Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Iowa GOP Caucus 2012 Preview

This will be my final post for 2011. Normally for one of my last posts I do some sort of retrospective on the previous year. However, next Tuesday is the Republican Iowa Caucus, and I wanted to discuss that before the votes were cast. Since I have mismanaged my blogging schedule, as per usual, I will dedicate this post to the vote happening next week and next week to some other topic, possibly the wrap up of 2011.

Historically I have not done too badly in the prediction business. Before I lay out any prediction I may have for the Iowa Caucus I figured I should outline some scenarios for what may happen. For polling information you can check these links: RealClearPolitics           538 

Scenario 1: The Boring Outcome. One of the most likely, and least interesting, outcomes of the Iowa Caucus will be that Former Governor Mitt Romney (R-MA) will win. Romney is highly favoured in New Hampshire, which means he could win both early states and run away with the nomination. As a political junkie I would like to see a horserace. If the nomination process could drag out until June, I would be a pretty happy guy. Letting the reasonable moderate win so early on would be a tad depressing.

Scenario 2: The Outside Upset. Ron Paul (R-TX), it is fair to say, is not popular with establishment Republicans. His libertarian values and radical solutions to the problems ailing America are nothing short of controversial. Still, his popular appeal and aggressive attacks on failed Democratic and Republican policies has earned him a large, energized base. The media have not taken Paul seriously, and typically overlook him. If Ron Paul wins Iowa with over 30%, it will be a major upset and change the field.

Scenario 3: Iowa Vote Split. A tight race is made tighter by several candidates receiving between 10-20%. This sort of outcome could lead to a surprise winner, or the perceived weakness of one of the major contenders, especially Mitt Romney.

Scenario 4: A Conservative Surprise. One of the conservative Republicans, Bachmann (R-MN), Perry (R-TX), Santorum (R-PA) or Huntsman (R-UT) (least likely), could use vote splitting and an unsettled electorate to take Iowa. If any one of these four win the state it would fundamentally change the complexion of the race. Any of those four would be strengthened in future races and become the media topic.

Scenario 5: Gingrich (R-GA) Wins. I view this as very unlikely. His boom in the polls, and sudden contraction makes it improbable that he will win. If he does, it will match fairly closely to Scenario 4, but there will be less of a surprise. Many of his former supporters will likely rally back to him.

So, my prediction. None of the candidates will receive more than 32% of the vote, and I believe the winner will likely be around 25-30%. The outcome of Iowa will probably only confuse the outcome of the race rather than make it obvious. Iowa often gives pundits a surprise, I expect it to do the same here. Michele Bachmann has done very well in recent debates, and she will be over the 10% she receives in most polls, I assume she will be third. Aside from Huntsman, I am fairly confident all the candidates will be in the 10+% range, which will be a very divided field. At the moment I am inclined to believe Romney will come second and Ron Paul first, but the race will be tight. I am also prepared to eat A LOT of humble pie on January 3 if I am wrong. So, the Iowa Republican Caucus, according to the Orange Tory, is Paul, Romney, Bachmann, Gingrich, Perry, Santorum, Huntsman. 

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Erosion of Civil Societies and its Effect on Democracy

This week I am taking a slightly different tact from my regular post. I guess you could call this almost an essay.

For a paper I recently completed for one of my courses I had to read an American political scientist named James C. Scott. Dr. Scott teaches at Yale University and is an expert in peasant politics, and the power of the state in relation to the voiceless elements of a given society. In his 1985 book, The Moral Economy of the Peasant: Rebellion and Subsistence in Southeast Asia, Scott argues that the cultural element is a key consideration to revolt and protest. Complicated networks of dependency and interrelationship in a peasant society led to informal organization and effective resistance to oppression.

This dovetailed strangely with some of the materials my students have been using on their final papers. One of the chapters in the text they have been using discusses the importance of civil societies in Victorian Canada. The Coles’ Notes are that civil societies in early nineteenth century Canada helped those with limited political voice, and who were marginalized overall, be heard and contribute to the democratic process.

The final element that has been rattling around in my head of late is the report released by Samara Canada called The Real Outsiders. The study focuses on Canadians who are somewhat disengaged from traditional democracy in Canada. Samara’s report received quite a bit of media attention and editorials in response to its overall assessments.

One of the contributors to this discourse mentioned the importance in the decline of civil societies to the decline in democratic participation. Having all of these different notions banging around inside my head led me to draw some conclusions to the changing patterns in Canadian society and democracy overall.

Someone commenting on the report from Samara pointed out that the decline of civil societies has made the entry point in democratic involvement quite high. Fifty years ago most members of a community were members of a number of local organizations. Religious organizations, charitable groups, local governance groups, school councils, unions and volunteer associations allowed people to serve their communities and organize without entering formal democratic politics. In addition these organizations allowed individuals to lobby for policy choices and gain experience leading organizations, paving the way for more involvement in public life.

Today, civil society seems remarkably weak to me, at least based upon my own anecdotal observations and experiences. The decline of church attendance, and other traditional non-state institutions could be a serious impediment to democratic participation. Democratic governance can be extremely esoteric to new initiates. The role the federal or provincial governments play in our daily lives may not be immediately apparent, much of what is apparent is normally annoying – poor infrastructure, ineffective bureaucracy, parking tickets, etc. Motivating people to plunge into the complicated system can be daunting. On the other hand the mission and purpose of community groups and their effectiveness is quite obvious. Experience on a smaller local level can be leveraged to greater political participation. I particularly wonder about the impact on young people. These community organizations, traditionally, would be the gateway to greater participation.

Since the 1980s with the rapid growth of globalization the traditional groups within society have seen real erosion. Members of our society are mostly concerned with their own affairs, and have limited connections to their communities. Scott spoke of the importance of local culture, but local traditions have broken down dramatically overtime. New subcultures and digital societies have sprung up now that people have the freedom to organize themselves based on their interests instead of their geography, or culture.

We participate in groups of like-minded people, with like-minded interests, but we no longer know our neighbours or local needs. The erosion of civil society likely means that we are less committed to our communities. Sometimes it can feel like we are a nation of 34 million individuals, with only the vaguest of common interest and connection, the province even more so, 12 million strangers that happen to have the same geography. Our technological isolation from each other may be the root of this disconnect, given how local society is so key to political organization.

Perhaps now it is time for us to less enamoured with the idea that we can talk to anyone on the other side of the world, but that we should reach out to people just outside our doors. 

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Intro: NDP Leader's Race

As I have mentioned in previous blog posts I am a member of the Ontario New Democratic Party. As a member of the ONDP I am by default a member of the federal New Democratic Party of Canada. On this blog I have talked about my shifting voting patterns, and my sympathies for ideas on both the left and right. I voted NDP in May 2011, and I was very pleased with the breakthrough of the NDP, but I more often disagree with them than their provincial cousins.

However, ever since I turned 18 I have participated in every election I could. There is also something attractive in selecting the next Leader of the Opposition and shaping the NDP more into the party I want it to be. First, let’s give a rundown of the candidates (alphabetically):

Niki Ashton – MP for Churchill, MB. The youngest potential leader. She is campaigning on a platform called “New Politics,” which she hopes to change the way government and democracy works in Canada. http://www.nikiashton.ca/

Robert Chisholm – MP for Dartmouth-Cole Harbour, NS. He is the former Leader of the Opposition in Nova Scotia. He is largely basing his campaign on his experience as a tested leader.

Nathan Cullen – MP for Skeena-Bulkley Valley, BC. Most experienced MP in the race, elected in 2004. He has help multiple shadow cabinet posts in the NDP. He is noteworthy for his call on cooperation between the Liberal, NDP and Green Parties in the next election to help unite the progressive vote.

Paul Dewar – MP for Ottawa Centre, ON. He has been highly active on foreign affairs issues since arriving in Ottawa. He has strong ties to the grassroots of the party in Ontario and Manitoba.

Thomas Mulcair – MP for Outremont, QC.  The candidate with the most experience in government as a former cabinet minister in Quebec. He was Jack Layton’s Quebec Lieutenant and Deputy Leader.

Peggy Nash – MP for Parkdale-High Park, ON. Prominent union leader and long-term finance critique in the NDP shadow cabinet. Nash is strong on economic issues and emphasizes growth and social justice.

Romeo Saganash – MP for Abiti-Baie-James-Nunavik-Eeyou. Prominent Cree leader from Quebec, as Deputy Grand Chief of the Council of the Crees. His campaign has been focused on economic justice (particularly amongst Aboriginal Canadians) and environmental issues to date.

Martin Singh – Pharmacist from Nova Scotia. NDP activist and small businessman.

Brian Topp – Former President of the NDP. Former union leader and Chief of Staff to Saskatchewan Premier Roy Romanow. Topp is credited in part with the winning strategies implemented by Jack Layton.

I will not bother sharing any polling because there is not any fresh data out there. Generally, Brian Topp is thought to be in the lead. Paul Dewar, Thomas Mulcair and Peggy Nash are somewhere behind him. Nathan Cullen, Robert Chisholm, and Niki Ashton make up the third tier, leaving the remaining candidates with low single-digit support.

The NDP have a number of debates planned. You can read about the strategy here. It’s interesting to contrast the Republican race in the United States to the NDP race. There is not a lot of data to go on yet, but I found it interesting to be agreeing with the folks I was watching debate for once, generally.

Truth be told I have a favourite. I am slightly biased towards Romeo Saganash. I find his biography compelling. I am not totally sold. I want to see him do well in a debate, after he recovers from his bronchitis. You can find the debate here.Sadly, I’m not bilingual, so I rely upon the media to inform me of the relative performance of candidates.

I will be following the debates, the next one is in January, and I may be attending the convention in March. If there are some specific aspects you would like me to focus on I would be happy to give my coverage a specific bend.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011


Despite the fact that the media has been discussing the story for about three or four weeks I had not yet gotten a chance to write on this issue. I figured before delving into an issue that was inevitably less critical I should address the concerns of a reserve in Northern Ontario.

A few months ago I started following Charlie Angus (NDP MP – Timmins-James Bay) on Twitter. Not long after the May election I recall he began tweeting about the terrible conditions on a reserve in Northern Ontario. I looked at the pictures and read his comments. I don’t think I had an appreciation of the problems in the north. I suppose I should say honestly that familiarity bred contempt, or more accurately indifference.

Any quick Google search will reveal a plethora of images and articles on the Attawapiskat. The issue confronting this remote reserve is similar to many across the near-north: chronic housing problems, sanitation, health, a dismal economy, and poor governance.

It has bothered me how political this story has become so quickly. Obviously the Loyal Opposition wants to demonstrate the heartlessness of the federal government, and the government wants to defend its own record, but this partisanship ignores the fundamental humanitarian crisis occurring on the reserve. It’s December, and at this time of year we tend to open our wallets. If you are interested in making a donation or contribution you can look at this article in the Globe and Mail

I am embarrassed by the federal government’s reaction to the crisis in Attawapiskat. Prime Minister Stephen Harper has refused to visit the reserve, and will only be meeting with Aboriginal leaders for the first time on this coming Thursday. I do not understand the lack of action by the federal government. Even if you disagree with the calls for substantial investment in Attawapiskat and other reserves, there is no reason that emergency actions should not be taken. Attawapiskat should be evacuated and its people taken from the dangerous conditions present there.

The third-party representative sent by the federal government has been sent packing, and for good reason. The Conservative government needs to take direct responsibility for the conditions on this reserve. If they will not the public has to step up and demand action, and offer their support. These conditions are unacceptable, and we can address the larger implications for Aboriginal policy after that the initial crisis has passed.