Thursday, May 29, 2014

Worth Reading - May 29, 2014

Earl Washburn, author of the Canadian Election Atlas blog, has his latest projection up for the Ontario election. 

Provincial elections have a tremendous impact on federal elections (and vice versa). From the Toronto Star, the federal NDP is watching how the ONDP performs in this election. 

The Torontoist has an interesting piece on the power of incumbency and some numbers on how hard it is to push out incumbent city councillors. 

The next two articles are tied together. This one discusses how the ONDP under Andrea Horwath (ONDP – Hamilton Centre) has lostits moral compass

This piece by Robin Sears answers the above by saying critics and the hard left of the ONDP are living in a fantasy land devoid of the political realities of contemporary Ontario. 

For the record, I have mixed feelings about the current ONDP and the positions it has taken. It might be the subject of next Tuesday’s blog post.

Perhaps the most serious allegation of corruption has been levelled against Mayor Susan Fennell of Brampton. A close associate of the mayor has received numerous government contracts without tendering. 

Dan Stein, a Green candidate in this election, has an interesting piece about the lack of meaningful, tangible policy from the three main parties. Bias warning, obviously.

I don’t often talk about video games on this blog, but I really like both the game and this article. Prison Architect is a simulation where you run your own prison. The author talks about the subversive and moral messaging in the game. 

Steve Paikin asks, can one Green MPP make a difference? The answer is yes, and hope that the Green Party of Ontario manages to election at least one MPP this time around.

From the Ottawa Citizen, Peter Loewen warns that if the next federal election is about competence Justin Trudeau (LPC – Papineau, QC) could be in real trouble. 

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Northern Update and How We Vote

Today was an unusual day. The South Slave Divisional Education Council, in essence a school board and my employer, holds meetings once every two months in one of its five communities. The last community is normally Lutsel K’e, a fly-in community on the Great Slave Lake. After getting up at 4:30 and getting ready I boarded a DHC Otter and flew from Fort Smith to Hay River, to Fort Resolution to Lutsel K’e. Once our meeting was complete we returned the way we came depositing staff and our elected representatives as we went.

At one point during the trip I could not help but think, “I imagined I might get a job that required travel, but this is not what I suspected.” There is a certain surreal quality that creeps into my life. I live in a place where small aircraft is often the most effective means of transportation and at the moment the sun is having trouble setting. When I woke up at 4:30 it was bright and sunny, and it never truly becomes night anymore.

The week before I was asked to share my thoughts after three days of meetings between principals, administration staff, literacy coaches and program support teachers (special education). As I often say, I have very little to do with the business of the SSDEC, educating children, but as a somewhat outside observer I find it deeply impressive the dedication and results the educators here achieve despite all of the hardships and challenges. It’s humbling, inspiring and deeply impressive.

Changing gears, as the Ontario election date approaches I increasingly think about how I would vote. This is compounded by the fact that my family often asks me for insight on elections. Not instructions, more like preliminary research and help cut through the noise.

Not being on the ground and dealing with the question concretely I am given the freedom to consider how we pick who we vote for. There are innumerable options which range in the validity. Party, local candidate, ideology, leader, or various ephemeral or superficial considerations all weigh in on the choice. But what if you like the party but don’t like who they are running locally? What if you like your local candidate, but hate the leader/party? What if you like the party, but dislike the current leader?

We only get one vote, yet we are forced to make it do many things. I am a strong opponent to people using phrases like “voters clearly...” or “the people want...”. When asked to boil down all the things you are and believe into a single vote there can be no perfect distillation, even if you were voting for yourself! It’s an interesting challenge, and I am curious to know what qualities voters in Ontario will be considering when they head to the polls in coming weeks. 

Thursday, May 22, 2014

Worth Reading – May 22, 2014

With the Ontario debate (tragically only one) scheduled for June 3 Ontario media are asking for questions. Please feel free to submit yours

From City Lab, despite the great deal writing on the topic of gentrification it appears clear from recent census analysis that deeply impoverished neighbourhoods are very persistent over long periods of time

iPolitics takes a look at the Progressive Conservative Party platform and asks about some of the faulty assumptions that lay within. 

Michelle Bilek, ONDP candidate for Mississauga-Erindale and a friend of mine has a nice profile in local media. 

I saw someone on Twitter contrast the ruling party’s candidate for Prime Minister of India to Justin Trudeau. Reading this article about the Indian national elections certainly adds an interesting element. 

Transit expansion is driving up rent prices and condo-conversions in Massachusetts, and likely everywhere. Transit intended to service lower-income neighbourhoods may ultimately destroy them

Also from Next City – they had great articles this week – how the suburbs can be retrofitted.  The article discusses examples from new suburbs and urbanizing suburbs such as those in York Region. 

Adam Radwanski writes about Andrea Horwath (ONDP – Hamilton Centre) and the ONDP’s strategy for southwestern Ontario

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Fix the Debates and Include the Greens

Under law there is no need for debates during elections. That being the case it is the charitable donation of media companies and political parties. While these groups should be expected to have some level of altruism it should be remembered that that only extends so far. At the moment is seems the three main party leaders will be assembled once and put on the major television stations of Ontario. Given the importance of this election it is somewhat stunning that our prospective premiers will only directly challenge each other and face intense scrutiny once.

At the start of every campaign we have no idea when the debate(s) will be or how many there will be. Sometimes it only seems that tradition forces them to happen at all. The Northern Debate being held in Thunder Bay will only include Kathleen Wynne (OLP – Don Valley West) and Andrea Horwath (ONDP – Hamilton Centre). Mr. Hudak (PCPO – Niagara West – Glanbrook) says that “scheduling conflicts” block him from attending, which is nonsense.

The hands-off approach to leaders’ debates is unacceptable as they have become critical in the outcome of elections but are precariously implemented. Like elections, debates should be formalized and administered similarly by Elections Ontario.

One caveat I would add is that broadcast channels, except for TVO, should not be compelled to broadcast them and provide these debates online for streaming. Perhaps one should be reserved for mandatory broadcast, but those are more minor details.

The Quebec 2012 elections provided a fascinating framework for how debates should be run. There were debates that included all four of the major party leader, including Quebec Solidaire, a minor party in Quebec. Then the leaders were paired with each other for one-on-one debates. The debates became a week in the campaign and provided intense scrutiny and provided pared down discussions so that the issue of too many speakers was avoided.

Deciding during an election how many debates there should be and who should be invited is the worst possible time. The parties have a distinct interest in the number of debates and who should be allowed to attend. Media has limited interest in broadcasting five debates and losing valuable advertising revenue. This is way a non-partisan commission should oversee the process.

Finally, the Green Party leader, Mike Schreiner, should be included in any debate. In the local ridings the Greens are routinely included because they are credible candidates and not out on the fringe. The Green Party of Ontario is fielding a full slate of candidates and has produced a real policy platform that Ontarians deserve to hear about. Their exclusion does not make sense. The arguments advanced to exclude them could be equally applied to one of the three major parties.

We would do well to challenge the status quo by reforming (or creating) law around debates in Ontario. Democracy is about the sharing of ideas and coming to consensus. Limiting the voices heard in the public sphere directly impairs that. Debates are too important to be left in the hands of politicians. 

Thursday, May 15, 2014

Worth Reading – May 15, 2014

Slate has been writing a string of articles writing about the United States as if it were a foreign country/culture. The results are pretty humorous.

From Hillary Clark of TVO, she argues that electoral boundary redistribution is a big sleeper issue in this election. The imbalance between riding is outrageous resulting in three voters in Oak Ridges-Markham being worth one vote in York West. 

Andrew Coyne in the National Post advocates for mandatory voting

David Soknacki is a lesser-known candidate for mayor of Toronto. He advances himself as a policy wonk and an “ideas candidate”. The National Post writes on one of his ideas, to turn a failing golf course into a large public park

Justin Ling at Loonie Politics writes that the upcoming federal by-elections could be the perfect time for the Greens to pick up a third seat in the House of Commons. 

Kayle Hatt writes some analysis on Tim Hudak’s (PCPO – Niagara West-Glanbrook) plan to cut 100,000 public service jobs in Ontario. 

Martin Regg Cohn writes in the Star that the Ontario NDP have been enablers for the Conservatives to move farther to the right. There has been a lot of talk about the NDP’s move to the right (or if it has) recently.

Since I’m not on the ground in Ontario I have no idea what the campaign looks like. My family doesn’t know who they will vote for, and I’m told that most are disengaged. Eric Grenier writes that under these conditions it might be turnout that give the PCs a majority

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

The New Climate Change Debate

I must admit that I do not really understand climate change. The basic mechanic of the process has been explained to me hundreds of times since I was in school. To be fair, I presume that the vast, overwhelming majority don’t understand it either as one really needs to be trained in climate science to actually understand it. However, I don’t really understand how many ecological processes occur, but I accept the information presented by biologists, botanists, etc. inform me as scientific fact.

It strikes me as a remarkable amount of hubris that so much of the general population feels comfortable discounting the assertions of the near-unanimous chorus of climate scientists. This is the same public that will snag on any half-reported news article about what latest common item has been linked to cancer.

Recently the New York Times reported that the West Antarctic ice sheet has become irreversibly unstable. The scientists interview in the article claim that as the ice sheet breaks up it could raise sea levels between four and twelve feet. Even if you do not believe in man-made climate change there appears to be irrefutable proof that our governments have to address shifting realities of our planet’s environment. Four feet may not sound significant, but it would mean significant problems for every coastal city in the world and the displacement of millions of people.

Living in the Northwest Territories has provided a particular insight for me. Recently I have heard about several species moving north. Earth worms, magpies, seagulls are just a handful of examples that are being seen more in more north of 60. The expansion of these creatures’ ranges is not a product of random chance, but a friendlier environment for their survival. When the topic of climate change comes up in the North I rarely hear sceptics, just more anecdotal evidence on what is happening to the subarctic and arctic world.

Ignoring the coming impacts of climate change the current realities of harsher weather, floods, droughts, and rising sea levels will be enough to give pause to governments faces with mitigating such disasters. The scientists quoted in the New York Times seem abundantly convinced that we have likely reached, or passed the tipping point. Earth Hours and carpooling is no longer sufficient and will merely slow what seems to be an inevitable process given our refusal to act. Therefore the debate about climate change will be what shall we do to mitigate its effects or reverse the damage as opposed to preventing it, or more foolishly, does it exist.

John Oliver takes on the Climate Change debate.

Thursday, May 8, 2014

Worth Reading - May 8, 2014

This week’s Worth Reading focuses on the Ontario election for the most part.

As the Ontario election gets underway Andrew Coyne proposes sensible, meaningful and practical reforms to our debates, which means they are likely impossible. 

From Maclean’s magazine, a recently nominated federal Liberal candidate and close associate of Justin Trudeau (LPC – Papineau, QC) may have broken rules to win the nomination

Leaks from the Chinese government indicated that the communist regime there is preparing for the collapse of the last Stalinist state, North Korea

From the Toronto Star, there are great concerns in San Francisco about its housing market and the impact of gentrification and the tech boom. The author here extrapolates implications for Toronto, but I personally find it alarmist. 

Earl Washburn at the Canadian Elections Atlas does great work on electoral analysis and projection, I highly recommend his site during the Ontario (and all other) campaign. 

The Prime Minister has decided to attack our Supreme Court’s Chief Justice, which has not made a single person nervous. 

Calgary has undergone a remarkable transformation into a deeply bike-friendly city with an extensive network in just a few short years. Thanks Mayor Nenshi!

From the London Free Press, how Southwestern Ontario will shape the outcome of the Ontario election. 

Martin Regg Cohn on the unpredictable nature of the current Ontario election and lays the groundwork for how the campaign has begun.  

Walkom in the Star lays out what ONDP leader Andrea Horwath (ONDP – Hamilton Centre) has risked by withdrawing support from the Liberals

Goar in the Toronto Star discusses the depth of shamelessness in our politics on every level. 

Brampton’s new flood plan may be the impetus needed for extensive downtown redevelopment

Tuesday, May 6, 2014

Five Things to Watch for in the Ontario Election

Now that the province of Ontario is in the midst of a new provincial election there are a few things interested folk can look for that could signal greater trends. Some of these trends will not be evident until the votes are ultimately counted, but polling may indicate which was these trends are moving.

1 – Turnout

Trend lines suggest that turnout in Ontario will continue to decline. I am of the opinion that turnout will rebound to above 50% in this election. 2011 was a toxic, unpleasant campaign and was led by untested leaders: Tim Hudak (PCPO – Niagara West-Glanbrook) and Andrea Horwath (ONDP – Hamilton Centre). Members of the Queen’s Park press have remarked on their improved campaign performance campaign. Ontario will be given better choices this time around.

2 – Will there be a swing to the Progressive Conservatives, and if so, how big?

The Tories are the Official Opposition. If the people of Ontario decide to replace the current government their primary alternative will be Mr. Hudak’s party. Critics of the government will park their vote there even if they remain undecided. As the expression goes, opposition parties aren’t elected, governments are thrown out. The Tories have seemed to been frozen at about 35% for a long time. Can the Tories break through, or will they be stuck as on the opposition benches?

3 – Return of the Liberal Vote

Many Liberal voters were sick of former Premier Dalton McGuinty by the time he left office. His government felt tired and corrupt. I have a suspicion that voter turnout was so anemic in 2011 in part because of Liberal vote decline. Kathleen Wynne (OLP – Don Valley West) is a fresh face and offers Liberal voters a chance to come home without feeling guilty or ashamed. This is part of the reason I believe turnout will increase this time around.

4 – Ontario NDP vote in Brampton

Jagmeet Singh (ONDP – Bramlea-Gore-Malton) is one of the stars of the party. More importantly his team has been building a network inside Brampton. Before the election I was very curious if the ONDP would be able to snag the neighbouring Brampton-Springdale in a by-election. Nationwide and in Ontario the NDP has been working hard to appeal to Sikh voters and South Asian voters more generally. There is a real question whether or not they can make an impact and win additional ridings in Brampton, and perhaps elsewhere in the GTA.

5 – ONDP support in Southwest Ontario

Kitchener-Waterloo. London West. Windsor-Tecumseh. Three ridings the ONDP won in Southwestern Ontario and, with the exception of Windsor, they had a limited history in those ridings. Southwestern Ontario has suffered over many years as the deindustrialization of the province has gone unabated. Through a combination of blue-collar workers, and marginal middle class workers/professionals it appears the NDP has built a good coalition in the region. Don’t forget that the ONDP won Essex in 2011’s general election. It will be interesting to see if they can hold these gains and expand to ridings such as elsewhere in London, Brant, Sarnia and maybe even the rural parts of the region.

Anyone who can answer those five questions, or accurately predict those trends will have a pretty good idea what Queen’s Park will look like after June 12th. I would recommend tracking the signs that might clear up those questions. 

Thursday, May 1, 2014

Worth Reading – May 1, 2015

A truncated Worth Reading this week. My schedule has been chaotic of late and I have not had the time to dig up a plethora of articles, but I do have these five and a video.

The only news about Rob Ford that would shock me at this point is if he resigned or withdrew from the election. That being said the latest reported video and audio from the mayor has caused him to briefly withdraw from public life to seek treatment of some kind. 

From the Toronto Star, Chantal Hebert writes on the poor federal Liberal prospects in most of Quebec

Jon Lornic in Spacing looks on the recent Ford developments and considers the impact upon his supporters

Althia Raj in the Huffington Post writes a list of reasons why the Fair Elections Act fails to adequately address the issue of robocalls

The Atlantic Cities discusses a survey of American and European mayors and highlights the differences in their concerns and priorities for their cities

Chuch Marohn of Strong Towns gave a “Curbside Chat” in Vancouver. It’s a great talk and nicely summarizes his ideas. Video link here.

Chuck Marohn – Curbside Chat in Vancouver Nov 11, 2013