Thursday, August 27, 2015

Worth Reading - August 27, 2015

Justin Ling has a scathing piece on what journalists have to do to cover the Conservatives' campaign. Sleep well, freedom of the press.

On a related note, the Prime Minister isn't the only candidate avoiding press scrutiny. This one has the added bonus of having a Brampton angle.

The Walrus has a really interesting piece on Uber and the taxi industry

To the great frustration of many, Brampton's decision on the Hurontario-Main LRT may not come in September

Hill Times gives its take on the PMO and Senate through the revelations from the Duffy Trial

Hopefully during the election we'll spend some time looking at the gender break down of the gender of candidates. From The Tyee, we take a look at female political reporters and columnists

The Globe and Mail has an editorial on how the Prime Minister's Office is undermining and parasitic to our democracy

During an election candidates' families often play an important role. Now that Prime Minister Harper's children are older they are taking on a more active role. 

Allan Levine offers his take on the Machiavellian PMO

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Fixing Cities and Paying for Sprawl

I am a big fan of the Strong Town organization. I have mentioned them many times on this blog. Recently I listened to a podcast between Andrew Burleson and Chuck Marohn and it had me thinking about the future of the cities in my region.

Here is the think to the podcast in case you wish to listen. 

Strong Towns for several years has been presenting a simple argument; the growth and development patterns since World War II are dramatically less productive and unsustainable and will bankrupt our cities and governments. At times it can seem very gloomy but they have done the math and can make the argument.

Here's a simplified version of one of Strong Town's key arguments. Consider you buy a house in a suburban cul de sac or crescent. On a brand new road with brand new pipes the city spends very little money to maintain or update the street. The property taxes are quite low. This works out for you, the owner, for many years. But at as the years tick by road gets worn down the pipes age and repairs are needed. The cost to resurface a road, lay fresh pipe, maintain sewer lines, etc. will be many, many times the value in taxes collected on that street. Infrastructure is incredibly expensive and by building at low densities it is difficult to maintain those costs.

Cities have confronted these budget shortfalls by relying on debt, transfer payments and new construction. The argument they would present is that new growth pays for old growth but the reality is that it never comes close to balancing.

With this premise Burleson sat down with Marohn, the founder of Strong Towns, to ask if he was a mayor how would he deal with a town about to face the sustainability crisis Strong Towns predicts. While Chuck Marohn in his speeches and writing has often given a hardline he was more diplomatic as the fictional mayor. Mayor Marohn would insist on frank talk, but he also laid out a dark future. Neighbourhoods would be surveyed and those deemed to be productive (covering their costs or providing the city with a surplus in revenue) would be preserved, but those living in inefficient neighbourhoods would face stark choices and difficult problems.

Suburban sprawl defines much of the Greater Toronto Area. How many millions, or billions of dollars of pipes and roads serve a comparatively few number of people? How many neighbourhoods are overdue for repairs but governments cannot afford them? How many areas are net losers for our cities?

In my home region of Peel this becomes a difficult problem to solve. Houses cost families hundreds of thousands of dollars. To turn around and tell people that the city will no longer be offering services to them would see the value of their homes plummet with unforeseeable consequences. In the podcast Marohn suggests that streets such as the one listed could be given options. One could be that the street could be privatized to the homeowners and the maintenance for it left to them, another suggested was that in return for continued city services the community could not impede developments to make it more productive, ex. increasing densities. Marohn added that with the second option that the neighbourhood still might not be savable and have to be abandoned.

However, cities defer these difficult discussions and choices by taking on debt, receiving bailouts from other levels of governments, or worse, taking from some neighbourhoods to pay for others. Ironically sometimes the poorest neighbourhoods are markedly more productive and valuable than wealthier ones. In the case of my hometown, Brampton, I wonder if we will reach a critical impasse. We already have a significant infrastructure debt, but as I bike through the western regions of the city it continues to sprawl out with strip malls and endless tracks of residential homes. People will not stand for property taxes going up a hundred times their current amount to begin to cover the cost of city infrastructure, so what then is the solution?

This is a question that will continue to dog all Canadian cities as almost all of them contain suburban neighbourhoods like this and these are the ones growing the fastest. Difficult choices lie ahead for city leaders, and delaying the discussion and doubling down on sprawl only makes it worse.

Thursday, August 20, 2015

Worth Reading - August 20, 2015

Norm Kelly really doesn't fit the template of a political social media star, but he might be the best Twitter account going by a Canadian politics. Here's an article looking at the unlikely rise of this 73-year-old's account

Gracen Johnson talks about the impact of small business on strengthening the urban fabric and revitalization. 

The Atlantic has an intriguing piece on the evolving sensibilities and sensitivities on university and college campuses and how we got here. The article transgresses the surreal at points. Protecting students may be cocooning them from reality and interfering with their ability to respond to real problems thoughtfully.

Add this one to the collection, a young woman running for the Liberals in Alberta had to apologize for comments she made on social media. I believe in a later story it was reported she resigned.

A writer at Vok spent some time with a man who attacks women/feminism on the internet. 

Steve Paikin writes about the tensions at Conservative Party press conferences

Check out Andrew Coyne's take on Harper's handling of the Duffy Scandal/Trial. 

The other day at dinner my sister, father and I were able to quote from memory some of the attack lines against Justin Trudeau as a joke. It suddenly became clear how pervasive that messaging has been, especially since most of my family isn't political. Susan Delacourt writes about the impact of this marketing

Chantal Hebert writes that the Duffy trial has become a lead balloon to the Conservative activists

Finally, the New York Times offers a scathing take on our Prime Minister and our election

I might be using this one for a piece next week. In May Chuck Marohn of Strong Towns sits down with his colleague Andrew Burleson to discuss how to manage cities facing a fiscal crisis

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Is 2015 a Change Election?

Is 2015 a change election? I am sometimes the downer of my friends and colleagues by pointing out the fact that even though we and many people we know do not like Prime Minister Stephen Harper there is a very strong chance that he may be re-elected. To progressives and those who have carefully watched the mismanagement of the previous years, or tuned into the Duffy trial the writing seems to be on the wall.

In Canadian tradition it is unusual for a political leader to last more than ten years. If re-elected Prime Minister Harper will have been in power 10 years in January 2016. After ten years a growing number of Canadians will be growing tired of Mr. Harper and interested in looking for alternatives. Part of the reason that governments/leaders tend not to last longer than ten years is that scandals and controversies pile up around them and drain them of public support. Jean Charest in Quebec, Dalton McGuinty in Ontario and Brian Mulroney federally are all excellent examples of leader taken down by years of baggage.

However, there usually is a straw that breaks the camel's back. For McGuinty it was the gas plants; a nagging political issue that threatened to destroy his government that was in a precarious minority. The Harper Conservatives have been in trouble before. Before the 2011 election Parliament censured them for disrespect for parliament. Sadly Canadians are worried more about financial transgressions than democratic ones. Even still, Tony Clement (CPC - Parry Sound-Muskoka, ON) misspent millions of dollars for cosmetic upgrades to his riding and he was re-elected easily, as were the Conservatives. It's always shockingly strange when something like Bev Oda, a former minister, nearly brings down the government with $16 orange juices when Clement can be forgiven his callous misuse of public funds.

Critics of the Conservatives can (and do) make lists of abuses under Prime Minister Harper and provide amble evidence why it is in the best interest of the country to replace him.  But that is not the average voter. Voters, generally speaking, don't care about omnibus bills or respect for parliament (to my great and profound sadness). What might stick is fraud. If any one thing might end the premiership of Stephen Harper it is the trial of Senator Mike Duffy. Remember that politics is about perceptions and not realities. Even if Stephen Harper cannot be directly tied to any of the allegations, just like the $16 orange juice it will create a narrative. Trials are smoke and smoke mans fire.

But any fantasy that the Conservatives will be routed from power needs to be tempered with the simple fact that the electorate is strongly divided. The Conservative vote is very efficient. Rural ridings across the country and certain Western ridings will stick with them even if they drop below 30%. Even below 30% they will likely win about 100 seats. Meanwhile their opponents, the New Democrats, Liberals and Greens are all scrapping for many of the same voters in the same places. Take for example my hometown, Brampton. In 2011 the Conservatives won all of the seats here, but Brampton, like much of the 905, used to be solid Liberal territory. Even at their peak the Conservatives only narrowly beat their Liberals opponents in some ridings. In 2011 the NDP made a breakthrough in eastern Brampton. In the 2014 provincial election that strength was reaffirmed and spread westward. It's possible that 2015 will see three-way races across the city which might result in smaller margins of victory and Conservatives winning despite declining popularity.

As stated before, the electorate is divided. There are a great deal who ready to dump the Conservatives and try something new, but there is probably about 20-25% of the population who will be voting CPC no matter what. If this is a change election the opposition parties are going to have to work very hard on the ground to prove it.  

Thursday, August 13, 2015

Worth Reading - August 13, 2015

This is an article I'll probably revisit many times: Harper's serial abuse of power

Adam Radwanski writes about NDP's Toronto-area strategy for the election.             

Last week I shared a podcast Ian Young appeared in, now here is his article on Vancouver's affordability crisis

The Toronto Star comes out against Mr. Harper's "terror tourism" policy. 

The Liberal Party is having more nomination trouble, this time in Vancouver South. From the Straight and the Globe.

In the National Post Stephen Gordon writes a critique of universal childcare benefits and boutique tax credits. I support the NDP plan, but it is important to address these concerns.

Toronto needs to redraw the boundaries for its council wards. This will be a big debate in the near future and will shape Toronto politics for years to come. A set of five proposals has been presented. 

Jane Hilderman, Executive Director of Samara, writes about how new House of Commons after October 19th will have to deal with a substantial rookie class

The Brampton Guardian is reporting that senior staff may have impeded the auditor's investigation

Divyesh Mistry has painstakingly drawn images of what downtown Brampton would look like with the proposed Hurontario-Main LRT. 

As discussed a few weeks ago New Zealand is debating a new flag, here are some of the proposals

From City Lab, what would a city on the moon be like? 

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

Book Review: Nation Maker by Richard Gwyn

Full Title: Nation Maker: Sir John A. Macdonald, His life, Our Times Volume II: 1867-1891 by Richard Gwyn

Reading about Sir John A. in 2015 seemed oddly fortuitous. The country is on the eve of its sesquicentennial and this election year may be hugely defining for the future of Canada. At such a time it is valuable to take a moment to reflect on how we came to get where we are and no prime minister has had a greater influence on this country's destiny than Macdonald.

Richard Gwyn presents a simple thesis, Canada was hardly inevitable and at a time of great fragility one of the ablest statesmen in the world laid a foundation for a nation-state. As a student of Canadian history I can say much of this is hardly a shocking premise, however, little scholarship has been dedicated to our first prime minister, which Gwyn seeks to correct. Certainly Macdonald wasn't alone in this mission, he was joined in the nation-building project by a cadre of incredibly able men, such as George-Etienne Cartier, Charles Tupper and Hector Louis Langevin. Gwyn does not deny the important role of Macdonald's cabinet and other politicians, instead he stipulates that Macdonald was possessed with the great skill to manage the diverse and fractured interests of the country and hold it together.

On a personal level Macdonald is a deeply sympathetic man. Reflecting on the entire character of the monograph I am reminded of the lovable rogue. Macdonald was hardly a perfect man, in fact he had deep character flaws and by any modern standard was corrupt, but he was charming, humourous and brilliant. I never previously delved into the personal life of Macdonald, but Gwyn presents a man who suffered many personal tragedies, but managed them with great dignity. The story opens with Macdonald remarrying; Agnes Bernard, many years his junior, would be by his side for much of his life and a doting and caring wife. Macdonald's son Hugh and he would have a tense relationship but found some resolution in his later years. Macdonald also had a daughter named Mary who sadly suffered from hydrocephalus, which is now easily remedied, but left her physically and mentally impaired her whole life. Mary's life in the final chapters and epilogue were particularly touching.

It might sound strange but Macdonald comes across as a man ahead of his time. He oversaw governments of men of different faiths and ethnicities, he spoke in favour of women's suffrage and despite the record of his government he accepted the Canadian state's responsibility towards First Nations people and took steps to protect them from abuses from liquor traders. Gwyn goes so far to challenge the established depiction of Macdonald as a racist.

As much as this book is a biography of Sir John A. it is also a history of early Canada. The rich tapestry of characters and personalities are vividly laid out. The conflicts of Canada's early years are fleshed out by the real people who lived and fought in those times. The central conflict of early Canada, the struggle between Protestant English and French Catholic, is the constant thread as well as the central nation-building project, the national railway. Louis Riel plays a prominent role in the narrative. What's amazing is that so many things that held the country together, like the railway, were in no ways certain. Macdonald only got them done through tenacious insistence, or by hook and by crook.

There is no doubt that Richard Gwyn does an exceptional job in humanizing and bringing life to our first prime minister. He was flawed and struggled and set many precedents of future prime ministers, some of them bad. He was no stranger to trying to wait out a decision, duck controversies, playing both sides, and living in the mushy middle. But he was also a man of profound vision. A British country from sea to sea to sea. Macdonald saw Canada reach its current boundaries, he played imperial politics to his adopted homeland's advantage, he forged a ribbon of steel that held the country together and introduced protectionist policy that created an industrial heartland out of the hinterland. A strange thing happens when a leader is in place for as long as John Macdonald was, over 18 years. Institutions and the political culture become rooted in their nature. While each subsequent PM has made his and her mark on the institution it in many ways is as Sir John started it. Macdonald seems an oddly appropriate founding father for our country, flaws and all.

I would recommend this book to anyone interested in learning about Canada, interested in biographies or politics. I think the text is fairly accessible for most readers.

Thursday, August 6, 2015

Worth Reading - August 6, 2015

Jesse Brown sat down with Ian Young of the South China Morning Post's reporter in Vancouver who writes about the connection between Hong Kong and Vancouver and the impact on housing and immigration. I found this interview incredibly fascinating and highly recommend a listen.

Similar to my piece on Tuesday the Globe and Mail broke down the electoral prospects and challenges of the parties in each region

Aaron Wherry writes about Stephen Harper's long campaign

Brent Rathgeber, currently an independent candidate for St. Albert-Edmonton, writes that abolishing the Senate is reckless

Canada's largest union (if I recall correctly) has put together data on Harper's economic record. It is hardly the rosy picture he depicts.

Adam Radwanski writes about the federal political scene in Quebec as we enter the first phase of the election. 

Now that the Pan Am Games have concluded in Toronto the talk has shifted that it is time to consider an Olympic bid. I am strongly opposed to an Olympic bid, but apparently the people of Toronto are not.

If you're planning to watch the first debate of the campaign tonight (8 PM Eastern, check your local listings) you might want to read Paul Wells' piece laying the foundation for the campaign

Tuesday, August 4, 2015

Primer for the 42nd Canadian General Election

On Sunday August 2nd Prime Minister Stephen Harper visited Governor General David Johnston and asked him to dissolve parliament triggering the forty-second general election in Canadian history.  For the next two months, until October 19th, the country will be in an election period. For most Canadians this will impact their lives very little, especially for the first 40 days or so. In recent past elections have only lasted about 37 days, however after World War Two many were 60+ days in length. So while this campaign is the longest one in Canada since 1874 it is not particularly freakish in our history.

In this post I hope to lay some of the basic foundations for citizens as we move into the campaign season.


There is not one election going on in Canada at the moment. As a parliamentary democracy Canadians will elect 338 Members of Parliament to form the 42nd House of Commons. The way the media and voters often describe the election is through the selection of who they want to become Prime Minister. This is a fair way of weighing one's vote, but it does not actually fit with how our system works. If a party receives 170 seats they will control a majority of the seats in the House of Commons and that leader will become Prime Minister. Any outcome other than that is less clear, and will be discussed at a later date.

During the election Stephen Harper (Conservative) remains the Prime Minister, and his cabinet remained government ministers. However, by convention their powers are curtailed. This is called the caretaker convention. No major policy should be carried out during the campaign. The media will be watching carefully for the government to abuse their powers. Impressively the government released its caretaker convention to the public. Tom Mulcair, leader of the NDP and Leader of the Opposition will be fighting to unseat the current government and become the first federal NDP government in history. The Liberals under Justin Trudeau will attempt to restore their fortunes from third place and vault back into government.

Where the Parties Stand

When the House of Commons was dissolved there were 159 Conservatives (CPC), 95 New Democrats (NDP), 36 Liberals (LPC), 2 Bloc Quebecois (BQ), 2 Greens (GPC), 2 Strength in Democracy, 8 independents and 4 vacancies. Thirty seats were added to help balance the population changes in the country. A significant number of MPs have decided to retire heading into this election. Together this means that incumbency will be much weaker in many seats than in previous elections. A number of organizations have calculated the results if Canadians voted exactly the same in the new boundaries. Not only were new seats added but others were adjusted to help balance populations. These are the numbers I am using below.

Tip: Ignore the national polling numbers. They are an average of Canadian opinions across the country, but voting trends are easier to interpret at a regional/provincial level. For example, two polls could show the Conservatives at 30%, but it include a 10% boost in Alberta and a 10% decline in British Columbia hidden in the average. Despite a stable popular support this would likely result in a drop of several seats for the Conservatives. Where the votes are matter a great deal.

Atlantic Canada

CPC - 15, NDP - 6, LPC - 11

Atlantic Canada is normally a rock for the Liberal Party. In July the Liberals were polling at ~40%, over 10 points higher than the second place NDP. It's possible the Conservative Party could be routed from the region, New Brunswick is the only province in which they have significant strength. The NDP will be hoping to hold on to what they currently have in Atlantic Canada, and possibly expand with a couple of additional seats in Nova Scotia (South Shore-St. Margaret's, Central Nova, or Cumberland-Colchester), one in New Brunswick. The Liberals play well in all ridings in this region and are hoping to pick off NDP and Conservative seats in every province. They have a particularly good shot in urban ridings in New Brunswick.

If the election seat counts are close all of these Atlantic battlegrounds will matter. Even though Atlantic Canada has fewer seats than Alberta they are all much more likely to flip.


CPC - 5, NDP - 61, LPC - 8, BQ - 4

The major question after the 2011 election was whether or not the Orange Wave that swept Quebec was permanent of a strange fluke. Polling since the election would suggest that NDP are firmly in place as the favourite party of Quebec voters. Though the 2011 election should remind us how quickly things can change. The return of Gilles Duceppe as leader of the BQ might boost their prospects. Both the Liberal and NDP leaders hail from Quebec, which certainly wins them additional support. The NDP won 59 seats in 2011. For a long while I assumed that this must represent a high-water mark and that in 2015 it would only be sensible to expect the number of seats to decline, even if only slightly. However, it looks possible the NDP will hold on. The Conservatives have two major areas they are hoping to play for. The area around Quebec City tends to be more favourable to them and they are targeting Mont Royal in Montreal. Mr. Harper is unlikely to do well in Quebec, but getting his total into double digits would help secure his government a great deal. The Liberals will focus their energies in Montreal trying to retake the seats lost to them in 2011.


CPC - 83, NDP - 24, LPC - 14

Ontario is the biggest prize in any federal election. It has the most seats by a wide margin and offers a number of contests between the parties. It is a bit silly to talk of the province as a whole because its own internal regions behave differently. The Liberals used to own the whole province of Ontario in the 1990s. The Conservative surge through rural and suburban (and even urban) Ontario helped to secure their majority government. If the Liberals hope to form government or the Conservatives hope to keep power it will be decided here.

In the province's capital city the Tory incumbents will try to hold on as many voters find their way back to the Liberal Party. Vote splitting, if the NDP rise again in Toronto, may be the only thing that protects them. In downtown Toronto it will be a knockdown, drag-out fight between the NDP and the Liberals. NDP candidates have been aggressively campaigning there for weeks already. In the 905, suburbs around Toronto, the fight will generally be between the Liberals and the Conservatives. Winning these seats pushed the Harper Conservatives into majority government. The NDP may be able to gain seats in Oshawa, Brampton, and around Hamilton, but unless numbers swing dramatically it will mostly be a red-blue fight in the 905. In the rest of the province the NDP have a strong shot at gaining in the North and in Southwestern Ontario where its provincial cousins have fared well. Rural seats should be safe for the Conservatives, but if the Liberals start to go up many seats beyond the suburbs could start to flip.


CPC - 22, NDP - 5, LPC - 1

It should hardly be surprising that the Conservatives do well in the Prairies. This is their home turf and base (with Alberta). Both opposition parties are polling up though and boundary changes in Saskatchewan make it much friendlier to the NDP. Urban seats in Winnipeg, Saskatoon and Regina will likely swap Conservatives for Liberals and New Democrats in this election, unless Conservative popularity goes up. Currently the NDP have no seats in Saskatchewan, but the 308 Blog by Eric Grenier is projecting as many as six seats could go to them. Saskatchewan and Manitoba are real battlegrounds in this election.


CPC - 33, NDP - 1

Alberta probably isn't the province you think it is. The recent election of a NDP provincial government should reaffirm that. The fact that Edmonton and Calgary are led by progressive mayors should also shatter some illusions people hold about that province. The opposition parties have been growing in strength in Alberta. The redistribution of seats created some more urban seats in Edmonton and Calgary that both the NDP and Liberals hope to pick up. From their base in Edmonton-Strathcona the NDP hopes to push out into other Edmonton seats. The NDP have the win in their sails in that province coming off an amazing win. Most seats will remain firmly Conservative but the cities will be places to watch.

British Columbia

CPC - 28, NDP - 11, LPC - 2, GPC - 1

BC might be the ultimate battleground province. The polls often show a three-way race in the westernmost province. All parties have a reasonable hope of picking up additional seats, including the Greens who will be fighting to maintain Elizabeth May's seat and gain Victoria. The city of Vancouver and the Lower Mainland of the province will see competitive races for all the parties. If the NDP hope to form government they will have to perform very well in British Columbia.

The North

With only three ridings it is difficult to generalize for the North. Incumbency will help a great deal, but given the comparatively small size of the electorate the swing of a few thousand votes can completely upend the election. The Conservatives are aggressively seeking to take the Northwest Territories riding from incumbent Dennis Bevington of the NDP, but Conservatives have to watch out in Nunavut and Yukon as their own incumbents fend off the Liberals, NDP and Greens. If the Liberals begin gaining momentum they might sweep the North completely.

What's Next?

I was going to discuss possible outcomes but this post is already long. Right now parties are scrambling to complete their nomination process for candidates. Given that this election was foreseen for a long time many ridings already have candidates. The Conservatives have nominated 294/338, NDP 263/338, Liberals 303/338, Greens 172/338 and the Bloc 41/78. Since the election isn't until October 19th there isn't quite the panic as if this was a 37-day campaign. My own riding's NDP association (which I am involved in) is getting ready to host our meeting.

For voters I would recommend checking to see if you're registered to vote in the election. After doing that you may want to find out your riding. Other than that voters can afford to enjoy a little more of the summer before the election takes shape. Keep reading here for more information!