Thursday, July 17, 2014

Brief Summer Hiatus


I am happy/sad to inform you that I will be putting The Orange Tory blog on hiatus during the summer while I am on vacation. I have a lot on my plate over the next few weeks and cannot promise that I will be able to get to a computer, or that I can follow the latest and greatest news. 

I plan to return with a regular Tuesday post on August 12th. I hope you have a wonderful three weeks. 


S. J. Lee

Worth Reading – July 17, 2014

Check out these articles for your enlightenment and amusement. However, before I go on, last week I recommended my friend Simon Andrews’ blog on American early Republic/American Revolutionary ideas. In my recommendation I said, “If nothing else he is a very talented writer...” I would like to be clear, Simon offers an engaging and nuanced analysis of early ideas and documents from the American Revolution/Republic. My favourite aspects are how he frames the debate the Founding Fathers had as part of a continuum of ideas contemporaries in England. However, I just plain love his writing. I wish to be unequivocal. I think I’m safe now.

Scott Stinson in the National Post writes about a suggestion that Ontario be split into two provinces, Toronto and not-Toronto. Interestingly, a more reasoned proposal is out there to split California into 6 states.    

I sent an angry letter to the newspaper, Northern Journal, and they published it. Not my intent, but here it is.

This is a really interesting article. Restaurateurs share their analysis for why service is worse in restaurants today, and the answer is that it is your fault.  

City Lab shares that transit prices should, perhaps, increase to better fund transit. I immediately thought this was quite stupid. I amend that into the fact that a more flexible funding model should be explored.

From the Globe and Mail, a summary of the Ontario Liberal budget

Martin Regg Cohn writes on how God-awful terrible televised debates are. Reform is desperately needed. It is a terrible way to govern a fundamental component to our democracy.

An interview with the new Transportation Minister of Ontario, Steve Del Duca (OLP – Vaughan). There is some promising ideas here... but I remain cautious. I have been burned too much.

I referenced this in Tuesday’s piece, Susan Delacourt writes on how we should perhaps get rid of political parties

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Ending the Party

Susan Delacourt wrote in Toronto Star over the weekend that perhaps the solution to the crises in our democracy is to abolish political parties. It was a bold idea, but I think misplaced. Delacourt is trying to solve the problems of excess control of party leaders over their parties and caucuses. Instead of liberating MPs from their self-imposed shackles we should blow-up the prison itself. Apologies for the strained metaphor.

What would the House of Commons look like with 308/338 independent MPs? My first guess is very confusing. After the election and Canadians form a House the MPs would be forced to try to figure out the various political allegiances that exist within the new body. As in municipal politics they would likely affiliate with some political party on another level. For example, Toronto’s City Council is “non-partisan” but it is an open secret who are New Democrats, Liberals and (Progressive) Conservatives.

A non-partisan House of Commons would likely have to function like both the traditional House of Commons, and perhaps a bit like the modern-day Northwest Territories legislature. Much in the same way the Speaker is elected perhaps the collective House of Commons would nominate and choose candidates to become Prime Minister.

The problem with this system is that without the basic discipline afforded by a party MPs would have to be cajoled for every single vote. Governments would be at extreme risk of falling if Brampton South did not get its share of the pork. The horror would be if we exchanged our functional, though undemocratic, House of Commons for the dysfunctional sideshow we see in the American House of Representatives. More than now politicians would become fierce partisans for their local ridings, for better and worse.

I recently read Andrews’ analysis of Washington’s Farewell Address which discusses the rise of political parties. Origins are an important thing to consider in this context. Ultimately political parties exist to serve two groups: elected officials and voters. Elected officials no longer have to haggle for every single coalition. They are conveniently grouped into basic factions. You might suggest that parties have narrowed the discourse in Canada, and they likely have but there are some fundamental questions that divide all people in their political views on social matters, economics, foreign policy that make sense to divide officially.

Believe it or not but political parties serve voters. If the people in Brant, Ontario are opposed to the Harper government over the last few years they can express their frustration by tossing out their Conservative MP. In a non-partisan House of Commons voters would have an incumbent that voted with the government a majority of the time but declares his/her independence. Voters, in general, hate politicians but like their local incumbent. Political parties facilitate the transfer of power to new groups as basic organizing units. For citizens parties are, perhaps, the best way to engage in formal politics. Joining political parties, working on a campaign or working on a local Electoral District Association can get people involved and exercise greater political power. Also for unknowns interested in standing for office political parties offer instant brands and legitimacy. Without them only local notables would be able to advance, which may result in a concentration of power in the hands of existing elites, those with finances, familial political connections, etc. and an even less diverse House of Commons.

I wholly endorse the intention of Ms. Delacourt’s proposed reform but the method would hardly help Canadian democracy. Political parties are fundamental to the fabric of our political culture and they evolved for distinct purposes. They need reform, not abolition.

Thursday, July 10, 2014

Worth Reading - July 10, 2014

In case you missed it, Rob Ford is back in Toronto. Ivor Tossel wrote an inspired piece about the week of his return. 

The Canadian Bar Association warns that Stephen Harper’s government is upsetting the constitutional balance and damages our democracy. 

Martin Regg Cohn compares and contrasts the response of the Progressive Conservatives and the NDP in the wake of the Ontario election. It is pretty harsh for Andrea Horwath, but things do seem to be mounting against her.

Andrew Coyne proposes that corporate income taxes should be eliminated in preference to proper taxation against things like dividends and capital gains. 

Desmond Cole in Torontoist shares an amazingly candid interview with Cheri DiNovo (ONDP – Parkdale-High Park) which is referenced in Cohn’s piece above. 

My friend Simon has been writing a blog for a few months now about the American Revolution and the founding of the United States through examining important early documents. I took some time this week and read through all his work. If nothing else he is a very talented writer and I would recommend taking a look.

Politico reports that a more militant Japan may be exactly what the United States needs. 

This piece in the Guardian newspaper in the U.K. on the Labour Party could easily be talking about Canadian politics. The author discusses how the Labour Party should cast itself and how MPs need to have greater personality and independence from the party. 

Andrew Coyne again arguing for the paramount need for democratic reform

Justin Ling wrote this perspective piece on the upcoming federal election. He sets the date at May 30, 2015

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Democracy in the Northwest Territories

For readers in southern Canada they might best recognize the government of the Northwest Territories more as what is seen in their local city or county governments. Nineteen Members of the Legislative Assembly are elected on a non-partisan basis. There are no political parties in the Northwest Territories, which presents its own set of problems. Once elected the MLAs gather and select one among their number to become the Premier and form a government. It is a strange system.

Political representation is a real contentious issue in the Northwest Territories. This conflict is largely a product of the divisions that divide the Territory in most matters. Communities in the Northwest Territories are often divided into three categories: small communities, regional centres, and Yellowknife. Yellowknife is sometimes discussed as a regional centre but the size and scope of it in comparison leaves places like Hay River, Inuvik and Fort Smith well behind.

With a population of nearly 20,000 people Yellowknife consists of approximately half of the Territory, but holds seven of the nineteen seats in the legislature. I read in local media about the plans to address the imbalance. The simple option would be to grant Yellowknife additional seats, like was done across Canada with seat redistribution. Ultimately the MLAs went with a different plan and instead decided to combine the First Nations ridings of Weledeh and Tu Nedhe and give that seat to Yellowknife.

This decision has angered observers. The communities in Weledeh and Tu Nedhe are quite isolated from one another and speak different languages.

In many ways I am a classic liberal democrat. I believe in a rights-based series of laws and protections, individual liberty and freedoms and universal suffrage. Wrapped up in this ideology is one-person-one-vote. But what happens when one-person-one-vote and voter equality erodes the democratic rights of indigenous people to be represented in their own lands?

A newspaper editorial, which I have been unable to track down, referred to the redistribution of seats as “colonialism”. It’s a provocative allegation that has stuck with me since I read it a few weeks ago.

What is fair and what is just? These may have different answers entirely.

It is difficult not to see the racial undercurrents to this issue. Yellowknife is a majority non-Aboriginal city whose greater political representation will come at the expense of Aboriginal people and make representing the views of the smaller communities even more challenging for MLAs. It is hard to imagine that if the trend persists and Yellowknife comes to make up 2/3rds or more that a more explicitly colonial relationship will not take place with a central hub administering a hinterland of Native peoples with their marginal input. In this case I have to consider my liberal democratic impulses and perhaps voter inequality is the better solution.

Thursday, July 3, 2014

Worth Reading – July 3, 2014

On June 30th four by-elections were held in Ontario and Alberta. Turnout was abysmally low. Alice Funke breaks it down

The 2014 Ontario election appears to have divided the ONDP. Martin Regg Cohn talks about Andrea Horwath’s (ONDP – Hamilton Centre) approach to result of the election as a triumph

Believe it or not public transit has to balance a number of demands: area of service, frequency of service, and social service. Transit agencies may have abandoned their social service aspect to appeal to wealthier neighbourhoods in effort to gain support. 

Tim Harper in the Toronto Star writes about how the results of the Trinity-Spadina by-election may have no impact on the 2015 general election. (Obviously).

The Toronto Star profiles Deputy Mayor Norm Kelly and how he has brought sanity back to Toronto’s City Hall in the absence of Rob Ford. 

The Globe and Mail has an interesting piece about Canadian politics in World War I and the impact on the present. 

Martin Regg Cohn, again, talks about the Progressive Conservative and how the party needs to move away from the harsh tone and wedge politics

More controversy from my hometown! What pride I feel. The city has given out over $1.1 million in contracts without proper tender, breaking its own by-laws

Andrew Coyne in the National Post talks about Stephen Harper’s (CPC – Calgary Southwest, AB) recasting of Canadian history and how silly this conflict is. 

Last story for this week. From the Northern Journal, Yellowknife is asking the Supreme Court if the electoral boundaries redistribution violates the charter rights of residents. This is an argument between representation by population against local representation. At first I sided with Yellowknife in this dispute but reading an editorial definitely caused me to rethink the issue, which sadly I cannot track down. Perhaps more on this on Tuesday. 

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

A Vision for Canada

Happy Canada Day readers! When I initially thought of what to write today I defaulted to some political analysis of either our federal or Ontario’s scene. I realized that it felt out of place for the national holiday so instead I want to talk about vision.

Sometimes during election it feels like we are voting between which party we would like to be our accountants, or the manager of our bank. While we know these are important jobs and in some ways impact us daily we don’t particularly care. And when sifting through the particular candidates it becomes a matter of colours and branding and emotion over basically similar products or candidates.

TVO’s Eric Bombicino wrote a piece recently drawing connections to the small politics we currently experience to apathy. It’s an interesting piece and fits with what a lot of people already feel. Our political leaders are increasingly managers who oversee a government from a particular coalition of support as opposed to a different coalition of support.

That’s not to say that parties are not different. Of course they are. But the differences are smaller and the impact is less. Political parties and politicians seem less willing to strike bold visions for what the future may look like.

In preparation to write this piece I asked myself “What do I want Canada to look like 50 years from now?” Or perhaps better still in 2067 when we celebrate our bicentennial what kind of country do we want to have?

We can blame our politicians for not leading us to a vision, but I’m not sure Canadians spend enough time thinking about what the vision could be.

In the Northwest Territories I have ideas. I imagine a territory that is all but province in name. Communities are linked more effectively with infrastructure like fully paved roads and the Mackenzie Highway. Indigenous languages return from the edge of extinction in communities across the North and there is wealth and opportunity for the people here in the resource sector and others. Back home in the Greater Toronto Area I imagine new densified nodes with mixed use development. The suburbs are re-imagined to balance needs of people and make the more sustainable and the precious farmlands have been preserved. The cities in Ontario have been linked together through transit and people and move through the region cheaply to work, play, and learn. For the country as a whole, I envision better systems of democracy that better reflect the people that make this country great in the first place and a style of government more amenable to our different interests.

For this Canada Day I encourage you to consider what your vision for Canada in 2067 might be. We can only demand futures we can imagine.