Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Pro-Minority Majority

There is a recent article in the Globe and Mail that despite Stephen Harper’s success and advertising campaign very few Canadians are comfortable giving him and his party a majority government. Only 26% of Canadians according to this poll are comfortable with the idea of Harper winning a majority government in the next election, 30% are extremely unhappy with the idea.

People are obviously welcome to whatever opinion they desire, but I would like to comment on this feeling. I cannot help but think that Canadians are hesitant to give any party a majority government. Given the constitutional power invested in the Parliament, which has accrued to the Prime Minister, we elect a virtual dictator when we put a majority government in office. Majority governments are dramatically less accountable and cannot be as easily held to public pressure.

While minority governments may be “unstable”, majorities suffer from far too much stability. The fate of the government is in the hands of one leader, not the people’s. I wonder if similar percentages would exist (or be higher) for Michael Ignatieff, or Jack Layton? Maybe Canadians are tired of majorities.

It’s unlikely that Canadians are intellectually thinking that majorities are less accountable, but they probably like the idea of the power of the government constantly being confounded by the Opposition. I know I do anyway, at least until we can make Canada a more democratic country.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Egypt's Looking Glass

Anyone who has turned on the news since January 25th will have heard of the unrest in Egypt. The problems in Egypt were sparked by a fruit vendor in Tunisia who set himself on fire in protest against his government after his business was shut down by the autocratic regime. This sacrificial act of desperation against government abuse became a symbol for the people of Tunisia and after weeks of protest and unrest the dictatorial president stepped down on January 14, 2011.

Quickly, the success of the Tunisian Revolt inspired similar actions in other North African and Middle Eastern nations. One of these nations was Egypt. The narrative of the story is well known. Tired of thirty years of autocratic rule under Hosni Mubarak, President of Egypt, and led by the Tunisian example, the people of Cairo, Alexandria and other cities in Egypt took to the street. In particular the famous images of protesters occupying Cairo’s central Tahrir square have acted as a symbol of the people’s resistance. On February 11 Hosni Mubarak resigned from the presidency.

Many observers from the Western World have observed the events as a democratic revolution, but I’m less certain. The one clear goal of the Egyptian protesters was the removal of Hosni Mubarak. The desired aftermath of the protests are less clear, or more to the point, those of the majority of the Egyptian population.

I wonder if we Westerners aren’t seeing what we want to see. Do we see democrats where there may only be a handful? Two thoughts came to mind when I watched these events unfold. The first was the French Revolution. After the French Revolution, which also had a similar goal of toppling the former regime with a less clear goal of what was to follow, the new republic held an election. The results of the election are a bit surprising because the parliament that was returned to Paris was packed full of conservatives and those that were sceptical if not hostile to the Revolution. Many, in fact, were monarchists. How did this happen? Well, the Revolution was largely a result of actions of the urban classes in Paris, and not of the entire nation, and then, as now, the urban classes were more liberal than their rural counterparts. This began the unravelling of the Revolution.

Could not the same thing happen in Egypt? We keep hearing about Egypt’s youth bulge, but what about their parents? What about generations of people rained in a country that has been ruled by military dictators, and scorn the Western democracies? What are their feelings on our system of government?

The second thought I had was about the Cold War. If the Egyptian Revolution had occurred during the Cold War I wondered if the Soviet media would not have depicted it as a class-based revolution. That the proletariat of Egypt, tired of religious dogma of the opposition and the oppression of the Mubarak regime had taken to the streets for their class interests. You could cast the story that way if you wanted. It’s all a matter of perception.

As a democrat I am happy that Egypt’s dictator has been toppled. However, I am not confident that a flowering of Western-style democracy is around the corner. If an election is held in Egypt I would not be surprised to see authoritarian parties do well, even secular ones. And like that, the cliché that has overcome the media of “one person, one vote, one election” may come to pass. This is one prediction I desperately hope I’m wrong about.

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Five Years with Stephen

On January 23 it was the fifth anniversary of the election of Stephen Harper as Prime Minister of Canada. I had not originally planned to make any special note of Prime Minister Harper’s half-decade as the leader of the government, but then I saw a commercial on television that changed my mind.

Over the last few weeks the Conservative Party of Canada has released a number of political attack ads targeting leader of the opposition, Michael Ignatieff. Harper also recently concluded an interview with Peter Mansbridge, and then came this ad:

I’m all for speculating for how elections will turn out, I’m less interested in when they will be called. That being said, it looks like this spring might be another election season, and since I’m in the business of predicting elections, this might be Stephen Harper’s best shot at a majority in a long time.

I should first make something abundantly clear, despite having “Tory” as the second part of my blog’s name I am not a member of the Conservative Party and I am not a partisan for them. In fact, I’ve only ever been a member of the NDP. That being said, I believe Harper is making a highly measured and effective pitch to “middle Canada.” Harper has cultivated a certain hockey dad mystique about him, I don’t know if it’s all an act, he does like hockey and he is a dad. Harper has increasingly put himself in a position where a large number of Canadians would likely nod along with him.

During his interview with Peter Mansbridge, viewable here, Mansbridge asked Harper if he intended to bring the death penalty back to Canada. Harper said that no, he didn’t have any plans to bring it back, but (and here’s where he gets a whole lot of Canadians nodding) there are times when he thinks it may be appropriate, and thought it could be used in extraordinary circumstances. The next day Ignatieff and the Liberals took the bait, they jumped on it criticizing Harper for a secret agenda. I frankly view this as a mistake. For the Conservatives to make their opponents look foolish next election all they have to do is say, “We don’t plan to bring back the death penalty, we just sometimes this, like many Canadians, that it should be used on our most vile criminals.” And there you have it.

Probably hundreds of times in my life I’ve heard people’s reactions to crime news items and muttered how a person should be put to death if they get caught, if not worse. The rapists, pedophiles, and those who break all the social norms. It’s the type of argument that would work on the vast majority of the suburban family types I know and grew up with, those that don’t think the death penalty should come back, but believe that perhaps there are those who deserve death for what they’ve done.

The second think I’d like to point out is that ad that I started the blog with, that I embedded above (I just learned how to do that!). The ad is cheesy, like all Canadian political ads, but there are two features I want to point out. The first, because I think it’s funny, is that if you go to the 38 second mark and watch you’ll see the Prime Minister drinking from a coffee cup. Pause at 39 seconds. It’s a Beetles coffee mug, the subtle reminder that our P.M. has shown a sense of humour lately and some musical talent. The second thing, is that from the narration, to the imagery and the messaging, the commercial reminds me of an accounting ad. That’s what Harper is selling Canada, he’s a competent, effective manager, and you should trust him to manage your biggest investment, your country.

I’m not a Harper fan, though I do respect our Prime Minister. I see the politics here, like using E.I. benefits that opposition forced into the budget to run on yourself, but I also see a good appeal to voters. Five years under Harper has not been that bad, and in general he has been a pretty good P.M., not perfect, but good. I have my complaints, and I don’t know if I ever want to see a Harper majority, but with moves like these we may see one within the next 12 months.

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Accidental Big Brother

The other day I was reflecting on the responsibilities of teachers to maintain a respectable presence in the community. Teacher-candidates are warned about their public appearances. In previous decades that would mean teachers would have to endeavour to be model citizens in their community, or maintain a low profile. Once a person could go home, close their doors, and enjoy their privacy.

With the digital age upon us that is no longer the case. As a professional-in-training in the education sector I’ve become highly aware of the scrutiny new media, but we are not alone. Employers are increasingly using social networks to screen potential employees.

With social media we’ve essentially abandoned much of our privacy. Our identities, broadly speaking, are now publicly accessible. Not to mention our activities, actions and believes are open to scrutiny. I am aware of the irony of this while writing a blog. Something else I find questionable is that we are more profoundly judged on how we interact with one another. In face-to-face interactions we curtail what we say based on who we are speaking with and where we are. How we talk to grandma at church is different than us shooting the breeze with a friend in the hallway, especially our sassy friends.

Social networking, such as Facebook, level the playing field. Posts on your wall, and photographs are completely removed from context. In addition, comments and postings you make are left to separate scrutiny beyond the one-on-one relationship.

A 2009 study from CareerBuilder stated that 45% of employers use Facebook to screen applicants. Does anyone believe this number is lower in 2011? 53% of candidates were excluded due to inappropriate or provocative photos, 29% for poor communication skills. For other factors check out the article, here .

Nearly 3 in 10 are excluded due to poor communication skills on Facebook? Start checking your spelling and grammar folks, because it might count one day soon.

The great fear in George Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four, or one of them, was that someone would be always watching you. Well instead of an all powerful state, or abusive corporations, it’s ourselves who have exposed ourselves to deep scrutiny. Now if you excuse me, I’m going to post this.