Tuesday, July 31, 2007

One More Thing...

I will return to my preview in my next post (probably), but I just thought of another problem with MMP. You'd think I'd run out of problems by now? Okay, so this might not happen in every election but bear with me. The proposal allows for "dual candidacy" meaning that candidates can run both locally and on the list. If the candidate wins locally, "[t]he candidate’s name is crossed off the list, and that position is taken by the next candidate on the list who has not won in a local district" (Citizens' Assembly Report). This seems logical but leaves the system open to a fairly major problem: what happens when the list runs out? This is not as unlikely as it seems. Assuming parties follow modern trends and use a fully democratic (ie one member, one vote) means of nominating list candidates, who will be better positioned to get on the list than candidates who already have enough support to win local nominations? Therefore, it is entirely likely that party lists will be dominated by candidates who have strong support from a large riding association and are therefore more likely to win election. If you are wondering why someone with a strong riding association would want to be on the party list, just ask yourself, when is the last time a politician didn't take every possible measure to try to get re-elected? This makes it entirely possible that large parts of the party list will be crossed off. This means there is a distinct possibility that either during the election or in susbsequent by-elections there will be no one left on the party list.

Here's a simple scenario where this would happen. Party A wins 30 local seats but earns 45 seats meaning they must receive 15 list seats. However, 25 of Party A's list members have been crossed off after winning locally. That leaves only 14 people left on Party A's list to fill 15 seats.

The means of solving this problem are simple, but decrease accountability substantially. Parties in all likelihood will have more than 39 people competing for the list seats. Therefore, it would be relatively simple to simply take the person who finished 40th and put them in. However, that person would never have been presented to the people in any way shape or form. They would be literally appointed by the party. Of course, that method only works if the process is democratic. If parties appoint parts of their list for the sake of diversity, we could have a party leader/president just choose a person on little more than a whim.

The point of drawing out this nightmarish and very possible scenario is to demonstrate how incomplete the proposal from the Citizens' Assembly is. We know exactly how First Past the Post works. We know every possible contingency. We don't know how MMP works and no education campaign is going to teach us about contingencies they haven't thought about yet.

Monday, July 30, 2007

Ontario Election Preview Part 1: The Parties

What's that you ask? Isn't it ludicrously early to be putting out an election preview? Not at all! Okay, there's no news in the summer and I am low on ideas. So with the election about 10 political lifetimes away, here is the start of my election preview. The first thing to figure out is how the parties are going to attack this election. What issues will they emphasize/play down? Here's a quick run through of the three and a half major parties.

Liberals: The governing Liberals are looking to hold on to as many of the seats they won last time around. Having already lost a few in by-elections to the NDP in Toronto, the Liberals may be tempted to run to the left. However, the presence of centre-right John Tory's PC's makes any dramatic shift right dangerous as Tory is ready to take the centre. The message from McGuinty and co. will probably be "Let us finish what we've started". The Grits started out behind the eight ball financially and that led to delays in some of their campaign promises particularly around health care. The energy promise (eliminating all coal-fired plants) was simply overly-ambitious but there has been progress. The jewel in the McGuinty's crown is education and expect the Premier to play to it. Class sizes are down (not all the way, but down) and there has been labour peace. These might not seem like major accomplishments but it is night and day for Ontario's schools. The Grit's strength on education will play nicely for them with Tory's religious schools blunder. The Grits are going to try to avoid being tagged as being chronic promise-breakers, but it may prove challenging. How important their ability to keep their word is to the people of Ontario remains to be seen. Ontarians reelected Chretien in 1997 after he broke many of his campaign promise and re-elected Harris in 1999 in large measure because he kept his. The Grits are praying that their get the bad news out of the way early strategy has worked and that the now balanced budget will make people forget the health tax. The recent immigration scandal will be troublesome but no one knows exactly how troublesome. Also a nuisance will be the budget headaches of the city of Toronto and the apocalyptic warnings of its mayor. McGuinty's refusal to help may bolster NDP fortunes in the city. The Liberals will focus their strategy on holding their seats in the GTA. To this end, the Grits should play up their ambitious transit plans. The Grits will also be reminding people of the last time the PC's were in power. However, this attack has limited salience against John Tory.

Progressive Conservatives: The Tories are trying to make people forget that they've governed the province in the last twenty years. Otherwise, their attacks on McGuinty's budget headaches and taxes may backfire. The released parts of the PC platform look like a slightly more libertarian version of what one would expect from the Grits. With the exception of religious schools, Tory may have trouble differentiating himself. This is a problem in a province which is usually reluctant to change its government at any level. The PC's need to demonstrate that McGuinty's government is a failure and that a change is necessary. The cult of personality thing that John Tory has going could help or harm the Tories depending on how its played (more on leadership in my next preview post). One may expect the sagging manufacturing sector to be a point of PC attack but the economy may not be the most resonant issue. This is true for a couple of reasons. Firstly, McGuinty has had limited success (Toyota) in bringing manufacturing jobs into the province. Secondly, the national headlines talk about how the economy is booming and the Bank of Canada is worried about inflation. Ontarians rarely separate their province from their country and the regional discrepancy may be a bit nuanced for a sound bite. The Tories will play to McGuinty's failure to execute his promises and try to pick up seats in the 905 and the north of Toronto.

NDP: The NDP's campaign will be all about the green. Province wide, Hampton will be talking about poverty (green is the colour of money) and the environment. In the North, Hampton will hammer the Grits on the collapsing forestry industry. The anti-poverty message was effective in picking up two Toronto by-elections from the Liberals. However, with the parliamentary wage hike a distant memory and the incremental minimum wage increases getting closer and closer to the $10 dollar mark Hampton has advocated, the message may not work as well as it did in the spring of 2006. Hampton will harp about the dangers of nuclear energy and the necessity of even more renewables to try to ensure that he doesn't bleed support to the Greens. Expect the NDP to focus on their cores of support in downtown Toronto, major manufacturing towns and the North. While they should do better than they did in 2003, it would take a miracle for the NDP to form a government.

Greens: Frank de Jong and the Ontario Green Party are in a great position to emerge as a force on the Ontario political scene. The environment is the hot-button issue. Whether or not the Greens can put out a coherent message and win votes in what is expected to be a tight election is another question. The other major question mark for the Greens is how many of their activists spend their time on the referendum instead of the party. While other parties may lose volunteers to the referendum, the Greens have fewer to spare and their committment to electoral reform is second only to the environment in their party's core principles. Green success will be measured in popular vote, not seats.

Next time I'll run down the challenges and strategies for the specific party leaders.

Sunday, July 29, 2007

This is Not Promising

So the video put out by Elections Ontario/ Citizens' Assembly on how the new electoral system works misrepresents the referendum question. Now, it is possible that the video was produced before the ballot question was put out but I still think it is a poor indication of how this education campaign is going to be run. I wish it was a yes/no question, but it's not.

Thursday, July 26, 2007

Religious Education in Ontario

Okay, I've held off on this post for long enough. This seems to be the issue de jour in Ontario politics so I guess I should make my opinions known. John Tory has decided that if he becomes premier he will subsidize all religious schools in the interest of equity (to compensate for the fully funded Catholic School Board). Margaret Wente has an article in the opinion pages of today's Globe and Mail extolling the virtues of religious education. I couldn't disagree more. If we must provide equality to all relgions in education (and it isn't a bad idea) the easiest and most cost-effective way to do it is to get rid of the Catholic School Board. Unfortunately, there aren't a lot of politicians in this province who are willing to put up with the electoral and constitutional headaches such a move would provoke. However, it is in my opinion the only rational choice. Before going any further, I would like to state that my religious views in no way affect my views on this subject. Here is why funding religious schools makes no sense.

1. Money

The Ontario government is cash-strapped (look at the mess with the city of Toronto) and yet it spends millions of dollars every year funding two sets of school boards to do the same thing. This includes two sets of trustees, administrators and, most laughably, competing ad campaigns to attract new students. I am all for competition and the free market but no company or government should be responsible for funding competing marketing schemes. If this was done in the private sector the shareholders would revolt. If Tory's plans are realized we would increase this funding to include all other religious denominations. They would also have to create an oversight administration to ensure that schools followed the guidelines for receivning funding. I thought conservatives liked smaller governments.

2. Conflict of Interest

Okay, I don't know if this fits the legal definition (in fact, I'm pretty sure it doesn't) but bear with me. Religious schools (including the Catholic school board) teach in their religion classes that certain laws on the books in this province and this country are immoral (i.e. abortion, gay rights). While I am all for freedom of speech, why should the government give money for people to hate them? Funding art projects that crticize the government is one thing but giving money for teachers to indoctrinate children, is another.

3. Inferior Education

In spite of Ms. Wente's arguments to the contrary, religious schools provide a more limited education in both curricular and non-curricular ways. In terms of curriculum, the inclusion of prayer and religious studies into the daily schedule reduces the amount of time students can devote to other things. In high school, this means students do not have the opportunity to take many electives. The lack of electives is already a problem for science-minded students who are encouraged to take 5 or 6 maths and sciences to "keep their options open" when it comes to university applications. The inclusion of a mandatory religion classes means they have almost no options whatsoever. If students don't take as diverse a range of courses they have a more limited knowledge-base and skill set. Furthermore, dogmatic, biased religious education runs contrary to best academic practices. It is not productive for university-bound students to be taught to only see one side of the debate and not ask questions. There are also specific curricular issues like whether or not to teach evolution or how much parts of history are emphasized (e.g. Catholics and the Inquisition).

In terms of non-curricular issues, it is a well established fact that schools are the best way to introduce kids to other cultures. The logic is that kids do not have racist conceptions when they enter school and if they spend their lives around people of different ethnicities and religions they are unlikely to become prejudiced against them. It also allows them to learn more about the world around them. Generations of Canadian immigrants have become integrated into society through this process. The easiest way to remove all concerns about new immigrants (particularly the Islamophobic concerns about Muslim immigration) is to bring those kids into the public system.

Having said all this, I have no objection to religious minded people paying for a religious education. I just don't see why everyone else should pay for it.

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

No campaign is up and running

The campaign to stop MMP is up and running. Our website will be up shortly. A link should appear in the sidebar of this blog.

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

To the Tennis Courts!

David Miller has refused to hold a meeting to discuss Toronto's financial crisis. I say councilors who want to discuss Toronto's problems should have a meeting with or without the mayor. Have a discussion with the people. Find innovative non-TTC cutting ways to solve the financial crisis. If Miller wants to prolong this crisis so that it would be front and centre during the impending provincial election, he is playing chicken with the city of Toronto. Toronto needs to solve this crisis by itself in a way that does not cripple the city like the methods proposed by the mayor. An open meeting with the public is just the ticket to find new solutions to the problem. Yes, eventually Toronto needs more funding or less responsibilities but we need to confront the problems of today with the tools available today.

Monday, July 23, 2007

Blockbusters I Actually Want To See

I am rarely excited by modern cinema. I am even more rarely enthused about large productions. However, when one of my favourite TV shows and one of my favourite books are coming out in movie form, I get a little psyched.

First up, the big one coming out this Friday, The Simpsons Movie. Now, most of the time TV shows which become movies are a poor bet at best. However, I trust Matt Groening and Co. after all these years, and the previews look hillarious. Have you seen the Spider-Pig? I will actually pay to see this one.

Another movie I will spend money on is The Golden Compass. For those unfamiliar with Phillip Pullman's His Dark Materials Trilogy, will get familiar. Pullman's trilogy has been overshadowed by the wizard from Hogwarts, but it is a great work of fantasy. The trilogy, which was composed as an atheist alternative to Narnia, is much more than that. The story is both simple enough for a child and yet works on a lot of levels making it compelling for any reader. I am impressed by how similar the preview looks in comparison to the books. As long as the movies are faithful, they will be a lot of fun. There is some concern about how the anti-church message will play in the Bible belt but I don't expect too many protests until the release of the third part of the trilogy, The Amber Spyglass. Spoiler Alert: The depiction of the death of God may be a challenge to film and may ruffle some feather. I hope they don't decide against filming the scene, it would be a shame. I may not fully agree with Pullman's radical atheism, but as art it is brilliant.

Back to politics when there is actually something to blog about.

Saturday, July 21, 2007

Miller Takes Notes from Bush

David Miller, the NDP mayor of Toronto, has decided to take a page out of George W. Bush's playbook. Vote with me or the city will collapse! Instead of making sensible cuts like getting rid of the 9% pay hike the councillors gave themselves (there was plenty of cash for that). Miller has decided to go after the one thing Torontonians hold sacred (aside from the Leafs): the TTC. Now, I don't expect Miller to follow through on his promise, but this kind of scare tactic is the worst kind of political theatre. Might it loosen purse strings at Queen's Park? Maybe. However, you shouldn't have to give the city a heart attack to pass a budget.

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Why MMP is Wrong for Ontario pt. 10

This is really an update on a couple of reasons I've already discussed. The first is the end of majority governments. I decided to look through election results looking for governments which satisfied the criteria for a majority under MMP. The criteria to review are either:

1. 50% of the popular vote


2. 72.2% (65/90) of riding seats

Since the formation of the NDP in 1963 exactly one election produced the requisite conditions for a majority. Any guesses? If you said David Peterson's win in 1987 you would have been right. Peterson got won in over 72.2% of the then 130 ridings. It is good to note here that NO government since the emergence of the NDP has got over 50% of the popular vote (some parts of the Tory dynasty got close, but no cigar). Thus, only one majority would have been elected in Ontario in the last 45 years. Of course, the second criteria is really an aberration as MMP is designed to ensure that parties receive seats according to their popular vote. In this case, the compensatory list seats would have been insufficient to deny Peterson a majority. The intention of the system is to prevent majorities. If we want the system, we should want it fully functional and that means majority preventing.

There are those that argue that coalition governments will prevent constant elections. I have already noted the short tenure of the last coalition government. I want to add that while MMP receives the incentives that a governing party may have to call an election i.e. a majority, it does not prevent the opposition from wanting an election to form a government or just increase their standing as the case may be. The 2006 federal election was not called because Martin wanted a majority.

Also, I noted earlier about the complicated nature of the new system. I do not think it is that complicated, however, I know that voters do not necessarily have a strong grasp on the electoral system. Having scrutineered in a couple of elections in the past, I know how often people are confused by the current system. It is also not enough merely to know how to vote, people should understand EXACTLY how those votes translate into seats. In my view, a referendum only works as a means of determining policy if the electorate is fully informed. Otherwise, referenda can lead to poor decisions like those that have handcuffed the California legislature.

Oh, and I don't know whether I should applaud or laugh at the fact that my anti-MMP posts are showing up on the vote for MMP website. I really doubt they are doing it intentionally to encourage debate and, therefore, I'm going to laugh.

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Disorganized Thoughts

I don't really have one idea for a post today so here's a bunch of political thoughts on my mind.
  • I'm happy to see the Toronto city council showing some backbone. I didn't think they'd have the guts to stare down the Mayor. Okay, they only delayed the vote and it still could pass in October, but clearly, this is not the result Miller was looking for.
  • Let me join the chorus, John McCain's campaign is dead. The horribly contorted straight-talker will have to content himself with the Senate.
  • In a related story, I have no clue who is going to be President. At this point I feel like I'm taking a multiple choice test and the answer is none of the above.
  • Why is Harper signing trade deals with the government of Colombia? I don't know who's right in the three-way Colombian civil war but I can't believe funding one of the sides with Canadian investment is going to make it go away. Also, how safe is the Colombian market for Canadian investors? Wasn't a Canadian just kidnapped there? Who's next on Harper's list, Iraq? How about Somalia?
  • Conrad Black is guilty. No surprise really, that video is pretty convincing. Let the arrogant S.O.B. rot. All rise for the Lord of Levenworth!
  • A few months ago I said Alberta and Quebec were ready for seismic political shifts. I like my predictions.
  • Elections Ontario is in the hiring process for someone to run their education campaign for the referendum. This better be one hell of a blitz because this MMP thing is not all that simple.
  • I want to break party allegiance and put my weight behind Bill Davis for greatest Premier in Calgary Grit's contest. The man governed Ontario with a steady hand. He played a large part in getting the Constitution repatriated. He went toe to toe with the Catholic Church on Catholic schools. He may be a Tory, but he was a great premier.

Friday, July 13, 2007

Let's See if Council Can Get One Right

A vote is upcoming on David Miller's new tax grab. The proposal which would double taxes attatched to home purchases in the city is apparently going to be a close vote. Many councillors are undoubtedly feeling the heat from their constituents. The massive tax increase will undoubtedly push home buyers and businesses into the suburbs where they can purchase for half the cost. Once again, the NDP led council is pushing something which would contribute to urban sprawl and therefore global warming. Let's see if enough of the council comes to their senses and defeats this measure. There are other ways to raise funds and there could surely be a little belt tightening down at city hall.

Thursday, July 12, 2007

Why MMP is Wrong For Ontario pt. 9

There is an old expression that "the devil is in the details." In the case of MMP this is particularly disturbing because of the number of details that remain unknown. There are two categories of unknown details: those left unspecified by the Citizens' Assembly and those that may be changed when the proposal is changed into legalese and then implemented (as has already happened with the referendum question). In both cases devils may abound. So what don't we know?
  • We don't have a clear picture on how MPP's from the list would be replaced. The report dictates that the next name on the list should be taken. Could parties alter the list set on election day, if three years later? This would be an excellent way to get a new leader (e.g. John Tory) into the legislature.
  • How does this system deal with changing demographics? Is the number of seats set or will it grow with the population? If it does grow, would it be necessary to maintain the proportion between list and riding seats?
  • What is the protocol for recounts of list votes?
  • In a related topic, how are counted ballots filed? Okay, this is technical but bear with me. Currently, counted ballots are placed in envelopes corresponding to the candidate with spoiled and rejected ballots kept separately. Under MMP two different votes would be counted from one ballot making storage and recount difficult.
  • This leads me to believe that Elections Ontario may prefer to have two ballots instead of the one proposed by the Assembly. I am not sure what implications that has but surely they proposed one ballot for a reason.
  • Are party lists available for reference at the voting booth?
  • How will parties select their list candidates? Will they emphasize diversity or democracy? I recognize that these possibilities are not incompatible. However, if democracy is emphasized (i.e. parties use a one member one vote system for all spots) how do you guarantee the increased diversity MMP advocates are boasting about? Conversely, if you emphasize diversity and appoint a set number of women and minorities or set aside spots that only women or minorities (I'd love to see the definition of minorities on this one - do religious and sexual minorities count or just visible?) could win, how is that democratic?
  • How will list MPP's get paid? Surely they don't get an allowance for a constituency office but how else does their pay/staff differ?
  • On a related note, how do list candidate funding rules differ if at all? What are their campaign restrictions? Can all list candidates campaign everywhere? Put up lawn signs in all ridings?
  • Minor point but how are list candidates adressed in the legislature? Most members are adressed by their riding name. Are we getting rid of the convention against names in the legislature?

There are more, I am sure. Especially, when you consider that the changes that are possible in drafting and implementation are almost infinite. Yes, I would expect the spirit of the recommendation to be followed through but almost everything else is up for grabs. The point of all this is that we have not done our due dilligence. I do not believe it is appropriate to vote on something that is not established. This is a flaw in the citizens' assembly process really. They are not lawyers trained in drafting legislation. They are not administrators with experience in running elections and therefore their proposal is not final. Even if you don't like First Past the Post, you at least know what you're getting.

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

A Dark Day for Toronto

"Honest Ed" is dead. He will be truly missed. He built not only a Toronto landmark but was the force behind much of Toronto's theatre industry. A philanthropist, Mirvish donated turkeys to the poor and invited the entire city to his birthday party. The neighbourhood around his store even bears his name: "Mirvish Village." His son may carry on his father's traditions but there will never be another Honest Ed. My deepest condolences to the Mirvish family.

Random Sports Thoughts

I don't usually blog about sports. This doesn't mean I don't care. I am a big sports fan. So to beat the summer news famine. Here are some quick sports notes:

  • Canada's Under 20 soccer team should be embarassed. There is no other way to describe it. Blame should be assigned everywhere. That was pathetic.
  • I am sick and tired of the Jays underachieving. Injuries seem to plague this team. It's starting to be a little spooky. Last year Rios, goes down with a staph infection. This year the Doc gets appendicitis. Still, they should be over .500. They're not.
  • Speaking of Rios, great show he put on during the home run derby. Okay, he got cold in the final, but twelve in the second round? This guy's a star. Why on earth did Leyland wait until the bottom of the ninth to put him in?
  • Keeping with the all-star game. Was it just me or did Chris Isaak screw up the American anthem? I can't find video to confirm but I swear he mixed up "night" and "fight". I believe he said "perilous night" and "through the fight" instead of vice versa. If I find video and confirm I'll edit with link.
  • I am sorry that I am too young to have seen Willie Mays play.
  • I am not too young to have seen Sidney Crosby (can I push the Wizard of Croz nickname over Sid the Kid? I mean come on, what happens when he's forty?). Good on him for taking less than the maximum giving the Pens the resources and cap space to keep a team around him. He would have definitely gotten (and deservedly so) the maximum from someone had he waited.
  • I am completely into Toronto FC. I've been to a couple of games. Anyone who says Toronto sports fans are boring and quiet needs to go and see how wrong they are. That is, if they can get a ticket. These games are awesome. Its amazing what happens when you don't have the suits with their in-seat sushi. Also, the stadium is great. It's small enough to be intimate but big enough for that place to rock. TOR-ONT-O O O O O O TFC!!!
  • Word on the street (and by street, I mean friendly Kingston cabbie) is that Queen's University will cut down to 14 competitive sports teams. I can't blame them. Will somebody make sure the CIS has a pulse? University sports in this country have become a bad joke. It's sad. It is really sad when you realize how hard these athletes work to be ignored by the country.
  • The Leafs still don't understand that defense wins championships. When will that organization go out and get blueliners who can play defense? We currently have exactly one. Kaberle is good but he can't play both points for sixty minutes. The Ducks just won the Stanley Cup because they had two of the best in the game on their back end. Also, Ottawa's collapse can be largely attributed to the pathetic play (although apparently injury-related) of Wade Redden.
  • Speaking of the Leafs. If you don't like John Ferguson Jr., and really why would you, then fire his ass! Don't bring in a "consultant". Make him assistant GM until he figures out the job, but bring in somebody competent.
Back to politics next time. I am intending to index my anti-MMP posts. Just figuring out where and how to place them. My tech skills are limited and my sidebar's already a mess.

Monday, July 09, 2007

Why Traditions Matter or Why MMP is Wrong for Ontario pt. 8

Okay, this is not the strongest part of the argument against MMP. However, this is part 8 so forgive me. I do NOT believe we should keep on doing what we've always done just because. Once again, I sent a submission to the citizens' assembly advocating change. However, any change must be in keeping with the things that are important to Ontarian and Canadian democracy. So, it is therefore time for a brief history lesson.

The roots of Ontario democracy begin in earnest in the 1820's and 1830's by the Reform Party of William Lyon Mackenzie. Mackenzie sought power for the legislative assembly (elected) and power removed from the legislative and executive councils (appointed). Mackenzie et al. were frustrated by such things as the lack of public education for the poor and the horrible condition of Ontario roads. Mackenzie was constantly being kicked out of the legislative assembly for challenging the established Family Compact and was also constantly being sent back by the citizens of York. His popularity led him to become the mayor of the newly named city of Toronto. The Family Compact became so frightened of Mackenzie that they sent goons to throw the printing press of his popular newspaper in the lake. These tensions eventually led to the comically pathetic rebellion of 1837 (in Lower Canada the rebellion had some muster, in Toronto it was a joke). However, the rebellions so shocked the British (they apparently ruined Christmas 1837 for Queen Victoria) that they decided to give Ontario responsible government. In the new united governments of the 1840's and 1850's the system which would become the one used today took shape. Robert Baldwin and Louis-Hippolyte Lafontaine in a dramatic show of unity ran in each other's ridings and won (remember the Heritage moment?). This partnership cemented Canadian democracy and was continued by the Conservative coalition of Macdonald and Cartier and the more uneasy partnership of George Brown and A.A. Dorion.

The point of this? Ontario's democratic urge came from a popular demand for accountability in their government. They insisted that the people (not the rich or the party bosses) determine who was in their legislature when they repeatedly re-elected Mackenzie. They showed the strength of Canadian unity by electing Lafontaine in Ontario. MMP is not in keeping with this tradition. MMP does not provide the level of accountability that Mackenzie demanded 170 years ago. Canadians may not like their history but we should not forget it. Ontario's democracy is the way it is because of our history. It is NOT a British imposition. It is an organic representation of what Ontarians wanted in their government. I don't care about the parliamentary mace. I wouldn't lift a finger to destroy or save the monarchy. However, we did not get our electoral system randomly. We fought for it both literally and figuratively. History shapes the kind of electoral systems which exist in almost every jurisdiction (my last post on electoral reform contains some examples).

Quick Debunk: There is an argument that PR systems produce higher voter turnout than first past the post. Please note that New Zealand has seen almost NO difference in voter turnout with some MMP elections producing higher and some lower turnout than those recorded before the reform. New Zealand is the only apt example for this in my opinion because they actually changed their electoral system. There are a lot of reasons that Germans vote more than Americans, the electoral system is low on the list. You could as easily argue that German speakers are more likely to vote or that voter turnout increases with Beck's beer sales. Once again two kind of lies: damned lies and statistics.

Tuesday, July 03, 2007

Race for the Exits 2008: The Republicans (revisited)

On we move to the Grand Old Party.

Rudy Giuliani: Rudy has quickly become the front runner for the Republicans. National name recognition and his tough on terror stance have made him an early favourite. However, it seems to me only a matter of time before the Christian right realizes that he is about as close to their values as Hillary Clinton. The twice-divorced socially liberal Giuliani is either going to get run out of the primary by the religious right or ignored by them come November. The Republicans are praying for another terror election and if that is THE issue than Giuliani is a good choice, otherwise it's time to look elsewhere.

Mitt Romney: Mitt Romney hopes they look to Boston and find the former Governor of Massachusetts. Another social liberal (or at least he used to be) Romney has the additional problem of being a Mormon which weirds out a lot of people. That may not be PC but it is reality. Governors have a great track record but Romney may be a little much for the base to handle.

John McCain: The Straight-Talk Express is losing fuel and fast. The senator from Arizona who attempted to derail Bush's walk to the White House in 2000 is finding little traction in 2008. His staunch support for the President's Iraq policy is not paying the dividends he expected. Apparently, even conservatives are fed up with Iraq. Either that or they're still angry about McCain's maverick persona in a party that is all about unity and toeing the line. He's also very much yesterday's news and when you're over seventy that is a tough label to shake.

Sam Brownback: Sam Brownback speaks to the Base because he's part of it. A staunch social conservative, he will lead the moral charge to the White House. However, the senator from Kansas is not exactly a dream candidate in a general election. He lacks Bush's folksy charm and gubernatorial track record. He may be a good place to park votes but I would be surprised to see him nominated.

Tommy Thompson: The former governor of Wisconsin and member of the Bush cabinet is very much the Republican answer to Bill Richardson. Like Richardson though, Thompson has been completely unable to break out of the massive pack and with the pool getting bigger and bigger every week, Thompson looks about ready to drown. With namesake Fred entering the race next week Tommy looks to be in big trouble.

Mike Huckabee: Whoever becomes President should give Mike Huckabee the job of getting America thin. This guy is about half of his former self. However, the former governor of Arkansas (he's from Hope like another former governor), is not exactly wowing people at this stage. It's early and governors usually do well but so far not so good.

Tom Tancredo: "Damn Immigrants" should probably be Tancredo's campaign slogan. This guy is a favourite of Lou Dobbs and other illegal immigration zealots. Tancredo has no chance of winning the nomination but his presence in the debates may force the candidates to talk about illegal immigration something most of them would like to avoid with Republicans firmly divided on the issue.

Duncan Hunter: Oh shit! That profanity in my description of Tom Tancredo (and the one in this sentence) probably offend Duncan Hunter. Another republican waxing poetic about the good old days and traditional values. He has no chance.

Ron Paul: Paul is nothing if not fun. His appearances with Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert showed that. However, this libertarian looks out of place in the morality and terror obsessed GOP. A relic from a bygone era, Paul wants to get rid of most of the American government. Another person to spice up the debate tedium.

Fred Thompson: Fred has not officially announced yet but Republicans are having fits and comparing him to Reagan. The senator from Tennessee turned actor is a conservative who can speak to the base. What else Mr. Thompson is remains to be seen. He is supposed to announce any day now. Next week perhaps? He could win this nomination but we won't know until he starts campaigning.

Race for the Exits 2008: The Democrats (revisited)

A few months back I took a look at the field (and boy is it wide) of the people who want to be President in 2008. Here is an update.

Hillary Clinton:
Can anything stop the junior senator from New York? Obama may be fundraising but Clinton is kicking butt in the polls. It's a long time between now and January and even longer till November 2008 but Clinton has to be happy with where she is right now. To me, her campaign stinks of insincerity. Everything seems concocted and forced. Bill has the common touch, Hillary not so much. She should stop trying it, she comes off as condescending. There are still major electability questions. This applies not only to the presidency but her impact on down ballot races in the south and west where the Democrats are looking to win house and senate seats. She has tons of money, tons of institutional support and tons of name recognition. She could and probably should (given her current position) win, I just have this feeling that she won't. No logic behind it.

Barack Obama
: The money reports coming out today are good news for a campaign that seems to be stuck in neutral. The biggest problem for Obama seems to be that he lacks any concrete ideas. Nobody's really sure what he stands for and this plays into his lack of experience. There's no voting record to show where he stands on the issues so critics and supporters are left waiting for ideas from the Obama campaign. He will be one of many Dems looking to be the centre of an anti-Hillary movement. The junior senator from Illinois certainly has the charisma and charm to win the nomination if not the presidency. Now it's time for Obama to demonstrate that he is more than one great speech and a pretty face.

John Edwards: The former senator from North Carolina is the other main contender in the anyone but Hillary camp. Edwards' run in 2004 has provided him with a great ground game in early primary states, particularly in Iowa. Edwards is looking to win the caucuses and work from there. I question how much Edwards' two Americas speech will resonate outside of the Democratic base. People want to believe that they are middle class and have the chance to get rich. They don't want to be told that the system is working against them. Concerns about his wife's health may distract Edwards in the short term.

Bill Richardson
: My choice for the nomination is stuck in park. He is by far the most qualified candidate having served as 1. Secretary of Energy 2. Ambassador to the United Nations and currently 3. Governor of New Mexico. A governor with international experience? I don't know how the Dems are not drooling over this guy. His Hispanics roots give the Democrats a major head start at tapping into the Latino community. He needs money, a charisma injection, institutional support and an issue to separate himself from the pack. However if the Dems end up looking for a safe pick, this might be it.

Chris Dodd: Chris Dodd is a very competent senator from Connecticut. This does not mean he should be President. There isn't much chance of it either. Dodd is white bread with the crust cut off boring. No one really knows why he is running. Who wants to place bets on a drop out date?

Joe Biden
: Twenty years ago a plagiarism scandal forced Joe Biden out of the race for the Democratic nomination. In retrospect he probably wouldn't have done worse than Michael Dukakis. However, that is not an endorsement. The senator from Delaware is, like Dodd, a good senator but once again this does not mean he should be President. He should get quite a bit of that famous Joementum that worked so well for Lieberman in 2004.

Dennis Kucinich: The NDP would love Kucinich. However, that means he's about as electable as a Lesbian, pot-smoking, Muslim in the United States. Kucinich is nothing if not entertaining so I really don't mind him making the debates a little more interesting. If the congressman doesn't care about his snowball in hell chances nor do I.

Mike Gravel: If you are not from the state of Alaska and you know who Mike Gravel is you are in the minority. How this leftie ever got elected to the Senate from conservative Alaska I do not know. However, now after years out of the senate, he's decided to run for President with no money, no name recognition and no hope. I hope he has fun. Jon Stewart did a great piece on one of his campaign ads. Here's the ad. Like Gravel it's not exactly mainstream.


Al Gore: If he wants the nomination he can probably have it. He could probably even win the election (again) but there is no indication that Gore wants the job. He seems content to work against climate change from outside. How much of that is the desire not to campaign against the Clinton's only Gore knows.

Wesley Clark
: Clark has the military credentials some Dems crave during war-time. However, the retired supreme NATO commander proved an ineffective campaigner in 2004 after getting into the race late. I would have thought that if Clark still wanted the job he would have not made the mistake he made in 2004 and get in early. Apparently not. There is no indication he is running and I really don't see that changing.

Monday, July 02, 2007

New Zealand, Germany and Scotland or Why MMP is Wrong for Ontario pt. 7

Proponents of MMP often point to its "success" in other countries as a reason to support the new system. Let's review our potential electoral siblings and see exactly how similar we are:

New Zealand: Often touted as a good example, our Commonwealth allies are not as similar as we may think. One of the biggest problems I see with MMP is that it puts us in a situation of perpetual elections. New Zealand did not have this problem. New Zealand has had elections every three years for the last 93 years (with two wartime exceptions). No-confidence motions do not trigger elections. While MMP has led to more coalition building, there is no threat of constant elections. Furthermore, New Zealand faced a different crisis in 1996 than Ontario does today. New Zealand had become a two party system where new parties could not be created. Ontario does not have that problem. We have a three party system with room for more. The failure of the Greens to win election does not represent a failure of our electoral system, it represents a failure of the Green Party. Twenty years ago you may have been able to argue that our system had stagnated after forty years of Tory rule. However, all three parties have governed since then and new parties have always been able to emerge in Canada's electoral system. Both federally and provincially.

Germany: So if you were setting up a democracy after 13 years of totalitarian rule, how would you do it? Well, you'd start by designing a system where one party can never control the entire government and ensure minorities have a say in the government. MMP's inability to produce stable majorities is exactly what Germany needed. Ontario is not recovering from Nazism. We don't need perpetual minorities. Unfortunately, coalition building can leave citizens in the dark. As it did in 2005, where it took weeks after the votes were counted to be sure that Angela Merkel would actually be Chancellor. Merkel had to cap in hand (or at least carrot and stick in hand) to smaller parties in order to secure her election victory. All those in favour of backroom politics?

Side note: Germany counts list votes differently than we will. Similar system, yes, same no.

Scotland: So you're the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom. You have this crazy desire to keep that Kingdom, well, United. On the other hand, the Scots and Welsh want more power. So you decide to create national governments. But wait! The Scottish Nationalists have been winning seats in the House of Commons for years. It didn't matter once the rest of the country was factored in but if you isolate Scotland... So, what to do? Create a system whereby they can never get a majority and therefore never call a referendum and never separate. Phew! Problem solved. Mantario aside, does Ontario have a separatist movement? No? So why do we need a system designed to thwart it? Oh and by the way, the Scottish system isn't the same. Instead of a nation wide list they employ a much more sensible regional list system. They don't quite trust parties to provide regional balance.

Fun Electoral Reform Fact: The Citizens' Assembly recommended a yes/no question on MMP. Elections Ontario has chosen instead to have an either/or referendum between MMP and FPTP. What else will change when the Citizens' Assembly report turns into law? Maybe nothing but it's not a promising start.
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