Friday, May 31, 2013

Worth Reading – May 31, 2013

This post was delayed, which I posted about yesterday, because I got news about a job opportunity in the Northwest Territories. It is entirely possible by this time next month I’ll be living in my new home in the Arctic. This will obviously mean a lot of changes for me and my life (new frontrunner for understatement of the year). At this point I am not sure how this will affect my blog. I intend to continue to write, but the content of the blog will probably change so that I am writing more about my new community.  

Steve Paikin the very talented people at the Agenda on TVO assembled an incredible panel to discuss scandals and their effect on Canadian democracy. Three journalists discuss the issues facing the Parliament, Queen’s Park and Toronto’s City Hall. The roundtable was expanded to include some really interesting voices and perspectives. 

Everywhere I went when I was in Toronto on Saturday I heard people talking about the Fords. This story was a big part of the reason why. The Globe investigates the Fords' connections to the drug trade.

Last week Elijah Harper passed away. Mr. Harper was a prominent Aboriginal leader from Manitoba and played a critical role in Canada’s history. Truly a great man. 

Toronto’s Spacing offered a two-part column on the new Metrolinx plan. The first part was examining Ontarians’ attitudes to potential funding models based on a poll they conducted. The second column discusses the actual tools Metrolinx is proposing.  

Gwen O’Mahony, a defeated BC NDP MLA, who won unexpectedly in a by-election last year, offers some keen advice to her successors about being a good public servant. I found this letter oddly touching, it’s a shame Ms. O’Mahony couldn’t continue her work.

The Star reports on the proposed Metrolinx funding program

Perhaps my favourite piece from the week, a journalist at Metro News tackles Doug and Rob Ford’s claims about their “incredible” fiscal record. I wish journalists would write more pieces like these. Governments too often get by on rhetoric and not facts.

This is a funny one that may be more sad than funny. An economist breaks down the value of the Senate. Trust me, give it a read. 

Thursday, May 30, 2013

Big Changes

Hello readers, I received some good news today that is making sitting down to write quite difficult, so I won't be posting a "Worth Reading" tonight. I will try to find time for it over the next little while, especially since I have a pretty good list compiled.

This afternoon I got a phone call from a prospective employer with an offer for employment. The job is located on the other side of the country, and it will take a lot of work to be ready to go by the desired time. I'll be sure to flesh out the details as things progress.

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Reforming the Canadian Senate

Even before the most recent spate of embarrassing stories coming from the Canadian Senate it was an institution in desperate need of reform. Senators Duffy, Wallin, Brazeau and others merely make the case all the clearer. The federal NDP has long advocated to abolish the institution. It is not an unreasonable solution to the current problem. There is some question to how badly we need the Canadian Senate at all.

The trouble, I think, is that we do need an effective upper house to help govern Canada, but we have been robbed of that opportunity. Given the power of the provinces and the strong regional character of this country it makes a great deal of sense to maintain the Senate and help it do the work it was intended to do. In many democracies the lower house, our House of Commons, is supposed to be a hotbed of populist radical ideas and the upper house is supposed to safeguard against that. Obviously that is not necessary in the strictest space in Canada. If the House of Commons more accurately reflected population, which it should, the Senate would need a counterbalance. Otherwise the majority population from a couple of provinces could abuse the other regions. It’s about checks and balances.

Former Ontario cabinet minister Greg Sorbara offered a possible solution to make the Senate a non-partisan chamber for sober second thought. I do not believe that is the solution. The Senate should be partisan and contentious, like any good democratic body. It should also jealously guard its privileges against the House of Commons and the Prime Minister/executive.

In all the world I believe the Australians offer us the best possible model. The Australian Senate has six senators for each of its states. They are elected using proportional representation, and before that, preferential ballot. We could follow Australia and adopt their best practices to make the two elected chambers work. The Canadian Senate currently has 104 members, the reforms I am proposing would bring it down to 63 (60 for the provinces, 3 for the territories) or 78 (provinces and territories each get 6). Given that we are paring down the Senate, I would suggest some other reforms, like dedicating 6-10 seats to Aboriginal, Metis and Inuit Canadians. Perhaps gender parity could be imposed as well, each province should have three male and three female Senators. 

Federations should balance the will of the public against the interests of its constituent parts. This is best represented at the federal level by two competing chambers serving these different interests. Reform should be our first goal, but I suppose if that is impossible abolition is the only choice. However, there is no reason it should be impossible. There should be some consensus that improving our democracy is critical. With power so centrally concentrated why not strengthen the second house? The legitimacy to govern can only come from elections, it’s time to fix that mistake from 1867.

Thursday, May 23, 2013

Worth Reading – May 23, 2013

I don’t think there is a fresh way to bring this up anymore. Increasingly it appears that Mayor Rob Ford of Toronto is caught in a drug scandal. If you recall, Mayor Ford had an admitted drug problem before being elected mayor, so this is not terribly surprising. The question, I suppose, is should a person wrestling with addiction be mayor of the largest city in Canada.

I had a post appear in Samara Canada about why being a member of political party is a positive thing

Steve Paikin writes about the difficult position ONDP leader Andrea Horwath has been in over the last few months. 

Angus Reid, a prominent Canadian pollster, offers some comments on the failures of the polling industry in the wake of the British Columbia provincial election. 

Martin Regg Cohn in the Toronto Star suggests that the B.C. election results may have broken the last bit of the ONDP’s desire to call an election

John Ivison has a great follow up to Coyne’s piece by highlighting the anger in the Conservative caucus on this most recent scandal

John Lorinc contrasts the Lastman mayoralty to Ford’s time in office by using the casino issue. 

From the Vancouver Sun, a young woman offers some perspective on the low voter turnout and disengagement among the electorate. The author says that we need to encourage year-round citizens.

Finally, from the good people at D News, are Millenials more narcissistic? 

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Explaining B.C.’s Election

There is much understandable handwringing over the recent British Columbia provincial election, which resulted in a shocking upset. The Liberals, long forecasted to be politically dead, won government with a strong majority. What is even stranger about the result is that for months the NDP had a strong, stable lead.

How do we explain this sudden change in fortunes?

Explanation 1 – Polling is broken

Eric Grénier of 308 Blog argued that there is no reason this should have been called incorrectly by the polling industry. There have been some other recent upsets, such as the Quebec provincial election and (especially) the Alberta provincial election. However, Grénier says there is no excuse in the B.C. case. Pollsters were trying to model for parties that previously never existed. Both the CAQ and Wildrose were new and therefore projecting their support proved difficult. In British Columbia the Liberals and NDP have been fighting it out for decades, and the 2013 election does not look so different from the 2009 election.

There is some concern about the methodologies being used. Internet panels seem increasingly suspect in the face of these recent elections. The tried and tested method of calling with live questioners seems to be the most effective way of measuring the electorate.

Explanation 2 – Low turnout

Low turnout does strange things to elections. Parties with the strongest, most motivated base tend to do well in these scenarios. It appears that NDP support was soft in British Columbia leading up to election day. Who knows how many people simply stayed home rather than vote? Low participation can open space for upsets. All of a sudden the third place party that consistently pulls in 15,000 votes has enough to win the election in a particular riding. This phenomenon is best seen in by-elections. Look at the most recent ones in Calgary Centre and Victoria. The Greens performed extraordinarily well, far beyond their usual number, partially due to low turnout.

Explanation 3 – Parties matter

I believe the best explanation for how the B.C. Liberals did so well is found in the same explanation for why the Quebec Liberals did so well. In both cases these centre-right parties had strong, clear bases of support and the mechanics to turn out the vote. With strong support among identifiable groups these parties are able to mobilize much more easily and win the election riding by riding. Volunteers calling up supporters, driving people to the polls, and getting their voters to the polls gives them a distinct edge. Get out the vote campaigns is critical in every election, and it is arguably how every tight election is one. To win parties must push voters to the polls and not merely hope they choose to do their civic duty.

Explanation 4 – Campaigns matter

Going into the last provincial election in Ontario it looks like we would soon be governed by Premier Hudak. As the campaign went on the Progressive Conservatives bled support as voters learned more about their platform, Hudak stumbled over a few key issues, and the Liberals mounted attacks. Very few elections in Canada have ended where they began. Campaigns matter or we would not have them. People become convinced, people change their minds, people choose to vote. The post-mortem from British Columbia seems to suggest that the NDP ran a poor campaign. The focus on the positive and not responding properly to Liberal attacks merely left them weak and vulnerable.

I think the four above explanations can help us watch the next election; don’t worry about polls so much, pay attention to turnout/engagement, party strength is critical and the course of a campaign is critical. All of these things were equally true before the B.C. election, but we tend to just accept the simplicity and clarity of polls and ignore everything else.

Thursday, May 16, 2013

Worth Reading – May 16, 2013

Just as the Prime Minister hoped, the B.C. election overshadowed this particular news event, but, the federal Liberals won the Labrador by-election. For some excellent analysis check out the Canadian Election Atlas

This is an interesting column from the National Post. The writer says that the Conservatives have lost of their way. The party of “fiscal responsibility” is now responsible for losing $3.1 billion in tax revenue, and colossal mismanagement of public funds. Now the “irresponsible” parties of the left sound like the old Conservatives.

From Samara Canada, what are political parties and how do they (or don’t they) serve us? 

Also from Samara, they did analysis on the participation of Members in the House of Commons. They compared the number ofspoken words in the House to books. Unsurprisingly more than a few Conservative MPs compare to children’s books, though I would hope the kid’s books have more truth.

Eric Grénier writes in the Huffington Post what the outcome of the B.C. election might mean  for the party leaders

Also from Mr. Grénier, he writes in his blog about how the pollsters could have so spectacularly failed in predicting the outcome. He suggests that there is no valid explanation.

The Toronto Ranked Ballot Initiative passed the first hurdle and got out of committee. It will be debated in Council in June. Hurray!

The Toronto Star is following up on a report initially made by CTV. According to reports, Stephen Harper’s Chief of Staff reimbursed Senator Duffy $90,000 for the expenses he incurred due to his failure to properly obey Senate rules. Beyond that Senator Patrick Brazeau is trying to avoid repayment of his misuse of public funds. Another proud week for the Canadian Senate.

In iPolitics, this author lays the blame for the NDP weakness in B.C. to Adrian Dix’s positive-only campaign. It should be noted that this piece was released before the election results.

Speaking of B.C., Tim Harper in the Toronto Star declares he is ending his relationship with pollsters. He, like many people, is feeling jilted and misled by the so-called experts too many times. Won’t be fooled again, etc.

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Peel on Rails

In case you have not heard, there is a plan on the books to introduce a light rail line through Mississauga and Brampton. Currently going by Hurontario-Main LRT (website), this development will link Port Credit in Mississauga to Downtown Brampton. The plan was included in Metrolinx’s Big Move, and it is a priority for the city of Mississauga.

I am not entirely sure of the value of the plan. I’m currently working on a post for another platform about the fact that we too easily fall in love with light rail even when it is more expensive and just as effective as bus rapid transit. This proposed line is estimated at $1.5 billion. I participated in the public consultation though and the plan has been steadily moving forward for a few years now.

This made Mayor Susan Fennell’s remarks this past week even more shocking. The Brampton Mayor suggested that the LRT was unnecessary and could be replaced by extending Brampton Züm service all the way down to Mississauga’s waterfront. This suggestion took many leaders in Peel by surprise. Mayor Hazel McCallion of Mississauga was chief among them saying, “absolutely no way.” Worse still, this is the first time this notion has been floated by Mayor Fennell. No one on city council, or anyone else had even heard of this suggestion previously.

Worse still Mayor Fennell has been criticizing the proposed taxes to pay for Metrolinx and the Big Move, along with the plan itself. I do not always agree with Mayor Fennell, but I think this is pretty clearly a dereliction of duty on her part. Brampton is the third largest municipality in the Greater Toronto-Hamilton Area, behind Toronto and Mississauga and just ahead of Hamilton. The simple truth is we must sacrifice if we want to escape crippling gridlock in the decades ahead. Consensus is building and Mayor Fennell’s sudden cold feet at having to pay taxes to support key investments is short-sighted.

Public consultation for the LRT line through Peel is ongoing, tomorrow a public information session will be held at the Peel Art Gallery, Museum and Archive in downtown Brampton from 3 PM to 8 PM. Also, on the 16, 17, 21 and 22 of this month a demonstration car will be set up in Gage Park to show what a train car might look like. Be sure to come out and let your opinion be known.

Thursday, May 9, 2013

Worth Reading – May 9, 2013

Featured in my post this past Tuesday, Martin Regg Cohn in the Toronto Star points out how the most recent Ontario Liberal budget is something the ONDP can be proud of

Thomas Walkom in the Toronto Star talks about the Ontario budget as well. Walkom asks the perennial (and basically unnecessary) question, does politics make for good policy in regards to the budget? 

Martin Regg Cohn  again (sorry, he’s one of my favourite columnists at the moment) writes about the latest Ontario budget, and his reporting is that the story isn’t really who got what to support the budget, but the dire state the province’s economy finds itself in

This is a provocative piece from the Huffington Post. Tom Kott asks, is Justin Trudeau (LPC – Papineau, QC) a Conservative? 

As a historian I find this Orwellian practice terrifying, the Conservatives are reviewing Canadian history content. Their focus seems to be to highlight Canada’s military past.

Good news out of Toronto, the City Council has manoeuvred around Mayor Rob Ford and will hold a discussion on taxes to support new transit development

From Canadian Election Atlas we have the latest breakdown on the upcoming British Columbia election on trends and patterns.

This is a troubling bit of news reported both in the Toronto Star and Brampton Guardian. Over the last week or so Mayor Susan Fennell has been distancing herself from the Metrolinx Big Move and the proposed funding solutions. Recently she commented on the Hurontario-Main LRT, a proposed light rail line that will united Port Credit and Downtown Brampton and be the first light rail infrastructure in Peel Region. Quoted in this piece are leaders from Brampton City Council, the Mayors of Mississauga and Oakville strongly criticizing Mayor Fennell for this sudden change of heart. This to me represents a failure of leadership on behalf of Mayor Fennell and is deeply disappointing.

From Thomas Walkom again, he proposes a formal ONDP-OLP coalition to block the Tories. Walkon suggests that very little divides the NDP and Liberals so they should make an arrangement to stabilize government and make advance their mutual interests. 

Wilf Day writes in his blog about how regional representation works in Scotland and how it could apply to us in Canada. 

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Wynne’s First Budget

Premier Kathleen Wynne (OLP – Don Valley West) and her Liberal government released their budget last week. In a minority legislature the Liberals will depend on the backing of the ONDP to survive and avoid an election. To win support the Liberals made serious concessions to the NDP. In the Toronto Star Martin Regg Cohn referred to this budget as a “NDP budget”.

The Ontario Liberals agreed to the NDP’s demands to cut auto insurance by 15%, expand welfare benefits and increase funding to reduce youth unemployment. As a member of the NDP I’ve heard a great deal about the first and third point. They were definitely the main thrust of the NDP demands.

The budget also revealed deeper concerns. Economic growth is predicted to slow even further in Ontario. Finance Minister Charles Sousa (OLP – Mississauga South) projected only 1.5% growth in Ontario’s economy over the next fiscal year. This is largely attributed to the continuing sluggishness in the United States. I often look at the economy as a Keynesian, and so I cannot help but hope that if we figure out how to fund Metrolinx’s Big Move it could help stimulate the economy.

The deficit still exists, and is projected to remain until 2017-2018, at the end of which the province will have $300 billion in debt. That is a truly terrifying amount of debt. There are other sources for revenue. Regg Cohn points out that with the lowest corporate taxes in the region other subsidies should not be needed any more. Nearly a billion dollars could be recovered by ending subsidies.

While Andrea Horwath (ONDP – Hamilton Centre) and the ONDP have the make a decision, Forum Research released a poll showing 48% of Ontarians want them to back the government. I think the NDP have limited choice but to back the government given the concessions that have been given. I also believe it would be strategically wise for the NDP (my party) to hold off calling an election now.

This is a political budget, some of the policies in it may be less than wise because it is designed to be able to win multi-party support and be defendable in an election. It would be a bad time to have an election. The issue I’m most mindful of now, infrastructure and public transit, is about to move forward with Metrolinx’s report on how to fund the projects. I’m desperately hoping that the government will be able to find support in the opposition and advance a solution to the gridlock crisis. Basically we need to end gridlock to end gridlock.

I could be wrong. Perhaps we should have an election, clear the air, let one party get a false majority and rule without question. My fear is that majority governments are less swayed by public pressure, and at least in this moment if the people demand a solution at least one of the three parties can start pushing for it, and perhaps achieve it. In a minority the people are rendered effectively voiceless as politicians become less accountable. I still believe that minority governments can work, I hope our political leaders believe so too.

Thursday, May 2, 2013

Worth Reading – May 2, 2013

Samara has continued its Democracy Talks series. One of the most recent ones featuring a young Canadian talking about the value of political parties has touched off a bit of a response, which led to Samara highlighting the role parties currently play in Canada. Mr. Geeraert and his peers question the need and value of political parties. I think he may be expressing a correct point of view, but is offering the absolute worst solution – abolishing political parties.

This article from the Toronto Star was featured in my Tuesday piece; condo renters are very vulnerable to abuses. The protections and regulations that underlie other areas of renting to not extend to the new towers going up across the GTHA.

Jon Lorinc at Spacing looks at how the revenue tools for the Metrolinx projects could be turned into jobs for low-income neighbourhoods. Other cities have implemented policies to spread employment and help train more tradespeople.

Chantal Hébert in the Toronto Star points out despite the slew of comments that the NDP are finished now that Justin Trudeau (LPC – Papineau, QC) is the Liberal leader are unwise to say the least. Thomas Mulcair (NDP - Outremont, QC) and the NDP remain a strong presence in Quebec.

Here is an interesting piece in the Brampton Guardian about downtown revitalization. Mayor Fennell is pushing for a downtown hotel and convention centre, but there may not be the support on city council to do so. The article touches on some other issues, like the fact that Brampton’s downtown is undersized compared to the city and peers. A convention centre seems like a potentially huge public expense without clear benefits.  

This piece from The Atlantic Cities discusses sixteen reforms that Smart Growth needs. Smart Growth as a concept is ten years old now, and observers, academics and practitioners have some amendments.