Resisting the pull of cynicism since 1969.

Saturday, December 08, 2007

Unofficial 2007 Blogging Dipper Awards

Apparently, I have been nominated for the "Best Feminist Dipper Blog" award in Uncorrected Proofs' Unofficial 2007 Blogging Dipper Awards. Gosh. I'm afraid my feminist content here is actually pretty meagre. I mean, I've always been partial to this ancient post, but it seems auspicious that its first sentence is "I'm never going to win any awards as a feminist." And it wasn't written in 2007, either.

Anyway, if you're interested in voting, feel free to drop an email to My personal choice in that category is Politics 'n Poetry, though.

Monday, December 03, 2007

Rethinking Media, Democracy, and Citizenship

Sometime last year I was interviewed by Professor Megan Boler from the University of Toronto as part of her Rethinking Media, Democracy, and Citizenship: Dissent in the Online Mediums project. It's a large project that investigates "the motivations of those engaged in producing [...] digital dissent–tactical online expressions that seek to supplement and subvert corporate news and infotaintment." Bloggers are only a part of this process, in Professor Boler's view; we sit alongside "viral video," fake news shows like the "Daily Show" and the "Colbert Report" (and "22 Minutes," to nudge Prof. Boler in the direction of some sadly lacking Canadian content), and the Bush in 30 seconds project.

I was in some pretty interesting company as far as interview subjects go, and the publications that have resulted from the project so far look pretty interesting, too. Just in case anyone feels like checking them out.


It's hard to muster up any enthusiasm for talking about politics lately. Although I'm definitely still firmly behind the NDP on policy matters, I can certainly see why the latest SES poll sees more and more Canadians (spontaneously!) choosing "none of the above." "Unprecedented," Nik Nanos calls it. I'll see him that and raise him a "depressing."

I'm convinced that this kind of cynicism can't be about policy, nor can it even be about the inevitable exhaustion over yet one more political scandal. It's about rhetoric. It's about being sick of the pounding negativity that pervades our entire political process these days, in ALL parties. It's ironic but perhaps not surprising that the politician I've been finding most inspiring these days isn't technically a politician yet at all.

When they've lost the political geeks, who do they have left that's really listening? The journalists? (Maybe?)

Sunday, November 25, 2007

You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means.

Dear 2/3 of the Conservative MPs talking about this issue, and 1/3 of the pundits,

While it would be extremely exciting (although also extremely weird) if the federal Conservatives really had put forward a bill that was designed to grant "full proportional representation" to B.C. and Alberta, I'm afraid that's not what they did. And those of you who are talking about those provinces enjoying "the same level of proportional representation enjoyed by Québec," while that may be true, it's kind of a puzzlingly irrelevant thing to bring up in a discussion of Bill C-22.


Wednesday, November 14, 2007


When I first moved to Edmonton in 1997, every single sitting MLA from the city was either a Liberal or a New Democrat, while every single sitting MLA from outside of Edmonton was a Tory. 'Redmonton,' they called it--an island of progressiveness in the middle of the deep blue sea. The provincial scene these days is actually a little more colourful than that--a few Liberal MLAs have seats outside of Edmonton, while the occasional Tory has actually managed to penetrate the city limits. But with eleven Liberals, four New Democrats, and only two Tories currently representing my city in the provincial legislature, it's pretty clear the overall trend hasn't changed.

The city council is, if anything, even more progressive. For years, Michael Phair was the most high-profile and the most universally beloved councillor, and he was not only a true progressive, but also one of the first openly gay politicians to be elected in Canada. Though Phair has now retired, he was replaced in the last election by Ben Henderson (husband of well-known Liberal MLA Laurie Blakeman), in a very close race with yet another progressive, aboriginal activist Lewis Cardinal. The new council also contains a twenty-eight-year-old rookie whose campaign was run by young Liberals and New Democrats, and get this: only a single right-wing member.

I would imagine that some of my readers--those who don't know much more about Edmonton other than the fact that it's in Alberta--are surprised by all this. And now you're scratching your heads and adding up the numbers and thinking: Wait a minute. How the heck can it be possible for a city that elects nothing but Liberals and New Democrats at the provincial and city levels to suddenly elect a whole slew of Tories to Ottawa? Well, there are two answers to that question. The first has to do with riding boundaries, and the second has to do with vote-splitting.

There are eight federal ridings with the "Edmonton" prefix:

These eight fall into two categories: those that are actually fully within the boundaries of the city of Edmonton, and those that extend well beyond the city limits and into full-on Tory blue territory. The "rurban" ridings in the latter category are Edmonton-Leduc, Edmonton-Mill Woods-Beaumont, Edmonton-St. Albert, Edmonton-Spruce Grove, and Edmonton-Sherwood Park, and it's only here that we see the portion of the riding that's rural swallowing up the city vote to achieve Conservative vote totals that look like the rest of the province. But in the actual urban ridings of Edmonton Centre, Edmonton-Strathcona, and to a lesser extent Edmonton East, you can see the city's local progressiveness shining through in the vote totals, even if vote-splitting allowed the Conservative to come up the middle in every case.

The assumption in most of the national media seems to be that if this new bill passes, the Tories would have automatically bought themselves five additional Alberta seats. But if some of the new ridings turned out to be within the city limits of Edmonton, or if a reconfiguration turned out to push the current riding boundaries more toward the urban core (at least one of which seems inevitable without some serious gerrymandering involved), Edmonton's federal representation could finally start coming closer to the way the people of this city actually vote.

I, at least, will be watching this one very closely.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

To all the gleeful poll-sifters

I strongly disagree with Green blogger Chris Tindal about the current state of the NDP, and for that matter I don't believe the new Strategic Counsel polling numbers for a second (for why, just see any other recent poll, or for that matter, Greg Staples). But I still think Chris still has some smart things to say about the Greens and the NDP toward the end of his post about those numbers.

Between bits of advice for Jack Layton, he sneaks in a statement that essentially boils down to the notion that you don't have to "secretly hope to wipe the NDP off the map completely" to be a good Green. I agree with this, as well as with the reverse: if you're a New Democrat, you can not want to vote Green because you think they're wrong about a lot of things, but still think Canada would be better off with their input in Parliament. And it's part of the tragedy of our political culture that this is a radical idea at all--that being at each other's throats is seen so much as the natural state of things that even two sides that are both proponents of electoral reform are reduced to gleeful poll-sifting and finger-pointing.

In fact, I would take Chris's statement one step further. I would go so far as to say that every time an NDP blogger gets gleeful over the Greens being down in the polls, or a Green blogger gets gleeful over the reverse, what they're really saying is: "You know that dedication to electoral reform that my party has been trumpeting? Well, for me at least, it's nothing but opportunism, and you can be damn sure I'll abandon it as soon as my party has a chance at the big brass ring." When you can't say with clarity and confidence that there's room on the Canadian political scene for a diversity of perspectives, then your commitment to a system that institutionalizes that diversity is revealed as the sham it is.

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

The Layton-May-Dion dinner

You know, I'm a partisan New Democrat, but I really don't understand what the problem is with the whole Layton-May-Dion dinner. The concern seems to be that it's part of some kind of effort to ambush Layton into a "stop Harper" non-compete deal between the three parties that would give the Liberals the upper hand and disenfranchise NDP and Green voters in select ridings. But it might well be something less sinister, and Jack will never know until he bites the bullet and takes the meeting.

Besides, if it does turn out to be that sinister, Jack has the perfect response:

"I'm afraid I can't do that, folks. See, the thing is, I believe that a healthy democracy gives all voters the chance to vote for the candidate, party, and policies they most agree with, rather than disenfranchising voters in select ridings where someone else is deemed the best chance to 'stop Harper.' I'm not against cooperating with you two, but that cooperation has to happen in Parliament, after the voters have had a chance to have their say.

But the thing is, there's something we could cooperate on to make sure our political spectrum continues to reflect the diversity of political opinion in Canadian society rather than forcibly whittling it down. Elizabeth and I are already in agreement about changing our voting system to one based on proportional representation, and that agreement is reflected in our respective party policies. How about you, Stéphane? I can't help but notice that there's nothing about that in Liberal party policy, and that puzzles me. After all, if you're really interested in working together and not just in trying to sweep your rivals aside, then it only makes sense that you'd want a voting system that requires cooperation in parliament instead of the current antagonism.

I also can't help but notice that you've been musing lately about the possibility of changing to a "preferential ballot," which leaves open a bunch of questions about exactly what kind of voting system should be behind that ballot. See, if you mean the Single Transferable Vote system, then you're in line with me and Elizabeth about proportional representation, and that's just great. But the thing is, Stéphane, if what you mean is the Instant Runoff Voting system, then I have to say I'm terribly disappointed. That system isn't proportional, and it would mean narrowing our diverse political spectrum down to two large parties known as the Conservatives and the Liberals. I'm sure Elizabeth can't agree to that, and neither can I.

You've spent the past twenty minutes talking about cooperation and compromise, though, so I'm sure Elizabeth and I can change your mind. Surely we can agree that we'd all prefer a system that would allow us to work together in parliament, once the voters have given us the amount of power they're prepared to see each of us have. That means proportional representation. So how about taking it to your caucus, Stéphane? If you put it in the platform, it'd go a long way toward reinforcing your sincerity when it comes to talking about cooperation and compromise. Not to mention the fact that we could then actually make some of those changes after one of us wins the next election!"

Sunday, October 28, 2007

Those exotic Canadians!

Sick of feeling like the U.S. gets all the entertainment attention while Canadians are forced to send their best and brightest to Hollywood to make a living? Well, cheer up. There is no longer any reason for that age-old Canadian inferiority complex--not now that the U.S. has launched a reality show about Canadian truckers who drive on winter ice roads.

Learn more about this EXTREME TRUCKING! Follow six extraordinary Canadian truckers as they RISK THEIR LIVES to drive fifteen miles an hour to provide sustenance to REMOTE AREAS like DIAMOND MINES! Watch their "health insurance" [sic] cover their TWELVE THOUSAND DOLLAR MEDICAL BILLS in entirety when they get injured! Hear the show's THEME SONG, "Livin' on the Edge" by Aerosmith! Buy the first season in a complete DVD set!

That's it, people--Canada has finally arrived.

Friday, October 26, 2007

Canada Elections Act

Apparently, the Conservatives have introduced a new bill that would "force all voters — including veiled Muslim women — to show their faces for identification before being allowed to vote in federal elections."

I'm sure there will be many rants about this, but from me, just a question: doesn't this effectively disenfranchise everyone voting by mail? Including, say, all military personnel serving in Afghanistan at the time of an election?

[Update: Apparently, I'm not the only one wondering this.]

Sunday, October 21, 2007

What makes for an effective opposition in a minority parliament?

Last winter after their leadership convention, the Liberals were filled with bluster. Every action they took dared Harper to call an election. After a while, people started accusing them of blindly knee-jerking to oppose everything Harper proposed--but their high polling numbers and the smell of power continued to compel them.

The NDP, on the other hand, tried something different. Instead of simply ranting about the Conservatives' bad Clean Air Act, they demanded that Harper send it to an all-party committee. The Liberals ranted and raved, accusing the NDP of "propping up the Tories," but I supported what the NDP was doing then--in contrast with the way the Liberals were behaving, they showed evidence of actually understanding how minority parliaments were supposed to work. And even though the resulting legislation was deep-sixed when the Conservatives prorogued parliament, I'm still glad they tried.

See, an effective opposition in a majority parliament is about making strong arguments against what the government is doing in order to make sure those opposing perspectives remain a current part of the national discourse. But in a minority parliament, an effective opposition is about using your leverage and your powers of persuasion to moderate the government, to make its legislation a little more palatable to you before it passes. And while the NDP may have been doing this last winter, nobody is playing that role at all so far in the current session.

Granted, when the Liberals decided to prop up the government by not voting down the Throne Speech, they paid lipservice to the "we want to make parliament work" meme. But the way for an opposition party to "make parliament work" in a minority government situation is to do the negotiating necessary to create joint opposition amendments that the government might be able to tolerate. The Liberals won't touch that with a ten-foot pole. Because they're not willing to share the spotlight with anyone, they would rather give up entirely on trying to be a strong opposition force and simply give Harper a free pass until the next election.

On the other hand, the NDP and the Bloc aren't doing much better. The Conservatives clearly want to govern, but given the reaction of the NDP and the Bloc to the Throne Speech, those parties are just as clearly willing to go to an election now if it comes to that. But instead of using the leverage that comes with that position to exert appropriate pressure on the Conservatives, they've taken on the Liberals' former role of knee-jerking into blustery "Harper bad" stances. With the NDP and the Bloc behaving like the opposition is supposed to behave in a majority government, and the Liberals acting like they're part of that majority government, all three opposition parties are essentially giving the Conservatives the single-party majority they've been coveting.

[Update: One request. Can we go with individual opinions only in the comments, please? I mean seriously, if you can't refrain from hyperpartisanship, it's not like there aren't plenty of other posts you can comment on instead.]

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

It ain't over 'til it's over

So the election speculation is done with, right? At least for now?

Mwahaha. That's what you think.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Jason Kenney: oh, how quickly those principles crumble

Jason Kenney, Member of Parliament for Calgary-Southeast, is currently serving as Secretary of State for Multiculturalism and Canadian Identity. It's a job that comes with the benefit of an extra $67,600 in salary per year, not to mention a pretty snappy title for a guy who's not even forty yet.

What does a Secretary of State for Multiculturalism and Canadian Identity do, you might ask? I honestly wasn't sure. After googling around for quite some time and getting progressively less enlightened, I finally stumbled upon the first link above. There, I was pleased to see the "portfolios" link with the subtitle learn about Secretary of State Kenney's responsibilities. Alas, when I clicked, all I found was the word "Multiculturalism," leaving me even more baffled than when I'd started.

Today, though, my fellow oxymoron over at Accidental Deliberations has finally put his finger on what it is Secretary of State Kenney does with his time--apparently, he is responsible for getting more ethnic minorities to vote for the Conservative Party. It might be interesting to get the opinion of the Canadian Taxpayers Federation on what they think of that rather partisan use of taxpayer funds--if it weren't for the fact that Kenney used to be their leader.

Monday, October 15, 2007

Half of Canadians support national referendum on PR: poll

I'm about to flagrantly violate copyright and cut and paste an entire piece from the Hill Times from this morning. (This is because they way they use javascript makes it impossible to link directly to individual pieces. I have nothing but respect for the Times, though, so if this rubs someone over there the wrong way, they should drop me an email and I'll pull this post.)

I have two things to add to it, though. First, I can't let the wording stand that "a system of proportional representation would effectively eliminate Canada's tradition of majority governments." As I have stated before, most governments produced by voting systems based on proportional representation are majority governments (majority governments consisting of more than one party) and there is no reason to think that this would be any different in Canada.

Second...what can I say? This is simply an extraordinary result. Not just in light of what happened in Ontario last week, but overall. See, the battle all electoral reformers face consists of a) getting people to make the connection between their overwhelming distaste with the way politics works in Canada and the voting system that makes that possible, and b) showing them that there's a tried-and-true alternative used in most of the democratic world that would get rid of a lot of the things they don't like. Some days I'm not even sure these goals are attainable without giving every Canadian the same opportunities to live abroad that I've had. Reformers keep explaining and explaining until we're blue in the face, though, and although sometimes it feels like shouting into a void, this poll is saying that we've had an effect. Extraordinary.

Anyway. Shutting up and turning the floor over to Simon Doyle from the Hill Times, now.

Half support national referendum on PR: poll
Only one-third of Canadians are satisfied with how Parliament works, says a new poll

About half of Canadians support holding a national referendum on changing Canada's electoral system in the next general election, and 45 per cent say that in such a referendum they would vote in favour of proportional representation, shows a wide-ranging new poll on Parliament.

The poll, conducted by Innovative Research Group for The Hill Times, comes on the heels of a failed referendum on proportional representation held in the Oct. 10 Ontario provincial election, in which 63.1 per cent of voters supported the existing electoral system and only 36.9 per cent voted for a system of PR called Mixed Member Proportional.

"A lot of people are looking at PR as dead in Ontario right now, whereas it may just be sleeping," Greg Lyle, managing director of Innovative Research, said in an interview. "The rejection of this particular proposal for PR in Ontario is not the end of the road for change. It just illustrates the challenge in change because it's hard to get a majority in any specific proposal."

The poll shows significant support for a system of proportional representation in Ontario and Quebec, where, respectively, 46 per cent and 52 per cent said they would vote in support of PR if a national referendum were held in the next general election. Still, such levels of support are short of the "super majority" required in recent referenda on the electoral systems in B.C., P.E.I., and Ontario, all of which required 60 per cent majority votes to change the existing electoral systems.

The poll shows a large degree of dissatisfaction with the function and structure of the Canadian Parliament. In total, 41 per cent of respondents said they are dissatisfied with the way Parliament works. Thirty-five per cent said they are satisfied and 21 per cent said neither.

The poll asked respondents whether they believe the structure of the House of Commons allows MPs to represent communities effectively, to which 59 per cent said the structure is not effective and 35 per cent said it is (only four per cent said it is "very effective" and 31 per cent said "somewhat effective").

"It doesn't pick up the role that the MP plays as ombudsman for the community, probably because, although they work like crazy in their constituency offices every weekend or whatever, only a small number of constituents actually benefit from that or see it or go in and buttonhole MPs about things," Stephen Clarkson, a professor of political science at the University of Toronto, said in an interview. "Once elected, the member of Parliament is representing the community."

Prof. Clarkson suggested that Ontarians may have rejected the MMP proposal because they want strong local representation and did not like the idea of generating "list" members in the legislature to be selected by political parties, as the MMP system proposed. However, Prof. Clarkson acknowledged that momentum for some form of PR seems to be growing.

"It's on the agenda now," he said, adding that effective lobbying has helped identify electoral reform as a priority. "It may be like the Quebec referendum. It'll keep coming back until they win."

When asked whether there should be a national referendum on PR in Canada's next general election, 48 per cent said yes nationally, 32 per cent said no, and 20 per cent said they don't know. When asked how they would vote if a such referendum was held, 45 per cent said they would support a system of PR, 28 per cent said keep the current First Past the Post system, and 27 per cent didn't know.

Innovative Research Group surveyed 1,296 Canadians on a national panel between Oct. 4 and 10. The poll is considered accurate within a margin of error of plus or minus 2.7 percentage points, 19 times out of 20.

Respondents were not impressed with the jobs their MPs do in representing the views of their communities in Parliament. Sixty-one per cent said MPs are not effective at representing their communities' views and only 35 per cent said they are effective. However, when asked specifically about their own member of Parliament, the number was slightly less negative, with 54 per cent saying their MP is not effective in representing the views of their community and 35 per cent saying their MP is effective.

Prof. Clarkson said that "ruthlessly negative" advertising by political parties is contributing to the negative public view of politicians and their work. He said opinions of politicians are low, with call-in radio shows, for instance, heaping dislike and scorn on elected officials. "It's unjustified given how hard they work and how little corruption there is, but the negativity about individual MPs may be connected to that," he said.

In a report released this month by the Public Policy Forum, one expert describes Parliament as a "media circus," in which MPs are inexperienced legislators who do not fully understand the system and feel as though they have little influence in government decision-making.

The report says that MPs in the backbenches of government are frustrated by their feelings of powerlessness and marginalized by control over caucus by the Prime Minister's Office. Government MPs have a lack of influence in the system, and can do little but become increasingly partisan and vocal in the House of Commons, House committees and the news media. The result is that MPs add to a lack of decorum in the House but little to policy formation.

"It was observed by a number of leaders that the system will continue to deteriorate until the current Westminster model is capable of providing a more substantive role for Parliamentarians in policy making," the report says.

Poll respondents said they prefer majority governments when they are led by the party that they voted for. When asked whether they prefer majority or minority governments, 37 per cent said minority governments, 20 per cent said majority governments, and 38 per cent said it depends on which party forms the government.

A system of proportional representation would effectively eliminate Canada's tradition of majority governments, which are normally formed with less than half the popular vote. A national system of PR would elect parties' MPs to House in the same proportion as the popular vote won by each party, greatly reducing the chance of electing majority governments. The system would make minority and coalition governments the norm.

Prof. Clarkson said that support for minority governments tends to come from the centre-left of the electorate, because minorities have historically given the balance of power to parties such as the New Democratic Party or its predecessor, the Co-operative Commonwealth Federation. "That was an implicit theme in the referendum in Ontario. Maybe it wasn't even realized, but had we brought that in, it would have put the NDP in a position of power for the foreseeable future," Prof. Clarkson said.

The poll also found that only 39 per cent of respondents voted for their current MP. Forty-six per cent said they did not vote for their sitting MP.

If IRV is the answer, you've lost sight of the question

During the Ontario electoral reform referendum, a number of people--nearly all of them Liberals--kept popping up to say that they didn't like the system the citizens' assembly proposed, but that they really liked a different reform called Instant Runoff Voting (or IRV) instead. And since the rejection of Ontario's proposed MMP reform, these voices have only gotten louder.

What is IRV? Although originally created for single-winner elections like those that elect mayors or presidents, this is the system Australia currently uses to elect its House of Representatives. It is also known as Alternative Vote, or AV. In this system, voters receive a ballot on which they have to rank-order their preferences. If no candidate receives a majority of first choices, the candidate with the fewest number of votes is eliminated, and ballots cast for that candidate are redistributed to the continuing candidates according to the voters' indicated preferences. The result is a system which, when it is used to produce legislative bodies, tends to reduce the full spectrum of political choices to two large parties, like you tend to find in Australia (or the U.S.).

But if you think IRV is the answer, you've lost sight of the question.

Let's back up for a moment and remember what the problems are in Canada that electoral reform is supposed to fix. Our current voting system of first-past-the-post is designed for places that have a clear two-party reality--and it reinforces that reality by preventing alternative choices from gaining a toehold. But over the last few decades, Canada has managed to defy those odds and develop various alternatives to the Big Two. This means that what we have right now is a multiparty reality held hostage by a voting system designed for a two-party reality.

Now, if this were a simple matter of unfairness toward small and midsize parties like the Greens and the NDP, the issue might not gain much traction. But the thing is, this disconnect between our political reality and our voting system leads to weird artifacts such as "majority" governments that get as little as 37% of the vote (and therefore only represent 37% of the voters), and which sometimes even achieve this dubious status without winning the most votes. This doesn't happen in a two-party reality, but because we no longer have a two-party reality and haven't for a good long time, the voting system has stopped functioning normally. This affects not just small and midsize parties, but everyone. And if we want to avoid those weird artifacts, we need a new system that is built for our new multiparty reality and truly accounts for the full spectrum of choice available in that reality.

Any system based on proportional representation (i.e., systems that make sure every vote ends up counting toward electing someone) would address these problems. IRV, on the other hand, because it is yet another system that's designed for an essentially two-party reality (although perhaps one with a small handful of tiny parties), would address the problem of...I'm not sure what, honestly. The Conservatives being in power sometimes, maybe? It certainly would solve that little "problem" either federally or in Ontario--because the Liberals are the second choice of a lot of Conservatives as well as a lot of New Democrats in both places, they would be the clear beneficiaries of an IRV system. And as a system that severely punishes any parties but big, established ones, it might even solve the "problem" of the existence of small and midsize parties, too.

But here's the fly in the ointment: while that scenario might be Jason Cherniak's wet dream, it's not exactly one that would accurately represent the choices of most Canadians. There's a word for that: undemocratic. Not to mention the fact that replacing an outdated voting system that's making problems for us with a newfangled voting system that makes those problems even worse is a pretty ridiculous idea.

If you really like the idea of a ranked ballot, though, you're in luck--there's a way of achieving that while still keeping the element of proportional representation that we need to fix the disconnect between our multiparty reality and our two-party voting system. The Single Transferable Vote system, or STV, came within three points of meeting the 60% threshold necessary for adoption in B.C. in 2005. And because it came so close, B.C. is getting a second kick at the STV can in conjunction with the next provincial election in May 2009, with assurances that there will be better financing for education this time around. (If this idea appeals to you, you can get involved with B.C.'s push to change the system over here.)

Sunday, October 14, 2007

Yankees = Liberals

(This one's for L-girl.)

My adopted "little sister" Caroline over at Respect the Tek and I have a symbiotic relationship--she explains baseball to me, and I explain Canadian politics to her. Here's how it went this morning:

Caroline: The problem with the Yankees is that, well, their ownership and a lot of their fanbase really expect a World Series every year or consider it a failure.

IP: That's some serious entitlement.

Caroline: Yes.

IP: They're...the Liberals.

Caroline: Well, I mean, it comes from the fact that they have won 26 or 27 of the damn things.

IP: Yeah, the Liberals have, too.

Caroline: But okay, you have to imagine a Liberal party where, like, everyone, regardless of their leanings, agreed that various members of the party over their history were better at government than anybody else.

IP: I don't have to imagine--that's actually the case. Even the ones I call the "good Liberals" think that.

Caroline: No, I mean, not that the Liberals think they have the best people--EVERYONE "KNOWS" that they have had a high percentage of the best people.

IP: Oh, okay. In that's like that, too.

Caroline: And that 'best' can be measured and quantified.

IP: Check on that one, as well.

Caroline: It also doesn't help that their owner is nuts and really does believe that not winning = dying. Or something.

IP: And from what you've said previously, not winning also seems to mean that the team manager should be fired. Which the Liberals also think.
Come to think of it, the parallels are kind of eerie.

Caroline: Heh.

IP: I mean, people use the phrase "natural governing party" unironically.

Caroline: ...that scares me.

IP: That scares you? Try being me!!!

Activism, self-righteousness, and individual differences

Let me get one thing straight upfront: despite not being wired for outrage, I really do think activism is important. This is especially the case in areas like the environment where making people aware of alternative ways of doing things could well make the difference between the future of our species and no future at all. But it drives me up a tree (no pun intended) when activists are so self-righteous about the choices they make that they fail to take individual differences into account before encouraging other people to make precisely the same ones.

I'm talking about:

...people whose friends and relatives are all local encouraging people with aging parents in another part of the world not to fly--because refusing to use airplanes would be more environmentally sound.

...people who live in cities with adequate public transportation tsk-tsking people who live in the suburbs or in rural areas for owning and using a car--because taking the bus would be more environmentally sound.

...people who have never wanted children anyway encouraging people who really do want children to make the childfree choice--because their way would be more environmentally sound.

...people who don't take that much joy in food and drink anyway looking down their noses at the gourmets down the street who buy imported mangoes from Mexico and imported malbec from Chile--because eating local would be more environmentally sound.

I mean, sure, all of these forms of environmental activism are great, and necessary, and I applaud the people who find a way to fit them into their lives. I find a way to fit some of them into mine. But come on, can't we manage to promote our good ideas while recognizing that a minor sacrifice that rolls off the back of Person A might very well make the life of Person B immeasurably less attractive?

Friday, October 12, 2007

And speaking of U.S. politics

How about that Al Gore, eh?

I mean, regardless of what you think of him and his methods, you have to admit that going from being the butt of everyone's jokes in 2000 to an Oscar and now the freaking Nobel Peace Prize in 2007 is one of the best political comeback stories ever.


The Ontario referendum result was a major downer for us electoral reformers, there's no doubt about it. But cheer up--you only need to look south of the border for a reminder of how much worse the state of our democracy could be. No, we don't have a system that makes every vote count, but at least we still have campaign spending limits and our candidates haven't been totally Hollywoodized yet.

And after you're done with the schadenfreude, how about joining me in Vancouver for the next big step in fighting the good fight for electoral reform? Fair Voting BC is launching their 2009 referendum campaign for BC-STV with a November 10th conference and strategizing session, and the pretty darn cheap Early Bird rate expires on Sunday. And if you're actually in BC, there's even more than you can do. Ontario had only a few months for their campaign, but BC has almost two years--let's do this one right.

Wednesday, October 03, 2007

MMP: Tom Kent, Andrew Coyne, and lawn signs

Tom Kent, the former principal assistant to Lester Pearson, has a great column in the Globe and Mail today about MMP.

Andrew Coyne has published a few good zingers
at his blog that he couldn't work into his official columns on MMP. The last paragraph is great, but this line is so wonderful and so true that I wish I'd thought of it myself: [MMP] wouldn't mean the end of majority governments, but the beginning.

If you live in Ontario, but you don't have a "vote for MMP" sign on your lawn or in your window, consider contacting your local riding contact for an official one or even printing out your own.

Tuesday, October 02, 2007

No appointed MPPs for Ontario under MMP

You know how defenders of the status quo voting system in Ontario have been insisting that at-large or party-list candidates will mean "appointed MPPs?" Well, as of today, all three of the major Ontario parties have stated that they will not appoint list candidates, but elect them through democratic processes. Anyone who is feeling cautious about voting for MMP because they're afraid candidates could be appointed can now rest easy.

This commitment transforms an already pretty darn good MMP model into a great one. Anyone at all should be able to vote for this now.

See also here, here, here, and here. And for a wonderful piece debunking this myth even before this commitment was made by all three parties (on the basis of how things actually tend to work in other jurisdictions with similar systems), everyone and his brother should be sure to read Andrew Coyne's column "MMP would not mean appointed party hacks."

MMP wisdom from real live Ontarians

I'm sitting over here in Edmonton, so it's been hard for me to justify why Ontarians should pay attention to my support of MMP in the October 10th voting reform referendum. But there's been some really great stuff coming out of Ontario, too. Here are just a few of my favourite examples:

Why our current system is bad:
Andrew Coyne
James Bow
Rick Salutin

Why MMP would be a lot better:
Ari Daigen
James Bow
Davey from "Davey's Politics", and again.

Correcting the misinformation supporters of the status quo are spreading about MMP:
Andrew Coyne
John Baglow, and again.

Sunday, September 30, 2007

A day on Alberta Avenue

For most of yesterday I first volunteered at, then attended events at the second annual Arts Alive festival. It's a festival with a fascinating history. It all began when a bunch of local artists (musicians, visual artists, theatre people, etc.) started growing past their bohemian phase and found themselves wanting to settle down somewhere. But unfortunately, they were poor artists, so the only place they could afford to live in this boomtown is the poorest and most crime-ridden area of the city.

The thing was, as more and more of them bought homes there and decided to raise their kids there, they found they wanted more than just a place to hang their hats, and started forming a real community. They created a volunteer-run community coffee house and an artsy neighbourhood pub, they turned the building that used to house the bicycle shop (before it abandoned ship for less gritty parts of the city) into a theatre, they put up an absolutely stunning art gallery in another abandoned building. Slowly, a couple of downscale but undoubtedly yummy restaurants moved in. And then came the festival, where the neighbourhood artists all banded together to put on an event where all the hottest artists could show off their stuff. And the best part: everything is free, and everyone is invited, from fellow artists to street people.

If you want to understand why I love this city so goddamn much, you don't really need to look any further than this sort of thing, you know?

Anyway, it was great. I spent most of the day at the outdoor music stage, warmed at first by the bright fall sun and then later by the massive fire pits strategically placed throughout the parking lot of the community league. The audience was a little suspicious and at times frankly a little weird--they sat attentively on straw bales and watched and listened, but rarely applauded. But by the time local heroes Captain Tractor took the stage well after sundown, everybody was joined together along the fires, hanging out, meeting new people. I talked at length to a guy named John who, although not a local, had been driving through the neighbourhood on his way somewhere else and pulled over, thinking: "wow, I want to be a part of that!"

As for food, I had my free volunteer sandwich and my free latte in the coffee house for lunch, but splurged on dinner at this restaurant, which is, I dare say, the first outstanding Mexican restaurant in this city (even if the place was hopping so much that the food took too long to arrive, it was definitely worth the wait). The coffee house is wonderful, and though I didn't have a chance to check out the pub, it looked really inviting as well. I'm actually wishing the neighbourhood weren't so off the beaten path for me, because I'm finding myself wanting to go back. I suspect that's the point.

One fascinating thing was that nobody seemed to be able to praise their own neighbourhood without reference (usually negative) to "that other Ave," i.e., Whyte Avenue, or the main thoroughfare through my own neighbourhood of Old Strathcona. I'm not exaggerating when I say that I must have sat through a dozen teardowns of my own local haunts in the service to their cause. If it had bothered me, I'd probably have said something about how I was a pretty die-hard Old Strathconan, and here I was volunteering at their festival, so they could stick all the posturing in their collective ears. But mostly I just found it hilarious, and at the same time kind of sweet, because apparently they want to be us, only better. Frankly, they may yet succeed in that--their own "Ave" really is reminiscent of a much more rundown Whyte Ave to me, but with more of a "let's put our boutique shop or ethnic restaurant here because it's where we live, rather than putting it here because it's where the whole city hangs out" flair to it.

Besides, both areas are strongholds for the provincial NDP, so can't we all just get along? *grin*

When I was manning the merchandise table, one smiling guy came by to purchase a membership in the community arts organization that supports the festival. Making conversation, I asked him whether he lived in the area, and he said: "no, but I'd like to." Then he filled out the membership form, including his current address. It was in Bonnie Doon, the upscale southside neighbourhood just to the east of where I live. I think that pretty much says it all.

Saturday, September 29, 2007

The Liberals: zero to sixty in nine days

The Globe and Mail, September 28th, 2007: the Liberals are "ready for an election."

The Globe and Mail, September 19th, 2007: the Liberal team doesn't yet have the "capacity to run a by-election."

I am totally impressed. That has got to be the fastest election readiness team in the history of the world!

Thursday, September 27, 2007

The Mulcair mojo [updated]

Well, I'll be damned. When was the last time a shadow cabinet shuffle in the federal NDP made the national news? I have a sneaking suspicion the answer to that question is 'never.'

[Update: The Macleans interview this week is with Dawn Black, there's a big story in the Globe and Mail this morning, and the National Post is leading their election speculation story with the headline "NDP demands new government direction" (with the Bloc in paragraph seven and the Liberals in paragraph eight). I think we have a trend, folks.]

[October 1 update: From the Globe and Mail, more on Mulcair and the NDP. Hat tip to my fellow oxymoron at Accidental Deliberations.]

Why the status quo is REALLY scared of MMP

In the last couple of days, various pro-voting-reform forces have issued challenges to the leaders of the two biggest Ontario political parties. Liberals for MMP has demanded that Dalton McGuinty, the Liberal leader and current premier, make clear his position on MMP. At the same time, has called upon John Tory, the Conservative leader, to state that he would find a democratic process for electing "at-large" or "list" candidates if MMP were to pass. So far, neither leader has responded.

Common wisdom says that these two leaders are staying silent because they're scared they could lose seats under MMP, and therefore don't want to draw attention to the referendum at all because they're hoping it will fail. I don't buy that. Don't get me wrong--I agree that they're both hoping it will fail, and I agree that it's because they're scared. But they're scared of something much, much bigger than the possibility of losing a couple of seats. What they're really scared of is having to relearn everything they know about how to do their jobs.

See, in Canada we're used to single-party governments. Majority or minority, it doesn't matter--you've still only got one party in the driver's seat, one party that gets to put through their own ideas without any input from anybody else. This is a hugely powerful position to be in, and it promotes a mindless antagonism that you don't see in most other countries' politics. The party in government has to spend all its time trying to make the other guys look so bad that people won't vote for them next time, and the opposition has to spend all its time trying to do the same thing with the governing party so they can actually do more than dream of absolute power. The whole culture is set up this way: entire political careers are built on how best to rant and roar in ways that will make the other guys look bad (even if what they're doing is really not all that different from what your guys are doing), and if one of the other parties has a good idea, you've got to find some way--any way--to twist it enough to make it look like a bad one.

In places that have MMP, though, the norm isn't single-party governments at all. Instead, those places tend to have multi-party majority coalition governments. This means that the party that gets the most seats chooses a coalition partner to form a government with, allowing the two parties together to add up to more than 50% of the seats. After this happens, the parties reconcile their party platforms through compromise and work together as a single government to put their ideas into practice. This isn't some crazy concept that's only used by a few countries, either--this is the way government works in nearly all of the world's parliamentary democracies.

The result of this process is not only a stable governing body that was chosen by a majority of the voters, but a creative governing body that by necessity has to take ideas from a number of different viewpoints instead of refusing to look outside of their narrow box. This produces a radically different political culture from what we have in Canada: for example, if the winning party likes some of the ideas from another party's toolchest, they don't have to pretend they hate them--they can invite that other party to form government with them and put those ideas into practice together. And as far as the opposition parties are concerned, they still spend a lot of time criticizing the governing parties under this system--but suddenly it's actually about the actual places they disagree on policy, rather than just about trying to bolster their own fortunes.

If Ontario were to switch to MMP, the current antagonistic political culture would change. This means that all those political strategists whose careers have been built on things working the way they currently work would have to suddenly learn brand-new skills of negotiation and of compromise. Political leaders would have to start concentrating more on policy rather than simply on good rhetoric and showmanship. As you might expect, this scares the status quo to death. And I'm not just talking about the Liberals and the Tories, either--the NDP is just as much a part of that rigid, antagonistic status quo, and you can bet that they're scared too (they just think that the new system might give them a few extra seats, and that's worth the risk to them). All three of the entrenched parties would be facing a steep learning curve if this referendum were to pass, and they know it. And you better believe it's keeping them up nights.

But while this change would be scary as all get-out to the politicians who would have to relearn their jobs, just think of what a breath of fresh air it would be to the voters. Just think about it.

I have always said that the best and most important reason to switch to proportional systems like MMP is simple logic: a voting system that makes every vote count in a fair and straightforward way simply makes more sense than the one we have right now. All the other stuff like better representation for women and minorities, a possible increase in voter turnout, a decrease in the need for strategic voting, and a shift in our political culture--all those things are just bonuses. But what a bonus that last one would be, eh?

Hearing words

So 'Jena' is pronounced like 'Gina' and not like...well, 'Jena'?

Huh. Well, all right, then.

(I probably should stop getting all of my news through print sources, eh?)

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Quebec poll: provincial and federal

Some interesting results from the latest CROP poll out of Québec:

The ADQ is the most popular party provincially. On the other hand, ADQ leader Dumont is polling well behind his party. (Didn't that used to be the other way around?)

59% would vote 'no' on a sovereignty referendum.

Federally, the NDP is now polling at 17% in Québec. This is only two points behind the Liberals, and it means that their numbers in Québec are approximately even with their numbers across the country now. A bit of this vote seems to be coming from the Liberals, but more of it is coming from the Bloc. And while the NDP got a sizable post-byelection bounce, the Conservatives did not.

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Where's the education campaign?

Depressing Ontario electoral reform referendum thought for the day via Sometimes Fickle:

If you’re an Ontario voter and you’ve actually heard of MMP, then that probably means you’re a geek like me who’s interested in electoral reform. My guess is that the vast majority of Ontario voters don’t know about MMP, or know that they’ll have the chance to answer a referendum question concerning MMP come Oct. 10.

I thought the province would have rolled out its ‘neutral’ information campaign -- an impossibility, no? -- on the referendum by now. I’ve seen between zero and very few television or print ads on the referendum. And none of the ads have actually delved into any MMP details. Is any one else concerned?
Colour me concerned.

There's so much misinformation out there it makes my head spin, you know? And there's no official education campaign out there to counter it. And I can't help but think that if this effort fails to meet the 60% threshold for passage, it'll be because one too many otherwise intelligent individuals felt free to say "the new system would mean [insert misinformation about the newly proposed system here]!" when what they really meant was "my friend Bob, who doesn't know crap, told me that the new system would mean [insert misinformation about the newly proposed system here], and I took it for gospel."

Saturday, September 22, 2007

MMP and me

It occurs to me that some of you may not realize that I wasn't born a statistics-spouting, FAQ-writing, electoral reform geek--I was made that way. This post is that story.

When I was a young, politically-oblivious American teenager, I went over to Germany as an exchange student. I learned a lot of German, of course (which was the point), but as it turned out, it was also the beginning of my political education. Over the course of that year, I figured out that Germany had not two viable political parties, but four. I also figured out that some of the parties had to work together in order for anything to get done, because that was the only way they could add up to over fifty percent. And I also learned that this working together thing actually seemed to work for them--it actually produced policies that most of the country agreed with. What a wonderful thing this 'parliamentary democracy' thing was.

I didn't fully understand what their voting process looked like until a little later, when I was living there again immediately following German unification and the government put together a "this is how you vote!" program for the benefit of the rapidly democratizing East Germans. Your ballot has two votes, the program explained. On one side of the ballot, you mark the person you want as your local representative. On the other side, you pick the political party you like best. The East German first-time voters understood it quickly, and so did I--in fact, it intuitively made sense to me. It meant that if I were German and I liked that nice Mr. Schmidt and wanted him to represent me in Parliament, but in my heart of hearts, I really wanted to give my vote to a different party, I could do both. What a truly wonderful thing this 'parliamentary democracy' thing was.

Now, by the mid-80s, I knew I didn't want to live in the U.S. for the rest of my life--and frankly, a lot of that had to do with my early exposure to a political system that was clearly superior to the one I'd grown up with. But by the early 90s, I knew Germany was always going to remain a flirtation for me as well. By then I spoke the language as if it were my own and had loads of wonderful friends, but there were certain bits of me that were just too North American to ever feel truly at home there. So when I ended up in Ottawa during the 1993 federal election, I was ripe for seduction--and boy, oh boy did this country seduce me. I loved its bilingualism, its multiculturalism, the diversity of its political landscape. And that election...oh. Pure heroin to any budding political junkie.

And then came the results. The Liberals ascendant, the Bloc Québécois and Reform as strong regional forces, the NDP holding on for dear life, and most fascinatingly, the ruling Progressive Conservatives reduced to two seats (or less than 1% of the 295 seats). Everyone was shocked, but I was dumbfounded. Even the most pessimistic polls over the last few days of the campaign had seen the Tories in the low twenties or high teens--how the hell could they have suddenly gotten less than 1% of the vote? Didn't Canada have that 'parliamentary democracy' thing--you know, that thing where you vote for your local representative separately and the party vote determines the seat percentages?

It took me weeks--after I'd long since returned to the U.S.--to figure it all out. I learned that while the Progressive Conservative vote had gone down by a lot, they'd actually still gotten a perfectly respectable 16%. Which put them only a couple of percentage points behind the Reform Party...but somehow, Reform had gotten 50 more seats than them. And more confusing still was the Bloc, which had somehow managed to form the Official Opposition with only 14% of the vote. It quickly became clear that this wasn't my nice familiar German parliamentary democracy; this was some bizarro parliamentary democracy in which 16% meant two seats, but 19% meant 52 and 14% meant 54. Um. Okay, then!

Finally, someone was able to explain to me that it was the voting system that had made the difference; that the way it worked in Canada was simply different from how they voted in Germany. But even after I'd had it explained to me, it continued to baffle me. The Canadians had a parliamentary democracy, which as far as I was concerned was the most sensible political system in the world. So why did they want to screw that up with this weird voting system that clearly could produce such skewed results? Why didn't they do it the way the Germans did--it would be so easy and so clear! And then the polls everybody talked about during their campaigns would actually mean something!

Despite the fact that the Canadian voting system freaked me the hell out, the bug I'd caught during that trip stuck with me anyway, and so when it came time to apply for a permanent position a couple years later, I went after one in Edmonton and got it. I came to love this place as my home. But every once in a while my new Canadian friends and I would talk about elections, and I'd explain to them how things worked in Germany. Every time, they would emerge from our discussion asking the same questions I'd been asking for years: why did Canadians use such a screwy system when a far more sensible alternative was available? I did a little reading, and learned that the system I liked was called mixed-member proportional or MMP, while the one I didn't like was called first-past-the-post. And eventually, I learned that there was an organization called Fair Vote Canada that was trying to change things for the better. I joined up, I started blogging, and here I am.

Which brings us to today, just a few weeks before October 10th. October 10th, when the people of Ontario have a chance to change the system from one in which 16% sometimes means two seats and 14% sometimes means 54, to the one that's impressed me since I was fifteen for its simple, clear, and fair results. To say that this is a historic opportunity is a huge understatement. It seems that when people are truly informed about the two choices and what they mean, they tend to prefer MMP--but I unfortunately don't have the ability to inject the hands-on political education I got by living first in Germany and then in Canada into every Ontarian's brain. So I'm asking you to trust me a little on this: MMP really does work. It doesn't produce perpetual unstable minority governments, it doesn't make political parties into super-sized patronage machines, and it's not at all hard to understand.

Yes, it's different from what people are used to, and yes, that's scary. But it's even scarier to the status-quo politicians who have benefited under the current system, and are completely panicked about the prospect of having to learn to do their jobs differently. Don't listen to them. They haven't lived under MMP and really seen how it works, and I have. I know about all of the frightening scenarios that they want you to believe--the ones that could, in some alternate universe, potentially produce some scary result like parties taking control and stacking parliament with people who owe them favours. But the thing is, they're talking about what's theoretically possible, and MMP really doesn't work that way in practice. And even if that alternate universe somehow came to pass, none of those scenarios are scarier than things that have already happened in Canada as a direct result of the system we already have.

It's long past time for a change. Make history, Ontario. Make me proud.

Friday, September 21, 2007

Pragmatism: what it isn't, what it is

At the bloggers' gathering in Waterloo this past summer, I had an interesting discussion with one of the other attendees about the NDP. He'd previously been a New Democrat himself, but had recently turned to the Green Party because he felt that the NDP under Jack Layton had become "too pragmatic" (which he said like it was a dirty word). This had my attention immediately--I mean, turning away from the NDP is one thing, but dissing pragmatism? Them's fighting words!

Inspired by my fine Ontario friend, then (albeit a few months late), here's my perspective on some common Canadian misunderstandings of what pragmatism is, followed by my thoughts on what it actually is.

Pragmatism is NOT political expediency. Doing whatever it takes to get elected is about a lust for power, not about finding practical solutions to society's ills.

Pragmatism is NOT a lack of ideology. If you don't know what you stand for, where does your search for solutions even begin?

Pragmatism is NOT cynicism. The scornful negativity of cynicism may be currently in vogue, but it's hardly a tried and true way of successfully solving problems.

Pragmatism is NOT centrism. This one is going to be especially hard for Canadians, I suspect, but it's true--not all centrists are pragmatists, and not all pragmatists are centrists. And there are many pragmatic solutions to problems that don't fall at the midpoint on a left-right continuum.

What pragmatism actually is, then, is choosing solutions to policy problems based on what has been shown to work in your own jurisdiction, or in another province or country with similar circumstances. The initial search for solutions will, of course, be driven by ideology, so that someone from the left might latch onto trying to solve the problem of homelessness, while someone from the right will tend to latch onto trying to solve the problem of wasteful government spending. If both are pragmatists, though, then they won't simply be looking for justifications for the solution their ideology is pushing them toward; they'll be examining a whole series of different things that have been tried in the past and evaluating those attempts in terms of how well policy goals were met.

The principles of pragmatism go something like this: your ideals drive your search for solutions, and in the process of that search you look not only in your own backyard, but beyond your ordinary horizons. But if no existing solutions can be found that conform to your own ideals, you turn to the next best thing rather than either a) promoting ideals with no good solutions or b) creating something new that hasn't yet been tested. A pragmatist's ideology can actually be quite radical in one direction or another, but the difference between the pragmatist and the pure ideologue is that in the cases where the pragmatist's ideology turns out to be consistent only with solutions that haven't been shown to work in the past (or ones that haven't yet tested in real-life situations), he or she will reluctantly promote tried-and-true solutions that aren't entirely consistent with that ideology.

It's an empirical philosophy, and a cautious one, and it sees ideology as a flashlight rather than as a homing beacon. It suits me.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Why the Liberals should be secretly rooting for the Bloc

The Liberals may have lost three by-elections on Monday, but there's plenty of evidence to suggest that the big losers were actually the Bloc. Conservatives and New Democrats are understandably happy about this--they profited from it directly in Roberval and Outremont, respectively--but Liberals are claiming this as a silver lining, as well. Stéphane Dion said that he was "pleased" to see that "most voters voted for parties that believe in Canada," and Liberal bloggers are echoing this sentiment. When it comes to holding the country together, a strong Bloc is seen as the enemy of Canada, and so any federalist party will do in a pinch.

The problem is that when it comes to partisan politics, a strong Bloc is also the very direct enemy of Stephen Harper's Conservatives, and a weak or absent Bloc (counter-intuitive as it may seem) is a thorn in the side of anyone who can only stomach Harper as long as he's held to a minority. Why? Because it is the Bloc that is standing in the way of Harper and his pals being able to form a "majority" government.

Now, before the partisan Liberals start dragging out the faulty "vote Liberal to stop Harper" line, let me make it crystal clear that this isn't about them--this is about the way our voting system works. Our first-past-the-post voting system is designed to manufacture a
"majority" government for a winning party that didn't actually get a majority of the vote, but with the Bloc seats removed from the national gameboard altogether, it's much harder for that system to do its job. Put those seats back into play for the parties that also have seats elsewhere, though, and first-past-the-post starts working as it's supposed to again. This means that if the Bloc vote really does collapse completely in the next federal election, it won't matter if a few of those seats go to Liberals, or to New Democrats, or both. Even dividing those seats up equally between the three federalist parties--an unlikely scenario at best--would manufacture a "majority" for Harper unless something goes desperately wrong for the Conservatives in the rest of the country.

I'm sure we won't be seeing any partisan Liberals openly supporting the Bloc anytime soon, but being the only party who didn't benefit from the Bloc's losses in Monday's byelection must put them in the strange position of secretly hoping that Québec sovereigntists manage to hold on to a good chunk of those seats. (Of course, there's always the alternative--but the federal Liberals have never shown much interest in pushing for that, now, have they?)

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

So who is this Thomas Mulcair guy, anyway?

While the rest of our media can't even be bothered to spill a bit of ink on the man the day after his historic win, Macleans wins a big smooch from your friendly neighbourhood idealistic pragmatist for having done an in-depth interview with him back in June. I figured it might be of interest to those of you who are ready for a break from the Dion Deathwatch (I sure am).

Monday, September 17, 2007

Outremont won by Liberals' phantom opponent [updated]

The results are in: the NDP's Thomas Mulcair has managed to pull off a convincing win over the Liberals in the Québec riding of Outremont tonight, giving the party their second seat in the province ever.

So now the post-mortem begins. Given the direction things have been going in over the last few days, though, I think it's pretty safe to say that pundits and bloggers alike will pronounce this a failure of Dion's leadership, and chatter ad nauseum about what this means for the Liberals' fortunes. I can't help but notice that we seem to have entered a universe in which this historic NDP victory is All About The Liberals--not only were there accusations of sabotage and cries of incompetence, but the Toronto Star declared that "all eyes" were "on the Liberals", and today's big story in the Globe and Mail didn't mention the NDP until paragraph fourteen. Apparently, it's more interesting to hover like vultures circling the guy you think is likely to lose than it is to tell the story of the underdog who rose from the depths of the single- and low-double-digits to beat him.

Just imagine for a moment, though, that Outremont wasn't lost solely and exclusively because Ignatieff's camp has reignited old rivalries, because the crew on the ground in the Outremont Liberal offices was made up largely of buffoons, or even because Dion sucks rotten goose eggs through a bendy straw. Just imagine that there were additional factors that had--gasp!--nothing at all to do with the Liberals. Such as the fact that Jack Layton and Thomas Mulcair are both very popular in Montreal. Such as the fact that Mulcair, as a former provincial Liberal environment minister who resigned over a conflict with his party's leadership, has a lot of positive name-recognition. And perhaps most importantly, such as the fact that the NDP has been fighting hard in Outremont since mid-summer, maintaining two hopping campaign offices, doorknocking and phoning and fundraising unceasingly, and simply organizing rings around the Liberal camp in every way.

I do realize that it's awfully hard to complain tonight, as a New Democrat--and believe me, I don't want to rain on anyone's parade. But as the numbers get picked over and analyzed within an inch of their life in the next few weeks, I'd like to urge everyone to remember that the Liberals actually had an opponent here. And that maybe--just maybe--this historic result had as much to do with that opponent's competence as it did with the Liberals' incompetence.

["Thank god somebody's seeing what I'm seeing" update: Politblogo agrees, as does the Jurist, and so does Tyler Kinch. Antonio from Fuddle Duddle, who lives in the area, admits that the Liberals were "outclassed" by the NDP, thereby proving that the only Liberal willing to do anything other than contemplate his own navel this morning is an ex-Liberal.

"I'd go even further back than mid-summer" update: Northern B.C. Dipper points out that this wasn't just about the NDP's ground game, either--this was a result of a years-long NDP strategy that's finally paid off. He's absolutely right, too; in fact, many of us who have helped organize campaigns in winnable ridings out west have been irritated with the party brass for focusing energy and resources and strategy on Québec when "we're winnable and they aren't." (Confidential to any higher-ups in the party who might be reading: You were right, we were wrong, and I have never been happier to eat crow than I am today. But we're next, right?)

"It's not either-or" update: James Bow summarizes this post with "Idealistic Pragmatist wishes the media would say the NDP won, rather than Dion lost." I counter with the following:

That's a bit of an oversimplification of what I said, isn't it? Of course they're going to analyze what happened last night for the Liberals, but you have to admit that if this were ANY other country and ANY other party, the loser would have been the sidebar rather than the only story. I mean, the networks didn't even show Mulcair's victory speech last night!

I know I shouldn't be surprised about this after so many years, but I have to admit that I am. Liberal entitlement is so institutionalized in this country that it persists even when "if the Liberals lost, it must mean they suck" narratives are the only alternative to taking a good long look at the party that beat them and how they WON.

Desperately seeking C/conservative

I wasn't a frequent commenter at Olaf's blog, but I was always a reader, and with his departure, the right flank of my reading list is decidedly smaller. Oh, sure, I've still got Political Staples and Waking Up On Planet X, and I'm not giving them up, but Greg's is more of a "daily news"-style blog, and Candace doesn't post nearly enough.

Any suggestions for additions? Specifically, I'm looking for a capital-or-small-C conservative who writes well, who thinks with his or her head instead of with his or her fingers, who makes me think, who's respectful of opinions other than his or her own, whose raison d'être for blogging isn't blind partisanship, and who's never used the word 'moonbat' except in a quote from someone else. Surely there must be at least one more of those?

Saturday, September 15, 2007

Stéphane Dion, slogan snatcher

I'm actually not one of the many who think it will be All Dion's Fault[TM] if the Liberals lose Outremont on Monday--not when the NDP have such a strong candidate and have been working hard in the riding since before day one, and especially not when the Liberals don't seem to have run a proper campaign. But this bit from the Globe and Mail cracked me up, and so I can't resist a jab:

In a radio interview, Mr. Dion remained optimistic.

"It's not the tribulations of one day that will stop me. Some days are good, other days not as good, and you go forward and get results for people," he said.
Apparently, Dion believes that his best chance for beating the NDP in Outremont is co-opting the catchphrase for the NDP's 2006 campaign.

Friday, September 14, 2007


If you've been living under a rock, you might not know about the three by-elections going on in Québec right now, the most exciting of which is taking place in Montreal's Outremont. The Liberals, the defending champs, are pitted not against the Bloc Québécois, but against the NDP. And their star candidate, Thomas Mulcair, could actually win the seat for them.

Well, the first poll is out, and with 38% declaring for the NDP and 32% for the Liberals, it's going to be a close race. But the NDP is in the lead--who'd'a thunk it?

Proportional voting systems and voter turnout

One often-cited argument in favour of introducing some element of proportional representation into the Canadian electoral system is that it would raise the voter turnout. The case goes like this: If you average the turnout percentages for countries that have proportional electoral systems and compare that number with the average percentage in those countries that have our current system of first-past-the-post, the turnout is significantly higher in countries with proportional voting systems. This means that people are more likely to vote when they know their vote will count, and if we switched to a PR-based system, our turnout would go up, too.

This difference between FPTP countries and PR countries is real. The problem, though, is that it could be attributed to any number of factors, only some of which have to do with differing voting systems. For example, many of the small group of countries in the world that use first-past-the-post (e.g. Canada, the UK, the U.S.) have certain historical, cultural, and linguistic commonalities, any combination of which could be playing a role. And in New Zealand, which switched from our first-past-the-post system to a mixed-member proportional (MMP) system in 1993, the evidence even suggests that while voter turnout initially rose in response to the switch, it dipped back down to its previous levels once voters had gotten used to the new system.

This is why you won't find any strong statements about voter turnout in the things I've written in support of electoral reform, including my proportional representation FAQ and my post summarizing the six best reasons to support proportional representation in Canada. Simply put, the evidence suggesting that voter turnout would go up if Canada switched to a proportional electoral system is inconclusive at best, and I would rather not dilute all the solid arguments in favour of electoral reform with one weaker one.

Take heart, though, members of the current Yes to MMP campaign in Ontario. The loss of just one of the potential arguments you could make doesn't even make a dent in the long list of reasons why Ontario's proposed Mixed-Member Proportional system would be an improvement over first-past-the-post. And it doesn't change the fact that your arguments are far more grounded in research...and in reality...than the 'no' campaign's fearmongering is on a good day.

Monday, September 10, 2007

Democrats in translation

There was yet another debate among the U.S. Democratic presidential candidates last night. And for the benefit of the 28.1 million U.S. residents who speak Spanish as their first language, it was simultaneously translated into Spanish.

You might be thinking something like: "That makes sense. I mean, 28.1 million people--that's only a little less than the entire population of Canada." Or maybe, less charitably: "Yeah, so? Every word spoken in our House of Commons is simultaneously translated every day!" And you'd be right, about either of those things. The U.S. press, though, is treating this as a special American invention of this great new thing called the wheel.

From the Washington Post (and keep in mind that this is the lede):

The first presidential forum to be conducted in Spanish placed a couple of the Democratic participants in an uncomfortable position Sunday night: answering tough questions while simultaneously fiddling to make sure their earpieces didn't fall out and they could the hear the translation of the next question.
Imagine that! Having to answer tough questions while making sure their earpieces didn't fall out! What horrors those Americans put their presidential candidates through!

One niggling issue is undermining these fledgling acknowledgements that Americans don't live in a unilingual country, though. Because even though two of the candidates speak Spanish, they weren't allowed to speak it while on stage:
Univision required candidates to answer in English, because only New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson and Sen. Christopher J. Dodd (Conn.) speak Spanish fluently. That prompted Richardson to criticize the network from the stage Sunday night.

"I'm disappointed today that 43 million Latinos in this country -- for them not to hear one of their own speak Spanish, is unfortunate," Richardson said. "In other words, Univision is promoting English-only in this debate."

He then switched to Spanish but was cut off by moderators Jorge Ramos and Maria Elena Salinas.
Sorry, Governor Richardson. We couldn't let you speak the language that the debate is being broadcast in--that's crazy talk. After all, it could mean that people might decide which candidate they're voting for based on whether or not that candidate has bothered to learn their language, instead of on whether or not they served in the military or how much money they spend on their hair.

Monday, August 27, 2007

Are the Alberta PCs scared of new Albertans?

It's been a great summer (seriously, I hope you people have had even half as good a summer as I've had), but as the days grow shorter and the kids go back to school, my thoughts are turning once again to my primary distraction tool, i.e., political blogging. It'll probably take me a couple of weeks for me to be fully back--mostly because I've got a few outstanding deadlines that are kicking my butt--but I'm slowly crawling back into the bloggy headspace again.

To start us off, though, I wanted to think back for a moment to a post I wrote a little over a year ago, in which I theorized that all of the internal migration to Alberta, especially to the province's two big cities, might just have the effect of pushing it to the left. It was an unusual post for me for many reasons, not the least of which was the fact that it was complete speculation. I tried to back up what I was saying with research, but it turns out that there simply isn't any political science research along those lines. But I thought it was an interesting idea, anyway, so I wrote it up and put it out there, and figured if I was wrong, no harm done.

Well, in August of 2007 there's still no research to back it up, at least not as far as I know. But it sure looks to me like the Alberta Progressive Conservatives, backed by their surprisingly unpopular new leader, Premier Ed Stelmach, are afraid of exactly the same thing. First we had Tom Olsen, spokesperson for the Office of the Premier, blaming new Albertans for the plunging poll numbers. And now, today, we've got a candidate for the party adopting an "Alberta PC government, love us or leave us" stance directed specifically at new Albertans (isn't it nice of him, though, that he's grandfathering those of us who have lived here longer and permitting us to vote for one of the other parties?).

None of this is proof that my theorizing was correct, of course, but if the Alberta PCs think it's correct, they may yet turn it into a self-fulfilling prophecy. Which, as far as I'm concerned, would be just as good!

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Can't buy me love

I've been traveling like a madblogger, so forgive me if I missed something, but I've looked around a little, and it looks like no one has commented on this astonishing quote from Paul Wells from a couple of weeks back:

I have long been a (fairly quiet) advocate of private, for-profit, two-tier, American-style, dance-on-Tommy-Douglas'-grave-style health care, on the simple principle that if something is important you should be allowed to buy it.
If something is important, you should be allowed to buy it. Think about that. This means that if Wells had his way, the wealthiest among us would all be purchasing air, specific mountain ranges, human relationships, children, and success. Not to mention elections. Oh, wait a minute.

I adore Wells' writing, so it pains me to have to class him with Lyle Oberg, but come on, that one's right up there with "No one should have the ability to make anyone do anything against their will."