Thursday, December 27, 2012

Worth Reading – December 27, 2012

It’s time for the last Worth Reading of 2012. This new feature, at least according to the statistics I can monitor, has been quite popular, and definitely has helped to grow my readership. I’m not sure what 2013 has in store for this blog, or for politics in this province/country, but I look forward to writing about it.

Martin Regg Cohn pens a wonderful piece about the bizarre nature of the Beer Store in Ontario. What started off as a state monopoly was sold privately, and now we all suffer as a result.

Chief Spence continues her protest in Ottawa. The Idle No More movement appears to have gained some momentum. It is not surprising at all that Aboriginal people are angry in this country about government policies.

Streets Blog has a great post about how sprawl and the car culture is dependent upon government subsidies and regulation. Let’s keep this in mind when we discuss densification and improving mass transit.

Despite Progressive Conservative leader Tim Hudak’srelease of policy documents, his party is stagnant in the polls. The Tories have polled consistently at or around 35%, which is roughly what they received in the last election.

Macleans suggests with all the chaos at Toronto City Hall that it is time to change how that city elects its mayors. Using a system sometimes called instant run-off candidates would be ranked until a majority consensus was achieved. Makes sense to me and it would end the constant talk of challengers being forced out of the race to unite various political factions.

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Worth Reading – December 20, 2012

This story has been popping up more and more over the last week. You may have been seeing the hashtag #IdleNoMore on Twitter, or that expression elsewhere. Idle No More has come to represent the current national protest by Aboriginal people in Canada against government policy. As far as I can tell the movement began when the Chief of the Attawapiskat First Nation began a hunger strike to protest government decisions. The movement appears to have developed from that point.

The Parliamentary Budget Officer, Kevin Page, in an interview on Sunday says that the government has misled Canadians on the F-35 issue. Now, will Canadians care?

Metrolinx did a survey of how major transit systems in the world fund themselves. This clear layout should be considered by anyone interested in public transit and infrastructure in the GTHA because we desperately need a better funding formula. 

James Potter examines the two camps within politics. He breaks them down into the Naïfs and the Cynics. At first I thought I would be in the cynic category, but he suggests that anyone in favour of many of the ideas I am is actually a naïf. It’s a great read, check it out.

The City of Brampton’s budget was introduced, and expected to be passed this week. Some within the community are pointing out the total lack of consultation on the city’s finances and priorities. It’s not clear why Mayor Fennell is trying to ram the budget through, perhaps she has been following what’s happening in Ottawa too much.

The Brampton Guardian has done a little reporting in what the budget contains. It is essentially a retread of the 2011 budget.

The Onion often says things better than traditional media can. Here is their take on the massacre in Newtown, Connecticut

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Reflections on Newtown

I avoided it at first. The news came to me while I was driving home from some Christmas shopping. It was an early report and not entirely clear so I was afforded the luxury to ignore it for the moment. A few hours later I turned on the TV and saw President Obama’s remarks following the tragedy.

Over the weekend I was busy and preoccupied so I did not give the massacre in Newtown, Connecticut much thought at all. Then on Monday afternoon I decided to watch the morning broadcast of MSNBC’s Morning Joe. I spent a great deal of the time with a clenched throat and misty eyes. I’d like to first of all commend the Morning Joe team for focussing on the victims, the community and possible solutions – and not the perpetrator of this unimaginable crime.

My previous experience with the shooting had been largely through radio, or President Obama’s remarks, but I am a more visual person and so I do not think that reached into me as much as seeing the photos of agonized parents, shaken first responders, or, most painful, the faces of the lost children. Photos of the victims are available here, at the Hartford Courant website. The Courant has excellent, and heartbreaking coverage of the shooting.

Looking at their little faces, and bright smiles it becomes immediately obvious how young these children were, and how innocent and how monstrous an act this was. For a few weeks now I have been working as a teacher at a private tutoring company. I teach students in middle school, or high school, but the facility has plenty of pre-schoolers and young elementary students around. When I watched the news coverage of the incident at Sandy Hook I saw their little faces, and their bright eyes, and their awkward, frantic movements.

Returning to the Morning Joe broadcast, the first thing I saw was a statement given by Joe Scarborough, video clip below.

Visit for breaking news, world news, and news about the economy

Scarborough, a four-term congressman, was endorsed by the National Rifle Association each time, and had an A-rating from that organization. His position has changed. He says that Sandy Hook changed everything and reasonable restrictions on military-style weapons are needed. The discussion from the rest of Monday’s broadcast made clear that there appears to be a lot of agreement that some restrictions on weapons available in the United States must be implemented. Many of the Morning Joe hosts have visited to Newtown, or know Connecticut which added an effective weight to their comments.

I hope the panels on Morning Joe on Monday are right and that change will come, but we’ve seen this before. The horror is different, and more painful, but there have been 31 school shootings since Columbine in the United States and laws have become more relaxed for guns, not tighter. Restricting guns is only one part, the types available are one aspect, but who can purchase them is another. Better identification and treatment of mental health problems is a component, as is addressing cultures of violence and indifference to human life.

I hope the families and people of Newtown can find peace one day, and that the survivors can live lives unmarred by this trauma and continue their blissful innocence. I hope their deaths are not meaningless, and that because of this horror things change in America so that a crime of this magnitude cannot happen again.

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Worth Reading - December 13, 2012

Worth Reading – December 13, 2012

This week I had the pleasure to be published on Samara Canada’s blog. If I may, I would like to once again shamefully promote that piece. In it I discuss some of the barriers between Canadians and greater participation in their democracy, in particular I focus on millennials

Ontario’s Auditor General released a report this week highlighting some of the problems within the province’s spending. One of the programs that the AG mentioned as particularly problematic is the Presto system. This is a real problem. The government cannot afford to be incautiously spending money at a time of severe deficits.

The Gardiner Expressway through Toronto badly needs to be replaced. It would have been nice if governments had been saving up for this eventual reality, but they have not. In the Globe and Mail this author stateshow the politicization of the freeway has worsened a deteriorating situation.  

Andrew Coyne takes apart the Conservative government and their on-going spin on the F-35 file

Bill C-377 passed this week which will weaken unions within Canada. The bill forces unions to disclose salaries of staff and other spending. The Privacy Commissioner has stated that the legislation goes too far

Most pundits will tell you that there will be a spring election in Ontario. However, ONDP leader Andrea Horwath was quoted this week saying that she and the ONDP want to make the legislature work, once a new Liberal leader is chosen. 

This is a great piece from the Vancouver Sun. Writing in reaction to Samara’s report, Who’s the Boss?, the author states plainly that Canadian democracy cannot be fixed by government. Citizens need to take hard stock of our system before it is too late.  

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Centralization versus Democracy

This week I have done a lot of thinking about the competing forces of democracy and centralization. These are not often forces that are considered in opposition to one another, but I think this is increasingly something worth examination.

Before I continue I think that there is a big hole in my analysis, and I should be upfront about that right now. That is that I was not alive during other political eras and therefore cannot say from personal experience what it was like to try to participate in our democratic system in 1978, and I can only really speak from experiences following the year 2005. My conclusions are based on (what are from my point of view) logical deductions.

As Samara Canada’s “The Real Outsiders” states, “Not only is voter turnout decreasing, but every year fewer Canadians are getting involved in other kinds of political activities, like joining or donating to political parties, signing petitions or attending protests.” The study goes on to discuss this group as the disengaged, and given their status political parties routinely ignore these voters.

But why did so many people disengage over the last few decades? What has changed? Democratic reformers, such as myself, point to our political institutions and the false majorities, but the system never stopped 70%, or nearly 80% of voters in the 1960s, from voting. Instead we must look to our politics and see what has changed in the intervening decades and how it may have altered the political landscape at the local level.

Beginning in the Trudeau era power moved away from the Members of Parliament to the Cabinet, and the Prime Minister’s Office. No party has reversed this trend, and if anything it has dramatically escalated under Prime Minister Stephen Harper. Worse still, the practice of centralized power was copied within the opposition parties and in the provincial spheres. In short order the leader of a given political party controlled the apparatus of his or her party. Members of Parliament, of MPPs, or MLAs, or MNAs, etc. who spoke out against the leadership were muzzled and the result was a sufficiently cowed caucus.

What does this have to do with democratic participation? While it would be nice to think that people participate in political parties because of altruistic civic instincts, I am not sure that it applies to the majority. Most people involved in politics wants to A) feel their voices are being heard, and B) shape the decisions taking place. This means helping to elect preferred candidates (both in the general election and nomination) and helping to push the overall leadership to your point of view. Before this gross centralization legislators more than likely had the interest of their constituents, and therefore their re-election, at heart. Their ultimate loyalty was to the constituents whom they served, not their masters in the leader’s office.

The effect of all of this is that even if citizens join a party, or volunteer and elect a new legislator they are more likely to eventually turn against them or betray their trust. This still happens from time to time, a backbencher or someone in cabinet (of upper echelons of a party in opposition) speaks out against the leadership’s decisions. Minister James Moore (CPC – Port Moody-Westwood-Port Coquitlam, BC), for example, spoke out against the Northern Gateway pipeline, which is incredibly unpopular within British Columbia. Sadly, Minister Moore retreated from his outspoken position when party discipline was reaffirmed.

Citizens get involved in politics because they want to influence the outcome. Increasingly it seems that parties are moved by polls and focus groups and not by activists and loyalists. As a result it can hardly be surprising that membership wanes. People have no interest in participating in toothless organizations that act as rubberstamps for those placed above them. Think of the American presidential primaries for Obama in 2012. They were a formality, and turnout, as a result suffered. When parties can appoint candidates, or transform legislators into convenient mouthpieces and puppets, citizens see little value in participating.

Disengagement can only be reversed through empowerment, but, tragically, it is not in the interest for those in power to democratize their political parties. Democracy offers uncertainty when rigid authoritarianism provides much greater comfort to those already ensconced in power. However, the methods to fix this problem are in the hands of the citizenry. If hundreds, or thousands of people join a riding association or political party with a common set of goals then they can affect real change. Political parties are ultimately democratic institutions, leadership can be kicked out and replaced with more democratic or grassroots-friendly candidates.

My experience within the Ontario New Democratic Party has given me hope so far. I believe I have already had a small impact. The Executive of my local riding association has been very supportive and eager to encourage new members. I helped to establish a social media presence by launching a Brampton West NDP Facebook page.

Speaking of which, I have a guest post on Samara Canada’s blog today, which discusses social media and its importance in engaging millennials and reinvorating our politics. Check it out here, Opacity and Unresponsiveness Alienates Canadians.

Thursday, December 6, 2012

Worth Reading – December 6, 2012

These weeks are terrible. I started today’s Worth Reading with seventeen articles, but according to my own artificially imposed rules I can only use seven. Decisions, decisions.

Samara Canada’s latest report Who’s the Boss? created quite a stir in Canadian media this week.   There are many great articles in virtually every newspaper and news website that discusses the issues it raises; the most prominent of which is the growing disconnect between Canadians and their elected representatives. Canadians more and more feel detached from their leadership. One of the best articles I read this week building off of Samara’s findings is this piece by Colin Horgan. Horgan discusses causes for the growing disillusionment of citizens, but comes to few conclusions.

Mayor (for now) Rob Ford continues to be enshrouded in controversy. In the wake of his court case and appeal a blogger with the handle Provocative Penguin wrote this great piece titled, “Confession: I voted for Rob Ford”. It is both funny and well stated. Many of Rob Ford’s critics ask how could a man such as he even get elected? It may be difficult to remember that the battle between Smitherman and Ford was not exactly an attractive choice.

I may write more on this article later, but the Huffington Post Canada had a good piece on the political engagement of Canada’s millennials. I many of the assertions of this article are more than a little optimistic, but I will leave that determination to the readers.

Jamey Heath, NDP strategist, offers an excellent analysis for the prospects of a ‘unite the left’ alternative. What I like most about Heath’s article is that it goes beyond the typical “this will never work” or “this is the only way to beat the CPC” angle. Very thoughtful read.

Steve Munro, prominent writer on transit and urban issues in Toronto, wrote this week on the next phase of development proposed by Metrolinx. Metrolinx’s plan for developing transit in the Greater Toronto-Hamilton Area is available here.

Andrew Coyne in the National Post suggests that perhaps we should just have one big election on democratic reform and have it over with. Sadly, this bold proposal begins to disintegrate with even the slightest bit of scrutiny.

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Grassroots Politics and a Healthy Democracy

This morning I read Samara Canada’s latest report on the wide dissatisfaction Canadians feel towards their political representatives. The report, titled Who’s the Boss?, shows that Canadians feel increasingly detached from their Members of Parliament. More importantly, a majority of Canadians view MPs as primarily serving the interests of their political parties rather than constituents. The most telling lines from the report come from former MPs in Samara’s Exit Interviews. These anonymous former MPs decry the fact that instead of taking their constituents’ message to Ottawa, they were taking Ottawa’s message back to their constituencies.

It is a common refrain, “MPs are powerless against the leadership, if only something could be done.” Well, something can very easily be done. Our Members of Parliament could develop a spine and be less worried about their future political careers. There is no formal restriction of a MP’s power, only informal custom and threats to disobedience. There’s no reason that a backbencher on the government side could not vote against the government in principle, and the opposite is true for a member of the opposition. But they don’t. That spot on a committee they covet, or the parliamentary secretary slot, or maybe, if all goes to plan, that shiny cabinet post will all be out of reach if they vote against the leader’s will.  

However, I cannot simply harp on the MPs and call them gutless. The leadership of each party has a tremendous amount of power in one regard. For a candidate to run for any political party in Canada he or she must have the signature of the party leader on the nomination forms. Local riding associations select candidates, that is true, but all the parties’ leaders have a form of veto over them. Elizabeth May, among many others, has identified this particular problem. Therefore, she has introduced a private member’s bill to end central approval of local candidates. What would this mean? It would mean that local politicians, with good connections to their community and supporters could buck against the central party and still be re-elected.

For example, imagine somewhere in the Conservative backbenches there was an MP who was furious over the state of the budget. The cuts are not aggressive enough, and the deficit needs to be eliminated yesterday. She holds town hall meetings in his riding in, say, Manitoba and her constituents support her criticism of the government. So on budget day she delivers a harsh criticism stating the budget does not go far enough and when the time comes, she votes against it. The Prime Minister’s Office is enraged, but, for the most part, her constituents support her choice. When the next election rolls around she might be challenged by a more stalwart candidate, but she wins the nomination again and is returned with a bigger majority of the vote. Voters reward independence and principle.

In short, the power to approve nominations has muzzled Members of Parliament to a great extent. It is a sword of Damocles that hangs over all of their heads. Therefore backbenchers are good little boys and girls, hoping they can return to parliament and continue to be toothless. It is an odd strategy when laid out. Why are they there if not to represent their constituents, and hold the government to account?

Let no one be fooled that this is a Conservative issue. The Chrétien Liberals exercised brutal control over its MPs, and, sadly, I have no doubt that if the NDP win a government the same will apply to them as well. One merely has to look to the provincial governments across the country to see the exact same patterns.

Politics in Canada seems too much of a top-down affair. Centralized, one-size-fits-all messages come down from on high to the local constituencies. Political party memberships are in a decline, along with riding associations. The formal partisan grassroots of this country, and province, seem to be having a very difficult time. I think this is one of the reasons alternative political movements seem to have all the energy behind them. A case in point is the Ontario Liberal Party. It has a total membership in the thousands, not tens of thousands. It has been in government for nearly 10 years. One would think there would be great incentive to join and participate. The Liberals and New Democrats have shadow riding associations across the country. If I recall correctly the Liberals had 80 or so ridings where they essentially had no presence at all out of 308.

I joined a political party in 2011 because I believe it is one of the best ways to have my voice heard and to shape my country and province’s democracies. A majority of the population does not see it that way. On Sunday I attended a meeting in a union hall in Oakville to discuss how to build a stronger NDP in what has been termed the Central West region (extending from Peel to Halton, Brant, Hamilton and Niagara). Many of the riding associations in Peel are quite small, as far as I can tell. I am getting more involved with mine in Brampton West, but a lot of work needs to be done to build the Ontario NDP in the area. Many of the organizers from across the region kept saying the same thing though, “Strong riding associations, strong party.” They wanted the tools and resources to build the party locally and make the party stronger across the province (and country). Increased central control stifles local democracy. Activists and party regulars feel powerless and therefore disengage.

As Samara’s report states, Canadians want to feel their voices are heard in the political process. Strengthening the grassroots and ending central approval of candidates seems like a good first step.  

Thursday, November 29, 2012

Worth Reading – November 29, 2012

This week’s two big news stories were the by-elections in Victoria, Calgary Centre and Durham, which I blogged about on Tuesday, and the other was Mayor Rob Ford being removed from office by a judge’s ruling in a conflict of interest case.

With the strong performance of the Greens in the Calgary Centre and Victoria by-elections the party has taken some heat for “causing the Liberals to lose.” I think the Liberals did enough to lose the race all by themselves, but that’s the charge. The Green candidate from Calgary Centre offered this response in the Globe and Mail

Emmett MacFarlane helps us understand the court case which will likely have removed Mayor Rob Ford from power. MacFarlane is largely responding to charges of judicial activism and overreach, which he says is totally baseless. Blame the heavy-handedness of the law, not the judge, if you disagree with the ruling.

Related, the Toronto Star has the four possible outcomes following the trial

Earl Washburn at Canadian Election Atlas offered superb analysis of the three by-elections before the results came in. He was just as surprised at the results from Victoria as anyone else, but he definitely set the stage perfectly. Here you can read about Calgary Centre, Durham, and Victoria.

This piece drips with sarcasm and explains (in part) why the ousting of Mayor Ford has been met with cheers and not very much outrage. The long list of Ford’s embarrassments surely makes him a difficult man to defend.

Huffington Post Canada has joined in the bandwagon and authored a very interesting piece about millennials in Canada (those born between 1980-2000, I believe). I thought the Huffington Post did an excellent job in elaborating who the millenials are and what issues they are confronting. However, I was disappointed in the cheery end note. It did not fit at all with the rest of the article and undermined the fundamental point, in my opinion.

This piece in the Globe and Mail was more than a little shocking. It turns out the membership of the Liberal Party of Ontario is dismally low. As a result a few thousand people will select the next premier of the province. Furthermore, most of the membership is in the two ridings, Vaughan and Kitchener-Waterloo, that just held by-elections. Each riding in Ontario gets an equal say, and most likely have less than a hundred voting members. Welcome to Ontario’s grand democracy. 

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Five Lessons from the By-Elections

Last night voters in Durham, ON, Calgary Centre, AB and Victoria, BC voted to replace their outgoing MPs. While the outcomes of the three by-elections were expected the vote totals were surprising. After reviewing the result and reading way too many columnists opine on the topic here are five lessons I think we can take away from last night.

Lesson 1 – By-Elections Don’t NECESSARILY Portend Future Events

By-elections are normally aberrations. They are a microcosm of political life taken in a snapshot. To begin with, turnout is dismally low. In each by-election less than half of the population voted. Averaging out all three and I believe you end up with a number in the mid-30% range. When the next general election comes around and that other (sadly only) 20% more of the public shows up it is unlikely to repeat in the same proportions.

Voters are not like political junkies and pundits. The provincial parties and federal parties blur in their minds, they are not always clear what the outcome of their by-election will be, nor do they recognize the political spectrum so sacred to obsessives. Unless a strong campaign is run, coupled with prominent local media the issues and the fact that there is an election may not permeate people’s everyday concerns about bills, work and the Grey Cup. For example, the provincial Liberals are in very different situations in British Columbia, Alberta and Ontario. Could that have played some role in the outcome? I think it may have.

Lesson 2 – The Left is Not Rallying Behind a Single Party

In the 2011 federal election Stephen Harper (CPC – Calgary Southwest) and the Conservatives won about 39% of the popular vote. Left-wing, or progressive voters saw that and with understandable disgust wondered how 61% of the population could vote for cente, left-of-centre or left-wing parties and yet we ended up with a right-wing government. I am not about to decry vote-splitting, fear not.

It is both the NDP and Liberal’s (and presumably Greens as well) dream to unite about 40% of the left-of-centre vote, as the Liberals did in the 1990s and 2000s, and form government again. It does not appear that the NDP and Liberals are making much headway on that goal if you study last night’s results. Instead it seems like they are building strength in respective regions and fighting for dominance in others. The NDP can win seats in Edmonton, and the Liberals can win seats in Calgary. BC looks like Orange country, while Ontario seems to be slipping into the Red zone.

Lesson 3 – The Greens May be the New NDP

The Greens are a small party with dispersed support across the country with a popular and effective leader. They are motivated by clear goals and are dedicated to the cause. This also describes the NDP before 2011. The other similarity is that the NDP was (and remains) very good at by-elections. Smaller, more cash-strapped parties like the old NDP and the Greens have trouble during general elections. They do not have the finances to do big events, and support local candidates as much as their big rivals. During a by-election though they can turn all their die-hards to a singular goal, pour money in and fight tooth and nail to win over votes. The NDP have two great examples of that. The Ontario NDP elected Catharine Fife (ONDP – Kitchener-Waterloo) in a long-held Tory seat, and Tom Mulcair (NDP – Outremont, QC) won his seat in a by-election in 2007 ending a NDP drought there for decades. The Greens have done, and will continue to do the same.

There’s something else here though, and I realized it when I was talking to a friend about voting. She lives in Durham and so I was busy nagging her to vote. She said she had a hard time choosing and I quipped, “When in doubt, vote Green”. It’s a simple answer but it also signals an important shift. The NDP used to be the party of protest and I think the Greens are steadily usurping that title from the Loyal Opposition. The NDP is now part of the establishment, and the Liberals still do not feel like outsiders. The Greens are a great place to park one’s vote and show displeasure in the status quo.

Lesson 4 – The Greens have Fertile Ground in Western Canada

While the Greens do not like to talk about whether or not they are a left- or right-of-centre party they do propose a number of reforms that would be put on the right side of the political spectrum. I think socially progressive, fiscal conservatives would find it easier to jump from Conservative to Green. The Greens’ positioning probably offers an appeal to the old Red Tories. Remember, Ms. May began her career in Brian Mulroney’s government. I think the Greens also offer a fresh alternative to British Columbians and Albertans. Over the past year environmental issues have been very prominent in Western Canada and Elizabeth May (GPC – Saanich – Gulf Islands, BC) has acted as a highly-skilled opposition politician. Both the NDP and Liberals are trying to straddle the line of appealing to a broader Alberta base and maintaining their green/environmental roots.

The Greens may adopt a similar strategy to the Conservatives while they were building towards their majority. The Greens can target ridings with constituencies that are attracted to their brand and establish “beachhead ridings”. Once they are won they can use them to expand outwards and repeat until a number of seats are considered “Safe Green seats”. This is how the Conservatives pushed into the 905 suburbs and broke into fortress Toronto. May’s seat borders Victoria, where the Greens nearly won last night. I would not be surprised if the Greens continue to make a strong showing there and elsewhere on Vancouver Island.

Lesson 5 – Urban Alberta Cannot be Counted on to Stay Blue

The addition of six new seats to Alberta in the redistribution process means that there are now ridings that are less rural and generally more urban. If you took a riding of Calgary Centre’s composition and put it in Ontario it would not be a safe Conservative seat. From my reading on the topic Calgary Centre sounds a lot like ridings in Mississauga to me. Those ridings recently flipped to Conservative but have a long history of voting Liberal before then.

The seat redistribution offers real targets in Edmonton and Calgary for the NDP, Liberals and perhaps now the Greens. Without the more right-wing influence of rural areas or suburbs they may start to break towards the progressive parties. If in 2015 the Conservatives win with 40+% of the popular vote almost all those Alberta seats are safe (perhaps Linda Duncan (NDP – Edmonton-Strathcona, AB) will survive), but if the Tories begin to slip a few seats will flip.


As I used to tell my students when I was teaching Civics, Canada does not have one election, we have 308 elections. In 2015 we will have 338. Each community is unique and though patterns can be identified the composition of local interests, demographics, candidates, political histories, and provincial forces will shape the outcome. If in 2015 Ontarians are experiencing bad times under a Hudak government the Harper Conservatives will suffer as a result, likewise for New Democrats in BC under Adrian Dix, or the inverse could be true.

In politics anything can happen. It’s that uncertainty that compels political junkies, pundits and ‘experts’ to try to find patterns. Ultimately we know nothing for certain, but I think those five lessons might have a little more permanence beyond last night.

Thursday, November 22, 2012

Worth Reading – November 22, 2012

Another week, another batch of news articles.

Recently Mayor Rob Ford marked his second anniversary. Therefore it is officially time for the rumour mills to begin to speculate who will challenge the embattled mayor. The Agenda offers some ideas of who may run. The Toronto Star published an article with a poll which features Olivia Chow, Rob Ford and Adam Vaughan. Surprisingly, Ms. Chow beats Mr. Ford by a narrow margin.

Martin Regg Cohn has six of questions the next Premier (winner of the Liberal leadership contest) should be made to answer. I could not agree more. These questions will definitely show the next government and Premiership.

The by-election in Calgary Centre may be surprisingly close. I frankly don’t buy it.

Andrew Coyne offers some advice to how the next federal Liberal leader. The first step is to accept being a third party, at least in the medium-term. 

I am not familiar with Cap’n Transit, this article came up on my twitterfeed. The author dissects an article from the guys at Freakonomics and suggests how transit can save the environment

The Globe and Mail has an excellent piece on the video game Assassins Creed III. The treatment of history in the video game is cringe worthy, I must admit. In particular, the allegiance of Aboriginal people and the realities of the American Revolution are questionable. 

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Canada’s Political Centre

One of the consistent talking points in any discussion of Canadian politics is the battle over the ‘political centre’. You will often hear phrases like, “The NDP is moving to the centre”, or “the Liberals are pressured in the centre,” etc. etc. The term is highly nebulous and in reality has very little meaning in Canadian political discourse.

The centre historically was composed of those swing voters somewhere between the Liberals and Conservatives (in their various forms). They are non-partisan for the post part. Parties fight to appeal to this swath of voters to win elections and carry key ridings and build their mandates. The “centre” has an ideological angle, in theory there is an imaginary line of politics where parties are arranged from left to right. Where they fall is based on the particular historical moment. For the most part it is safe to assume that the NDP were a left (or left-of-centre) political party, with the Liberals being left-of-centre, or centre, or sometimes centre-right and Conservatives being a right-wing, or centre-right party.

Political watchers assume that voters arrange themselves in this sort of spectrum as well. There were Liberal-NDP swing voters, or Liberal-Conservative swing voters and that shaped our national conversation. This analysis is very limited. It ignores the central problem that voters don’t think of themselves so narrowly. Believe it or not, there are NDP-Conservative swing voters, as I used to be.

I am writing about this because there seems to be a sort of realignment afoot that the media is only paying cursory attention to.

Recently the federal NDP announced that they are in support of several free trade deals. The Globe and Mail characterized this as a clear sign of the NDP’s move towards the centre. I suppose that analysis is fair. The NDP federally is joining the consensus that equitable trade deals between relatively similar countries can have real benefits. I have no doubt the NDP will continue to criticize trade deals that do not serve Canada’s interest, but the party is now expressing, in principle, a positive view of trade.

I feel this is related, in part, to a piece I read in the National Post today. Michael Den Tandt argues that Martha Hall Findlay’s entrance into the federal Liberal leadership race will compel the Justin Trudeau to come up with meaningful answers on policy. While I like Ms. Hall Findlay’s zeal for reform and interesting policy, I sincerely doubt she could overcome the momentum that seems to be building behind the Trudeau campaign. However, as John Ivison commented on Twitter today – where is the left-wing of the Liberal party? Instead they chose to present the "progressive face of conservatism". Martha Hall Findlay clearly comes from the fiscal right of the Liberals and Trudeau has endorsed policies to build pipelines and approve foreign takeovers, putting him closer to the Conservative base than the NDP’s. At the moment there is not a passionate defender of left-wing ideals in the leadership race - no Sheila Copps, or Pierre Elliot Trudeau. It seems the Liberals wills perhaps abandon the notion of being centre-left altogether and switch to being a centre or perhaps even centre-right party.

Meanwhile fiscal conservatives, such as Gerry Nichols continue to grumble about how the governing Conservatives have failed to live up to their names. They accuse them of spending like Liberals, and leaving their supporters and beliefs in the dust in a pursuit of power.

When you examine the totality of Canadian federal political parties, I think it’s clear that the sentiment about the so-called centre makes very little sense. The centre of Canadian political thought is constantly moving, and there isn’t one centre, but probably many around which the population gathers. However, another interpretation is that Canadian politics is moving to the right, much like other Western democracies since the end of the Cold War.

I frequently think that Canada’s political landscape may soon resemble Britain’s more than it has for decades; a powerful left-centre Labour/NDP, a rival Conservative party, and a centrist Liberal Democrat/Liberal Party critical in forming governments and difficult to identify politically. With the various nationalists parties it is almost a perfect fit. Or maybe Andrew Coyne already provided us the answer, a couple of weeks ago I shared a talk he gave where he argued that the debate over economics is almost over. Therefore our debate about left-centre-right may be coming to a close.

Fear not though, our political parties will find something new to fight over.

Friday, November 16, 2012

Worth Reading – November 16, 2012

Apologies for the delay in this week’s Worth Reading. Couldn’t be helped really, but I hope it was worth the wait.

This is a great piece in the Torontoist. Patrick Metzger bluntly assesses Toronto’s transit prospects, he appears quite optimistic on some fronts, but obviously roadblocks exist. He argues (as does polling) that Torontonians are willing and ready to spend on transit. He compares Toronto’s dismal recent performance to that of Los Angeles from which, perhaps, we can glean lessons.

There are three federal by-elections on November 26th. The Globe and Mail has helpfully put together all you need to know about them

This article has made quite the stir. A poll has shown the race for Calgary Centre might be dramatically tighter than initially assumed. Conservative candidate Joan Crockett, according to this poll, only has 32% support, compared to Lee Richardson, former CPC MP for the riding who won between 50-60%. With those types of numbers if progressive support rallies behind one candidate it could be an embarrassing defeat for the Harper Conservatives. That being said, I’m not holding my breath.

Ten days from now Brampton Transit will be improving its service! As a person who now relies on Brampton Transit nearly every working day this is a big plus to me. The highlights include the commencement of line 511, or the Züm Steeles line, the opening of the Gateway Terminal at Shoppers’ World, and increased frequency for the Main/502 Züm line.

Last week I shared Rafe Mair’s about the disturbing concentration of power within the office of the Prime Minister. Reassuringly, Mr. Mair has written a follow-up column about possible solutions. To summarize, he offers two solutions – first, is a fairly standard application of proportional representation, and second is an idea I’ve never heard before. He proposes using secret ballots in the House of Commons to empower backbenchers. I am intrigued to say the least at the possible implications.

I first heard this opinion expressed post-2012 election by David Frum, but Jonathan Martin does an excellent job of underlining one of the fundamental problems confronting Republicans – they are currently living in a media cocoon. What’s fascinating here is the implications for the broader culture. It is now possible for ideologues to consume media that reinforces their values, speak only to those who agree with them, and live in homogenous areas. The result is a massive echo-chamber and a growing radicalization of the right.

Trust for our political leaders and our Parliament is on a steep decline. According to a survey by Environics, Mr. Harper is now one of the least trusted leaders in the world.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Brampton's Bigger Council

The federal government is not the only one thinking about boundary changes. The City of Brampton is considering boundary adjustments to account for the rapid population growth over the last decade. The city council has approved one map for the community to comment on. Before I describe the proposal I wanted to briefly comment that it is unfortunate that the council is only presenting one proposals. The council was given four different options, and is, in a way, limiting choices to the public.

The council has endorsed a map to add two more wards to Brampton and therefore elect one city councillor and one regional councillor. This will bring the total to 12 members of the council, with the mayor being the 13th. The additional two councillors are in response to the Ontario government awarding Brampton an extra seat at Peel Regional Council. Brampton elects its regional councillors, but over the last year or so the city council has selected a member from its ranks to represent the seat at Peel. The position comes with additional pay, and according to the Brampton Guardian, has resulted in some internal conflict at City Hall

In terms of representation Brampton is about average in Canada. Currently Brampton has one councillor for 52,000 residents, the addition of two more seats would bring the per capita representation to 44,000. Toronto sits at 59,000 and neighbouring Mississauga is at 65,000. The city councillors argue that additional councillors are needed due to growing constituent needs, and the fact that office staff is shared between two councillors. Therefore the cost of the increase will result in the expense of two councillors’ salaries, and one full-time executive assistant.

All four proposed maps can be found here and the final one being offered to the public here. I have no issue with the boundaries. It should be remembered that in Brampton wards are paired together and each elect a city and regional councillor. Any population imbalance is likely solved by joining together its pairing ward. If there is a community interest at stake then I’m sure someone can express it.

The city is holding public consultation in November. The dates of the consultations can be found here.

Mayor Fennell and other members of Brampton’s council have come out against the proposal. The suggestion to add two councillors makes sense to me, and addresses a simple problem in allocating that new seat and maintaining the balance between city and regional councillors. However, Brampton’s city council is somewhat of an opaque institution. While they are not necessarily hiding anything the public knows very little of what their representatives are up to. In addition incumbency is rampant at city hall. In the 2010 elections all eleven politicians at city hall were returned to office.

Whether or not there are eleven or thirteen councillors in 2014 will make very little difference. I think it is time to start considering reforms. I am not sure what they might be but such a static cast of leadership cannot be healthy for a city in such profound need of reform.

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Worth Reading – November 8, 2012

With the American elections over they can now get down to the serious business of governing... Yeah, I didn’t believe that while I was writing it either. American politics will change now from the horserace to the struggle over power, and soon to the next horserace. I have already listened to considerable speculation in regards to the 2016 presidential elections. Before jumping four years into the future let’s consider the past week.

The Slate published an interesting response to Sergei Brin’s critique of political parties. No doubt political parties can be very unpopular institutions. Their narrow, partisan interests seem a perpetual road blog to governing. However, Slate explains the necessary function they play for governing

In local news, there is a proposal to create a grant program to help downtown businesses in Brampton renovate their facades to become more attractive. The plan seems worthwhile on face value. There are plenty of tired and worn down buildings in Brampton’s downtown that could use a touch-up. I am not sure of the fiscal wisdom or necessity for government intervention.

The Globe and Mail estimates that the U.S. election cost$6 billion. As a response this author says it’s time to enact regulations. I think as long as the most powerful nation on Earth is a democracy there is a heavy temptation to use money to gain influence and leverage. The amounts involved are simply proportional to the power of the United States government. Regardless, it is madness.

Speaking of money and politics, Martin Regg Cohn provides lovely insight into Ontario’s political fundraising. Liberal leadership candidates are not restricted in how much they take in per donor, nor how much they spend. It’s a pretty dirty little loophole. Ontario’s election financing is well overdue for an overhaul.

John Lorinc, an increasingly favourite writer of mine, authored this piece questioning Toronto’s short-sighted leadership. Juxtaposing Toronto to New York is not encouraging, but Lorinc offers poignant questions that must be considered before the next mayoral election.

Emmet MacFarlane, professor at the University of Waterloo, analyzes the decision by the Supreme Court in regards to the Etobicoke Centre case. The issue was complicated and my knowledge of the law is preliminary at best. MacFarlane nicely breaks down the matter and why the court made the correct choice.

My former home Niagara recently had its Boundary Commission hearing. The proposed changes in the region are quite dramatic and have sparked considerable debate. Local politicians, MPs, and MPPs have come out against various elements of the changes, which largely surround the transferring of Thorold out of the riding of Welland and adding the city of Fort Erie into the Welland riding. If the proposed map is enacted it will have profound consequences for the political composition of Niagara.

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Brampton’s Boundaries and America Votes

It is election day in the U.S. Normally I follow American elections very closely and come up with my own complicated predictions and rationalizations. However, about midway through the Republican primaries I lost all interest in the proceedings. Perhaps it is because I would rather invest more time in Canadian, Ontarian and GTA issues, or that the tired race between Obama and Romney has been going on for nearly two years. Frankly, I am not entirely sure who I would vote for in this election if I were an American citizen. It seems like a fine time to focus on other races (Senate, House, state-level), or implement the none-of-the-above choice.

Regardless of who ultimately wins I simply hope we know soon. The worst case scenario is that the election has an unclear result for days or weeks. Several states are actually incapable of a recount, namely Virginia. I hope we know by tomorrow morning who won. Anything else would be very worrying. There is also a slight chance Obama and Romney will tie in the Electoral College, or one will win the popular vote, but lose the election. All of these results would be very damaging to the health of America’s politics and democracy.

If it was demanded of me I would predict President Barack Obama will be re-elected. I have prepared a map from David Leip’s US Elections website for my map.

On Thursday and Friday of last week the Ontario Boundary Commission was in Brampton to hear the testimony from citizens in the area on their proposed map for the future federal ridings in this province. As I mentioned previously there are serious problems in the map, the most prominent of which was the inattention the Commission gave to the issue of voter equality. The proposed map respects the borders of the municipalities and regions in the province.

To address my concerns I mentioned that the Brampton ridings should be made smaller and closer to the ideal quotient size of 106,213. I was the fourth person to offer testimony to the Commission on Friday. The first was a presentation by the Mayor, Susan Fennel, on behalf of the city government. The main argument of the city was that the small portion of Malton (a community in Mississauga) joined to Brampton-Gore should be removed to create Brampton-only ridings. The removal would cause a fairly large population imbalance, but that was not addressed.

When I spoke I stated that I strongly disagreed with the Mayor’s presentation. Leave it to me to make enemies in high places. Below are the remarks I made to the commission.

The changes proposed for Brampton West, and the Region of Peel as a whole are insufficient to address problems in regard to voter equality. The proposed ridings in Brampton and Mississauga are all oversized. Most of the ridings are about 5-10% above the Ontario quota. While this fits within the tolerances as outlined in the Electoral Boundaries Readjustment Act I feel these considerations fail to account for the conditions and peculiarities of Peel.

Census projections state that the rapid growth in these cities will continue. Planning documents from the Regional Municipality and municipalities suggest development of agricultural and vacant lands into residential areas and intensification of existing zones will continue causing dramatic increases in population in coming years.

As these riding adjustments will be locked in for ten years these inequalities will only become more extreme over time. As a result any issues now will only be magnified in time. Past may prove prologue in Brampton where Brampton West eventually grew to be the second most populous riding in the country.

In my proposed riding, Brampton South, the old southern core is attached to vast western areas of the city. Driving westward on Steeles Avenue it is very easy to see that Brampton South will soon exceed the population in the commission’s report. The result will be my voice as a citizen will be weaker and more diffuse than my peers in Toronto’s downtown or in the many rural ridings in the province.

While community continuity and integrity is beneficial it is not an absolute good, especially weighed against the relative power of votes. Is it so important that Brampton’s five ridings not stray into neighbouring jurisdictions? Shouldn’t the greater concern be whether or not citizens in Brampton are heard as clearly as those in other ridings?

In British Columbia their boundary commission created ridings that were below the population quota in booming suburbs and within Vancouver. Their stated reason was that they wanted to account for projected growth in the area. The data the Ontario Boundary Commission used is based upon the 2011census. Even in that short time Brampton has grown in population. The 7.74% total over-quota in Brampton South is an underestimation of the true gap. If these ridings are already overpopulated now, where will they be when the next commission meets after 2021? Will Brampton voters once again be faced with having votes that count less than half as much as their fellow Ontarians?

From what I understand the Commission tried to preserve municipalities and worked within regions to establish these boundaries. The result has been to disempower certain voters at the expense of others for the sake of preserving civic boundaries that have little to do with federal representation. I am confident as a voter that residents of places like Mississauga and Brampton would much prefer to have an equal voice than not share their riding with those in Halton, or Caledon.

I cannot offer any concrete solutions, but perhaps parts of western Brampton should be joined to ridings in Halton, or northern Brampton joined with Caledon to bring the city’s ridings closer to equal distribution internally and compared to the provincial quota.

Boundary commissions in the other provinces have committed to the value of voter equality. Only 52% of ridings in Ontario are within the 0-4.99% deviation range from the quota of 106,213. Other provinces, particularly in western Canada, have much more equal ridings. In Saskatchewan, Quebec, Manitoba and Prince Edward Island have all strived to achieve a high level of voter equality; in Alberta 100% of their ridings fit within the 0-4.99% range. The 15 seats were added to Ontario to address voter inequality, the other large provinces have worked to achieve this outcome. It would be a shame if these new seats failed to actually address the problem they were created to correct due to poor boundary implementation.

While voter equality is problematic on its own, I am more concerned about the logic behind these decisions. In my new riding, Brampton South, we are already 7.74% over the provincial quota. The new Brampton West is worse off with a population 8.64% over-quota. Over the next decade (when boundaries will be reconsidered again) a tremendous amount of western Brampton is due to be developed. Which means the current 7.74% or 8.64% surplus may be more like 75, or 100% in ten years time. Therefore I ask the commission to reconsider the proposed boundaries in Brampton and Mississauga. Recognize the fact that this is one of the fastest growing regions in the country. These ridings will only become more disproportionately overpopulated in time undermining the principle of one person, one vote. Ridings that more closely meet the 106,213 person quota, or perhaps slightly below it, would help ensure that voters in Peel are as well represented as those elsewhere in the province.

Thank you.

Thursday, November 1, 2012

Worth Reading - November 1, 2012

Yesterday was my favourite holiday on the calendar – Hallowe’en. I could list all the reasons why I love Hallowe’en but I sincerely doubt that A) anyone cares and B) that it makes much sense to do so here However, there are things I hate about Hallowe’en. The Toronto Standard highlighted one of those major issues last week – racist costumes. It is a poisonous thing. A 20-something guy throws on a beard and ‘brown-face’ and straps plastic rods around himself and ha ha, he’s a Muslim terrorist. I get it. The other component of this is the sexualized nature of women’s costumes. I won’t go into that now, maybe next year.

I had an interview today for a new job. I am optimistic about my chances to get the position. That puts me in a minority among my peer group, or so it feels. Tavia Grant and Janet MacFarland wrote an amazing piece about the state of young people in Canada. Grant and MacFarland present the argument that young people are being squeezed by a number of factors placing middle class lifestyles and a stable future further outside their reach. Excellent piece, if slightly depressing.

John Ivison has written a piece recently that could be titled, ‘Not Your Father’s NDP’. Ivison highlights the growing pragmatism (and perhaps centrism) within the NDP. Their approach to policies in Ottawa may badly damage the Conservative’s attacks on their economic positions and ideological nature.

These last three posts are at least somewhat related to each other. Surprise, the theme is democracy in Canada.

Barbara Yaffe says that if Canada’s democracy is in decline it is the voters’ fault. It’s hard to disagree with that central point. There is no struggle within the national consciousness over the centralization of power and the continual erosion of parliamentary privilege.

Related to the above point is this piece. Rafe Mair wants Canadians, particularly educators, to be more honest about the system of government we actually have. The type of system you learn in Civics class is not really how Canada operates, tragically.

Finally, Michael Den Tandt joins the chorus of voices decrying the state of Canada’s democracy. Den Tandt argues that the seemingly normal operation of the country merely hides the prolific deterioration. 

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

The Right’s Transit Illusions

A couple of weeks ago, before Premier McGuinty shut down the Legislative Assembly, Progressive Conservative Leader Tim Hudak (PCPO – Niagara West – Glanbrook) introduced his party’s plan to address transportation problems in the Greater Toronto Area. First, I applaud Mr. Hudak for proposing substantial ideas on these matters. I hope NDP Leader Andrea Horwath (ONDP – Hamilton Centre) will follow his lead and suggest hoe her party would govern.

Allow me to summarize Mr. Hudak’s proposal:

1.      The TTC’s light rail and subways should be transferred to a regional transit agency, like Go, and administered by the province.

2.      The major freeways that pass through Toronto would go to the same agency.

3.       Funding would be prioritized for subways, when available.

Karen Stintz, a City Councillor for Toronto and TTC Chair, has raised major objections to Hudak’s proposal. In case you are unfamiliar with Ms. Stintz she falls on the right side of the spectrum in Toronto city politics, but understands the critical need for infrastructure investment. As reported in the National Post, Stintz said that uploading the subways would damage the TTC. The subways are money-makers for the municipal transit agency. With their removal the city would be burdened with running a bus system without financial support

The transfer of power is also a terrible condemnation of the city of Toronto’s ability to govern itself. Perhaps it deserves the slur, but a technocratic, less accountable agency would manage a critical aspect of daily life in the city. I sincerely doubt Toronto is ungovernable, it just has suffered a severe lack of leadership in the past few years. I hope Rob Ford’s successor, whoever he or she is, can build a coalition and some consensus on this issue.

The freeway proposal is interesting and would be put to best use if tolls could be extracted.

Stintz’s big criticism, echoed elsewhere, is Hudak’s idea to support subways without a tangible plan to fund them. As a result Toronto would continue to not build desperately needed infrastructure that is already buckling. Toronto and the province need to hash out an effective way to fund major infrastructure/transit projects in the GTA. Toll roads on the major highways might be a start, as well as a penalized car zone like exists in the heart of London, England. Regardless, as Matt Elliot at Metro says, it’s time to end the TTC fairytales and start to figure this out

I do not know why so many prominent politicians on the right do not understand transit. Mayor Ford's intentions for Toronto's transit system are, if anything, less impractical than Tim Hudak's. John Lorinc, a Toronto journalist who often writes on city politics, urban planning and transit, recently offered some insight on Twitter. He made the argument that fiscal conservatives should support a transit program. The delays in construction dramatically escalate the cost and by putting it off it only exacerbates the problem.

It would be great if someone like Karen Stintz was the right-wing mayor of Toronto, but we’re not so lucky. With a provincial election looming in the not-too-distant future we may have a senseless conservative in Queen’s Park and City Hall running things. Transit should be a less partisan issue, but it is here in Ontario, and we all suffer because of it.

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Worth Reading – October 25, 2012

As I mentioned earlier this week, there was almost too much news. The same applied to all the interesting articles I put together. I segmented all the ones that fit under a common theme and hope to blog about it next week. So, if the world of Ontario, Toronto and Canadian politics could hold off for the next few days, I would really appreciate it.

Don Lenihan in iPolitics summarizes a lot of the veryharsh scrutiny journalists and columnists have applied to recent actions at the federal and provincial. If our democracy is in crisis I am glad the fourth estate is going to say something, for however little good it will do.

Scott Stinson at the National Post did the math. With a leadership contest set to resolve on January 25th Stinson estimates that the Ontario Legislature will not sit until February 18. This means Ontarians will be without active representation and the government will not be accountable for over four months.

The second part of the Toronto Standard’s series is up. This week focuses on the future of transportation in Toronto

If you love politics in Canada and you want a much more nitty gritty view, you must read Pundit’s Guide. A great example of this is Alice Funke’s recent work on the upcoming by-elections. By-elections have been called in Durham, Calgary Centre and Victoria for November 26.

Michael Harris’ piece argues that the Conservative backbench are getting restless. This is one of a series of articles on this theme in recent weeks. I cannot help but think that their authors are employing more than a little wishful thinking here. Despite a few instances there is very little evidence that the Conservatives are breaking ranks.

Chantal Hébert was one of the columnists who spoke out on the decline of Canadian democracy. She wrote a very interesting piece about the Parliament Hill she arrived at to report on thirty years ago and the state of the House of Commons today

And finally, something fun. The first Travers Debates took place recently. The first debate on whether or not Twitter was destroying journalism was exceptionally good. It featured Bob Rae, Chantal Hébert, Kady O’Malley, and Nathan Cullen. Very funny, yet oddly insightful. Allen Gregg and Dan Gardner had a more serious debate over who had a brighter future, Canada or the United States. I highly recommend watching

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Canada: A Strictly Ceremonial Democracy

It has only been a few weeks since I started posting twice a week. With the prorogation and Liberal leadership race in Ontario, the second omnibus budget bill in Ottawa, and some other minor issues that have popped up in recent weeks it feels like I don’t have enough time. I determined what I would write about a long while ago today before McGuinty resigned or the economic was introduced. Suddenly posting three times a week seems like a good idea. Luckily for me this is just a temporary problem and I am sure a slower news cycle will take hold soon enough.

The common thread of the two stories of the moment is the health of democracy in Canada. Watching The National’s At Issue panel on Thursday I was stunned by the force of the language used and unanimity of their condemnation of the federal government’s use of a second omnibus budget. To paraphrase Andrew Coyne, many international news items reporting from the developing world will refer to the ‘largely ceremonial’ legislature. Canada now has a largely ceremonial legislature.

In essence, in Canada, our House of Commons and provincial legislatures are more similar to the American Electoral College than the parliamentary democracies of our past. The leader of the party that receives the most seats gets to rule with limited checks or balances on his or her power. The only group that can threaten his/her control is the caucus of the governing party in a majority situation. But MPs in that caucus, so fearful of retribution from the leadership and the desire to climb the party ranks and perhaps secure (a now neutered) cabinet post, will not stand up to their leaders.

Bill C-45, the formal name of the second omnibus budget bill, is, as the Toronto Star calls it, an affront to our democracy. These omnibus bills fundamentally undermine the purpose of our representative parliamentary democracy. The job of a Member of Parliament is pretty straightforward. They must represent their constituents, hold the government to account and scrutinize laws. When a piece of legislation is over 400 pages, affecting dozens of pieces of legislation and the implications of the changes are not clear, how is a MP to do his/her job? In the space of a few short weeks, with limited debate, Bill C-45 will become law and our environmental laws and who knows what else.

Drip by drip the fundamental institution of democracy fades ever so slightly into something less than a democracy. No, I don’t suspect that one day jackbooted men will walk in our streets and cameras will carefully watch our every move and dissenters will be banished to camps in Kenora, but our democracy will start to feel a lot less real, and much less responsive until it resembles the ones found in countries like Singapore, or worse, Russia.

The recent prorogation in Ontario is a symptom of the same terrible disease. The province will be governed by the cabinet without public input until at least January 25th. At that time a new Liberal leader will be selected and Dalton McGuinty will resign. Still, the legislature will not be sitting. Ending the parliamentary session to undergo a leadership race is inexcusable. Constitutional expert Peter Russell slammed the McGuinty government for abusing its powers and shutting down the legislature

As ONDP leader Andrea Horwath (ONDP - Hamilton Centre) pointed out on The Agenda last week, governments have gone through leadership races without ending a legislative session. The government’s explanation is weak and as Martin Regg Cohn argued, it is a mismanaged retreat.

I fear our democracy is in decline. It has been in decline for decades but there has been a brief and rapid acceleration. Our constitution is dependent upon the respect of tradition as much as written rules. Governments increasingly abuse these unwritten rules. Even if voters punish the Ontario Liberals and the Conservatives it may not (and probably will not) reverse this trend. Governments do not abandon the power and concentration of authority, even if the parties switch.

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Worth Reading – October 18, 2012

This week I had roughly twenty articles that I thought were worth reading. Unfortunately for my list I’ve decided to stick to my rigorous “No More Than 7!” rule. Therefore go to the major newspapers in Canada and check out some of the great reads they offer this week.

Carly Weeks’ article in the Globe and Mail on bullying received quite a bit of attention this week. Ms. Weeks describes growing up and being relentlessly bullied and how no one seemed to intervene. Her article, while not expressly doing it, calls out the Bystander Effect. Put another way, the only way for evil to succeed in this world is for good men and women to stand by and do nothing. Bullying is a pernicious and vile social disease, and while we may never get rid of it, we should shame it into a corner.

I have trimmed back how much I talk about global issues a lot on this blog, but this article really caught my attention. Recent elections in Russia were marred by fraud and abuse. Putin’s party won huge majorities, it appears, illegitimately. The details of the story are shocking.

It is hard not to draw a line from Premier McGuinty’s resignation and the overall health of the Liberal brand. There are currently leadership races in Newfoundland and Labrador, New Brunswick, Quebec, Ontario, Manitoba, Saskatchewan, British Columbia (probably), and the federal party. I have been looking for work, and the Liberals are hiring all over the country, but I would prefer a job with a future.

The Toronto Standard is doing an interesting series looking at the future of Toronto. The first in the five-part series looks at the city as a whole, particularly its skyline and the way people will live. There are really amazing images of what Toronto will look like in just a few years time. The Manhattanization of Toronto is well underway.

Mark Jarvis dismantles the Ontario prorogation story quite nicely here. Jarvis quotes Peter Russell, noted Canadian constitutional expert, on the prorogation. Russell’s full remarks can be found here

When pundits and journalists discuss Mr. McGuinty’s record and legacy they often point to education as one of the beacons of success. This article in the Globe and Mail examines how long-lasting that legacy might be.  McGuinty’s educational successes have come at great costs, and the need to curb the deficit might mean they will all disappear.

As a big nerd, lover of space, and person who deep down hopes to colonize another planet one day, this was the greatest news ever. Scientists have discovered an Earth-like planet orbiting the nearest star to our sun. Earth-like is generous because it is a surface of burning rock, but it’s the right size!

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Twilight of the McGuinty Era

I read about politics every day, or watch it on TV, yet yesterday’s announcement of Premier Dalton McGuinty’s future resignation was a total shock to me. Despite being embattled for years the Premier has always stuck it out, often stubbornly. He has fought mean and negative campaigns to stay in power and has done what it takes. His sudden resignation was totally out of character, at least in my estimation of the man.

Dalton McGuinty (OLP – Ottawa South) has been an MPP for twenty-two years, leader of the Liberals for sixteen, and Premier for nine. It is not shocking that he was ready for the end. When we look at the current state of his government it is also not surprising that he is choosing this time to leave politics and escape scrutiny of the Legislative Assembly. New contempt allegations were being laid against Minister Chris Bentley (OLP – London West) for suddenly revealing there were an additional 20,000 pages of documents he had failed to disclose. Whether or not it was a simple oversight, the perception has ruled that this was a partisan decision by the government and cover-up was underway.

The minority government has been struggling to tackle the looming debt and deficit. The solutions the McGuinty Liberals have been met with an opposition that either ardently disagrees or would rather them twist in the wind. The half-measures are both failing to win support in the Legislature and fix the problem. In an attempt to find savings the Liberals have alienated their old allies in the public sector unions – particularly teachers. If it were not for Ontarians unease with an ONDP government and their distaste for the Hudak PCs, it is likely Mr. McGuinty could have retired a year ago.

Say what you will about Mr. McGuinty’s record, he is leaving on a sour note. By proroguing parliament long enough for his party to select the next Premier the opposition will be mobilized against his government for the partisan move. In the interim the Liberals will continue to govern without the scrutiny of the legislature. More importantly, the other MPPs will be unable to do their work representing their constituents.

While yesterday the media was full of lamentations at his departure and salutes to his public service the race has already begun to replace him. The Ontario Liberals should be proud at such impressive bench strength. Nine years in government has produced a number of very capable cabinet ministers that will be able to rise to the challenge to replace McGuinty. Kathleen Wynne (OLP – Don Valley West), Laurel Broten (OLP – Etobicoke Lakeshore), Deb Mathews (OLP – London North Centre), Chris Bentley (OLP – London West), Charles Sousa (OLP – Mississauga South), Yasir Naqvi (OLP – Ottawa Centre), and Brad Duguid (OLP – Scarborough Centre) are all names mentioned to succeed as Premier of the province of Ontario. Something I am curious about is whether or not any current or former federal MPs drop into the provincial party now that it looks like Justin Trudeau may be coronated. Someone like Bob Rae, or Martha Hall Findlay may be much more tempted to ply Ontario’s provincial waters than try to battle against Mulcair and Harper while sitting in third.

McGuinty may have viewed his mandate as reversing the damage of the Harris years, but it has come at a very real cost. The nanny state nature of the Liberal government has been tiresome, such as the ban on pitbulls. The way the Liberals ran against John Tory by demonizing faith schools was unconscionable. While there are definite parts of McGuinty’s record that are important I feel overall he has been a fairly average overall. His stewardship has been ‘steady as she goes’ when the province desperately needed real reforms in key areas. Post-secondary education, health, infrastructure, public transit – the failures to innovate there must be weighed against his successes in introducing the HST, and education.

I think the most important thing to remember is that Dalton McGuinty will resign, he has not yet resigned. For untold months Ontario will continue to be led by him and his ministers, unaccountable to the voting public while his party takes its time to select a new leader. Furthermore this new leader will be under tremendous pressure to call a late winter or early spring election. The prorogation killed 119 pieces of legislation that were moving through the Legislature. They will have to be reintroduced whenever the Premier calls the Assembly back.

When more than a day has passed I will have a better notion of our twenty-fourth premier’s historic legacy. Depending on how these next few months go, and the success or failure of his successor will determine how he is interpreted. In the meantime Ontarians have no democratic representatives in Queen’s Park and so must wait.