Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Give Peace a Chance

Today at school I spoke with someone about the election results in Toronto. Last night Rob Ford was elected with 47% in the municipal election in Toronto for mayor. To say Rob Ford has been a controversial character in this year’s election is somewhat of an understatement.

Some of the conservative elements of my mind think that Ford has been the target of the liberal-elite that characterizes every major metropolitan area. Ford does not have the refined elite air about him, not in the slightest. I don’t believe Smitherman did either, but at least he ran in the right circles from the point of view of these so-called elites.

Attempts to caricature Ford as an extremist seems baseless. He’s a Toronto city councillor, that gets you to Red Tory at best. That doesn’t mean Ford is not to the right of the average Torontonian, but I doubt he’s a paleo-conservative that Dick Cheney would be proud of.

Attacks on Ford’s personal failings, well, that’s something else entirely. Drug use and allegations of domestic violence may have soured my vote for him. I probably would have voted for Joe Pantalone, but I didn’t follow the race that closely.

While I have a very small readership there’s something I believe in that I wished more people would follow. While I am highly critical of candidates during a campaign, once their elected I think a certain grace period should be allowed before we start making judgments on their competence and effectiveness.

One thing I worry about is whether or not Rob Ford is a fiscal conservative or a fiscal extremist. I have, at times, labelled myself a fiscal conservative. Being smart about balancing budgets and cutting spending requires a surgeon’s hands and a scalpel. Ford has made comments, such as removing streetcar lines (which was a rumour denied by the campaign), that he intends to tackle the budget with a hacksaw and the grace of a drunk.

That being said, I am going to reserve final judgement until Ford actually does something I can evaluate. I bet Mayor-Elect Ford wishes the media would cut him the slack a small-time blogger does.

Also, congratulations to the candidates that won in Ontario's municipal/local elections yesterday. Best of luck in serving your communities and leading them into the 21st century.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

2010 U.S. Midterm Election Prediction

I can't resist making a prediction. The election will be going on in two weeks time, Tuesday November 2, 2010. Despite what I said a few months ago I did do predictions for the governor's races as well. I have no firm prediction about the outcome of the election in the House of Representatives. What I will predict is that the U.S. House of Representatives will be taken over by the Republican Party, I predict they will capture 45 seats, but that is gut instinct and not based on any science. I'll post in a couple weeks to see how well my prediction turned out, and discuss the results broadly.

Here is something... controversial in my U.S. Senate prediction. My current numbers show that the Senate will be split 50-50 between Democrats and Republicans. This will be a massive turning point in the American political narrative, and the Obama presidency. With no clear majority both parties will have to work hand-in-hand to get ANYTHING done. Given how politics has been shaped over the last two years I sincerely doubt that can happen. Senate Predictions are below.

As for the Governors? Well, it tends to be less nationally partisan, each state has its own distinct politics. But since the census has been conducted the states are going to redesign the congressional district boundaries, and given the tradition of gerrymandering (see a previous blog entry) who controls the governors' mansions will determine who may hold the U.S. House of Representatives in the coming 10 years. For the Governors I predict that by the end of Tuesday night there will be 30 states with Republican governors and 20 with Democratic governors. I predict that Republicans will win 24 of the 36 governor races.

Predictions are broken into Solid, Likely, Lean, Slight, and Toss Up. If there is no subcategory it's because no race matches that description from my estimation.

Senate Prediction

I've ranked the races by those most likely to be won by Republicans to those most likely to be won by Democrats.

Solid Republican

South Carolina - DeMint
Idaho - Crapo
North Dakota - Hoeven
Kansas - Moran
Oklahoma - Coburn
Arizona - McCain
Alabama - Shelby
Utah - Lee
South Dakota - Thune
Arkansas - Boozman
Iowa - Grassley
Indiana - Coats
Louisiana - Vitter
Georgia - Isakson
North Carolina - Burr

Likely Republican

Florida - Rubio
Ohio - Portman
Pennsylvania - Toomey
Missouri - Blunt

Lean Republican

Wisconsin - Johnson
New Hampshire - Ayotte
Kentucky - Paul
Colorado - Buck

Toss Up

Alaska - Miller - Republican
Nevada - Angle - Republican
Illinois - Kirk - Republican
West Virginia - Raese - Republican

Slight Democratic

California - Boxer
Washington - Murray

Likely Democratic

Connecticut - Blumenthal

Solid Democratic

Oregon - Wyden
New York - Gillibrand
Delaware - Coons
Vermont - Leahy
New York - Schumer
Maryland - Mikulski
Hawaii - Inouye

Governors Predictions

This follows the same format as the Senate above.

Solid Republican

Kansas - Brownback
Wyoming - Mead
Nebraska - Heineman
Utah - Herbert
South Dakota - Daugaard
Alabama - Bentley
Tennessee - Haslam
Oklahoma - Fallin
Alaska - Parnell
Iowa - Branstad
Idaho - Otter
Michigan - Snyder

Likely Republican

Arizona - Brewer
Texas - Perry
Nevada - Sandoval
Pennsylvania - Corbett
New Mexico - Martinez
South Carolina - Haley

Lean Republican

Georgia - Deal
Illinois - Brady
Wisconsin - Walker

Slight Republican

Maine - LePage
Ohio - Kasich

Toss Up

Florida - Scott - Republican
Oregon - Kitzhaber - Democratic

Slight Democratic

Hawaii - Abercrombie
Vermont - Shumlin

Lean Democratic

Connecticut - Malloy
Rhode Island - Caprio
Minnesota - Dayton
California - Brown
Massachusetts - Patrick
Colorado - Hickenlooper
Maryland - O'Malley
Arkansas - Beebe
New Hampshire - Lynch
New York - Cuomo

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Vote, Or Pay a Fine

A look ahead to begin. The American election is on November 2, which is now only three weeks away. Next week I’ll make my final predictions before election day. Normally I hold off a couple days before the event and predict the night of, but I want to get my predictions in sooner rather than later. Look forward to that.

An election is approaching in Ontario. I’m having some trouble participating in the democratic process this time. That being said it got me thinking about how we exercise democracy in this country. The fundamental building block in our democracy is that citizens vote and popularly elect officials to represent their community’s views. There is a part I wonder about. What if no one votes?

Despite what you might hear Canada’s voting rate is not really trending that far downward. In fact in 2006 the turnout was 64.7% and in 58.8% in 2008. 58.8% is the lowest turnout in Canada’s history. Post World War II the highest turnout was 79.4% in the 1958 election. For much of the twentieth century the voting rate has hovered at about 75%. In the 2000s the number averages in about the 60’s.

A majority of Canadians still vote, but what if the number continues to decline? If an election was held and 55% vote, is the election still valid? What about 50%? 45%? What if 30% of Canadians vote in an election? At one point do we say that the elections results are invalid?

I believe that the more people who vote the more legitimate an election result is. Therefore the question comes to mind, why don’t we have compulsory voting? If everyone voted the elections would represent the true voice of the country. For those that don’t want to actually pick a political party or politician they can pick None-of-the-Above.

There is another aspect to consider. It would transform politics. Given that turnout is so important in our elections parties sometimes appeal to the extreme ends of the political spectrum to turnout votes. If everyone was going to vote anyway political parties would have to work on building majorities across their ridings and the country.

Changes would have to be made to our elections. I believe polls would have to be open from 7 AM to 10 PM Sunday to Saturday. That’s in an ideal world. You could also accomplish full voting through early or mail-in voting.

Voting, in my opinion is a civic duty, not just a civic right. It’s a responsibility citizens have to their government to ensure that the system functions as it should. I know there are problems with this idea, but I believe it is something that should be seriously considered if voting rates fall to 50%. I just wonder how far turnout can drop before action must be taken.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

HST: Talking Taxes

This week I’m doing something different. Like a decent cover band, I’m taking requests. Not at all like those lame bands that refuse to play Rage Against the Machine for my friends and I, imbibing respectful social drinks. I was asked to look into the HST.

Harmonized Sales Tax. It’s one of those innocuous phrases that really doesn’t reveal too much about it on the surface. The tax has been harmonized between the federal GST (Goods and Services Tax) and Provincial Sales Tax (of whichever province you are discussing).

I was linked this article discussing the tax. To be truly honest I had not given the HST much consideration. I consider myself an informed and active member of the citizenry, but I didn’t really may much heed to the HST while it was in the height of the debate nor when it was introduced. Why not? Well, I think people often overreact to taxation. That’s not to say that tax increases should not be challenged, but there are some people out there that seem to think there is no such thing as a good tax increase. Clearly that cannot be true, there has to be a justification to, at times, raise taxes, temporarily or permanently.

In the province of Ontario we have structural deficits. That means that our government now spends more than it takes in in revenues, putting the recession aside. The deficit, the annual shortfall is presently at $20 billion. The HST was introduced to close this gap and streamline the taxing process. So, I pose the following question. If we are not to increase taxation, what $20 billion worth of spending and programs would you like to cut? Education? Infrastructure? Healthcare?

As the article’s author, Tony Wilson, points out, the HST is more progressive than the GST, that is it ‘punishes’ low-income individuals less through greater compensation, at least in British Columbia, the case in Ontario, I’m not familiar with the details.

In a way, an increase in the sales tax is the fairest way to increase taxation. Think of it this way. If you increased taxes on income, you’re either employing class warfare and targeting the rich, or you’re pressing on the middle-class, who already have a significant tax burden. Corporate taxes? Well, in the Age of Globalization provinces must remain competitive to ensure that international business is drawn to our shores. Corporate taxes can hurt employment and future investment. Fees almost never raise a significant amount of money. Sales taxes are paid by everyone – citizens, businesses and governments. It’s a tax on everyone because everyone in society buys things. That’s the beauty of a value added tax.

As Wilson points out, the marginal impact of the tax may be very small. Overall, people of British Columbia and Ontario may see very little change in the amount they pay in taxes.

Taxes are a really sensitive issue for some. See, United States of America – Tea Party Movement. I see taxes as the price we pay to live in the type of country and province we do. I find the tax rate my family and I pay reasonable, and when I make a decent salary and government runs off with a good chunk of it, I’ll likely nod and say, that’s the price of living like I do, where I do, and as happily as I do.