Idealistic Pragmatist

Resisting the pull of cynicism since 1969.

Thursday, December 29, 2016

Pseudonymity is not the problem

It's been years since I posted to this blog, but this needs to be said, and it's going to take more than 140 characters to do so. There has been an epidemic lately of left-wing Albertans calling out their political opponents on social media not for their words or their actions, but for using a pseudonym. Friends, it is hurtful when you do this. Please stop.

There are dozens of legitimate reasons to have a pseudonym on social media. For every troll who uses one specifically to aid and abet trollish behaviour, there are many more pseudonymous users who are just women who want to talk with their friends about TV and movies without harrassment, schoolteachers who want to be able to swear occasionally online without horrifying their students' parents, or public servants who want to engage politically without jeopardizing their jobs. Or any other number of kinds of people using pseudonyms in perfectly legitimate, non-trollish ways.

Also, I can't help but notice that the "if you're not using your real name, it doesn't count" argument is coming exclusively from men. It's well known that women have to deal with many more trolls than their male counterparts, but women still seem to have a much better understanding that pseudonymity itself is not the issue. Well-intentioned left-wing men could stand to think a lot harder about this.

By all means, keep battling the trolls. But please stop tarring all pseudonymous social media users with the same brush in the process. You'll just end up hurting many of your own.

Idealistic Pragmatist (a fellow left-wing Albertan who has used this pseudonym for non-trollish purposes consistently on various social media platforms for well over a decade)

Thursday, November 11, 2010


From day one, the tagline of this blog was "resisting the pull of cynicism since 1969." Well, in case it isn't obvious from the few posts I have managed to eke out since early 2009 or so, I've stopped resisting.

Which means I seem to have nothing more to say here, unfortunately. Friends who know me in person have suggested that I rechristen myself "Cynical Pragmatist" and start bringing the snark, but while I'm certainly capable of writing that sort of thing, doing so has always made me feel terrible--and who blogs to feel bad? I guess part of me always thought the cynicism would disappear as quickly as it descended, and I would eventually come back to blogging (I actually still do believe what I once wrote about cynicism, after all), but it's still there. So, silence. I'll keep the blog up indefinitely for those who like to refer back to old posts, but there won't be any more.

I'm still around in other blogs' comments sections (I do still read about politics even though I choose not to write about it), and on facebook, for those who want to keep in touch. And those of you who are still the kinds of idealistic pragmatists who believe the world can be made a better place through nuanced, level-headed dialogue and a critical examination of facts and evidence, I both envy and respect you. Keep the faith.

Over and out,

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Dead sparrows

In Dutch, there is a pair of similar expressions: "to make someone happy with a dead sparrow" and "to be happy with a dead sparrow." The first one translates approximately as "to get someone's hopes up," in the sense that you tell them that they're getting something cool and they get all excited and then it just turns out to have been nothing but a dead sparrow. The second one doesn't quite have an English equivalent, but it's the same idea without an antagonist, i.e. when someone gets all excited about something and everybody else who's watching kind of shakes their head because they can tell that the thing the person is excited about is really just a dead sparrow.

I've been trying to come up with instances where these expressions fit, mostly because it's hilarious to me to use directly-translated weird Dutch expressions (I mean, there's pretty much nothing funnier than a bunch of people overhearing someone saying something pedantic, pointing at the offending individual, and saying: "antfucker!!!"). And the best one I can come up with is U.S. Democrats. The Americans who thought Barack Obama was going to be their saviour in the darkness, see, they were "being happy with a dead sparrow," and the Democrats who promised them the moon, they were "making the country happy with a dead sparrow." Except the saddest part is that the dead sparrow isn't Obama himself and his administration, but the whole country, and the system they're stuck with, and the backwoods culture/thinking of far too many of their compatriots.

I mean, right now the U.S. has a Democratic president, and a Democratic Congress. But even so, the closest they can come to fixing their travesty of a health care system is a piece of legislation that seems tied together with bits of string and twigs. Even if they manage to pass it (by no means a sure thing, at this writing, but even if), what they will have is a piece of legislation that keeps the "insurance" system as it is, but expands it to about 15 million Americans. And it does this by forcing people to buy health insurance from currently-existing private insurance companies and compromising on things like abortion rights for people who buy that private insurance with their own money. Um, yay?

Even with a brilliant, charismatic Democratic president and a Congress that's as firmly behind him as any Congress is ever going to be behind a Democratic president, they've still got a country where a mild-mannered Canadian writer can be pulled over by border guards, injured by them in several different ways, and then arrested, tried, and found guilty, all for the crime of looking suspicious around jumpy people. They've still got a country in which even a minority Republican Congressional contingent holds up every piece of legislation that doesn't suit them with the threat of a filibuster. They've still got a country that has decided a corporation has equal rights with human beings--because for all practical purposes, it is a human being. They've still got to grow old in a country where health care is considered "insurance", as if human beings were vehicles, and administered by private companies that can take it away. They've still got a country where sex education programmes called "Abstinence Plus" get torpedoed because they're not "Abstinence Only." They've still got a country that holds prisoners without rights on foreign soil. And come on, if you can't see that that's a freaking dead sparrow, you've got blinders on the size of Texas.

When people here in Canada find out that I was originally American, a lot of them assume that I left the U.S. in the Bush years. I didn't--I left during the Clinton years. And yes, a lot of that had to do with the timing of my job search, but what got me wanting to leave in the first place was the bleakness that comes with having the Democrats in charge. At least when the Republicans are in charge, lefty Americans can delude themselves by thinking that everything would be okay if only the Democrats had the reins. But whenever the Democrats do grab the brass ring, the thinking American public is always eventually forced to admit that things can never really get any better there than a dead sparrow.

P.S. Before you guys get all "she's back! she's back!" in the comments, I have to tell you that still not really up to talking about Canadian politics. But I had to get this one off my chest, anyway.

Monday, September 28, 2009

Pearls from Wells (with one small correction)

I am extremely thankful to Paul Wells for his insightful commentary on yesterday's German federal election:

The cheap talking point of the next few days in Ottawa will be that Germany just switched from a coalition of the centre-right and centre-left to a coalition of the centre-right and the slightly-righter, and nobody freaked out. It’s such a cheap talking point that I’ve already used it, tonight on CPAC. The slightly higher-value talking point is that this coalition didn’t advertise itself before the election. Angela Merkel’s choice of coalition partner remained her prerogative, and contingent on the returns, until after everyone had voted. So the Tom Flanagan argument, that coalitions should only be valid if they advertise their makeup before everyone gets to vote, wasn’t followed in Germany. And nobody’s freaking out.
In fact, I'm so thankful to him for saying this that I'm almost reluctant to say that he's not quite right. But he isn't quite right. It's absolutely true that the new German coalition partners didn't "advertise" their future coalition, but I follow German politics pretty closely, and what both big parties did do (and always do) is "signal" their desired coalition partners during the election. That's why a government could be formed right away instead of only much later, after lots of negotiation.

Here's how "signalling" works in Germany: The centre-right big tent party (the CDU) campaigns on their own and tries to win over as many people as they can. And the centre-left big tent party (the SPD) of course does the same. But at the same time, they also mention in their speeches and in interviews which other (usually smaller) party they each would most prefer to cooperate with in parliament. So the CDU, for example, will say something like this: "A strong CDU needs a strong coalition partner in the FDP!" and their supporters will cheer. And the SPD does the same with the Greens.

Sometimes, though, you get an election where it doesn't quite work out that way for either coalition (i.e. where the CDU and the FDP together don't add up to 50%, and the SPD and the Greens together don't add up to 50% either). This means that what the parties signalled ahead of time to the voters isn't going to be possible any way you stack it. And that's when the Germans do freak out a little bit. We know this very well, because it's exactly what happened during the Germans' last federal election in 2005, when both preferred coalitions fell short of 50%. Back then, after literally weeks of negotiation, the two big-tent parties finally decided to solve the problem by reluctantly forming a government together (what they call a "Grand Coalition", which is essentially the equivalent of the Canadian Conservatives and Liberals sitting on the same side of the aisle in the House of Commons and sharing cabinet posts and otherwise working as a unit). The German form of "freaking out" is closer to grumbling and moaning about why the voters didn't give one or the other of the preferred coalitions 50%, of course (rather than party leaders accusing other parties of treason and clueless idiots chanting in the streets about coups), but whenever parties end up having to form a coalition that didn't get signalled in advance, it's there all the same.

But the basic point behind what Wells said is 100% right, and that's that parties in Germany--and in the rest of the democratic world, for that matter--don't advertise together and run together as a block when they think there might be a particular coalition after the election. Why? Because that would be freaking presumptuous! It's up to the voters to determine which potential coalition governments can and can't form a majority, and nobody knows that for sure until after the election, once the voters have had a chance to have their say.

Friday, December 05, 2008

One of several options

Was the Governor-General wrong to prorogue? Hell if I know. It seemed like a "damned if you do, damned if you don't" sort of situation, and there really was no good choice. Harper should not have asked for it, that much is certain. But what's done is done.

One thing that a lot of people--including a lot of people I like and respect--don't seem to be getting right now is that decisions about government on that level aren't about policy. They aren't made based on the idea that a Harper-led government is going to be better on the economy, or a Dion-led government is less likely to cut much-needed social programs. Decisions on that level are about nothing more and nothing less than giving the Canadian people a government that works based on the parliament they voted for. We're not going to get that because our voting system doesn't actually give us the parliament we vote for, but we still have the possibility (and, I would argue, the responsibility) to form as democratic a government as we can based on the parliament we do have.

By that token, I support the proposed minority-coalition-plus-support-agreement not because I think it would enact better policy than a Harper-led government, but because it's an option that would a) reflect more than 50% of the elected parliament, b) be willing to compromise and work together across party lines, and c) be willing to commit to governing for a particular time period, creating more stability than we have had in years. But here's the rub: it's not the only option that could provide those things. The current government has lost the confidence of the House--but they could regain it. They could commit to leading a minority government that governed for a particular length of time, and consulted with at least one other party in the House on every piece of legislation they propose. They could even propose a different coalition, or a minority government that had an agreement with one particular opposition party, with the same kinds of "majority of the House", "compromise", and "durability" terms that the Dion-led coalition would have.

If we're talking about what I personally want, of course I would like to see Harper out of the Prime Minister's chair. I think he's been a terrible prime minister on the democracy end of things, and his policy preferences are not mine, either. But this exercise isn't about what I want, or what you want, or what any one group wants. It's about what Canadians voted for. And there are still several open possibilities that would give us that, or at least something much closer to it than we've had in a very long time.

I've never had a lot of faith that these things will actually work as they're intended to, and I've lost even more of that faith this week. But it would help me regain some of it if we could all put partisanship aside and commit to working toward and supporting the existence of a stable, cooperative government formed from the House we elected. In whatever form that might take.

Thursday, December 04, 2008

On the backroom

Consider this: When people in the same party get together to talk about plans for laws or governance or strategy, we call it a caucus meeting. But when people from different parties do exactly the same thing, we call it a secret backroom plot.

Apparently it's peachy keen for our parliamentarians to get together, hash through an idea, and propose a new piece of legislation without presenting it first to the public in an election campaign--but only if everybody involved in the deal is wearing the same colour scarf.

Is that really the message we want to send to the people who govern us? Wall off the parties and make sure no one leaves their bubble? No talking to each other unless it's antagonistic, and even then, preferably only in Question Period? Because when we use rhetoric like that, that's exactly what we're saying.

And we wonder why nobody in this country can make a democratically elected minority parliament work to save their lives.

Wednesday, December 03, 2008

We have polling

Angus Reid has released polling data about the proposed coalition. Here are their answers to the main three questions:

Which of these statements comes closest to your own view?
The Conservative party deserves to continue in government: 35%
The Conservative party does not deserve to continue in government: 40%
Not sure: 25%

Should the opposition parties get together and topple the Conservative minority government headed by Stephen Harper?
Yes: 36%
No: 41%
Not sure: 23%

If the Conservative minority government is defeated, what would be your preferred solution?
Holding a new federal election: 32%
Allowing the opposition to form a coalition government: 37%
Allowing the opposition to govern by accord: 7%
Not sure: 24%
So most people aren't exactly excited about the coalition, but given the fact that the Conservatives "do not deserve to continue in government," it's still the best of a bunch of bad options.

This is an eminently reasonable view. There's a lot to be nervous about when it comes to this coalition. But considering the fact that the Conservatives have lost the confidence of the House, when you cast it against the only other possible outcomes, it starts to look like the least ridiculous one. I am very encouraged that most Canadians realize that a coalition government would be a superior solution to a government by accord.

Just as fascinating as the main questions, though, is some of the data on the full .pdf at the bottom. It's perhaps not surprising that a majority of Albertans believe the Conservatives should remain in office (53%), but what is surprising is that the number isn't higher. I mean, 64.6% of Albertans voted for this party only a few short weeks ago.

What happened to that extra 11%? The answer might be here: the overwhelming majority of Canadians think the federal government should implement a stimulus package to boost the economy as soon as possible (75%), and more than half think the Conservatives have not done a good job in dealing with the economic crisis (53%).

The prospect of a Prime Minister Dion also enjoys considerably less support (25%) than the coalition itself (37%). Hmm.

Also, I can't help but notice that the percentage of Canadians supporting the coalition is exactly the same as the percentage of Canadians who supported the Conservatives in the last election. That's some lovely irony right there.

The .pdf is here. It makes for some fascinating reading.

Tuesday, December 02, 2008

I guess they're trying.

As you've probably heard by now, there are rallies being planned across Canada, both for and against the proposed coalition. Well, in Edmonton, the "anti" folks are said to be rallying at "Duncan Office," which I have to imagine is shorthand for "Edmonton-Strathcona MP Linda Duncan's constituency office."

But there's a funny thing about that--I was just talking to the divine Ms. Duncan, and she told me that her constituency office is still being set up. Yes, they have chosen a location, but no, there are no open hours there yet. She just hired her assistant this past weekend, in fact.

So are they going to be rallying at an office that isn't open yet, then? No, apparently it's even better than that, because the address that is being passed around for "Duncan Office" is 10806-119 St, which is not only not Linda Duncan's future constituency office, it's not even in our riding. In fact, it's nowhere near our riding.

What the heck is that address, anyway? The provincial NDP office, maybe? Good luck rallying there, if that's what it is--it's kind of out in the middle of nowhere, and they share space with a church.

Apparently this is what happens when people who shouldn't have passed high school social studies and who don't know that '52.9' is a bigger number than '46.4' try to organize political events.

[Update: The pro-coalition rally will take place on Thursday at 6PM, at Winston Churchill Square in downtown Edmonton. If you support the coalition, pass it on.]

Monday, December 01, 2008

And you guys make fun of the U.S. education system?

Can you retroactively flunk high school social studies in Canada?

Because I'm hereby nominating everybody who refers to a potential coalition government as "overturning the results of the last election" for that dubious honour.

Breaking the golden rule

The golden rule of leading a minority government: You have to come up with compromises that people outside of your own party will vote for.

This is why Harper is going down.

In the end, it's not about party financing. It's not even about the lack of a stimulus package, although the (still) opposition needs to pretend it is. It's about the last two years of the Liberals rubber-stamping everything the Conservatives wanted to do, with no interparty consultation beforehand except on Afghanistan. It's about hearing the Conservatives claim in the first week after the election that they wanted to make this minority parliament work right, and people actually getting their hopes up that it could maybe, just maybe, be different this time around, only to have them dashed when the Conservatives tried to ram controversial things through yet again without even a whiff of consultation outside of his caucus. It's about saying that Stephen Harper's had his chance to actually govern like the head of a minority parliament, and he blew it.

It's about saying enough is enough. It's about saying: "You can't lead a minority government, but we can."

[Update: The Globe's Lawrence Martin says the same thing, more eloquently.]

Saturday, November 29, 2008

"Undemocratic?" Oh, that's just precious.

From the Canadian Press:

Prime Minister Stephen Harper has guaranteed the survival of his minority Conservative government for at least another week and is imploring Canadians to reject what he says is an undemocratic and illegitimate coalition.

"The opposition has been working on a backroom deal to overturn the results of the last election without seeking the consent of voters,'' Harper said late Friday in the foyer of the House of Commons. "They want to take power, not earn it.'
Do you people really have to get an immigrant to explain to you how your system works? All right, fine, then.

You might have noticed at some point that when you go to the polls and draw your X, you're not actually getting to place that X next to the name of a party leader. This is because you're not actually voting for a party leader.

No, seriously, you're not. Your power is limited to voting for your MP. Really and truly.

Among other things, this means that Stephen Harper, in and of himself, did NOT win the 40th general election. Oh, he did win an election in Calgary-Southwest, fair and square, but last I checked, the voters of Calgary-Southwest hadn't been gifted with seekrit powers to choose the prime minister.

Now, it is the case that his party didn't just win the election in Calgary-Southwest, but a bunch of other elections, too. In fact, they won more elections than each of the other parties did. But calling that, in and of itself, "winning the election" is...not accurate. A strange and unique Canadian custom, yes. One that would completely flummox most residents of most of the world's parliamentary democracies, absolutely. But accurate? No.

Why? Let's look at the numbers. In the last election, Stephen Harper's party had the support of precisely 37.65% of Canadians. Now, our voting system turned that number into 46.4% through a kind of Seekrit Voodoo Magic known as First-Past-The-Post, but even our Seekrit Voodoo Magic isn't powerful enough to turn a 37.65 into a 50. And if it's not a 50, you can't say you won the election. Nobody can.

So how do we pick the government when our voting system doesn't produce an outright winner? Well, we don't, actually. The group of people who won the smaller elections get to do that. That's what that there phrase "parliamentary democracy" means. But I'm getting ahead of myself.

If you live in Canada, you tend to solve this dilemma by collective delusion. Together, all of the politicians, all of the media, and all of the voters, decide to say: "What, 46.4% isn't 50%? Details! U R Da Winnar, Mistar Harpar!!! Here, have the whole country to do with as you please!!!"

But if you live in a sane country, like...well, pretty much any other parliamentary democracy in the democratic world, you say: "Ooh, goody for Mr. Harper! His party's got more seats than everybody else, and he's that party's leader! He's won the right to pick the additional set of MPs that gets to help form government with his MPs!" And if for some reason he can't or won't do that, they look for a different set of 50% or more who can, and will.

You might notice that our Mr. Harper skipped this step. Funny, I noticed that, too. It's a pretty powerful collective delusion, what can I say.

But powerful as it is, it is still a delusion. And if a larger portion of those people we elected can get together and say: "Um, pardon us, but the emperor has no clothes you've only got 46.4%," then the delusion kind of collapses. And if they can also add: "And we have 37%, and together with that other group of MPs who are willing to support us, we actually add up to 52.9%", well...then the election finally has a real winner.

Because '52.9' is not just a bigger number than '46.4'--it's also more than 50. And if you can get to more than 50? Well, that's how you actually win an election in this system of ours, without a collective delusion to help you along. (And for that matter, if you take our Seekrit Voodoo Magic out of the picture and look at the real numbers, you get 54.42%. Which is also more than 50%, and certainly more than 37.65%. A lot more.)

Now, you can call this crazy. You can call it silly, or ridiculous, or even unfair. Some of those things I might even agree with, on a bad day. But if you call it undemocratic, you are saying that 52.9 is not, in fact, a bigger number than 46.4. And that will make those of us who really understand how parliamentary democracies work--or for that matter, how numbers work--point at you and laugh.

Friday, November 28, 2008

Anti-academic plot

Okay, is it me, or do the most interesting events in Canadian politics always seem to happen riiiiight at the beginning or the end of the Canadian university semester?

Friday, November 14, 2008

Political culture and the post-2008 NDP

There are some terrific conversations going on out there right now about what's next for the NDP after the 2008 election. First, we have the NDP Strategic Review series over in Accidental Deliberations (parts one, two, and three), we have the Globe and Mail discussion between Brian Topp and Les Campbell, we have NDP Outsider's thoughts on the election and analysis of the Topp-Campbell discussion, and last but definitely not least, the thoughtful post over at EnMasse.

I have to admit, though, every time I've tried to participate in one of those discussions, I've found myself feeling a fundamental disconnect with the assumptions behind the points being made. It's not that I disagree with the NDP's policies, because I'm still just fine with most of them. It's not even that I think there's anything wrong with the leader of the NDP running to be prime minister. It's that as long as the NDP was just trying to do the best job it could in opposition, I could pretend that I don't have issues with the core assumptions of Canadian political culture. I do, though. And given the NDP's new strategies, it's getting harder and harder to talk with my fellow partisans about the future of our party without running up against that wall.

I alluded to this issue once before in my discussion about the NDP policy convention in 2006:

The most interesting thing about Sunday, though, was watching the talk of the prospect of an NDP-led government--which for the rest of the weekend had been bubbling under the surface--come out full force. One delegate, in debating one of the "building the party" resolutions, even slammed Jack for his "lend us your votes" rhetoric from the last election, saying that the NDP should instead start talking seriously about leading. I have to admit that I'm of two minds about this. On the one hand, if the NDP wants to be taken seriously as a major force in Canadian politics, they have to instill confidence that they're ready to lead. To do this they need not just the right rhetoric, but also a serious effort to truly build the policies that would enable them to take the reins. I support this part of it wholeheartedly.

But at the same time, the NDP is supposed to be the only major party that completely supports an electoral reform in the direction of proportional representation. I know how PR elections are fought from my time living in Germany, and the people who fight them don't make statements like: "we want to form a government [implied: on our own]." They certainly don't say things like: "If we're ever going to form a government, it's going to be because we can beat the Liberals and the Tories at their own game." The fact is that PR makes single-party majority (or even minority) governments vanishingly rare, and majority coalitions--a form of government that's commonplace in most of the world but not currently a part of Canadian political culture--utterly normal. I brought that fact up with another delegate at the convention, and his argument was that the NDP needs to get elected before they can make the shift to PR, after which the necessary changes to the political culture can happen. I think this is the wrong tack to take, for two reasons. First, I agree as strongly as humanly possible with Wilf Day's statement that the voting system belongs not to the politicians, but to the voters, and that electoral reform needs to come from the people and not from their government. But much more disturbingly, it suggests to me that the NDP may not have thought about what PR would really look like once implemented. It suggests to me that the NDP may not want PR because it's the best thing for Canada, but because it's the best thing for the NDP right now, and they might well change their tune if the voters were to grant them their coveted chance to lead.
As I've mentioned before, I came of age politically not in Canada, and not in the U.S., but in Germany. It's difficult to underestimate the extent to which German political culture has been influenced by its voting system (which is based on proportional representation), because not only are coalition governments the norm, but political strategies are also correspondingly different. In that kind of culture, parties grow in influence not by changing their fundamental ideologies in order to expand their appeal to ever-expanding groups of citizens, but by coming up with good ideas within the boundaries of their fundamental political identity, and doing a good job of selling those ideas first to voters in an election, and then later to coalition partners in government. So Canadian talk among both professional and armchair party strategists about winning ever-increasing pieces of the pie by developing policies that appeal to a bigger and bigger tent of voters (and let's face it, that's exactly what the NDP is trying to do right now) has always collided with my basic ideas about how to do politics right.

So what am I suggesting, then--a coalition government with the Liberals to Stop Harper, like what Murray Dobbin is advocating? Not exactly. First of all, there's no sense in forming a coalition government unless that government can be a majority one, and second of all, it's difficult to imagine joining forces with a Liberal Party whose main raison d'être isn't the execution of a particular kind of policy, but getting back into power at all costs. But when I think about what Canada would look like with the kind of political culture that most shaped me, it seems obvious that parties and their strategies would be very different. And a coalition between a left-wing party (whether it's called the NDP or something else) and a centrist party (whether it's called the Liberals or something else) is a completely reasonable outcome in a scenario where the only real reason to vote for or join a party is because you like their policies. But until we reform our electoral system and the assumptions behind our political culture change, these kinds of discussions about party strategy beyond the constituency level aren't anything I'm going to be particularly interested in participating in.

I have to admit, I feel ambivalent about making this post in the first place, out of fear that it will be misread. I certainly don't mind criticizing the NDP when they deserve it, but this post isn't so much a criticism of the NDP as it is a criticism of what our voting system has done to our political culture and the results of that for the NDP. I absolutely understand why the leader of the NDP doesn't run for leader of a coalition government--within the constraints of our political culture, any acknowledgement that they can't form a majority on their own would be read as a glaring weakness. Voters would be at best puzzled and at worst scared off. I know all that.

But I don't like it. And more importantly, I don't accept it. Running to form government on their own may be the best the NDP can do within the current political culture, but Dymaxion World's axiom applies here as well as it ever has: Basic politics in a democracy: If you want to change the behaviour, don't change the actors, change the rules. Until we have proportional representation and the political culture that would result from it, partisan politics in Canada is always going to be more about how to get a bigger and bigger piece of the pie than it is about promoting good people and good ideas. And that's always going to limit the level at which I'm willing to get involved with my party of choice, no matter how good their candidates and their ideas are.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Do the Liberals have a voter database?

During the last election, my partner got a call from the Liberals. The caller gave the traditional spiel about how great the Liberals were and how great a change of government would be, and then asked her whether he could expect her support for Edmonton-Centre Liberal candidate Jim Wachowich on October 14th.

All of which would be par for the course if it weren't for the fact that my partner actually lives in the riding of Edmonton-Strathcona. So she proceeded to tell the caller that her Liberal candidate was Claudette Roy, not Jim Wachowich, and they had a bit of back and forth about that before the bewildered Liberal said he had to check something and hung up.

That story ran through my mind back when I read Calgary Grit's Building the Big Red Machine post, and this part of it has been nagging at me ever since then:

Which brings me to my next point – get an f’ing database. The Tories have pages upon pages (bytes upon bytes?) of information on donors, supporters, and voters – the Liberals have trouble sending out automatic renewals for party memberships. The Dave Taylor renewal document I linked to earlier this week made sense – every time a member signs up for the party you should find out what issues they care about and any other information about them you can. The more you know about voters, the easier it is to tailor your message to them. In the same vein, the more you know about your members, the easier it is to target fundraising messages to them.
I am misreading this, right? CG must be saying that the Liberals need to get the kind of database that the Tories have, which includes issues and demographics. Not that the Liberals need to get a general database--the kind with a record of who's voted for them over the years and where they live and whether they're members. They do have that, right?

Because if the Liberals have actually been running elections with no central database at all, then I'm astonished that they've won anything, ever. And yet I don't understand how the call to my partner about a candidate in a completely different riding could have happened if they do have one.

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

Congratulations, Americans!

I'm pretty sure that everyone who reads this blog knows that:
a) I'm a Canadian first and an American only by past association, and
b) I can't bring myself to get excited about the politics of any Democrat, and
c) change I can believe in is more along the lines of what happened on October 14th in Edmonton-Strathcona than what happened on November 4th in the United States.

But here's the thing: as of seven years ago, I still had warm feelings for the country I had left behind. And when it became something I no longer recognized at all, that made me terribly, horribly sad.

Nobody's going to turn the U.S. into a country I want to live in--it was never going to be that. But that guy the Americans elected last night? He might just turn the U.S. back into a country it would be nice to live next to.

Sunday, October 26, 2008


My father is a political scientist, specializing in U.S. politics, at a major U.S. university. As you might imagine, between the postmortem for the Canadian election and the rapidly approaching U.S. one, we had a lot to talk about this weekend.

Apart from a certain riding-level race I've already talked about way too much in this blog, the main focus of our discussion about the Canadian election was how little things had changed. This is a sharp contrast with the U.S election, where things are likely to change a great deal in just a little over a week, both in the White House and in Congress.

He was gloating over this just a bit. For a while, I played along. Then I struck.

IP: Wow. So the Democrats are going to have a majority in the House, a majority in the Senate, and a Democrat in the White House.

IP's Dad: That's what it looks like.

IP: That's amazing. I mean, that will actually make your government...almost as far left as our Conservative minority!

Friday, October 24, 2008

A belated comment on Jason Cherniak's final goodbye

When über-Liberal blogger Jason Cherniak decided to hang up his blogging hat after the last election, there was no shortage of reaction from the blogosphere, left, right, and centre. But the one thing that struck me most about his swan song wasn't mentioned by anyone:

This is my last post on politics. After almost four years of blogging, I have decided that I have had enough. When I started, I was about to start articling at a major Toronto law firm and I was moving up in the Liberal Party. I've continued to move up in the party, but I also know that too many people see me as a blogger first.
"Move up in the Liberal Party." As if the Liberal Party existed not to be an organization of people with common political preferences who are dedicated to making Canada a better place, but as a vehicle for personal career advancement. In which success is defined not by how well the group manages to realize its goals for the country, but by how quickly you can claw your way into important, powerful partisan positions.

I'm really surprised no one's commented on this. Does that sort of thinking really make no one else wrinkle their nose and emit an involuntary: "Eew."?

(Are there New Democrats who think like this? There must be.)

Saturday, October 18, 2008

Compromising democracy isn't the answer

Late in this last election, after it had become overwhelmingly clear to everyone in Edmonton-Strathcona that this riding was a two-horse race between the incumbent Conservative and recently elected New Democrat Linda Duncan, a guy stood up at one of the all-candidates' forums and asked the Liberal candidate to step down. Linda's response was that she would never ask anyone to do that. I've never been prouder of her than in that moment.

"For the good of democracy," the guy said. I know he meant well, but that's just crazy. When are we going to put a lie to the notion that it would be more democratic to deprive voters of some of their democratic choices so as to rig the election in one candidate's favour? Think about that one for more than two seconds and you'll realize how ridiculous it sounds.

Linda Duncan and her team won in Edmonton-Strathcona through our sheer determination to convince people of two things: one, that she really, truly could win this time, and two, that people who would normally prefer a different party didn't have to "hold their noses" to vote for her because she was by far the best candidate anyway. Was it harder than it would have been if there hadn't been a Liberal candidate running? You bet. But elections are about convincing people to place their X next to your name, not about taking the easy way out. If we hadn't been able to do that, we wouldn't have deserved to win. It's that simple.

There are few people who understand the frustration of living in a vote-splitting riding better than an Edmonton-Strathcona New Democrat. But as one who's been there, I also know that there are only two truly democratic solutions to this very real problem:

1) Fight the good fight until you win, and
2) Join the electoral reform movement and fight for proportional representation.

Looking for shortcuts isn't the answer. It can never be the answer. Because when we compromise what little democracy we do have under first-past-the-post, we're selling our souls. And more often than not, we're selling them in exchange for a loss.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Edmonton-Strathcona addendum

I could tell you all stories about this election that would make your hair stand on end. But because today is a day for celebrating here in Edmonton-Strathcona, not for kicking our opponents when they're down, I'll just leave it at this:

I've spent a lot of time in this blog complaining about Liberal entitlement, and particularly about Ontario Liberal entitlement. But if there's one thing I learned over the course of this campaign, it's that the smug Ontario Liberal entitlement doesn't hold a candle to the meanness and pettiness of Alberta Tory entitlement. And now that I've seen just how much worse it can get, I don't think I'll ever be able to complain about Ontario Liberals again.

(And to all the Edmonton-Strathcona Tories who feel like making sore-loserish comments, do feel free--I don't censor. But keep in mind that you'll only be proving my point.)