Tuesday 17 May 2011

Just lounging in the rain ...

May 16th - rain as usual for this year in Victoria - two of a family of six deer who have made their home in our neighbourhood. They didn't move during the whole five minutes or so that I was out there taking their picture. :-)

Sunday 15 May 2011

What Stephen Harper thinks of Canada and what he's going to do about it ...

"Canada appears content to become a second-tier socialistic country, boasting ever more loudly about its economy and social services to mask its second-rate status."

National Post, Dec. 8, 2000, p. A18

When he said, "You won't recognize Canada when I get through with it"... he wasn't kidding. Now that he has his 39% "majority", watch out. He can do what he wants, and he will, and no one can stop him. Is this what the 61% of you who didn't vote Tory wanted? Oh Canada!

Friday 6 May 2011

Proportional Representation - The Right Way

Thinking Canadians know that the "first past the post" electoral system is outdated and undemocratic in a multi-party state. The only fair system to replace it with is some form of proportional representation. All politicians know this. Some political parties oppose it because they fear a potential loss of power (disenfranchised voters are not their concern).

The question is what is proportional representation? Is there more than one variation? If so, which version is best and most easily understood by voters?

Pure proportional representation is the most democratic because it reflects exactly what voters want. Briefly, this is how it works: Each voter has one vote, just as now. Voters vote for the party of their choice, not for candidates. The number of seats each party receives is determined by their percentage of the votes cast. Each party has an established list of candidates (with the leader in position one, the others listed however the party chooses). The successful candidates are chosen from the list starting at the top. A simple system easy to understand and implement.

But it has a number of drawbacks, the most important of which is potential political instability. For example, if a party gets an MP for every 100,000 votes it receives, there is a good chance that many splinter parties will receive a few seats. Germany and France, among others, had this system prior to World War II, Italy and Israel still have it now. Anyone who follows international politics closely will know that the Israeli government is extremely unstable because it consists of a coalition made up of many parties that have almost nothing in common. Hence, the lack of progress resolving the Arab-Israeli situation, for example.

In order to resolve the apparent contradiction of fairness and stability, a modified system of proportional representation has developed since World War II which works very well and is easy for the average unsophisticated voter to understand. That system is usually called Mixed Member Proportional Representation, commonly abbreviated to MMP, and is used successfully in many democratic countries.

In a nutshell, here's how it works: each voter has two votes - one for the party of choice, one for a candidate in a riding (the same as now) who does not necessarily have to be from the same party. The seats are allocated on the basis of 50% from the first vote and 50% from the second vote. Essentially this means that voters still have the benefit of a local MP whom they can feel a connection to and to whom they can turn for help in the case of problems with government agencies. At the same time, voters who favour smaller parties (such as the Green Party) will not be disenfranchised as they are now.

The potential drawback of splinter parties causing instability is resolved by establishing a threshold which must be exceeded for party representation. This is usually set at 5% of the total vote and has worked very successfully at keeping extremist and one-issue parties out (for instance in countries like Germany and New Zealand which use this system). The threshold does not apply to candidates who are elected personally by the second ballot (i.e. Elizabeth May would still have been elected, even if the Green Party had not received enough votes to pass the threshold).

There is another variation of proportional representation called the Single Transferable Vote system. I won't explain it here. It's extremely complicated to explain and understand. It's the system proposed here in BC and voted on twice by referendum and turned down twice in 2005 and 2009. It may be democratic and fair, but because of its complexity is not supportable.

The Mixed Member Proportional system is very easy to understand and implement and is fair to all points of view, and above all it's democratic. That's where we need to go - after all, most Canadians favour a democratic system of government, don't we?

Thursday 5 May 2011

Three Peas in a Pod

The face of our new government: is it time to emigrate, or should we stay and fight? ;-)

Someone else wrote this, but it's too good not to share:

"It's impossible not to say this. Those three look like the sort of minor league hockey coaches who would tell a young concussed player to go out and spear, board and stomp, or else they're benched. Then they'd go for a Timmy's and call the server 'Sweetie', get in their new F150 king cab and meet the boys at the local strip joint and steak house out on the edge of town to talk about how to avoid seeking planning permission for their new unwanted big box store real estate development. The next day they would attend a Conservative riding association lunch, where they would be awarded 'good citizens' plaques."

I didn't make this up, honest!

Wednesday 4 May 2011

On the "demise" of the Bloc québecois

Most people and commentators in English-speaking Canada are still crowing about the melt-down of the Bloc and how that signifies the a renewed commitment to federalism in Quebec. Unfortunately it signifies nothing of the sort, it only demonstrates how little people outside Quebec understand what's going on there.

The Bloc had, over the past few years, lost its purpose for existence. It only remained strong because at each of the past few elections, issues arose in a timely manner to keep voters loyal. In 2006, it was Harper's vilification of the Liberals over the sponsorship scandal (which turned out to be a $3.75 million tempest in a teapot if you examine the facts laid bare by the Gomery Commission) which kept Bloc voters loyal. In 2008, it was Harper's announced cuts to cultural spending. (That concern over culture should become an issue in Quebec shows how different that province is from Harperland.) But this year, there were no issues like that. So when Duceppe/Harper/Ignatieff struck out during the French TV debate and Layton was all likability, the Orange surge suddenly took off and we now have the result.

But people who follow political developments in Quebec, remember the fate of the ADQ which came out of nowhere and returned to nowhere in one short session. The same is likely to happen to Jack Layton's 58 Quebec MPs (well, more accurately, maybe only 55-57 of them). Not only will the NDP have to swing towards Quebec wishes, but, since they won't be able to deliver (remember, Harper is now in total control), the voters won't likely be still with him for the 2015 federal election. The Bloc was a federal safety valve for Quebec nationalists diffusing the pressure for separation. So all the "demise" means is that Quebec "nationalism" is now once again totally centered on Quebec, with the result that the separatist focus will sharpen during the coming months or years - unless the NDP becomes the BlocNPD. And that's not likely to happen

Long before then, something else will happen - a provincial election in Quebec, most likely in 2012. The provincial Liberals face almost certain defeat because of the monumental dislike for Premier Charest. That means a Parti québecois government in power at the same time as Harper in Ottawa. There will almost certainly be a referendum on Quebec independence. How Harper handles that will determine the future of Canada. Well, it's already too late to worry about that now, because we're all helpless in his grip.

Still angry!

I'm usually slow to anger and fast to recover, but not this time. As soon as I was able to think about the implications of the election results, I got extremely angry and I'm still angry; angry enough to stay away from people because I'm likely to explode (figuratively, of course). So far the anger hasn't abated (which is bad because Mother's Day lunch is coming up soon and I have to decide what to do).

I'm angry because this election, more than previous ones, demonstrates the ignorance and stupidity (they're not the same) of a good 90% of Canada's voters, as well as the laziness (coupled with stupidity/ignorance) of the 39% of potential voters who couldn't be bothered to vote. That 39% proves, by the way, that there was no "ground swell" of interest in the election, because the turn-out was only a bit more than 2 % higher than in 2008. That's not a shining example of interest in democracy..

Then there's extreme disappointment in the quality of election result analysis both by commentators, political scientists, and politicians. Hardly anyone interpreted the implication of the results correctly, whether it was analysis of the disappearance of the Bloc, the shift of Quebec voters to the NDP or the extremely poor showing of the Liberals. CTV, as usual, was shilling for Harper, so sober commentary couldn't originate from there. At the CBC, trying to report objectively (for which they were hounded several times by Tories during the campaign - itself a sign of Harper's degree of commitment to democratic principles), I don't remember hearing, during the broadcast itself, a correct analysis of the implications of what was happening. It wasn't till Tuesday afternoon that things started to improve there, but the implications were obvious on Monday night and should have been discussed.

That's not a good sign for the future of political analysis in this country.

Tuesday 3 May 2011

Canadians get the government they deserve ...

... but clearly not the government they wanted. Many conclusions can be drawn from last night's disastrous election results right now, some of the implications for Canada won't become clear for a while. One thing is clear right from the start, this election, as others before it, has not served Canadian democracy well. Compare the result under the current electoral system to a system using Proportional Representation:

CON: 39.62% of vote, 167 seats - under prop. rep. they would have 123 seats
NDP: 30.62% of vote, 102 seats - under prop. rep. they would have 95 seats
LIB: 18.91% of vote, 34 seats - under prop. rep. they would have 58 seats
BQ: 6.05% of vote, 4 seats - under prop. rep. they would have 18 seats
GRN: 3.91% of vote, 1 seat - under prop. rep. they would have 12 seats

Perhaps not the neatest result, but a fair and democratic one - not a result to Harper's liking, of course, because he can only get along with himself (see below).

Only three democratic countries still use the 19th century "first past the post" system which evolved in a two party system but clearly can't be considered democratic in the 21st century. Before you think that this is about the fate of any particular political party, think again. This is about the democratic future of Canada. What will Canada look like four years from now, when we go to the polls again? Will we recognize it? How far will Harper go to dismantle the reasonably progressive country we've built during the past 50 years?

Before I go on, here's a bit of cheerful news, amidst the gloom: Progressive forces have taken over the entire south end of Vancouver Island where more than half of the population lives; no Blue Harpocritters remain here (alas, no Liberals either). And my riding, Saanich-Gulf Islands, which had been deep blue for 14 years, elected Elizabeth May, North America's first Green Party MP. Now that's no mean achievement!

But to go on: Harper with his unearned majority will now be able to do anything he wants. He's now a virtual dictator (that's how our system works). And he will act like one, because that fits his personality. "L'état c'est moi!", as Louis XIV used to say, "I am the state!". We know that's how he acted as minority prime minister, with his majority no one can so NO to him. So, what will now happen to public health care, to employment insurance, to drug costs, to a woman's right to choose, to pensions, to culture, to scientific research, to the CBC, to public funding of political parties, and to dealing with global warming, climate change, and the environment? Hold on to your hats, folks! Remember, we're dealing with right wingers here, anti-intellectual, anti-professional, many of them fundamentalist protestant believers.

And then there's the new NDP. Based on their platform and previous behaviour, not quite ready for prime time, but now the official opposition party. They can grow up, I certainly hope so - after all, they've run and are running successful provincial governments. But there's a serious new wrinkle now: 58 of their elected members are totally inexperienced new Quebec MPs. These MPs have replaced the Bloc, but they will hold similar views. Not only will that tend to tilt the NDP towards Quebec, but also, if they don't deliver, chances are extremely good that these seats will go elsewhere in 2015. And then what?

The progressive parties had several chances during the past two years to prevent what happened yesterday, they were urged to do so by their elder statesmen, men of stature, experience and ability. Both the Liberals and the NDP chose to keep to the status quo. They, and more importantly we, have to live with the result! For now the creation of a new centre-left party has to stay on hold, at least until the dust settles.

The probable result of this election was pretty certain from the beginning - either a Harper minority or a majority, depending on how the progressive vote was split. It was certain from the beginning that the majority of progressive voters would not be intelligent enough to cast their votes to defeat Harper. The Harper majority is the best result of two undesirable outcomes. Now Harper will be solely and totally responsible for what happens to Canada. The blame for anything negative that occurs will be no one's but his.

There will be a provincial election in Quebec in 2012. The Parti Québecois will likely win and, then, Canada will be be faced with another referendum on Quebec independence. How will Stephen Harper deal with that? A man with no mental finesse, a man whose only political goals have always been absolute power for himself no matter what, and the destruction of the Liberal Party (those are his words not mine, that's why he spent millions of dollars demonizing two Liberal leaders). We'll see how he'll deal with that. But will the result be the destruction of Canada?

One thing is certain right now though: With Harper's contempt for democracy and international institutions, Canada will continue its slide into mediocrity and international irrelevance. Not a comforting thought!