Monday, December 1, 2008

Letters to Leaders

Fair Vote Canada, an electoral reform advocacy group has asked members to contact their members of parliament and the leaders and demand them to uphold democratic principles. I wrote my MP, Allen Malcolm and Jack Layton. I am a member of the New Democtic Party, and so felt this was the best way to express myself.

Dear Mr. Layton,

In the previous election you informed the voters that as a condition of joining in a minority government you would demand a referendum on proportional representation. Will you keep your promise to me - a supporter, and constituent of an NDP parliamentarian and all Canadians, and demand that a vote be held? Will a reform minded leader be put into the Democratic Reform slot - Liberal or NDP? Had proportional representation been in place for the 40th Canadian Federal election we would not be having the trouble we are now, with your party and the Liberals dependent upon the Bloc for support, which is very troubling for people like myself. I am a democratic reformer first, and a New Democrat second, please keep your promise Mr. Layton. Canadian reformers are counting on you.

Thank you,
Steven J. Lee
St. Catharines

To get the information you need to contact your member of parliament click the link below:

Also please consult Fair Vote Canada's website to see the promises we can hold the parties to.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

The Big Three

Everyone I think who was born and raised in Southern Ontario, or many of the America's Great Lake States can intrinsically feel the importance of the automotive industry. The Big Three North American produces are GM, Ford and Chrysler. They have in many ways shaped the 20th century in almost every respect. Ford introduced mass production and refined efficiency that allowed for a great manufacturing boom.

The automotive industry shaped a way of life, they gave us access to a freedom of movement that was unheard of in the past. The predominance of the car in our society has changed our infrastructure, our cities, our culture, our way of life and where we live. These have been for the positive and the negative, for all the freedom there is urban sprawl, for all the employment there is pollution.

The dynamic new landscape of globalization has been felt particularly strongly through the auto industry. When globalization rears its head because a factory is moving to a far away land its impact is felt particularly hard when a plant is shut down and hundred lose their jobs devastating a community. There's another side though, and that's foreign competitors coming to North America, one only has to look on the road to see all of the Hondas and Toyotas to see what's happening. North America used to be a reliable market for the auto industry, but now the consumers look for what's cheap, and what works.

The auto industry is now in serious crisis. They have their hands out again, seeking money to stay afloat while the world economy loops about in its tailspin. On one hand I think from a business point of view it would simply be best to allow these companies to declare bankruptcy and go through the painful process to restructure themselves. They suffer terrible inefficiencies, and if they are not fixed they will merely return to our governments' capitals, hat in hand. The downside is the economic maelstrom that would unleash. So many individuals, families, communities, regions, and countries are dependent upon these manufacturers that if they fell the fallout may be incalculable.

I throwing good money in after bad, it's a bad idea as an individual and worse as a government. These Big Three need to prove that they've found a realistic solution to their problems, possibly be simplifying their operation, is it really necessary for GM to have twelve brands (Buick, Cadillac, Chevrolet, Daewoo, GMC, Holden, Hummer, Opel, Pontiac, Saab, Saturn, Vauxhall)? What are the real differences between a Buick, Chevy, Pontiac or Saturn car, it just costs more in marketing.

If the auto industry fails it would be a truly incredible and awful sight for the ramifications on life in North America. It's something that paying now merely delays it for another day, but that day may inevitably come sooner rather than later.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Our Land

It is American Thanksgiving soon, and about a month ago Canadian Thanksgiving past. Thanksgiving never struck me as a particularly important holiday, but it has gained importance in my life and the lives of my peers because it is the first major holiday on the academic calendar that allows most students to venture home. This has also led to the infamous "Turkey Dump," a phenomenon where college students grow weary of their long distance relationships and break up over Thanksgiving.

I have very much moved off the topic I wanted to discuss. Thanksgiving is about really one thing, the colonization of North America by Europeans, obviously at the expense of Native North Americans. The policies enacted under a variety of governments over a string of centuries has really only made matters worse. Policies ranged from war to active genocide, starvation, exploitation, deportation, and social engineering schemes. The legacy of our provincial and federal governments are deeply marred by our treatment toward Native peoples. It is a mark that should shame Canadians.

While I'm deeply troubled by our historic relations to the Aboriginals I have a greater concern about our contemporary relationship with Native issues. At the moment Natives live on these horrible social arrangements called reserves where according to their original intention they are supposed to eek out a living as their ancestors had in the 17th century. This is backwards. In countries across the world it is not the goal of government policy to keep aboriginal groups tied to a time and a place that is outside the modern world.

Instead of integrating Native people into our society, we've excluded them, and our attempts to integrate them have done more harm than good. If we place people in the relative wilderness and expect them to govern themselves can we really be surprised when E. coli breaks out, or there is corrupt governance.

I don't have a solution, not really, but my feeling is that the reserves are not it. How are Natives suppose to end up anywhere but the bottom of society unless they relinquish ideas about maintaining a standard of living contemporaneous with European contact? Maybe it would be best for the Canadian government to repeal the Indian Act, abolish the reserve system, divide the land between the tribe, over them the same tax benefits, and pay each Native a hefty sum, and wish them luck.

How long do we compensate Aboriginals for their land? If Canada survives that long, in 500 years do we still make noise about how we took their land, how this is theirs by rights. How long before their land is our land, Natives and new Canadians included? I think it may be time to change things and for us to acknowledge the reality of what the 21st century looks like.

Sunday, November 2, 2008

Writing the Last Chapter on 2008

This Tuesday millions of American citizens will go out and vote. Record turnout is predicted, which is a positive since their turnout has been on a progressive decline for many years now. On Wednesday (one assumes there will not be a repeat of the 2000 election fiasco) we will know who the next leader of the free world will be.

Polls indicate that it will be Barack Obama who will win, not only does he lead nationally (a fairly irrelevant number) but his total lead in individual states leads to an electoral victory well over 300 points, when only 270 are needed to win. The Democrats are projected to have about 250 seats in the House, and 55-60 Senators. While we must stagger at the nature of American democracy in many respects there are some things that I'm glad we are not a part of.

The most disturbing thing about American elections is that there are only ever really two parties. With the exception of the 1912 election when former-President Teddy Roosevelt ran as a Progressive candidate no national third party has one any electoral votes (ignoring the typically racist southern-minded of the mid-20th century). Ross Perot came close in 1992 but failed to achieve this goal. There are two non-Republican, non-Democratic Senators at the moment, one is Joe Liberman, who is the former-Vice Presidential nominee for the Dems in 2000, he got booted out for his cozy relationship with the Republicans. And there's Bernie Sanders, a social democrat from Vermont, which is fine if you're from Vermont.

So really this democracy is an osilation with two political parties, which on many issues aren't that far apart.

The electoral college is another thing. It massively increases the voting power of individuals from populace states, and disenfranchises the losing candidate's voters. A voter in Pennsylvania has a vote seven times 'heavier' than a voter in Montana. Pennsylvania has 21 electoral votes, Montana 3. The states operate on a first-past-the-post system to determine the winner (except Maine and Nebraska), who ever receives the most votes wins all the electoal votes, so even if the state is split 50-50, the electoral votes break 100-0. Republicans in Washington D.C., or Democrats in Utah never really get to express their choice for President.

Perhaps most worrying of all are the dramatic reports on the failure of automatic voting machines and other mechanical and programming failures of such technology. Some are from conscious sabotage, but most is machine error, like a report of one that would record the votes opposite of what they were, McCain votes for Obama and Obama votes for McCain. Clearly the numbers we see on the screen could be entirely irrelevant.

While the American idea of democracy is very attractive with their deep passions, entrenched democracy, and active vibrant debate (most of the time) there is still a deep flaw and on Tuesday as Americans pat themselves on the back, I'm going to be keeping that in mind.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Defining Qualities: Jihad, Elections and Obamanomics

There are a variety of things I'd like to discuss today and so I shall do my best to cover them all in a brief, and concise manner.

I am fresh from a seminar, what the particular seminar about is not really important, because what we talked about could crop up in almost a dozen different disciplines. The subject had to do with a particular historical group of Muslims and their attempt to overthrow a despotic regime and replace it with one more in line with the peoples needs. The regime would not go down without a fight so they declared a jihad and began a protracted military campaign against the ruler.

The opening question of the seminar was really quite simple, "What does jihad mean?" The answer around the room was a fairly uniform "Holy War" answer. That assumption is utterly incorrect, yet the T.A. did not step in and correct them, and I thought it would be in bad form to tell seven of my colleagues that they were clearly wrong. Jihad means literally to strive or to struggle. Muslims adhere to several interpretations of what jihad is and it is expected that a Muslim goes through such a period. The most critical jihad, the founder of the religion said, was the one between you and your faith. Yes, there is a component of war, but there is also one of fighting injustice, and also the personal struggle to do the right thing.

Sigh. I just expect more from my colleagues.

On the Canadian election results I can say quite honestly that I am satisfied with the results though I wish certain things turned out differently. I wanted a stronger NDP presence in the House, and weaker Liberal, Bloc and Conservative one. The outcome is truly unknown right now. The question is how will the House of Commons operate when it returns. Also, who will staff the cabinet. Did Harper receive enough solid candidates to make a stronger cabinet, or is it him, a handful of others and another bunch of suits?

Also, will the historically low turn out push the parties in to finally enacting much needed election reform in this country, as advocated in an earlier posting on this blog. What an utter waste of time First-Past-The-Post is. With such a system you might as well just have two parties, or just anoint a benevolent dictator.

The final thing that occurred to me to write about is that a few days ago I was watching TV and I saw the speech Obama gave on the economy, and his solution to the economic crisis. I've since read the reports of what he said in the debate but I'm not sure I can agree to everything he said, but the main tenents of his economic policy is pretty much what I would do in his shoes. The technology investment fund, investment in clean energy industry (not subsidies, investments), and the best part - Infrastructure investment.

The improvement of roads, rails and whatever else is critical to the success of any economy. According to many America's infrastructure has been slowly crumbling for decades (see the bridge collapse in Minnesota as proof). A broad spectrum investment program will put lots of people to work, and if the right areas are targeted it will jump start the economy.

That being said I oppose Obama's tax increase on those making over $250,000 - at first I thought it was reasonable, but the more reading I do about it the more I realize that small businesses are critical to economic growth and recovery. Also his tax plan relating to small businesses and thought to prevent outsourcing seems like whistling in the dark to me.

His speech made me much more comfortable that I have been about an Obama presidency before now. It's not the best economic strategy in the world, but it's alright, definitely satisfactory a B- plan. Still, if I was an Ohio voter instead of an Ontario observer I don't know who I'd vote for, though I have a great deal of respect for McCain and divided government.

We can only hope for the best and try to make the decisions that work best for us and our communities economically at this point. It should be an interesting next few weeks, months and years.

Monday, October 6, 2008

How to Save Our Democray

There's something rotten in the state of Denmark, and by Denmark I mean Canada. It's our electoral system, it sucks. Our current system goes by the name of First-Past-The-Post, its name comes from horse racing surprisingly enough. The idea is whoever is in front when the last vote is tallied wins the election. Whichever party accomplishes this goal in the most ridings forms government.

Here's the rub though, it usually doesn't work out for us voters very much. The popular vote does not reflect the composition of the parliament. Parties that receive majority governments usually only get 40% of the vote. The Bloc Quebecois usually has 1/6th of the seats, but only receive 10% of the vote (in a good year for them). The NDP on the other hand usually split the fraction in half, aka 20% of the vote, 10% of the seats. It's a pretty steady pattern. And the Greens, despite getting roughly 5% of the votes in the election they received no seats.

This is unconscionable in my opinion. Something must be done.

The solution is to introduce an element of proportional representation into the system. You would still have local candidates you would vote for, but there would also be a bunch of seats left over that could be allocated to the parties so that their percentages actually made sense. So, for example, if the Conservatives this election receive 38% of the vote, but 48% of the seats enough people are added to make that statement true, and they are allocated until the number appropriately match. There is a long complicated way to explain this but many countries practice this policy already, New Zealand is one of them, a country we can learn from. Australia as well has a very effective system of democracy we should consider.

Ok, so that deals with the House of Commons, the seat distribution is reflective of the actual total vote. What is the next hurdle? Oh yes, the Senate. The Canadian Senate is a ridiculous institution. First, the Prime Minister appoints the Senators. They are unelected. They have no constituency. The distribution of Senate seats does not reflect current population, or is in no way equal to one another. They serve a life-time term. I believe the following changes should be made to the Senate. First, there should be an equal number of Senators per province. The number that comes to mind is 10. I'm not sure what accommodation should be made for the North. It's something we can look in to. Then, Senators should serve six year terms (just as in Australia or the U.S.) and then stand for election. I don't know how you should run them, ridings I think is a bad idea. Maybe make them stand for a party, and then divide the winners by the 10% intervals, 50% - 5 seats, 10% - 1 seat etcetera and so on. That or just institute candidates running and those 10 with the most votes wins. Or voters could number their preferences of the candidates and then using Single Transferable Vote (also in Australia) the candidates are picked in a more consensus model. It's a little complicated to explain here.

Next step would be to empower the Senate again, make sure they understand they have real power and authority. The House of Commons should be the natural seat of government power, but if need be the Senate is there to check the power of the Commons. The Senate should remain a domain of "sober second thought."

The next steps to save our democracy do not involve government but the people. The first, and very important step is to make the creation of political parties much simpler. Right now, if I form a political party Nov. 1, and an election were held on Jan. 1, the candidate my party endorses would not show up on the ballot, they would read as an Independent, or just the candidate's name. You also need 250 Members. Now, this isn't facebook, it's members of a political party, which can be hard to do, it's not just signatures. There's also bringing on an overseer to make sure things are legit, but I don't have a problem with that.

Running for office is the next big snag. It costs $1000 to run for office in this country. There is actually a pretty sound constitutional argument that says that any restrictions on standing for election is unconstitutional, but that is neither here nor there. Immediately $1000 should be cut to $500. I'd prefer it to be $4.99 but I understand the nature of realism here. The other requirements to run for office (have a licensed accountant, obtain signatures from valid electors in the riding, and hand in all the proper paperwork on time) are fair enough as is. I think simply if you're trying to break into the political scene, or you want to run as an independent advocates for the poor and disenfranchised rarely got a grand just laying about.

Finally, the last point is definitely about us. Compulsory voting should be instituted. If you don't have a valid reason for not voting you will be fined. They also have this policy in Australia, and it's quite a success. Countries with compulsory voting have 95% participation. You may say that the parties don't represent you, but if it's easier to form parties, and people to run, and parliament is more reflective of actual voting then POOF! There it is. But for you cynics I have a solution. NOTA, a beautiful acronym meaning None of the Above. If none of the candidates satisfy you vote for none of them. Done and done.

I think Canada is a wonderful country but our democratic system is deeply flawed. We should reform it and make it better, and then change the nature of our politics.

Monday, September 29, 2008

Social Serices and the Decline of the West

I went to the doctor recently which got me thinking about the end of the world. Jump aboard my train of thought, if you will. As Canadians we are incredibly lucky to have the healthcare system that we do. The other day I walked into a walk-in clinic. Well, not walked in, hopped, I sprained an ankle so walking wasn't really in the cards for me. I presented the receptionist with my healthcard, she swiped it, I waited for a few minutes, saw the doctor and hopped out. No charges, no questions asked.

What worries me is that every so often we hear this, "The healthcare system is on the verge of bankruptcy," "The system is strained to the limit," "We simply cannot continue as we are into the future." It's those damn Baby-Boomers. Yes, I level my scorn at thee. They inherited across the Western World a magnificent social safety net. Pensions, wages, healthcare, all those nifty little things that make life not only comfortable, but wonderful. For all its faults the social safety nets are beautiful.

However the Boomers became complacent. They took this new world built for them and hugged it tightly to their busom and then... had a kid or two and stopped. Population growth shuddered and screeched to a halt. Effective contraception and the liberation of women, and the shrinking of the family. Don't get me wrong, those aren't bad things (the first two are fantastic), but it means there are now there are consequences to be paid.

The oldest of the Boomers is at the moment 62 years old, and not that far from 63 I may add. Two years from retirement, and they didn't leave anyone to do their jobs. Super. Immigration has helped, but we tend not to bring in 20 year olds (costs of schooling outsourced) that will work for 45 years, we tend to bring in older adults, with limited years, at least from anecdotal observation. Most of the time spent in healthcare is in the final years of your life - I heard that once. The most costly period for a person's life to the medical system is in the last two years of their life. Again, casual observation and life experience would seem to confrim that for me.

As our social services become strained and buckle under the weight of a new gigantic elderly retired group of people I wonder what will become of our society. Will that net snap and tatter?

It makes me wonder sometimes if we're on the edge of a tectonic shift in life in the West. Whether the standard of living is about to drastically change and we are unaware. Will the pressures of a global economy lower our wages to those of the developing world? Will the middle class cease to exist?

It makes me think of the citizens of Rome who entered the fifth century, their empire in shambles, and only a century before they viewed themselves as stretching infinitely into the future. They just faded into history as the Dark Ages rose and new powers came into their own.

Is the sun setting on our way of life?

Saturday, September 27, 2008

Why I am Voting Conservative

In case you haven't noticed there's a Federal election on. The opinion polls indicate that the Conservatives will form a large minority or a close majority government. Frankly, I like the idea of another Conservative government. For verification please consult this website it is highly accurate,

The riding I vote in is a Liberal-Conservative riding. There's only two parties that can win in Brampton West, and that's the Liberals or the Conservatives. In recent elections I've voted NDP. It's mostly a protest vote. In the past I didn't believe in the Conservative Party's platform, or the Liberal's for that matter. The NDP and I usually agree, I don't like their 'fringe' policies, but their general spirit is something I like, the 'conscious of the parliament.' There's something about a smug, self-righteous, pious, holier-than-thou voice that really appeals to me.

The projection implies its a toss-up between the Conservative and the Liberals in the 905, leaning towards the Conservatives, which I'm comfortable with. I don't like the Liberals - at all. There's something about a party who occupies the mushy middle that irritates me. I know the Conservatives, the Greens, the NDP, and the Bloc have broader philosophy that adhere to. The Liberals are the popular poll results, "The environment is polling pretty high... I guess that's something we should look into then..."

That brings me to the next point. I don't like this focus on the environment. While I think we should switch off the carbon economy, and also I think we should be stewarts of our environment. That being said I don't think we can "shift" our entire tax structure to punish "polluters." Carbon dioxide is not a pollutant, if they are we should really start taxing breathing, all things being equal.

This election also could result in something I've wanted, a Conservative minority supported by the NDP. The best of both worlds in my opinion. I don't think anyone needs to be worried about. If the Conservatives get a minority government they will be hampered by three or four political parties pulling them to the left. I understand that a majority government of the most right-wing party in this country would be upsetting. Considering is likely in such a result 60% of the populace would be voting for someone else, and yet they would have 100% of the power. Our electoral process sucks, I'll discuss this at a future time.

Let's look quickly at the people who want to be our Prime Minister.

Elizabeth May - The Green Party. Oh, Auntie May. Besides what I don't like about the Green Party (a lot, sorry Global Warming - I don't fully buy it) does anyone really believe Elizabeth May, with no parliamentary or governing experience is prepared to be prime minister? In addition she would have to election dozens of MPs to accomplish this. Highly unlikely.

Gilles Duceppe - The Bloc Quebecois. The separatists only run 75 candidates, and they're down in the polls. While Duceppe is a quite successful politician, and a pretty sharp fellow (for a separatist) he is unlikely to be PM, and the irony alone would be delicious.

Stephan Dion - The Liberal Party. I don't believe he's a bad guy, I think he's merely an idealist. Unfortunately I think the idealism is misplaced, and that the fight against global warming and carbon dioxide in the face of economic recession is ridiculous. The problems within his caucus, challenges to his leadership of the party, would make his government highly unstable.

Jack Layton - The New Democratic Party. Oh, the NDP, the far left of Canadian (elected) politics. They've never achieved government, nor come even very close. It's a shame, I'd like to see what it would look like, and if hell would freeze over, or Alberta sink into the sea. I think Layton has strong leadership, and I think he's a strong parliamentarian.

Stephen Harper - The Conservative Party. Forced into the middle. He has to moderate his views, being dragged by the other parties leftwards. He also has the concerns of a cautiously leftist people.

I'm a big fan of steady-as-she-goes government. We don't need any revolutionary policies. Sure, let's tweek it, but there's not need for a revoltion. I'm not really favouring any party right now. I'm not an environmentalist, I think we need to invest in social infrastructure, and I support the Afghan mission. No one exactly fits into my point of view, but we don't get to pick the policies, all we get is one vote. That's why I'm voting Conservative.

Starting Up

I suppose the first thing that is most important is to define the scope of the blog and the blogger. I am a university student in Ontario and I have an interest in politics. My political views have never lined up with a political party, but I find that the best way to describe myself is that I am an Orange Tory. Like all people I have views that are both left-wing and right-wing. In the past I've voted and worked for the NDP in political campaigns. That being said, I don't accept the NDP policies as being sacrosanct, in fact I think they can be very out of touch. I believe the Liberals are power hungry and without a strong moral compass. The Conservatives aren't quite where I am. I am a federalist social democrat with moderate tendencies.

That's where I got the name from, Orange Tory, a spin on the term Red Tory, or Blue Liberal.

I will be writing commentaries, and reactions to news and of course my favourite, predictions. I also will give my views and opinions on social issues, and events. I had a blog before, but I found that I limited myself too much to just the political. I think I will use this as a vehicle to express opinions I have about anything and everything. Less CBC's The National, and more Rick Mercer's Rants.