Friday, January 29, 2016

My preferred voting system for Canada.

An Elections Canada sample ballot.  Source.

I'm going to start by saying that this one's for you, Jeff.  It's late, but it's still for you.

Given that there's been a seismic shift in Canadian politics since the last federal election, I'd like to talk about a choice that the governing Liberals will be faced with in the next year or so, if their campaign promises are to be believed.  Justin Trudeau has promised that this will have been the last election under the First Past the Post (FPTP) system, and that a new method will be decided upon after broad consultations.

Now, I'm not going to try and explain the main contenders for voting systems out there, because not only has CGP Grey already done that, he has done it better than I could hope to do with his Politics in the Animal Kingdom series.  While they're all videos worth watching, I'd recommend checking out at the very least the Mixed Member Proportional (MMP), Alternative/Instant Runoff (IR), and Single Transferable Vote (STV), videos for the purposes of this discussion.

In the last several elections, the FPTP system has delivered rather wild results.  In fact, the last two majority governments were decided by roughly 40% of the population.  Pundits may endlessly analyse this, looking at voting efficiency numbers (votes cast/seats won), but honestly, it's a consequence of the system.  The biggest weaknesses of FPTP are widely seen to be the spoiler effect and strategic voting in general.

It could be argued that in the Conservative Party's wins of the new millennium, the centre-left parties played spoiler to one another.  Were there just one left-leaning party, the majority of voters would have likely backed said hypothetical party, and that would have been the end of it.  However, the similar yet different platforms which were supported by the majority of the country split the vote and yielded a majority of seats in the House of Commons to the Tories.

Now let's look at the election of 2015 specifically.  It is widely suspected that the majority win by the Grits was the result of strategic voting.  Electors who favoured the NDP (Dippers?) wanted Harper to lose more than they wanted Tom Mulcair to win.  In the end, what we saw in the polls was a spectacular shift of support from the NDP to the Grits, and in the end, many voted not for the person they wanted to win, but rather for someone they kind of, sort of liked such that the person they really didn't like wouldn't win.

That's why I think we need a change in our electoral systems.  That said, I have obvious preferences.  Proportional Representation (PR) would simply tally the votes, and award seats in the House of Commons accordingly.  MMP, similarly, would allow electors to directly send candidates to the House, but would add members ("list members" from lists submitted by the parties), until the seat count more closely resembled the popular vote.  It sounds great, but my problem with these methods (and the reason that I didn't support MMP in the Ontario referendum), is that I do not care for the idea of list members.  Ultimately, I want each Member of Parliament to be responsible to his or her home electorate.  Frankly, having been served by back benchers (read: Parliamentarians who support their Party's motions and do little else), for the majority of my lifetime, I don't think the system needs more MPs who are beholden only to their parties and not their direct electors.

It is due to my loathing of mindless partisan politicians that I support IR and STV in broad strokes.  What I really, desperately want is the ability to rank the options on the ballot rather than simply marking my X (aside: I'd also like the option to rank only those candidates I like and then stop, rather than Australia's model of forcing a ranking of all candidates).

Now, this model has been widely criticized by opposition MPs saying that this model would prefer centrist parties like the governing Liberals.  My obvious rebuttal being to draw attention to the 2011 election, in which the Liberals were so desperately unpopular after a series of scandals and missteps that they were reduced to their lowest seat count in the history of Confederation.  My point being that centrist parties won't always remain a favourable option to the majority of Canadians.

But, digressions aside, I like the IR model quite a lot.  I like the ability to say that I prefer the Greens over the Libertarians, or the Dippers over the Tories, or an Independent over the incumbent.  And I also want to retain the ability to send a message to representatives that I feel have not served the citizens my riding well enough.  And, if one watches the video featuring the mechanics of it all, IR ensures that the majority of the riding's electors will have directly voted for their representative whilst ensuring they also had the ability to vote true to their conscience.

Ultimately, what I like about IR is also what I like about STV.  What I dislike about STV is the matter of the larger ridings, and how it is decided who is elected when multiple members of a single party are declared winners.  I might be mistaken, but when extra votes are allowed to go to support other candidates, I feel like those votes are not treated as equals (unless the total sum of second choices are considered, in which case it seems... less objectionable).  It seems messy, I suppose is my objection.  And, ironically, STV seems more deserving of the title "First Past the Post."

I suppose that this means I would endorse the ranked ballot as my preferred voting system.  And, in other, wilder pipe dreams, I think it would be tremendously entertaining to see the Tories acknowledge the rift within their party and split once again into the Reform and Progressive Conservative parties, and observe an IR election with a total of five national political parties.  I don't know how well it would serve Canadians in terms of the balance of ideas brought to the Lower Chamber, but man would it be fun to watch.


P.S.  Published without proofreading, because I have to go to work.

P.P.S  Proofread, minor changes made.

Sunday, July 26, 2015

Homelessness, and a Can of Soup. [EBP8]

Cans of soup produced to celebrate the anniversary of Warhol's painting.  Source.


I was walking home this evening, and as one often does when walking the 1 St SW underpass, I passed a homeless man sitting with his back against the concrete walls.  Unlike most encounters though, there was no request for money, no witty remark, no blessings bestowed as I passed.  This man was looking helplessly at a can of soup.  It struck me that this would be an easy fix, save for the fact that nobody actually carries a can opener.  Well, perhaps people do, but they're likely not very much fun at parties.  Or, recalling a personal anecdote about a man who ate canned food for weeks on end to prove to his girlfriend that refrigerators were luxuries and not necessities, the most fun at parties.  It also struck me that there is a certain irony in that canned food would be of the utmost utility to the homeless, but in most cases they would be helpless to open said can.  Unless they're the sort of person that is either the most or least fun at parties.

In any case, I went home.  I ate the food I had brought home for myself.  And then I remembered the man without a can opener.  I grabbed the can opener from the kitchen as well as a disposable spoon.  They went into my pocket and I headed back to the man with the can.  As it turned out, the tab to open the can had broken off.  I did what I could, and despite thinking early on that it might have turned into a fruitless endeavour, the can was opened.  Near the end, I handed the man the spoon, saying that it might be of use if I actually succeeded.  He responded with a question:

"Oh man, a spoon too?  How are you doing so good?"

"I've been lucky." I replied without thinking.

And it's true.  I've been extremely lucky.  I was born to parents that did, and still do, love and care for me.  I've also come to know many people who have helped me, and continue to help me to this day.  I've also been spared the burden of mental illness, which so often factors into homelessness.  I am a citizen to whom a great many opportunities have been afforded.  And were it not for the kind and caring people in my life, I too could be sitting under the rail bridge at 1 St SW, completely stymied by the lack of a pull tab on a single serving can of soup.

It's due to this matter of luck that I am so excited about things like the Calgary Homeless Foundation, which offers homes to the homeless.  As it turns out, people don't generally like being homeless, and it's extremely difficult to keep a job when you have no place to keep your clothes or bathe on a day-to-day basis.  If you afford people these opportunities, they often find a job and move to a nicer place in fairly short order, if the literature is any indication.

Since my finding out about Calgary's program, the city of Medicine Hat has announced that they are the first Canadian municipality to end homelessness.  This follows data which suggested that housing someone for a year costs roughly $20,000, whereas they cost the system about $100,000 otherwise.  Everything I've heard on the matter suggests that the preliminary results are good, and as my fellows over at Future Chat agree, it seems only logical to offer programs like this if a) you'll save money in the long run, b) you could reap the benefits of economically active citizens in the future.  This ignores the whole humanitarian argument, which is hard to accomplish when people are concerned about budgets.

In the end, the evening left me thoughtful enough that I thought I would write about it, as much to sort out my own thoughts as to share them.  I wonder if such a program could come to my home town of Belleville, a home to a disproportionate number of Christian fundamentalists, and [not-necessarily related] big-C conservative sentiments (fiscal conservatism and small government being popular ideas).  I'm specifically thinking of a quotation from a statue in Ottawa that has always stuck with me, from Matthew 25:40 "That which you do to the least of my brothers, you do unto me."  I'm also left with how I felt when leaving the man.  Despite his gratitude, I only felt terrible for having waited so long to offer such an easy fix.


P.S.  I have not blogged in a while.  A variety of factors, ennui playing a large factor I feel, have kept me from feeling passionately enough to write.  I subscribe to Matthew Inman's idea that one should not create without feeling inspired to do so, because the work will suffer as a result.  Hopefully the writing will continue, but even if it doesn't, we'll still have Future Chat.

Friday, March 6, 2015

Election 2015: Trudeau, the New Guy

The Right Honourable Justin Trudeau, who, in a shocking twist for this series, is not looking up and to the right.  Source.

The final installment of the "Election 2015" series will be on Justin Trudeau, because I honestly do not believe that Elizabeth May will be our next Prime Minister.  I will not be talking about his father and legendary Prime Minister Pierre Elliot Trudeau, because it is irrelevant to this conversation.  The man is not his father.  Shocking, I know.

My Summary:

First and foremost, I would like to publicly declare that I was disappointed when Trudeau won the Liberal leadership race.  I understand the decision for reasons I will outline later but Marc Garneau:

1) Had more political experience and is arguably more ready to be the leader of a country, and more importantly



My impressions of Trudeau are largely limited, perhaps by design, and possibly because he really hasn't been on the scene in an official capacity for that long.  His reign as head of the Liberal Party of Canada, in its smallest incarnation in the history of the party, has been even shorter.  That said, there are a couple things worth noting.

First off, I started by saying that our impressions may be limited by design.  Since the Grits rehauled their image after what I will call the "death spiral" under Ignatieff, Dion, and Martin, the Party hasn't really come out with many policy stances.  Although, somewhat hilariously, this rehaul included the stance that the next Liberal leader would seek to have marijuana legalized.  This was boldly stated on the website, I remember checking because I couldn't believe a party would actually do such a thing.  They have now somewhat backpedaled and declared themselves "Smart on Cannabis."  But, as always, I digress.  It could be that they are holding back on policy so that the other two [much stronger] parties won't steal policy ideas pre-election and claim them under their own platform.  It has happened before, and it would be clever to wait to hear from the opposition before carving one's own path.  If the Grits actually have ideas.  Which we don't know for sure.

However, when Justin makes a decision, by God is it as sudden as it is swift and decisive.  One day in 2014, seemingly out of the blue, Trudeau announces that those people seeking to run as Liberal nominees must not oppose abortion and "a woman's right to choose."  In a similar event, after the Senate expense scandal, he suddenly announced that "there are no Liberal senators," and that they would no longer have any official affiliation with the Grits.  It's almost Harperian in that nobody really seemed to be thinking or talking about the issue at hand, and then sweeping, decisive declarations were made.  If anything is for certain, he isn't being accused of waffling.  Unless he has to go back on the senator affiliations, which he may have to for political leverage in the future.  But that's for the future.

And now, to break up a large block of text, this happened:

I've heard ample criticism of Trudeau in my social circles.  From speculation that he will make the West subservient to the East (because I live in Alberta now, I hear these things), to speculation that almost everything he has said to this point is blatant pandering to students. I don't agree with these points, frankly.  However, I am concerned that he acts impulsively.  I have previously argued that, while he made the right decision in the suspension of his MPs which were accused of sexual harassment, he acted much too quickly.  There's this thing we have called "presumption of innocence," and unless he had very compelling evidence, his actions should have been much more limited.

Finally, Trudeau plays the game well.  The Tory attack-ad machine successfully destroyed three Grit leaders with taglines such as "The Liberal Party is not corrupt" [pictured: hard-working Canadians shaking their heads in disbelief], "Stephane Dion is not a leader," and Ignatieff's "He didn't come back for you."  The machine started up for Trudeau, with an ad saying "He's in way over his head."  Trudeau responded by first showing the attack ad, turning to the camera, and saying that this was ridiculous and Canadians deserved better.  The attack ad machine, which has been operating successfully for almost a decade was halted, and hasn't shown up since.  It'll be interesting to see how this goes.

My Verdict:

One could argue that Trudeau may yet prove to be either a young gun or loose cannon.  I, however, have more pressing issues to address.  Trudeau has been seen sporting long curly locks and facial hair.  Then he comes on the political scene talking about evidence-based practices.  WHAT MORE DO YOU WANT TO STEAL FROM ME, JUSTIN!?  DO YOU WANT TO MAKE UNIVERSAL PUBLIC TRANSIT A POLICY, TOO!?

Justin Trudeau: Avid Reader of Vodka and Equations, Thief.

My Prediction:

Shortly after Trudeau was named leader of the Grits, I was having breakfast with my cousin in the sunny window of Belleville's Cozy Grill.  I said that although we had missed out on an Astronaut Prime Minister (or is that PM Astronaut?), Trudeau was exactly what the Grits needed to crawl out of third party status.  They didn't and, I'd argue, don't need an intellectual heavyweight or an experienced diplomat.  They need a young, charismatic leader to stir up excitement.  He may yet prove to be the heavyweight or the diplomat, but for now he is someone to draw people back to the Grits.

It is for that reason that I think Trudeau will win a minority.  If he doesn't, I imagine Harper will be held to a minority.


Other posts in this series:
Harper, the Proroguer
Mulcair, the Reasonable One

P.S. Four hours and 2440 words later.  Apparently I had things to say about the leaders!

Wednesday, March 4, 2015

Election 2015: Mulcair, the Reasonable One.

The Right Honourable Thomas Mulcair, remembering that time he was lambasted for saying Canada had Dutch disease, immediately before a report came out saying Canada had Dutch disease.  Source.

I'm continuing on in my "Election 2015" series in [hopefully] one marathon writing session, with articles being released once every day or so.  The posts on the opposition opponents will probably be shorter, because they haven't been granted the opportunity to infuriate me nor drive me to angry blogging.  Yet.  Today's installment: Mulcair, the most reasonable guy in the room.  Also, Liberal until 2007.  Crazy, eh?

My Summary:

Mulcair has impressed me since taking the reigns from Smilin' Jack Layton after his untimely passing.  He's frequently featured on The House with Evan Solomon, and is often eloquent and measured.  That said, I'm most impressed by his work in Parliament, and the stories coming out of the House of Commons.  To wit:

Honestly, take the time to watch that video, he handles the situation brilliantly.  Further, this ultimately ended with a tearful apology from Paul Calandra and probably the death of his political career.  Also note that the second time Calandra deflected, he was given a standing ovation from his fellow Tories.  You'll also note a serious mis-step just after the four minute mark from Mulcair, he questions the neutrality of the Speaker of the House.  As it turns out, the Speaker does not necessarily have the power to compel Members of Parliament to answer questions, but it has led to a discussion of the role of the Speaker, and I would be glad to see more powers granted so that parliamentary discussion can be, y'know, useful.

With the exception of the last exchange, this is typical Mulcair.  After a marathon session of Parliament (I wish I had found an article which covered this, but I didn't), full of petty bickering and little progress, Mulcair ended the evening by essentially calling the lot of them a bunch of children, and adding that he hoped they would have a more productive day to follow.  I think his attitude will speak to a lot of Canadians who are fed up with the current pettiness of politics, and I think his is a good voice to have in Parliament.

Mulcair has also embraced his role as Leader of the Official Opposition.  Unlike his predecessors (except perhaps Ignatieff, who took a similar tack), he has been measured, not getting spiteful, but has also been persistent.  He makes an effort to hold Harper to account whenever he feels attention is warranted.  Though he has no political leverage in the House, his work frequently finds the ears of Canadians and can lead to change from public pressure, because it seems the only way to sway Harper is if his polling numbers are significantly threatened.

Most recently, I seem to recall Mulcair being concerned at the prospect of mission creep in Canada's role in the air strikes against ISIS targets.  I could be wrong, but I [think I] specifically remember them because I thought it was an unreasonable concern.  We would be involved in air strikes and potentially training, and there would be a six month review.  However, Canadian Forces now find themselves on the front lines of battle.  Mulcair is active in demanding an explanation of the governing party, though we are roundly assured that Canada is not in a combat mission, it's just that they're training from the front lines, and they have to defend themselves if fired upon, don't they?

Something to think about.

My Verdict: 

Mulcair is, quite possibly, the only [or perhaps, most] sane person in the House of Commons.

My Prediction:

Mulcair should probably win this election, but he won't.


Other posts in this series:
Harper, the Proroguer
Trudeau, the New Kid

Monday, March 2, 2015

Election 2015: Harper, the Proroguer.

Prime Minister Harper, remembering the days of high oil prices.  Source.

After almost four whole years after the Tories took power, we are once again in an election year.  I'll admit that I'm pretty excited at this prospect as a fan of evidence-based practices and a proud Canadian that has been repeatedly exasperated by the elected representatives of my countrymen.  Particularly that second one, under "exasperated."  It touches on the most mind-bending of Harper's offenses, though my writing is excessively verbose.

I thought it would be an interesting exercise to record my thoughts on the candidates going into this election, including what I think of each candidate, and where I think they'll end up after election night.  That way I can look back at what my exact thoughts were (as can all of you, my be-monocled, top-hatted readers), and reflect on how truly wrong and misguided I was.

My Summary:

So, Harper the Proroguer.  I've been thinking a lot about it this week, and I cannot decide whether he is willfully blind to evidence, an excellent politician, a fool, or all of the above.  In all seriousness, I believe he must be doing what he thinks is right, I don't think he's doing anything with deliberate malice, but he just keeps doing such goofy things.

Take for example the census.  Canada was a world leader in excellent census data, particularly because it was mandatory.  Prison sentences actually awaited those who refused to fill out the long-form census.  Harper publicly decried these penalties and removed them in one of his first acts as the leader of a majority government.

What's my problem with that?  Well, I'll say first and foremost that it wasn't an issue.  It's almost like his movement to change the lyrics of 'O Canada' to be more gender-inclusive.  It just wasn't being discussed.  It wasn't on anyone's radar.  It's like he saw a peaceful beehive and decided to stick his finger in there to see what would happen.  It's like he's the Joker of political action, just an agent of chaotic destruction.  Anyway, it didn't matter to him that nobody in the history of the Canadian census had ever gone to prison for not filling out the census, because no reasonable person would ever choose prison over taking ten minutes to half-ass the long-form census.  So now we have a voluntary survey.  That's great.  How does the government now make decisions on how to best deliver public services?  Probably based on questionable data.  Or purely political motivations, knowing Harper.

After the Tories fought tooth and nail for these things, it turns out they don't even work in the Arctic.  But they are, and will always be, Scandalicious. Source.

However, this could also have been a brilliant calculation.  The economic situation hasn't been great since the Great Recession of 2008, and who is least likely to fill out the voluntary survey?  According to Ivan Fellegi, former Chief Statistician of Canada, it's the poor, new immigrants, and aboriginals.  Those who, in general, could benefit most from public services, and those who are most likely to deflate Canada's economic picture.  This is pure, baseless speculation, but it would be a brilliant political move.

So that's a thing that happened.  Harper also came to power promising more government accountability, appointed a Parliamentary Budget Officer to fulfill said promise, and then dismissed the unfortunate Kevin Page when, y'know, he tried to hold government to account.  Which was his job description.  And the job was created for that purpose by Harper.  Harper wanted to reform the Senate and make it more democratic, and then a bunch of his senate appointees were unceremoniously ousted for their unethical behaviour.  He referred to a non-confidence motion to defeat his government as a "parliamentary trick" when that's how he himself came to power (or that's how I remember it anyway).

He's an interesting character.  Bewildering, but certainly entertaining.

My Verdict:

Petulant politician, perpetually pining for power.

My Prediction:

... Isn't really much of a prediction.  Those who have been paying attention for his tenure are mostly sick of his antics, but most electors either 1) haven't been paying attention, or 2) vote Tory out of principle, and are probably over the age of 55.  He's got a solid support base.  Further, if Mike Duffy's allegations that Harper ordered him to pay back his expenses because, quote, "it is inexplicable to our base," he certainly does a lot of his maneuvering with his supporters in mind.  I think Harper has it in him to win again with two "unproven" rivals.  If he wins it'll probably be a minority, and if he loses he will almost certainly limit the winner to minority status.


Other posts in this series:
Mulcair, the Reasonable One
Trudeau, the New Guy

P.S.  In the lead up to this, I watched a bunch of old Rick's Rants.  You might enjoy them too, so they're posted below.  Also following is a link from the hilarious Scott Feschuk on Stephen Harper from 2013 conversing with his 2005 self.