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.