but for the most part, most of the work so far has been done in the provinces. And it's working. Despite the razor-edged failure of the referendum in B.C. and the probable failure of the one in PEI today, the movement is growing. A lot of people know more of the facts than they did a few years ago. There are a lot more of us than there were last year, or the year before, or the year before that. We stretch across all parties and all political movements. This idea isn't going away.
But what can I do about this? I don't have any special talents to offer an electoral reform movement. I didn't even know the answers to these questions until I read this FAQ.
Talk to people, both through electronic media and in person. Write letters to the editor. Argue with people who spread misinformation, whether it's deliberate or just out of ignorance. Link to this FAQ--or even crib ideas from it and write your own piece on the subject (I won't mind). Join Fair Vote Canada, a multipartisan, citizen-based campaign for voting system reform (at $10 a year, it's a bargain). Attend one of their local meetings and see what they're up to, and ask what you can do to help.
Let me put it this way: if you were patient enough to slog through this whole FAQ and smart enough to understand it, then you're one of the people electoral reformers need most.
Saturday, November 26, 2005
Round One voting is open in the Canadian Blog Awards, and runs through November 30th. Apparently you're allowed to vote once per day. After you vote, the results are displayed with the names removed so that you can see that somebody's in the lead, and how far in the lead they are, but you don't know for sure who it is. Me, I've been nominated in two categories: "Best New Blog" and "Best Blog Post," and I'll be voting for myself in one category but not the other (which one is which is left as an exercise for the reader).
I can't help but wonder what our upcoming federal election would look like if we played by the same rules. The "you may vote once each day" provision would mean that every twist and turn of the campaign would be measured in countable votes, and it would also mean that political junkies and folks with lots of time on their hands would get more kicks at the can than everybody else. The display of a running tally of winners without names attached would mean endless speculation in blogs and the editorial pages about who's in which order, and the rallying of troops for the parties who manage to deduce that they're doing less well than expected. And polling would become obsolete overnight.
I still prefer MMP, but it might be fun for a lark. :-)