Resisting the pull of cynicism since 1969.

Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Saskatchewan strikes back!

For years, the other western provinces--and especially Saskatchewan--have suffered from a loss in population as their people have moved to Alberta for work. But Saskatchewan is striking back: these billboards have popped up all over Edmonton. Which, in light of the way the cost of living has shot up 'round these parts, may be the smartest political idea I've heard for a long, long time.

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Yesterday's electoral reform debate

Over at Accidental Deliberations, the Jurist points out that the Hansard transcript of the debate of Monday's electoral reform motion is now online. The motion was introduced by NDP MP Catherine Bell, and the following MPs spoke in favour of electoral reform during the debate:

Paul Dewar (Ottawa Centre, NDP)
Brian Murphy (Moncton—Riverview—Dieppe, Liberal)
Stephen Owen (Vancouver Quadra, Liberal)

If one of these members is your MP, you may want to consider writing him a letter to thank him for his support for this important issue. This is especially important with the Liberals, as electoral reform is not currently a part of their platform.

Disappointingly, Scott Reid (Lanark—Frontenac—Lennox and Addington, Conservative), a longtime electoral reform advocate, spoke against the motion. He seems to feel that his government is already doing enough toward reform by proposing that Senators be elected by proportional representation, which is a marked shift from his position when he was in opposition. If we are going to start electing Senators, we should definitely use a sensible voting system to do so, but that doesn't change the fact that the House of Commons is where the government is, and it is the way we elect our government that is so desperately in need of reform.

Reid does make one justified criticism of the NDP's position on this issue, though: that the NDP so strongly favours one particular electoral system (Mixed-Member Proportional) that they aren't willing to entertain any others. That sort of preconceived plan all too often leads to attitudes that amount to: "either we go with my favourite system, or it's no change at all!" and the issue dies before getting anywhere. All electoral reform geeks have their own pet system, but there are many options that would drastically improve things in Canada, and we need to consider all of them with open minds.

Big tent caterpillars, take two

John from Dymaxion World points to yet another reason why coalition governments and electoral reform are better models for Canada than merging parties out of existence or deliberately crowding them off the political map: the health of our democracy.

Something more than 30% of this country votes conservative, and on occasion much more. But the motivating idea behind a single progressive party seems to be to prevent Conservative voters from ever forming a government, ever again. Or at least, not until we've decided they're responsible enough to handle the reins again.

The problem, in case it isn't obvious, is that Canada isn't a left-wing country. Canada has a strong and legitimate conservative streak, and I'm not wild about any idea that has as it's goal the marginalization of 30%+ of the Canadian electorate. Pragmatically, we can see that Japan has had a single party in power for the last half-century, and it's produced paralysis, corruption, and a legendary amount of pork-barreling in government.
As John points out, engineering things so that conservatives could never have a say in Canadian politics again would mean that our Parliament would represent Canadians even less well than our current configuration does, and granting that kind of permanent hegemony to a big-tent centrist party would be a recipe for corruption on a never-before-seen scale in Canada. This would hardly be a positive development. Lefties and centrists need to counter conservative ideas by offering up better ones, not by trying to ignore the people who want to advance them.

This is also why I can't agree with the analysts who point to the PC-Reform merger as a success story for conservatives. Sure, it bought the Conservative Party of Canada power, but at what cost? The Red Tory faction now has no political home. The small yet once-vocal far right does exist in the current caucus, but those MPs are now muzzled, so there's nobody left to represent that part of the political spectrum, either. And the people in charge of the party are the strategists who will do pretty much anything to gain more power, including masquerading as moderates--and yet they're still polling at only 33%. I'm sorry, but that's a "nobody wins" scenario, not an "everybody wins" one, and certainly not one I want duplicated on the left. Within reason, more parties means a greater diversity of perspectives--and that's a healthy thing, even when we don't all agree. (Or maybe even especially then.)

It was the diversity of the Canadian political spectrum that first drew me to Canada after years of no real choices as an American lefty. And it's a good thing I don't actually believe any of these big-tent-left movements in Canada have a chance of succeeding, because if I did, I'd probably be looking for a job in New Zealand.

Hope, possibility, unity, and reality for Canadian progressives

Jamey Heath's new book, Dead Centre: Hope, Possibility, and Unity for Canadian Progressives, makes five important points that every centre-left or left-wing Canadian needs to internalize:

1. Liberals tend to present the voters with laudable centre-left policies in their Red Books. But once elected with a majority--or, in Paul Martin's case, even with a minority--they veer right and refuse to deliver on most of their own best ideas. This has happened over and over again, and is undeniable.

2. When Canadian progressives are feeling anxious about the Conservatives, they tend to forget about the fact that they don't like what Liberal governments actually do, and vote Liberal indiscriminately.

3. Even worse, this tendency extends to ridings where the New Democrat has a better chance of winning than the Liberal, and so-called "strategic" voters end up electing scores of Tories in ridings that are actually Tory-NDP races.

4. Ontario is a region within Canada, not a microcosm of it--and while the Liberals may be the dominant choice of progressives there, this is not the case either in Québec or in the growing west. When we hear about the Liberals being Canada's sole natural governing party, forever and ever amen, that's Ontariocentrism talking, not reality.

5. Progressive voters who refuse to recognize these essential facts end up trying to exist in some warped universe in which Jack Layton is personally responsible for the Liberals' loss of their hegemonic grip on the country. This idea is not only demonstrably false, but because of #1, it actually perpetuates a situation that prevents progressives from getting what we want out of our government.
It's hard to argue with any of this, and by tracing progressive Canada's recent history through to the present, Heath makes his case quite convincingly. And it's a fine book in other ways, as well: it's a brisk, tightly-paced read, and packed with enough facts and insider information to tantalize political junkies of all stripes. Which makes it all the more tragic that Heath's central thesis--that the only way out of this muddle is for centre-left Liberal voters to abandon a party that doesn't actually match with their ideals and join with the NDP to fight for progressive values--misses the mark by a bare inch and sails off into the brush somewhere.

I'll admit that as a New Democrat, there's a part of me that finds Heath's "realignment" scenario appealing. But eventually my inner pragmatist kicks in, and I have to recognize that succeeding at that game would depend on three factors. First, the left wing of the Liberal Party would have to collectively see the light and be lured away by the power of Jack Layton's moustache. Second, the right wing of the Liberal Party would need to be willing to remain marginalized in a much leaner centre-right party instead of joining up with the Conservatives and giving them a majority. And third, the brand-new, big-tent NDP would have to maintain its lefty integrity despite a sudden dearth of pressure from its left flank and a pile of potential votes on its right.

Now, I'm not going to say this is impossible--this is Canadian politics, after all, and if the last few years have taught us anything, it's that we should never dub anything impossible. But even the unabashed idealists among us have to admit that it's not very likely. One of the three, maybe. Two of them, possibly. But to actually get the progressive policies we want, all three of them would have to happen, and as far as I know, there's no precedent for that in Canada or anywhere else. But there is another way, one that Heath doesn't mention even once in 296 pages of glorious political geekery. The Liberals and the NDP could decide right now to do what parties that can't get majorities on their own do in every other parliamentary democracy across the globe: signal to the voters that they would be interested in forming a coalition government after the next election. Not a minority government with one party "propping up" the other, but a genuine, stable government coalition.

Take a moment, if you would, to let that idea sink in. Now envision what it would mean. Loyal Liberals would be able to vote Liberal, committed New Democrats would be able to vote NDP, and the swing voters would be able to cast their votes based on policy preferences for the first time in their lives. After the election, then, if the Liberals ended up with the most votes, Dion would be prime minister and his party would have more cabinet positions, and if the NDP ended up with the most votes, Layton would be prime minister and his party would have more cabinet positions. But either way, the makeup of the government--and the compromises that would form its policy--would be pretty darn similar, so the country's progressive future wouldn't depend on which way the dominoes fell. Heath's point #1 above means that we can't trust the Liberals to implement progressive policies when they govern alone, but a coalition government with the NDP would force their hands.

A coalition government would also mean diversity within unity--a Canadian value if there ever was one. Both parties would keep their respective identities, party structures, constitutions, traditions. Both parties would have their caucuses--and their ideas--represented in a centre-left government borne of cooperation and compromise. And during the campaign, both parties would be able to campaign on the policies they really believed in, rather than strategically attempting to best position themselves to poach votes from each other.

"It'll never happen," the naysayers among you will inevitably be saying. Well, I'll tell you what: it's a heck of a lot more likely to happen than either what Jamey Heath is proposing or what his counterparts in the Liberal Party are proposing--crowding the other guy into electoral irrelevance. And it's certainly more likely to happen than an outright merger under the Liberal banner, which, given that the NDP is set up as a federation of provincial parties, would require the longstanding provincial governments of Saskatchewan and Manitoba to disband. If we really want unity among progressives, this is the only realistic solution. The time to try it is now, since we finally have a Liberal leader and an NDP leader who actually respect each other. And remember, we're not talking about some nobody blogger's crazy idea, here, but about the status quo in the vast majority of the world's parliamentary democracies.

Stephen Harper's worst nightmare is staring us right in the face, people. All we have to do is open our eyes.

Monday, February 19, 2007

More good electoral reform news

As reported by Greg Morrow over at democraticSPACE, Ontario's Citizens' Assembly for Electoral Reform has made a decision to pursue a Mixed-Member Proportional (MMP) system as the alternative to the current first-past-the-post system. Greg also notes that after studying all of the possible options, there were very few dissenters among the assembly on which system to run with, suggesting that all the evidence pointed to one clear choice for Ontario, despite the fact that the citizens' assembly comes from all walks of life and all across the province. That's encouraging, as it means that there's less likely to be a disgruntled "no" movement among people who wanted a different system. I look forward to hearing more about the details of the system the assembly proposes as they make those decisions.

Electoral reform movement watchers will have noticed that this is a different system than the one endorsed by an equivalent citizens' assembly in British Columbia several years ago. There, the assembly recommended a variant of the Single Transferable Vote system, which they dubbed BC-STV. Does this mean that Ontario is right and B.C. was wrong, or maybe the other way around? Not necessarily. Different electoral systems are appropriate for different jurisdictions, and in designing an effective one, it's important to take into account the specific circumstances and needs of the time and place. It may very well be the case that BC-STV is the best choice for British Columbia, while Ontario-MMP, whatever the details end up being, will be best for Ontario.

If you're curious about the notion of designing an electoral system that suits particular jurisdictions, you might want to have a look at the International IDEA Handbook, written to help different jurisdictions do just that.

Syntactic ambiguity alert, take two

Skimming through the latest Progressive Bloggers posts this morning, I stumbled upon a post at Slap Upside the Head entitled "Why I Support Making Commissioners Wed Gays."

I have to say that I agree with Mr. Slap. In fact, given that it has been legal for commissioners to be married to gay people for going on two years now, it is appalling that there exist commissioners who are still single, or...gasp...are even still married to straight people.

What? Why are you looking at me like that?

Sunday, February 18, 2007

Big tent caterpillars

On February 5th, deputy Liberal leader Michael Ignatieff criticized the NDP for working with the Conservatives (and the Liberals, and the Bloc...not that he mentioned that) on rewriting the crappy Tory Clean Air Act.

On February 7th, Garth Turner--an admitted "lifelong conservative"--was welcomed with open arms into the Liberal Party of Canada.

On February 15th, it came out that the Liberals had attempted to lure NDP MPs Penny Priddy and Dawn Black into joining their party (and had been rebuffed).

Apparently, Conservatives and New Democrats working together is just fine with the Liberals--but only as long as they first call themselves Liberals.

(Hat-tip to commenter wilson.)

Is there such a thing as too much perspective?

I have a confession to make. While my ideals are quite thoroughly lefty in every way, there's one way I don't fit in with my ideological soulmates: I'm not really wired for outrage. There are a few exceptions--a few sore points that will always make me screaming mad--but for the most part, my gut reaction to something worthy of outrage (and believe me, there's plenty!) is to think: all right, so how can we rearrange things so that we can best live with this very suboptimal situation? If I actually want to spur myself into taking action, I have to forcibly short-circuit that gut response and cut straight to dispassionately evaluating what can realistically be done and what can't. It makes me a pretty lousy activist, though it has the advantage of keeping my blood pressure down.

This tendency is, of course, compounded by my background. This is because nine times out of ten, when something worthy of outrage happens in Canada, it's still worse in the U.S., and despite the fact that my life is quite firmly anchored here now, my brain can't help but make the comparisons. Take my Stephen Harper and Hillary Clinton post. I really do think Harper and his party have been terrible for Canada, and if they ever were to get a majority government, things would be even worse. But in the U.S., the party proposing policies along those same lines is the leftmost party, and in Canada, there are three national parties to the left of Stephen Harper's Conservatives. And even after more than a year of gagging their crazies and controlling their messaging in order to show people that they're really just misunderstood moderates, the Conservatives still only have 33% of Canadians excited about what they want to do for the country. That makes it exceedingly difficult for me to take on a "oh, woe is us, Canadians have it so bad right now" mentality, you know?

So when L-girl from We Move to Canada pointed her readers at this Toronto Star article talking about how the Conservatives had done focus groups across the country trying to figure out what they were doing wrong on the messaging for the war in Afghanistan, she was outraged. And she's right--it is pretty outrageous that the Conservatives would look at the war as something to sell to Canadians. But when I read that article, what I notice most is this part:

The report lists "vocabulary/terms/phrases/concepts to reinforce" the message that the government is right about its commitment to the war in Afghanistan. They include "rebuilding," "restoring," "reconstruction," "hope," "opportunity" and "enhancing the lives of women and children."

Words and phrases to avoid include: "freedom, democracy, liberty – in combination this phrase comes across as sounding too American."

Strategic Counsel also advised that the government "avoid developing a line of argumentation too strongly based on values. While the value of human rights is strongly supported, there is a risk of appearing to be imposing Canadian values. Again, this is not seen to be the 'Canadian way.'"
Basically, if you want Canadians to believe that a war is worth fighting, you have to convince them that Canada is helping the people of that country on their own terms. When you start making it sound like Canada is imposing its own values on those people, Canadians find it distasteful. This forces Harper and his crew to adopt language--and sometimes even stances--that don't reflect their values in order to win over even thirty-three measly percent of the Canadian people.

I can't help it, I just find that delightful. In fact, it kind of makes me want to hug my whole damn adopted country. Forgive me?

Saturday, February 17, 2007

What YOU can do to fight for electoral reform

If you're a Canadian who supports electoral reform (and no matter what your party affiliation is, you should be), there are things that you can do about it TODAY. Robert from MyBlahg already has some good ideas. Here they are again, along with some others:

1. Blogburst! Write a post about electoral reform and why you support it. I'm having my own mini-blogburst today, but how about joining me? Be sure to link to your post in the comments here, so that people who read this post will read yours as well.

2. Spread the word within your party. Email someone from the party that you support and tell them why electoral reform would be good for your party. Because it would.

3. Spread the word beyond your party. Email a non-partisan Canadian and tell them why electoral reform would be good for all Canadians. Because it would.

4. Write a letter to your MP. Tell him or her both why you support electoral reform, and why he or she should, too. You can find the address here. And remember, a letter to an MP address in Ottawa is free--no stamp required.

5. Sign Catherine Bell's petition, and encourage others to do so, too. Because you don't have to be a New Democrat to support her motion.

6. Join Fair Vote Canada, a non-partisan and multipartisan citizens' coalition for electoral reform. It's only ten bucks--that's less than a movie ticket, these days.

7. Write a letter to your local newspaper and tell them why all Canadians should support electoral reform. You don't have to write a lot--they're more likely to print it if it's short and to the point.

8. If you live in Ontario, contact the official Ontario Citizens' Assembly on Electoral Reform and ask what you can do to support their cross-province, multipartisan efforts to find out what citizens think and design a possible new system that truly works for the province.

Oh, and for the things that require writing, I give everyone explicit permission to crib from my old posts--with or without credit.

Six reasons to support proportional representation

The details are in my proportional representation FAQ and my post about coalition governments. But in a nutshell, here are the top six reasons all Canadians should be supporting proportional representation:

6. PR would put a stop to the exaggeration of regional differences. If you're an Albertan who's sick of being ignored while the Liberals are in power, or an Atlantic Canadian who's sick of being ignored while the Conservatives are in power, you should be supporting proportional representation. It's only because of our current voting system that it's almost impossible for a Liberal to win a federal seat in Alberta, or for a Conservative to win one in Atlantic Canada. Proportional representation would set that right, allowing all of the parties with significant levels of support to gain seats across the country. And it would also put a stop to the inflated seat count of the Bloc Québécois, who generally receive only 10% of the vote, but a much greater percentage of the seats.

5. PR would put a stop to the exaggeration of rural-urban differences. If you're an urban voter who's sick of not being properly represented in a Conservative government or a rural voter who's sick of not being properly represented in a Liberal one, proportional representation addresses your beef as well. Similarly to #6, our existing voting system makes it very hard for Liberals to win rural seats, or Conservatives to win seats in urban areas like Vancouver, Montreal, or Toronto. Proportional representation would change that, giving people voices even when they're not exactly like the people around them.

4. PR would bring more diversity to Parliament. If you're a woman or a visible minority who's sick of turning on Question Period to a sea of white men, proportional representation would address that problem as well. Countries that use proportional voting systems tend to have more representative Parliaments than those that don't. And no one would have to force special quotas on the system, either--it would happen naturally.

3. PR would force politicians from different parties to learn to work together long-term. If you're disgusted with the petty squabbles between two big parties slavering after their respective single-party majority governments, proportional representation would make them stop grandstanding and start listening to each other. Because of the unlikelihood of any single party getting more than 50% of the seats on its own, countries that use proportional voting systems are forced to form majority coalition governments in which the parties have to learn how to put aside their differences and work together in a stable, long-term way.

2. PR would bring more stability to our Parliament. If you're sick of having yearly elections because our minority governments can't manage to get along, proportional representation would address your concerns, too. Our current voting system only works well in countries that have only two parties, but Canada is more complicated than that. Proportional representation would force our political parties to confront the realities of that situation and figure out a way to make it work by forming coalition governments, rather than always striving for something that they're realistically not going to get anyway.

1. PR would make every vote count. If you're sick of casting your vote on election day only to have it wasted when someone you didn't vote for ends up winning, then proportional representation is for you. The vast majority of Canadians' votes go unused because they don't actually help elect anyone. Proportional representation voting systems work differently, by giving a party that gets 33% of the votes exactly 33% of the seats. The result is a Parliament that's just what the voters asked for, rather than one that only a minority of Canadian voters helped elect.

Movement on the electoral reform issue

Admittedly, there's very little that I haven't already said about electoral reform somewhere in this blog at some point. But this week is still special: all the Green Party supporters who have been after the NDP to make this an issue in the current minority Parliament are finally getting their wish. In early December, NDP MP Catherine Bell put forward a motion, M-262, detailing how she wanted to move forward on the issue. That motion is to be debated on Monday, and Bell has been talking with MPs from all parties in support of it.

The motion is carefully unambitious. I say "carefully" because despite the fact that electoral reformers have been ready for reform for ages, the reality is that if we want a motion that can actually pass, it has to be something that paves the way for reform rather than calling for immediate changes overnight. This motion does that by containing provisions for both multiparty parliamentary involvement and real citizen consultation. It moves:

That a special committee of the House be created to continue the work on electoral reform as outlined in the 43rd Report of the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs from the 38th Parliament and to make further recommendations on strengthening and modernizing the democratic and electoral systems;

That the membership of the special committee be established by the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs and the membership report of the special committee be presented to the House within five sitting days after the adoption if this motion;

That substitutions to the membership of the special committee be allowed, if required, in the manner provided by Standing Order 114(2); that the special committee have all of the powers granted to standing committees by Standing Order 108;

That there be a maximum length for speeches by members of the special committee of 10 minutes on any single item; that the special committee be authorized to hold hearings across Canada;

That the special committee be allowed to look into creating a citizens’ consultation group and issue an interim report to the House on this matter within six weeks of the special committee being struck;

And that the special committee table its final report in the House of Commons no later than March 1, 2008.
It's the provision for hearings across Canada that really makes this motion. Parliamentarians from all parties can and will talk a good game on voting reform, but if it requires them to choose between something that's good for all Canadians and something that's good for their own interests, they'll run with their own interests every time. Getting the issue out in front of the people, though, actually has potential to make a real difference. More and more Canadians are getting informed about the issue every day, and with cross-country hearings, that's only likely to improve. And the media attention would be great, as well--because in order to write about electoral reform, journalists need to educate themselves about it, and that can only be a good thing.

Remember, this is happening on Monday. And all supporters of voting reform--whether they're NDP supporters, Greens, Liberals, or Conservatives--should be paying close attention. Oh, and sign Bell's petition!

Friday, February 16, 2007

A new project

Confidential to the visitor from Waterford, Michigan who just reached my blog with a search on "who's Canada's Governor?": I apologize that my measly little blog wasn't terribly helpful. Isn't it funny how little information there is on the web about the State of Canada? I mean, even the State of Kansas has a whole website, and I've always secretly suspected it was a fictitious place invented by people who just wanted to make America look bad.

You know, we should really rectify this, people. Isn't it about time there was a website for the State of Canada? You know, something that would tell us something about important facts like when and how it joined the Union, who its Governor is (by the way, it's Don Cherry), and what its state flower and state song are (the maple leaf viburnum and "Canada's Really Big," respectively)? With all the technical expertise and writing talent out there, we're exactly the ones to do it.

Anybody want to offer up hosting space?

Question for Sinister Greg

Since Greg's blog has comments turned off, I tried to leave this as a comment over at Accidental Deliberations, but was foiled by the "too many links" prohibition. So I'm making this its own post. Greg, I have to say that I've gotten whiplash trying to figure out your positions on various things lately, and I'd appreciate some clarifications.

Exhibit A: First you rail on Layton for "associating himself with Harper" (by the way...can you name one time in which he's actually done that? without parroting Liberal talking points, I mean?), but now you seem to be implying that the NDP should support the Conservatives' budget. Not because Harper's likely to come up with decent environmental legislation, mind, but because his government "shouldn't fall until it has more of a record."

Exhibit B: You left the NDP yourself a while back, but this week started saying that the progressive wing of the Liberals should "join with the NDP to build a progressive majority in this country." And as if that weren't already inconsistent enough, you also support proportional representation, which would render any push for a merged party--in either direction--pointless.

If I wanted to be a smart-ass, I'd parrot the opposition's climate change questions to Harper by demanding "were you wrong then, or are you wrong now?" But I don't, so I'll just ask: what gives?

Bob Rae and the Ontario byelections

A New Democrat friend of mine who spent some time working on NDP campaigns in Ontario was strongly pulling for Bob Rae to win the Liberals' federal leadership race. His reasoning was that Rae had done such damage to the NDP brand in Ontario that the only way back from that would be for Rae to become cemented in the public consciousness as belonging to another party. I had no opinion on whether or not my friend was right, but his theory amused me, mostly because it ran so counter to the worries I was hearing from other New Democrats about Rae, along the lines of: "if he wins, then we're doomed, doomed!"

Rae didn't win, of course, so it was a moot point. But it was an idea that kept gnawing on my thoughts as I read this Murray Campbell column about how NDP gains in the recent Parkdale-High Park and York South-Weston byelections show that the Ontario provincial Liberals are "lagging." He dubs the Ontario NDP "resurgent" and with the help from some long-clichéd metaphors, says that they're now "out of the penalty box after nearly a decade in the wilderness." So assuming that Campbell is right to make pronouncements about the Ontario NDP's strength based on two byelections, I have to wonder whether my friend may have been right after all. I mean, what would confuse an old-time Ontario Rae-hater more than trying to trot out the old "but Bob Rae ruined our lives!!!" arguments against the NDP...and then remembering?

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

On rhetorical sleight-of-hand

See, this is why we all wish Declan blogged more. And it's not even about agreeing with him about income-splitting, either, because only the last paragraph is opinion. I just dig his brain.

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

The political casualties of blogging

Remember Amanda Marcotte, the blogger for U.S. presidential candidate John Edwards' campaign who was maybe-fired and maybe-not-fired after their right-wing noise machine used some of the words in her personal blog against her? Well, she's now resigned. (There's also more from the horse's mouth here and here once her blog comes back up.) And in doing so, one of my favourite U.S. bloggers joins the ignoble ranks of Canadians Mike Klander, Dave Burghardt, and Gordon Stamp as participants in the new online culture who got dinged for what they'd written.

Of course, there are differences between these cases. Marcotte was being paid for her services as a blogger, while the three Canadians were mere volunteers in capacities that had nothing to do with blogging. Klander's, Stamp's, and Marcotte's offending comments were recent, while Burghardt was held responsible for a blog he'd written before his conversion to Liberalism. Marcotte's and Stamp's comments were political, while Klander's and Burghardt's were slurs against particular social groups. What Klander said was verifiably false, what Marcotte said was (mostly) verifiably true, and what Stamp and Burghardt said was opinion. Klander and Stamp held high-placed, influential positions within either the party or the campaign, and Marcotte and Burghardt did not. But despite all these differences, the end results were the same: all were
campaign workers who were either let go from their positions or stepped down voluntarily so that the words they had once written as individuals would not harm the candidates they were now working for.

I have hugely mixed feelings about this. On the one hand, I believe that people need to be held responsible for what they say, and at least some of the aforementioned individuals deserved public scorn for the things they said or did. I am far less certain, though, that they deserved to be let go from their respective campaigns over those things, and I am pretty sure that they shouldn't be barred from political life forever because of them. And putting aside whether or not these bloggers themselves deserved their fates, is it really reasonable to hold candidates responsible not just for their own statements, but also for everything everyone who works for them has ever said, right down to the lowliest volunteer? For that matter, in the Internet age when more and more young people have been spouting off their opinions in online fora for much of their lives, is this situation even tenable?

I don't have any answers, but we should definitely be asking these questions, and so should members of our media and our political establishment. As Greg Staples said, I really fear for the future of blogging if this is where things inevitably lead.

Oh, and just to come clean: I am currently working on Linda Duncan's federal campaign in Edmonton-Strathcona. I am not being paid; I am a mere peon volunteer. Duncan has a thirty-year record working in environmental law, including as Chief of Enforcement for Environment Canada, as Assistant Deputy Minister for Renewable Resources for the Yukon Government, and as a senior legal advisor to Indonesia, Bangladesh and Jamaica in their efforts to enforce environmental standards. She is one of the most outstanding individuals I have ever met, and electing her to Parliament would be an enormous asset not just to the NDP, but to the entire country. And she is definitely in no way, shape, or form responsible for anything stupid I might ever have said on this blog.

Saturday, February 10, 2007

"Winning it all" is not desirable

In response to some of my friend Confused's comments in my "Out of the mouths of innocents" post, where she talked about how Canadians had "voted for a minority government," Joseph from Canada's Debate responded:

I didn’t vote for a majority or a minority, I voted for a single MP, and I wanted my party to win it all.
The first part of this statement is a simple fact--Canada's voting system does, in fact, mean that we get only one vote, and so we have to direct our preferences for the local riding and for the shape of the government into the same action. The second part of this statement, though--the part that says "I wanted my party to win it all"--is personal to Joseph. And I'm curious how many people feel the same. Putting aside questions of what was realistic, I'd like to know how many of you thought the ideal outcome of the last election would have been a majority government consisting only of the party you voted for. 'Cause I'll tell you quite honestly that wasn't the case for me. And this is due not to a lack of faith in the NDP, but to a well-founded nervousness about single-party majority governments.

I wonder how many Canadians are aware how rare it is across the world's democracies for a single party to assume complete control of a country's governance. Parliamentary systems that use some form of proportional representation to elect their MPs
--that is, most parliamentary systems--tend to form stable government coalitions in which multiple parties govern together. In some countries, like Germany, there have even been government coalitions when a single party did manage to squeak out a majority on its own, simply because it's seen as better to have a strong multiple-party majority than a weak majority alone. Even the U.S., which still elects its Congress by means of the outdated first-past-the-post voting system, has checks and balances in place to make it unlikely for the same party to control the House of Representatives and the Senate and the Presidency. Only in Canada and a few other countries is it considered normal to want one party to "win it all."

A smart British historian once mused that "power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely." And unfortunately for us, a look at many of Canada's longest-running single-party majority governments--the federal Tories under Mulroney, the federal Liberals under Chrétien and Martin, and the Alberta PCs for most of recent history--doesn't exactly seem to contradict that. Given the combination of this and the unlikelihood of Canadians uniting behind any single political party these days, isn't it time to start thinking seriously about a better way of doing things? One that looks more like the successful political cultures of stable European democracies, and not like giving in to the worst aspects of our current political culture?

Friday, February 09, 2007

It's IP's fantasy poll!

Scott Tribe has the results of an utterly fascinating SES poll. It's not actually, as he says, a "literal dead heat"--which would be pretty messy and smelly and not at all conducive to anyone winning an election. But it does seem to show the Conservatives and the Bloc down a tad from November, while the Liberals, the NDP, and the Greens are all up a tad. This leaves the Liberals and the guessed it...dead even. Fascinating stuff.

Thursday, February 08, 2007

Bloggers and the Democratic presidential race

Most of you could probably have guessed that I'm not crazy about any of the people who are likely to become the next Democratic candidate for U.S. President. John Edwards has good plans for revamping flagging social programs, but he's too socially conservative. Barack Obama is wonderfully charismatic and would probably be a force to reckon with in the White House, but for me personally he's too fiscally conservative and too interested in making a pitch to win over so-called "faith voters." And Hillary Clinton? Well, you know what I think about her.

But I'm going to have to hold my nose and vote for someone next year, so I've been keeping my eyes open. And a couple of things suggested to me that Edwards might just be positioning himself as a genuine left-wing candidate. Certainly his health care plan, while far from optimal, is a terribly gutsy move for anyone in my country of birth. And just as exciting was his appointment of one of my favourite U.S. bloggers, Amanda Marcotte of Pandagon, as his official campaign blogger. I was impressed with the fact that Edwards' people knew the U.S. political blogosphere both to hire a campaign blogger in the first place, and to realize what a gem Marcotte is, and I was also impressed with his daring in hiring someone like Marcotte--a true lefty--to represent him to the blogosphere. I'm not a Democrat, not really, but if Edwards was going to be that cool, then maybe I could look the other way whenever he talked about identity politics.

Well, my tentative steps in his direction were stopped cold yesterday when, after being hounded for a week by the right-wing blogosphere and the hard-right Catholic League, Salon magazine reported that Marcotte and her co-blogger were fired for having voiced some left-wing ideas in their own personal blogs, months ago, with a sense of humour. This was, of course, after Marcotte had already uprooted her life and moved across the country to take the position. But their firing says more about Edwards than just that he's a crappy boss--it also says that his people weren't quite bright enough to have done their homework before choosing Marcotte. And most importantly, it also lets us know that when the U.S. right says jump, he will. And this is despite the fact that the guy from the Catholic League who's been making such a fuss has been shown to be far kookier than Marcotte could be even if you took everything she writes completely seriously. What will this supposed friend of the left do when the right brings out the big guns and aims them straight at his health care plan? Because if he doesn't think they will, he's not just naive, he's crazy.

After impassioned pleas to keep Marcotte and her co-blogger broke out across the blogosphere, though, this morning, three new posts appeared on the Edwards campaign blog. One was from Marcotte, and was, in essence, a fauxpology (which is, I suppose, the best you can do when you have to apologize but you have nothing to apologize for). The second was from Marcotte's co-blogger, and had similar content. And the third was from John Edwards himself, and went like this

The tone and the sentiment of some of Amanda Marcotte's and Melissa McEwan's posts personally offended me. It's not how I talk to people, and it's not how I expect the people who work for me to talk to people. Everyone is entitled to their opinion, but that kind of intolerant language will not be permitted from anyone on my campaign, whether it's intended as satire, humor, or anything else. But I also believe in giving everyone a fair shake. I've talked to Amanda and Melissa; they have both assured me that it was never their intention to malign anyone's faith, and I take them at their word. We're beginning a great debate about the future of our country, and we can't let it be hijacked. It will take discipline, focus, and courage to build the America we believe in.
So he's hardly flipping the far right the big ol' bird, but it looks like they've been rehired--for now, at least. The whole ordeal still leaves a bad taste in my mouth, though. After all, the jury is still out on whether, when Time magazine dubbed Edwards "the new Howard Dean," they meant "Presidential candidate who can ignite the fire of the youth through a creative use of community-building technology," or "Presidential candidate who makes a colossal misstep early on and goes down in flames." I also can't help but be reminded of how grim the political spectrum down there looks. When you have no genuine left-wing party, the so-called middle-of-the-road folks get pulled so far right that the real lefties don't fit in anywhere. Except Canada, I suppose. Because for all our system's flaws, we've got something the Americans don't have--a political spectrum that encompasses a full range of viewpoints.

It's something the centre-left might want to keep in mind the next time people start droning on about the supposed attractiveness of a Liberal-NDP merger.

[Update: Majikthise comes to the same conclusions, but is significantly more optimistic than I am about what this means for the future of "standing up to the right." Ah well, I suppose that's why she's living there and I'm not!]

Monday, February 05, 2007

Who's propping whom?

Guess how many non-confidence motions or potential non-confidence motions the NDP has voted with the Conservative government on so far? One? Two? What, it can't be more than that, right?

Nope, sorry, it's none, zero, zip. Of course, the same can't be said for either the Bloc or the Liberals, which leaves me rolling my eyes every time somebody claims that it's the NDP, of all parties, who have been "propping up" the Conservative government in this Parliament.

The best development, though, is that the latest person to make this claim is--hilariously--Michael Ignatieff. There have been some great posts that poke fun at the ludicrousness of this, but the very best one is from my fellow oxymoron over at Accidental Deliberations:

After all, this is the same Michael Ignatieff who may single-handedly have given Harper carte blanche in Afghanistan (between his own vote and his influence on leadership supporters). And it's the same Ignatieff who, even on the environment, sided with Harper against the other Lib leadership contenders on the question of whether to give up on Canada's Kyoto emission targets.

At this rate, it may not be long before the Libs agree to let Joe Volpe set their "new ethical standard".

Reality check, please

Yesterday, the Ottawa Citizen published an editorial about why Stéphane Dion is, in their words, "unfit to lead this country"--a conclusion one Randall Denley reached after participating in an interview with the entire editorial board. Some of his objections were about Dion's ideas, but most of them seemed to be about his linguistic abilities. The editorial was behind the subscriber wall, but the interview wasn't, so I figured: what the heck, I'll give it a whirl.

About half an hour into it, I switched it off. Not because I was horrified by Dion's supposedly horrendous inarticulateness, as I was clearly supposed to be, but because this was nothing we haven't heard before. He was repeating the same talking points I've been hearing him make for months, which may have been a boring way to spend half an hour, but it was still perfectly ordinary. Dion sounded like...GASP!...a politician! with a Québec accent! having a conversation! with a bunch of journalists!!! You know, something that happens in Canada every day? So I kind of shook my head at the weird biases of conservative journalists, and went about my day.

Apparently, though, the topic has now spread from the particularly shrill Tory blogs to the far more reasonable ones, and even to the occasional Liberal. They're saying that Dion has a "shaky grasp of English," that the interview is "painful," and that "his improvised English is much, much worse than his scripted efforts." And now I'm confused, and I'm looking for some honest, non-partisan impressions. Do people really perceive something particularly devastating about Dion's informal, spoken English? 'Cause I'm just not hearing it.

Saturday, February 03, 2007

An exercise in vanity

A couple of posts back, I began a post by saying: "if I had an IP's Greatest Hits list in my sidebar", which made me think: "Hmm, I could actually do that!" I mean, it's an incredibly arrogant thing to do, but I'm going on three years of blogging now, so why not be a little indulgent now and then?

Anyway, it's there now, if anyone's interested. Apart from a couple of things I threw in that got a lot of undeserved attention, it's pretty much my own incredibly subjective, biased view on what I write that's worth reading. For what that's worth.

Out of the mouths of innocents

Last night I had dinner with two colleagues from Germany. The first one--let's call her Confused--is an immigrant who has been here for a couple of years now, but who is still trying to figure out the Canadian political system. The other one--let's call her Bewildered--has only been here a couple of months and is still stumbling over the basics. And I'm the closest thing they've got to a political expert who can explain things to them. (Yeah, yeah, I know. Poor souls.) Anyway, here's an approximate reconstruction of last night's conversation:

Confused: So, explain this to me. There's a minority government, right?

IP: Right.

Confused: And that means that if the Conservatives want to get their environment legislation passed, they need to work with one of the other parties and make compromises.

IP: Well, actually there's a special committee working on the legislation, so all of the parties are supposed to get a say. But yeah, they have to make compromises.

Confused: So why are people so mad?

IP: What do you mean?

Confused: I mean, people voted for a minority government, right? So they wanted the parties to work together, right? But every time they try, the politicians don't like it!

IP: *laughing* Well, the Liberals don't like it. The Conservatives probably don't like it, either, but they have to pretend they do. Canadian politicians aren't used to minority governments.

Bewildered: What do you mean by 'minority government'?

IP: Well, the Conservatives don't have 50% of the seats on their own, and there's no coalition--

Bewildered: There's no coalition? Why is there no coalition?

IP: Well, um...because...*laughing*...I guess because Canadian politicians aren't used to that. The two big parties both want to think they can get majority governments all on their own. And so--

Bewildered: All on their own? But isn't that a lot of power for one political party to have?

IP: *laughing* Yes. Yes it is. It's not very likely to happen, though, because there are three so-called "smaller" parties that aren't very small anymore. But as long as we don't have proportional representation, the big parties will still think there's at least a chance of getting majority governments on their own. So the Liberals don't want there to be any good legislation that comes out while the Conservatives are in power, because they want their majority, and the Conservatives don't want the Liberals to have anything to do with their accomplishments, because they want their majority. And the NDP has to try to help something reasonable get accomplished without actually making either of the big parties look good, and the Bloc has to make sure people keep hating the both the Conservatives and the Liberals.

Confused: So the politicians are all standing around yelling at each other and not doing anything productive.

IP: Kind of, yeah.

Confused: Are they all stupid?!

IP: *laughing very hard now* Kind of, yeah.

Bewildered: Wait, I still don't understand why there isn't a coalition. Doesn't there have to be a coalition? I mean, how do they get anything done at all?

IP: Well...that's why we don't know whether there's going to be an election this spring or not.

Bewildered: *dumbfounded look*

IP: *cracking up completely* Yeah, I really can't defend this. Sorry.