Resisting the pull of cynicism since 1969.

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.)

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Live from the Edmonton-Strathcona Linda Duncan victory party!

Just look, people. Just look:

I have in my lap an Edmonton-Strathcona Federal Election Planning Committee meeting agenda dated May 2nd, 2005. The first item on the agenda is "Candidate Search," and there's just one name under it: Linda Duncan. There are notes scribbled across the bottom in my horrible handwriting that say things like "get Linda's final edits tonight" and "$100 for website hosting $15/mo.". (Although it's all a bit tear-stained now and even harder to read than it once was.)

May 2005, all this started. And we never stopped. To draw an analogy for the benefit of my fellow Edmontonians who worked their asses off on the famous Don Iveson campaign and managed to get an unlikely but oh-so-deserving young man elected to city council: it was a lot like that for us, too. Except stretched over a lot more years, with a much bigger prize, and against even greater odds.

I am as proud of my work on that campaign as I am of anything else I've ever done, and there are literally dozens of other people who have every right to be just as proud. It was a hell of a team, and Linda Duncan is going to make one hell of an MP.


The internet campaigner/webmaster (Idealistic Pragmatist), the campaign manager (Erica Bullwinkle), and the NEW MP FOR EDMONTON-STRATHCONA (Linda Duncan)

DemocraticSPACE blogging, reprise

It's Election Day here in Edmonton-Strathcona, and just in time, democraticSPACE is back from the dead!

To celebrate, here's a reprise of some of the stuff I've written over there over the course of this campaign (in reverse chronological order):

October 13th: Not daring to make a prediction on Edmonton-Strathcona

October 9th: Winners and losers in Edmonton-Strathcona

October 3rd: DemocraticSPACE now projecting Edmonton-Strathcona for NDP

September 29th: Edmonton-Strathcona is on the democraticSPACE strategic voting guide

September 28th: Refuting the Canadian Press story on Edmonton-Strathcona

September 27th: Edmonton-Strathcona: the Greens

September 24th: Edmonton-Strathcona: the Liberals

September 20th: Edmonton-Strathcona: the New Democrats

September 17th: Edmonton-Strathcona: the Conservatives

September 14th: Edmonton-Strathcona: a snapshot

Monday, October 13, 2008

Not daring to make a prediction in Edmonton-Strathcona

Over at democraticSPACE.

Update: democraticSPACE seems to be down, and unfortunately I don't have a copy of the post, but here's a copy of the chart that was in it, anyway:

And here's the short version of the post: In the final analysis, the Tories have been projected as one point above the NDP in Edmonton-Strathcona. DemocraticSPACE's projections model doesn't take any possible strategic voting into account, though, which is the wild card in this election, making it much more difficult to make an accurate prediction. I can foresee any outcome from a much more marginal win for Jaffer than usual to a comfortable win for Duncan, but more likely is one of the more nail-biter scenarios in between.

Monday, October 06, 2008

I think this is my dream poll

From the Globe and Mail.

CP: 32%
LP: 25%
NDP: 21%
GP: 12%
BQ: 8%

The Conservatives down, the Liberals mired in the mid-twenties but not tanking, the NDP and the Greens both at record highs. If only it were election day.

Friday, October 03, 2008

DemocraticSPACE now projecting Edmonton-Strathcona for NDP

Over here.

Where's your platform? Under your sweater?

My gut reaction last night was as follows:

  • May and Layton were both terrific, although each of them lost me for brief stretches
  • Dion was better than everybody said he'd be, but still nothing special
  • Duceppe was alternately great and kind of boring, and
  • Harper looked really pretty bad most of the time, and certainly not the way he wanted to come across at all.
The thing is, for once I had absolutely no read on whether all this was just how I and others like me had reacted--people with both my policy preferences and my rhetorical style preferences, that is--or whether people with different biases might feel the same. But then I read this. And I figured if my own impressions had that much in common with those of the most conservative Canadian blogger I read, there must be something to them.

The final word on the format: keep it. It's not perfect, but with so many people in the debate, nothing's going to be, and this was the first Canadian debate I've seen that actually looked like they were talking to each other. (Remember 2004? With the "let's pair people off and make them each debate each other completely randomly for thirty seconds before switching them up?" Yeah, ugh.)

Friday, September 26, 2008

My two cents on strategic voting

I sympathize with everything JimBobby says about why he won't vote strategically. I wouldn't be able to do it, either. I grew up in a place where there were no choices I could believe in, and I would never voluntarily give up my hard-won ability to support a candidate I can truly get behind. I'm fortunate enough to live in a riding where I don't have to even consider it, but I wouldn't do it even if the circumstances were different.

On the other hand, I also have a lot of sympathy for the arguments being put forward in favour of strategic voting, as well. If it's more important to you to try to combat the Conservatives than it is to vote your conscience, then you should do that. Because of the voting system we're stuck with, progressives sometimes have to evaluate the situations in our individual ridings and make a choice between casting our single vote for something, and casting it against something. The "choice" part is key, though. Initiatives that propose to reduce the amount of choice are not the answer. Only when each Canadian gets to make a choice from our entire colourful spectrum can we really talk about living in a democracy.

I also agree with James Bow that there's no sense in getting angry at the various party leaders for asking people to vote for them. They're not "putting their selfish interests ahead of the country" or whatever people are denouncing it as these days, they're doing their jobs. A party leader's job is to try to convince us their choice is the best choice, and we as individual voters get to decide whether they're right or not. Strategic voting initiatives are fine, but they have to come from the grassroots, not from political parties.

The most important thing is this: if you do vote strategically, do it in an informed way. It only has a chance of working in a small number of ridings, and everybody who's not living in one of those ridings should feel completely comfortable voting with their hearts. So how do you find out whether your riding is one of the ridings where strategic voting might help? Well, you're in luck--while we used to have to do our own research, these days there are websites that do it for you. Find a site that's promoting strategic voting in this election, make sure its recommendations are completely non-partisan and truly data-driven (the strategic voting guide should be out on Monday, but in the meantime the Vote For Environment folks seem like your best bet), and look up your riding. The site should tell you how to best vote strategically, why that choice makes the most sense, and how they came up with that pick.

And of course, once you're done voting, swallow down that icky taste in your mouth and come join in the fight for the only real fix for the pickle we're in, which is proportional representation.

More Edmonton-Strathcona blogging

Three new posts over at

Edmonton-Strathcona: the Liberals

More Edmonton-Strathcona events

Harper's "bubble" and the competitive Edmonton races

Monday, September 22, 2008

I'm imagining. It ain't pretty.

One of the things that disappointed me most about the culture I grew up in was the ideology that demanded that the only way to have unity was for people to be the same. Ethnic diversity? Well, fine, people can't help that, but everybody had durn well better make the effort to speak and dress like real Americans. Linguistic diversity? A threat to the supremacy of the English language, and it needs to be fought--or at the very least, viewed with great suspicion. Political diversity? You can't even dream of that in a country where a party whose policies are somewhere to the right of the Canadian Conservatives is as far left as things go.

In Canada, things are different. It's simply understood that immigrants and their descendants will of course maintain aspects of their cultures of origin. In my own fair city of Edmonton, you can send your kids to be schooled not just in English, and not just in English or in French, but in other languages like German, Mandarin, and Ukrainian as well, all within the public school system. And on the political diversity front, well, nearly every Canadian has the choice among candidates from all across a very colourful political spectrum.

I've been here going on twelve years, but I don't take any of this for granted. Being surrounded by that kind of diversity was hard-won for me, and I'll never forget what it's like not to have it. So there's very little that will get my back up more than people trying to rob me of it. In the U.S., racism and ethnocentrism used to make me feel defeated, but here it just makes me angry. People who want to do away with the multilingual education programs in my city turn me into an instant enemy. And bloggers who insist that the only way forward for Canada is the sort of two-party system I grew up in make me feel exactly the same way.

"Just imagine," Steve says. "Just imagine if all the Greens and NDP party members collectively joined the Liberal Party." Well, I've got news for you, my friend: I can't share your petty little fantasy because I am different from you. Just like the policies you prefer aren't the same as Stephen Harper's, the policies I prefer aren't the same as Stéphane Dion's. The "we" you speak of in your post when you say "divided we fall" doesn't actually exist, any more than that monolingual, monocultural singular "American people" exists in my country of birth. And when you tell me that those differences don't really matter, you've got the same basic message as the Americans who tell immigrants to conform or go home.

You want to rob me of the very political diversity I came to this country to be a part of because, what the heck, we're all just the same inside anyway? When there's already a perfectly reasonable solution to this predicament that doesn't rob leftists of their political identities--a solution that your party has rejected because the idea of sharing power is so foreign to them? I've never heard anything so arrogant.

I'm hardly a Liberal-hater, all right? I've said many good things about Dion, and I've meant them. I'm even on record as saying that the idea of the NDP trying to replace the Liberals is a terrible one. But posts like that piss me off enough that I won't be able to help a certain amount of glee on election night when I watch your party get taken down.

Saturday, September 20, 2008

Orphan voters, and Edmonton-Strathcona: the New Democrats

Two links today:

Have you ever cast a vote on election day only to realize when the results were in that your vote hadn't made any difference--i.e., that the outcome would have been no different at all if you'd just stayed home? Well, you, too, were one of Canada's seven million Orphan Voters. And now, in the Democracy Disaster contest, you can guess how many orphan voters there will be in a) your riding, and b) the country. If you come closer than everybody else who enters, you'll win $1000 cash!

My new EdmontonStrathconablogging post "Edmonton-Strathcona: the New Democrats" is up over at

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Edmonton-Strathcona: the Conservatives

Today's post is called "Edmonton-Strathcona: the Conservatives" and deals with the sitting Conservative MP, Rahim Jaffer.

Monday, September 15, 2008

Elizabeth May on electoral reform

I have an electoral reformer's fondness for the Green Party. Although I disagree with many of their stances, the thought appeals to me that a group of Canadians can perceive a lack among all of the current parties, start an entirely new one, and grow that party into a mainstream force that regularly polls between eight and ten percent across the country. It reminds me that no matter how broken our current system is, it's still better than the system I was born into. Even under first-past-the-post, a Canadian's options really do span the spectrum, and that's incredibly exciting to someone who grew up in the land of the bad choice and the worse choice and that's all she wrote.

The fondness I have for the party, however, does not tend to extend to its current leader. More inter-party cooperation is absolutely necessary in this political climate, but only after the voters in every riding across the country have had a chance to vote for whichever party's policies they feel most aligned with. Any "non-aggression pact" that deprives voters of that full spectrum of choice flies in the face of democracy, and that's something I can't condone.

So keep that in mind when I tell you that Ms. May was just plain terrific on Rex Murphy's "Cross-Country Checkup" yesterday. Again, I couldn't agree with a lot of what she said about other topics, but when she talks about electoral reform, she's definitely worth listening to. I probably won't have much chance to say this again, but today, Elizabeth, I salute you.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Edmonton-Strathcona blogging at

I'm not going to be crossposting everything here from my blog during this election, in part because I don't want IP to become all Edmonton-Strathcona, all the time, and in part so as to concentrate discussion over there.

But I did want to give folks a heads-up that although the site doesn't officially go live until today, my introductions post and my Edmonton-Strathcona: a snapshot post are already visible over there. (For data junkies, the latter has some of my infamous charts and maps.)

Saturday, September 13, 2008

"Verkiezingsmoe", and the view from down south

There's a terrific word in the Dutch language: verkiezingsmoe. It means, essentially, "sick and tired of elections."

Do I really need to elaborate on that?

Anyway, you can take it as an excuse for why I haven't been blogging more. Although as of tomorrow, I'll be blogging my local Edmonton-Strathcona race in particular and the Edmonton races in general for, so while you're not terribly likely to hear much federal-level commentary from me this year, those who have been missing me will be able to follow my local-level commentary over there. (There's a real race this year, people! Yes, a real race, in Edmonton! And arguably even two!)


There's not a lot of coverage of Canadian politics in the U.S. news, and what there is usually gets my back up because it tends to range from horribly unnuanced to just plain false. But this Slate piece is a great and surprisingly in-depth look (for a piece that short) at what the heck is so wrong with our political system that we're having our third federal election in four years. Nearly every bit of it is true. Sadly.

[And I only say "nearly" because of the line about "Italians and Israelis may have learned how to function under minority governments, but Canadians are still working on it." I have two quibbles with that. A factual quibble: Italians and Israelis actually don't tend to have minority governments, they tend to have often non-functional majority coalition governments. An ideological quibble: the reference to Italy and Israel in a discussion of coalition governments is annoyingly typical and tiresome when you consider the fact that most of the democratic world has perfectly functional majority coalition governments. But the rest of the piece is great, really.]

Friday, September 05, 2008

The NDP strategy 2008

Jack Layton is letting his strategy hang out.

For the most part, I like it. I like the positioning as a future prime minister, because regardless of whether it ends up ever being effective, it will make him look like a stronger leader. I like the ignoring the Liberals as long as they don't do or say anything too ridiculous or misinformative, because Harper is the primary opponent this time, both for government and for seats in a lot of individual ridings.

The part that makes me cringe are the rampant analogies with the U.S. Democratic Party. No, cringe isn't a strong enough term--"horrified" is more like it. I know that they're trying to play off of an completely idealized vision of Obama. I know they're trying to benefit from the way Canadians have been paying more attention to the glitz and glamour of U.S. politics lately than they have to the frustrating gridlock of Canadian politics. And it might just work, and that would be great, of course. But I still hate it. I just hate it.

As long as the analogies stay superficial, I can live with it, but if they actually start trying to emulate the U.S. Democratic Party on policy, they will be hearing from me more than just in my blog. Because Canada's New Democrats are still lightyears away from the U.S.'s Old Democrats on things like health care, crime and punishment, security, and human rights issues. And as a new Canadian who the Democrats frustrated enough to flee that country to the south of us, I'm still very very very happy about that.

Monday, August 25, 2008

"Literally incredible"

All right, stop the presses. Biden is a 'literally' lover? Well, then. I was already rooting for Obama, of course, but this makes me much more enthusiastic.

Please, residents of that little country to the south of us, you must vote for the Obama/Literallyman ticket. My future amusement is at stake.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

One day later

Despite references to it as widespread as the Wall Street Journal and the Guardian, the AP piece that "accidentally" referred to U.S. (Democratic? Republican? Independent who wishes he were a Republican?) Senator Joe Lieberman as a 'prick' instead of a 'pick' has not been changed.


Monday, August 18, 2008

Question for the more-informed-than-I

From this CBC piece:

Prime Minister Stephen Harper has called a fourth federal byelection for Sept. 22 in the Toronto riding of Don Valley West, setting the stage for a possible general election later this fall.
How does calling a byelection for September 22nd "set the stage" for a general election this fall? If the byelection call is at all connected with the possibility of a fall general election, I'd tend to agree with Northern B.C. Dipper and deduce that this implies the opposite. What am I missing?

This could never happen in Canada

The Republican candidate in the upcoming Montana Senate race is an 85-year-old man who wants to replace the U.S.'s "separation of powers" government with a parliamentary democracy. And he won the nomination against several other contenders (who are now outraged and horrified).

Here's his website. I am enchanted.

Monday, July 14, 2008

Trying to make IP jump off a bridge

I actually agree with new NDP star candidate Michael Byers that it'd be a good idea to change the name of the party, though I strongly prefer changing the 'New' to 'Social' rather than deleting it altogether. But this quote made my head explode:

"In many ways, Barack Obama's platform is close to Jack Layton's platform."
Right, because we want to give people the impression that Layton supports non-single-payer health care, capital punishment, and the U.S. Patriot Act. And opposes same-sex marriage. Among other things.

Please, let's just quit the deliberate rhetorical attempts to make the NDP equivalent to the U.S. Democrats. Please. Or I might just have to cry.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Oh, America, strong and free?

I couldn't care less about the whole discussion around changing the Alberta license plate slogan to 'strong and free'. I mean, I don't even own a car. Still, this quote struck me:

"It wouldn't be so much a change in licence plate so much as a change in nationality," observed David Taras, a political scientist at the University of Calgary. "Because those are words that ring in the American national anthem, on American licence plates, in the American Declaration of Independence."
Well, this new Canadian has a reality check for Dr. Taras. These are the lyrics to the U.S. national anthem. Try searching for 'strong and free' on the page. Then try just plain old 'strong'. Now have a look at the lyrics to the Canadian one. Repeat the experiment.

Now repeat it again on the U.S. Declaration of Independence.

Now try a google search on "strong and free". Note just how many of those hits are Canadian. Note again how few of them are American. (Here's a hint: I couldn't find a one, and eventually got bored.)

It seems it's David Taras who needs to get his nationalities straight.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

It's still not the policy, stupid

For what it's worth, I'm one of the NDP supporters Scott Tribe is giving a shout-out to here, in the sense that if asked whether I support or reject the Liberals' carbon tax, I'd lean more toward 'support' than 'reject'. I don't like some of the specifics of the plan (Cam's concerns about muncipalities are worth mentioning), but I think it would be much, much better than what we have. And as for the "carbon tax vs. cap-and-trade" issue, well, I'm no economist, but I believe Duncan, Mark Thoma, and Environmental Economics when they say that both categories of plan are pretty much equally efficient. It's intellectually dishonest to claim otherwise.

The thing that the gleeful voices from Canada's political centre don't seem to realize, though, is this: there's a big difference between saying that you don't hate one of the Liberals' policies and saying that you'd be willing to vote for the party. In my case, all it means is that I've regained some of the appreciation I had early on for Dion as a thinker, but I still have no intention of touching his party with a ten-foot pole. In fact, even if I were a swing voter, liking a policy that the Liberals came up with would only bring up the age-old concerns about the fact that their track record on keeping their promises when in government isn't all that stellar. I mean, it's a nice fantasy to think that all Canadians have to do is elect a Liberal government and the planet will be saved, but like I said back in 2006, Liberal policies may well be "good enough" in a pragmatic approach to politics, but those policies are no good to anyone when no one bothers to enact them once the Liberals assume power.

They're kind of like the little kid who, after a whole year of goofing off, finally comes to school with a finished homework assignment and thinks he should be given an A for the whole term for his effort. And I'm a tougher grader than that.

Friday, June 13, 2008

Waterloo-Wellington blogstravaganza reminder!

Psst! If you're happen to be in the Waterloo, Ontario region this weekend, don't forget the annual Waterloo-Wellington blogstravaganza taking place this Saturday, June 14th, at at the Huether Hotel, starting at 5:30 and going until we feel like quitting. I'll be there, as will James Bow, most likely the Gregs (the Sinister one and the recently Apolitical one), and we may even get a visit from the Calgary Grit.

They've got a patio, but the weather says rain, so check indoors first. If you can't find us, just look for a thirtysomething curlyheaded woman sitting at a table with a bunch of guys. *grin* It's always multipartisan, and always friendly. Be there!

Tuesday, June 03, 2008

Alex* M*cDon*, the Member of Parliament for Halifax

I'm still wading my way through everything that's happened in Canadian politics over the last month, but I did notice the announcement about Halifax MP Alexa McDonough that she plans to retire from politics when the next election is called. After thirty years of public service, this could in no way be called an early retirement, and I'm sure McDonough will be missed both inside the NDP and out.

The Halifax NDP will undoubtedly be looking for a strong candidate to fill her shoes, though, so I'm going to go out on a limb and suggest the candidate who came within eight points of beating Peter McKay in a different Nova Scotia riding in the 2006 election. I met her once briefly, and I was very impressed with her--she's young, energetic, a fantastic speaker, and incredibly smart. She's said she doesn't want to run again there, but largely because she's since moved to Halifax. Oh, and did I mention that her name is Alexis MacDonald? Now, there's some name confusion that could really work for you...

Saturday, May 31, 2008

Ignorant IP, Waterloo blogstravaganza, and Fair Vote Canada

I'm back! Did you miss me? It'll probably take me at least a week to get back into regular blogging, but here are a few things I wanted to mention right away.

Living under a rock update: I've been almost completely away from the internet for about a month, so I'm afraid I'm going to have to rely on you people to catch me up. What's this about Maxime Bernier resigning? Is it really true that Ian Brodie is gone, too? And is the NDP really opposing a carbon tax now, or is that just the Liberal spin? Recommend some must-read blog posts and news articles to me, okay, because man, things really never are boring 'round these parts. Even with election speculation off the table.

2008 Waterloo Blogstravaganza: I'll be in Waterloo again for work for most of the month of June, and so it's time again for our yearly Waterloo-area Blogstravaganza, this time on Saturday, June 14th. It'll be held, as it was last year and the year before, at the Huether Hotel--although out of deference to some bloggingfolk who need to work during the day on a Saturday, we're doing drinks-and-dinner this year instead of an afternoon event. This means that we'll start at 5:30 and go until we feel like quitting, but don't worry, in addition to being a great little microbrewery in the heart of Waterloo's "uptown" (with truly fine beer), the Huether also offers perfectly decent pub food, so no one will starve. All are welcome to join us: bloggers and blog readers alike, of all political stripes. Oh, and feel free to advertise this on your own blog as well; the more, the merrier.

FVC National Council election results: Just before I dropped off the face of the earth, I mentioned that I was running for Fair Vote Canada National Council. The competition was incredibly stiff, but I am pleased and honoured to announce that I was elected to a three-year term. I am sad that I won't be serving alongside my fellow blogger Mark Greenan, who has done far more to advance the cause in the online world than I have, but I will do my best to be the political blogosphere's voice at FVC. Thank you!

Thursday, April 17, 2008

Confidential to Fair Vote Canada members

It's that time of year again: time for Fair Vote Canada, Canada's multi-partisan, citizen-based campaign for voting system reform, to hold its elections for its National Council. Those of you who have been members for more than a year already know how this works--you get a paper ballot in the mail, you rank the names on the ballot in the order in which you support them, and you mail it back in to the office.

In the past, maybe you've taken a cursory glance at the names on the list and shrugged. You don't know any of these people anyway, so why bother voting? Well, I guarantee you, this year is different--this year, a certain idealistic pragmatist you all know and...well, know, anyway...has tossed her hat into the ring. And while I don't really have it in me to be all "vote for me!" about this, I did want to be sure to give people a heads-up that even if you don't recognize the name on the ballot, there is someone there you know!

Also, since I'm already shamelessly turning this post into a commercial, let me add that if you support electoral reform and you're not a member of Fair Vote Canada, you should really think about joining. I've never been a big joiner, and I've harboured major reservations about pretty much every organization I've ever been a part of, but Fair Vote Canada is the exception. I stand behind everything they support, and every individual I've met through FVC has been smart and interesting and worthy of respect. You won't be able to vote if you sign up now, but there are plenty of other reasons to join!

Advice for the federal NDP: an attempt at a reason-based strategy

I've been in and out of the country all spring and will continue to stick to a similar schedule until June, so unfortunately, I don't have a whole lot time for fun bloggy writing at the moment. But this post has been flitting around in my head for a few weeks now, so I figured I'd jot it down while I have the chance.

I've argued previously that it's a bad idea for the NDP to attempt to replace the Liberals as the big-tent party of the centre-left. All the reasons I voiced there still stand, as far as I'm concerned: success in that arena would be bad for democracy, it would be bad for the left, yadda yadda. But those reasons are all situated toward the "idealistic" end of the "idealistic pragmatist" continuum, and there's a big whopping pragmatic one as well.

Let's just put aside our doubts for a moment about whether or not such a goal is achievable and imagine that all the NDP fantasies about this came true. After a brutal battle that finally ended with a knife in the heart of the Liberal party, the NDP has squeaked through with a the most seats in parliament in the next federal election. It's a bare minority, but still, there's much rejoicing in Mouseland on election night, and many drunk social democrats. But the next morning always comes, and unfortunately, the reality of that scenario is that they've got to figure out a way to make parliament work well enough that they can get some of their ideas through. They have the choice of either setting things up as a single-party minority government or trying to forge a permanent coalition with another party, but either way, governing necessarily means working with others. The Tories? On one or two issues, max. The Bloc? There's more agreement, but there's also a certain little fundamental incompatibility. Which leaves the Liberals.

Those are the facts.

Now, let me get one thing straight: I'm adamantly against any kind of "non-aggression pact" that would deprive voters of the full spectrum of choice. Although I think it's essential that we start allowing for more interparty cooperation, I also firmly believe that any negotiations between parties need to happen after the voters have had a chance to have their say, rather than before. But the thing is, there's no scenario that involves the NDP in government federally that doesn't require the Liberals to hold onto enough seats to serve as a partner. Personally, I think the more likely scenario involves the NDP as a junior partner in a coalition government, but the NDP needs the Liberals even in the fantasy scenario. And this undeniable fact turns the goal of trying to demolish the Liberals into a scorched-earth policy.

Rather than going for broke at all costs, the sort of strategy it would seem to make
more sense for the NDP to pursue in the next election is something like this:

Policy vision: Start with a positive, clearly articulated vision of what the NDP would want to do when in power.

Contrast with other parties: Have ready a list of substantive criticisms of all three other parties in the House. These should be both on policy (in terms of how their policies contrast with the NDP's), but also on prior behaviour (in terms of how they carried themselves over the course of the last couple of sessions of Parliament). None of the criticisms should be personal--they should only be of policy and political behaviour.

Riding targeting: Start with the ones the NDP lost by only a few percentage points, and in that category, go whole-hog for all of them, no matter who they're currently held by. But in terms of the ones they lost by more than a few points, prioritize the ridings where a win could unseat a Conservative or someone from the Bloc rather than a Liberal. This isn't about saying that a Liberal is always better than a Tory or a Bloquiste and
picking the "lesser of the evils," but about avoiding the scorched-earth trap and recognizing that after all the campaigning is over, the Liberals will need to be more friend than foe.

Message targeting: Vary the messaging strategy on a riding-by-riding basis, depending on who the incumbent (or if the incumbent is from the NDP, the closest challenger) is. This isn't about changing the message on a riding-by-riding basis, since the full message is the entirety of the "policy vision" and the "contrast with other parties" elements mentioned above--it's about emphasizing the pieces of the message that will help the party attain the particular goals in each riding. The positive policy vision is the same in all ridings, it's only the contrast message that varies. In a riding where a Conservative is the target, the idea is to concentrate on the criticisms against the Tories, in a riding where a Liberal is the target, the idea is to concentrate on the criticisms against the Liberals, &etc. And in a riding where the NDP doesn't stand a chance of winning anyway, the candidates should entirely take the high road, concentrate on presenting a positive vision, and avoid all criticisms of all of the other parties as much as possible. (The idea here is that if things go as expected and they lose, it wouldn't hurt to have run a purely positive campaign, and in the unlikely event of some sort of sweep, it could actually help.)

Now, I'm just a blogger, not a political strategist (thank God!), so I might be totally off-base, and I'd love for somebody more knowledgable than I am to pick apart the inevitable flaws in this post. But from where I sit here in Edmonton-Strathcona, I've been watching the Tories start to do something very similar already--employ a riding-by-riding strategy in which the criticisms are focused squarely on the biggest riding-level electoral threat rather than on the national-level target--and I can't help but wonder whether they might not be on to something.

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

In absentia

I'll be incommunicado for the next couple of weeks for work reasons, but here's some stuff you should all read in the meantime:

Paul Wells calls Jim Flaherty a crybaby and Calgary Grit calls him a hypocrite. Given the evidence, I'd say they're both right.

Steve at Far and Wide is hosting an interesting discussion about Dion's latest difficulties in Québec, with a local organization that's actively trying to oust him as leader. Yet again I find myself confused and bewildered by that strange Canadian custom of making the leader the scapegoat for every last one of a party's struggles while ignoring everything else that's wrong.

Worth The Fee to Read It has been offering up an assessment on all of the parties' current predicaments in light of the recent by-elections: the Greens, the NDP, and the Bloc, the Liberals, and the Conservatives. I don't agree with all of it, but it's thoughtful stuff that's, um, worth reading.

Monday, March 24, 2008

A question for supporters of the Conservative immigration legislation

I know a thing or two about Canada's immigration system, having been through it myself. I know that there's a rigorous points system that awards more points to people trained in jobs the country currently needs, to experienced workers, to educated people, to younger people, and to people who have ability in one or both of Canada’s official languages. I also know that it's quite difficult to get enough points to qualify--I myself barely did, once upon a time.

Now, the Conservatives are proposing to change that system. The changes would give new powers to the Minister of Immigration, allowing that office to do three things:

a) accelerate applications
b) reject applicants who otherwise meet all immigration criteria
c) discard applications from specific countries.

The current Immigration Minister, Diane Finley, is claiming that these changes are necessary in order to "make it easier to get more people here faster." But the thing is, only the first provision--the one allowing the minister to accelerate applications--could actually result in more people coming to Canada, more quickly. The other two new provisions must therefore have different aims. Supporters, such as this commenter at the Globe and Mail site, are saying that these changes would give preference to "those with the skills we need right now." But this is the very thing the existing points system already does. It's the whole idea behind it.

So, to supporters of this proposed legislation, I ask: what is the purpose of provisions b and c above, i.e., granting the minister the ability to reject applicants who otherwise meet all immigration criteria and discard applications from specific countries? And how would the new system help Canada reach its goals better than the current, points-based one?

Friday, March 21, 2008

"I'm a fair voter"

The other day, I had a conversation that led me to go back and dig up something that Mark Greenan from Blogging for Democracy said a couple of years ago. Turns out, it's so good that I felt like pulling it out and looking at it again:

My strongest political affiliation is non-partisan--or more accurately, because it’s something that all those who want more accountable, responsive government want, multi-partisan--I’m a fair voter. By that, I mean that I could never be a member of a political party that did not endorse the principle upon which all PR systems are based--that all voters are equal and, as much as is reasonable, every vote should be reflected in the composition of the legislature.
I'm a New Democrat because it's the party with the ideas that best reflect my personal views. But by far, my strongest political conviction is that everybody deserves the chance to vote for parties and candidates that hold their views. When I watch hundreds of thousands of people across the country voting for the Greens in a federal election and not seeing their votes count, that outrages me. When I watch fiscally conservative voters in Alberta holding their noses and voting for the biggest-spending provincial government Canada has ever had, that outrages me. In the end, it doesn't matter how much these people's views differ from my own--the principle is the same. They deserve a voice. We all do.

And as with Mark, it's in that principle where my true "partisanship" lies.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Liberal confirmation bias

About two years ago, the Liberals spent a bunch of time insisting that the NDP was attacking only them and ignoring the Conservatives. Unfortunately for them, though, it turned out that when you actually started looking at the evidence, a very different picture emerged. That evidence revealed that the NDP was not only criticizing both of their opponents, but was in fact was criticizing the Conservatives quite a bit more frequently than they were criticizing the Liberals. Oops.

This sort of mistaken conclusion can arise because of what in the social sciences is called a confirmation bias. In a nutshell, this is a tendency to look for information that confirms the hypothesis you already hold about a situation, and avoid all the information that contradicts it. In the context of current-day Canadian politics, it's clear how such a bias might come about. The Liberals see the political scene as entirely binary, with the Conservatives as the bad guys and the Liberals as the good guys. The assumption that follows from this is that the NDP (being generally decent folk, if a little misguided) will criticize the bad guys and let the good guys be.

The confirmation bias arises in the varying ways different NDP criticisms are evaluated by Liberals. All NDP criticisms of the Conservatives are ignored--that's just the proper way of things, after all. At the same time, any NDP criticisms of the Liberals are considered unusual and therefore noteworthy. What emerges is a false, yet fervently-accepted-as-true picture in which the NDP is completely refraining from criticizing the Conservatives but directing deadly blasts at the Liberals. This isn't in any way malicious or deliberately deceptive; it's a very normal reaction to falling victim to your own biases about what the world's supposed to look like. It should be clear, though, that without reference to any actual data, everything said along these lines is complete conjecture. And in addition, if the aforementioned track record is anything to go on, it's almost certainly incorrect.

Well, it seems that everything old is new again, and the very same accusations have resurfaced in the wake of the recent by-elections. This time, though, there's no outrage, just a smug "this strategy of yours of attacking the Liberals while ignoring the Conservatives, it's not working!" As before, there's no evidence to back up the notion that such behaviour is even going on. Of course the NDP is attacking the Liberals and ignoring the Conservatives, everybody knows that. And by the way, have you stopped beating your wife yet?

Now, I haven't looked at any data myself, so who knows, they might be right this time. But it's certainly not what I'm seeing through my own, New-Democrat-coloured glasses. Instead, what I'm seeing is the NDP speaking out against everything they disagree with, whether it comes from the Conservatives, the Liberals, the Bloc, or the Greens. Most of the time, these criticisms tend to be statements along the lines that the Conservatives are doing something lousy but the Liberals weren't much better when they were in government, or that the Liberals are doing something that's making it easier for the Conservatives to do something they disagree with. Which doesn't exactly amount to "attacking the Liberals while ignoring the Conservatives."

I'm asking the Liberal bloggers, then, to put up or shut up. Either give us some data to back up your spurious accusations, or quit making them. If it turns out you're right, I'll grant you the point. But I suspect the results of any serious investigation into the matter might surprise you quite a bit.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

"In no other country on Earth"

For the record, I liked the Obama speech. I thought it was well written, well executed, and most importantly, incredibly effective. For that matter, I agree with John from Dymaxion World about the headshaking nature of the entire situation.

And yet there was one little passage that made me want to go down there and knock some sense into both Obama and his speechwriters him:

I am the son of a black man from Kenya and a white woman from Kansas. I was raised with the help of a white grandfather who survived a Depression to serve in Patton's Army during World War II and a white grandmother who worked on a bomber assembly line at Fort Leavenworth while he was overseas. I've gone to some of the best schools in America and lived in one of the world's poorest nations. I am married to a black American who carries within her the blood of slaves and slaveowners - an inheritance we pass on to our two precious daughters. I have brothers, sisters, nieces, nephews, uncles and cousins, of every race and every hue, scattered across three continents, and for as long as I live, I will never forget that in no other country on Earth is my story even possible.
I'm no fan of patriotic rhetoric in general, but this particular flavour of it always makes me want to retch. The ignorance in it is astonishing. The kind of story Obama is talking about is no more and no less unique than the story of any mixed-race individual in any immigrant nation. There are plenty of Canadians with variants on this story, plenty of Australians, plenty of New Zealanders. Cut the historical timeline down a bit, and these days, there are even Germans, Belgians, French with it. The U.S. just isn't all that special in this regard, sorry. And you know what? That's okay. You don't have to be the "best little country in the whole wide world" in order to produce great leaders with compelling personal stories.

So yes, great speech. Wonderful achievement. But please, I'm begging you, put a lid on the over-the-top exceptionalism. You're embarrassing those of us who actually know something about the world beyond the borders of the United States.

[Update: Apparently, he wrote the speech himself. Oh good, only one person to knock some sense into, then!]

The real by-election story: there is no (single) story

Every blogger and every journalist is going to try to make a story out of tonight's by-election results--the partisan pundits will all try to spin them to make their side look good, and the rest will just try to spin a good yarn. But poring over these numbers, it seems that finding any one cohesive narrative in these results is automatically going to mean ignoring some of the data. Why? Because instead of clear trends, we've got four unique storylines--one for each riding.

Let's start with Willowdale. It's a suburban Toronto riding, with an emphasis, it seems, on both "suburban" and "Toronto":

Though this was already a Liberal stronghold, the Liberals actually saw their vote increase somewhat this time with Martha Hall Findlay carrying their flag. This increase came almost entirely at the expense of the NDP, since the Conservative and Green votes in this riding remained more or less the same.

Moving on to the more urban riding of Toronto-Centre, we see some of the same themes, but also some major differences:
Here, we see a similar increase in the Liberal vote in an already strong Liberal area with Bob Rae at the helm, and again, we see a decrease in the NDP's vote. But in contrast to Willowdale, we also see a sharp upturn in the vote for the Greens under Chris Tindal, who campaigned very hard in this riding, and a sharp downturn in the Tory vote. It seems safe to assume that the Tory vote either stayed home or bled to the Liberals, while the NDP vote bled to both the Liberals and the Greens.

It's a very different story, though, out west. Desnethé-Missinippi-Churchill River is a rural Saskatchewan riding, which the Liberals won by a hair last time:
Here, we see a substantial upturn in the vote for the Conservatives, to the extent that they could carry it quite easily this time, and a corresponding downturn in the vote for the Liberals. The NDP vote increased by a few points, probably at the expense of the Liberals, but not enough to make a difference--it's clear that most of the voters who fled the Liberals went Tory this time. The Green vote stayed largely the same.

Finally, we have Vancouver-Quadra, the surprise of the night. This is a wealthy urban/suburban riding, which until tonight counted as one of the safest Liberal seats in the country:
Early in the evening, when it looked for a while like the Tory might actually win, I was astounded. Had the Vancouverites suddenly grown some conservative roots? Well, maybe a few, but as you can see from the chart, that Liberal-Tory migration isn't enough to explain the result. The main reason this by-election was so close was a wholesale transfer of Liberal votes to the Greens. The NDP vote, on the other hand, only went down very slightly.

What you can learn from this, then, depends very much on where you are. But it also depends on who you are.

Lessons for the Liberals: In Fortress Toronto, you're fine. Golden, even--at least as long as you've got candidates like Bob Rae and Martha Hall Findlay. You're in a lot more trouble out west, though, and for very different reasons depending on where you are. In the rural areas, you're losing out to the Tories, and in the urban core, you're losing out to the Greens. So there are plenty of things to be pleased with tonight, but it should be clear that you've also got a good deal of building to do out west.

Lessons for the Conservatives: At this point even formerly Liberal rural areas are turning to you, which meant a pickup, this time. The thing is, it's still rural voters, which isn't anything terribly new or surprising. In the urban areas, things look quite a bit different: out west and in the Toronto suburbs you're gaining, but not enough to make you a winner, and in the core of Canada's largest city, they actually kind of hate you. So go ahead and be pleased about your single win, but if you try to spin that as part of a larger trend where all roads lead to the Tories, you're fooling no one but yourselves.

Lessons for the NDP: You held on nicely to your vote out west, both in urban Vancouver and in rural Saskatchewan. In Toronto, though, you are pretty much in deep doggy doo-doo, at least when you're running against big-name Liberals. Since the NDP is only an associate member of the Toronto club, this shouldn't be taken as any kind of indication for the overall NDP vote in a general election, but it could make a big difference in particular ridings. Specifically, if I'm Olivia Chow or (especially) Peggy Nash tonight, I'm starting to get seriously worried.

Lessons for the Greens: You massively increased your vote in the two urban areas, so much so that you can call tonight a victory-by-the-numbers and party down. But in suburban Willowdale and in rural Saskatchewan, the increase in your vote was negligible. It's not a decrease, so there's nothing to worry about, but you'd be advised against getting too cocky. You've yet to really sell yourselves beyond the country's urban core, and reaching out to rural and suburban voters should be your next step.