Thursday, November 26, 2015

Worth Reading - November 26, 2015

Apologies for the short list this week, it has been a busy one. 

Sean Marshall took a look at GO Transit's fare system and found it unfair

The housing affordability crunch in the London region in England may be replicated in Canadian cities. The average London home sells for twelve times the median income, in Toronto it is eight times.

After the Liberals took government Finance Minister Bill Morneau (LPC - Toronto Centre, ON) announced they inherited a $3 billion deficit. Stephen Gordon says that this doesn't add up

What's next for the Ontario Progressive Conservative Party? In a recent speech Patrick Brown (PCPO - Simcoe North) suggested a more moderate path to win seats in the GTA

This week territorial elections were held in the Northwest Territories. Eight sitting MLAs lost re-election, including the long-serving Minister of Finance. 

Steve Paikin writes that Hamilton, Ontario could learn from Brooklyn, New York as a post-industrial city in a big metropolitan area. I think it's a flawed comparison, but it might hold some value. 

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Diversity in Government

When Prime Minister Justin Trudeau (LPC - Papineau, QC) announced his cabinet one of the noted aspects was its diversity. A great deal of attention was given to the gender parity, but there is also substantial representation from visible minorities in the new cabinet. Admittedly it is not perfect, and the claim that cabinet now 'looks like Canada' is incorrect. Several prominent ethnic groups are not included in cabinet such as Chinese Canadians, or Black Canadians.

Why does this matter? Diverse decision-making bodies are valuable because they can offer perspectives a more uniform group cannot. Different ethnic groups and communities experience criminal justice, policing, housing, and general discrimination is ways that it can be hard to know without personal exposure. Remember that an individual is not a single person but is tied into a family and a network of friends in a broader community and can speak to and for their experiences in Canadian life. I think the Trudeau governments gender parity policy was an admirable one, and one can hardly say the women in cabinet are not qualified for the posts they hold.

Recently an issue came up in Brampton that had me note that when governments do not accurately represent their people strange outcomes can be the result. A week ago or so a house burned down in Brampton, the cause of the fire was linked to fireworks during Diwali. As a result one of the city councillors, Grant Gibson, is proposing a total ban on residential fireworks. Being a resident of Brampton I find that fireworks can go off at strange times of year, and I have no idea why. I guess we're a pro-firework city, even if the city government is not. As you can read in the article there are already restrictions and permits required for fireworks in Brampton.

The four firework-approved holidays (New Years, Victoria Day, Canada Day, and Diwali)  are unequally matched with public firework displays. It's easy to impose these restrictions for Canada Day when the city puts on fabulous firework shows. As far as I am aware the city does no show for Diwali. Arguably if a total ban is going forward a city celebration should be put in place as compensation.

How does this question tie back to diversity? In the 2011 census the largest ethnic group was South Asians at 38.4% of Brampton's population. Obviously the "South Asian" group is difficult to parse and consists of many distinct ethnic and religious groups. Regardless, looking at Brampton's Council this diversity is not reflected. Elected in 2014 of the ten councillors only one is of South Asian origins, Gurpreet Dhillon. The 'White' community makes up 32.9% of the population, but nine of the councillors and the mayor hail from that group. Brampton has a Black population of 13.5% but no city councillor. Finally I will note there are only three women on council, Mayor Jeffrey, Councillor Moore, and Councillor Mills.

I do not believe that it is impossible for a person of one ethnic group to represent the interests of another, or that elected/governing bodies must be a perfect match for their constituents. What I am suggesting is that with a different composition conversations are likely to be less homogeneous and reflect a broader range of opinions and experiences. Creating a representative body is very difficult. Balancing ethnicity, religion, gender, sexuality, ideology and geographic is impossible, but certainly there should be an effort. 

Thursday, November 19, 2015

Worth Reading - November 19, 2015

On the lead up to the federal election there were a number of controversies over the selection of local candidates. It was easy to be critical of Trudeau and the central party rather than the candidates in these conflicts. The Edge in Yellowknife gives details on a controversy over the Liberal nomination in the Northwest Territories

I've seen this argument made numerous times before. From the Bramptonist, the election of five Liberal MPs means Brampton is poised to get special attention from the federal government. I entirely disagree. It suggests that the government runs solely on a crass quid pro quo model and is tantamount to corruption.

Hurontario-Main LRT advocates seem obsessed with the loss at Council, which has been frustrating for me. I like this piece from Fight Gridlock, a local organization, who suggests what supporters of the HMLRT should concentrate on next

On a related note, Brampton Council voted to have staff come up with alternatives to the HMLRT.  It's a frustrating position, I imagine, for city staff who already backed the Metrolinx proposal.

Martin Regg Cohn gives his take on the opaque and foolish decision by the Ontario government to sell off Hydro One

The Globe and Mail suggests that John Tory's proposed Smart Tracks plan has a major financial shortfall and that the 'Western Spur' may cost as much as $5 billion

In the wake of the tragic attacks in Paris there was an explosion on social media of professed support. My skepticism tends to put me in the camp that this was largely fueled by self-indulgence, self-importance and social pressure and little to do with the tragedy. This piece from The Atlantic offers a more positive interpretation

Andrew Potter takes a look at the Harper legacy and how while some parts are easily overturned by Trudeau the federal government has lost substantial power vis-a-vis the provinces. 

Finally, this piece from the New Yorker questions if polls are hurting democracy

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

New versus Old in the Liberal Government

As the Canadian government transitions from the Harper to Trudeau leadership it may be useful to consider the changes Canada has experienced since the last time Liberals held power federally. While political parties are institutions that help preserve continuity the Liberal Party that has formed the government is very different from the one that last held power in 2006 under Paul Martin.

One of the strangest aspects of the Liberal win in October was the fact that their caucus contains such a huge group of rookies. From 36 to 184 seats in the House of Commons, even with some returning MPs, there will be a steep learning curve, and difficulty managing the green caucus. When selecting a cabinet Trudeau relied upon experienced former ministers such as Ralph Goodale, Lawrence MacAulay, Stephane Dion, and John McCallum to balance out new faces. Still, the Liberal Government is hardly a return of the one that was defeated, and the country it seeks to govern and the world it finds itself in has changed.

The political transformation over the last nine years have been dramatic. We saw the unification of the Conservative Party, which was table to construct a durable coalition to hold power, the separatists were obliterated/marginalized from federal politics, the NDP developed into a national force with a strong presence in Quebec, and the Green Party has gained a foothold in Parliament. Oddly, despite all the shake ups at the federal level continuity has been the name of the game in the provinces. Many of the provinces have seen premiers in power several terms, and successfully passed onto their successors. Notable exceptions, of course, include places such as Alberta. The new Liberal government must consider themselves in a two-front struggle more than any previous government in the preceding 20 years. The NDP represents a real challenge on the left and not the rump it was in the 1990s. However priorities have clearly changed as well. The Martin Liberals was a party who embraced balanced budgets and a tighter spending than what Trudeau has signaled, a definite shift.

Elsewhere on the domestic front Canada's economy has continued its evolution. The last nine years saw an economy buoyed by decent financial regulations and high resource prices. Canada's strength compared to G8 peers largely has to do with the fact that natural resources kept our economic growth going and Canadian housing increasingly became an attractive investment for international buyers. With China's economy flagging the demand for raw materials is plummeting. Prices for oil and other natural resources have declined, and with them the resource-dependent economy they brought. Canadian manufacturing continued is sad, steady erosion, and with it the provinces of Ontario and Quebec languished. Due to this changes Ontario seems far less willing to make sacrifices on behalf of the rest of the country, and is looking for tangible support from the federal government. This may become clearer given the importance Ontario played in the Trudeau majority. As a country we move forward to a potential demographic crisis as the Boomers prepare to retire. The looming economic and social problems associated with the graying of our population has not been adequately tackled or addressed by our leaders.

When reflecting on the past nine years economically the looming presence of the Great Recession is hard to avoid. So much of Canadian life has been marred by its shadow. Instead of stable periods of growth or contraction we seem doomed to this prolonged limbo of stagnation. As a member of the struggling Millennial generation it is particularly evident in the lack of opportunities for my peers and I. Barring some international recovery Trudeau will have to manage growing social expenses while revenues remain low. This problem is already evident in the provinces which carry a much larger proportion of social service expenses.

Perhaps most striking thing for Canada's new government is the changed international landscape from 2006. In the early 2000s it was easy to continue to hold the post-Cold War image of 'America as the only Superpower'. Developments since that time has again and again shown that America does not have the power and influence to act alone and impose its agenda unilaterally. It has been my opinion that the world has returned to an era of Great Powers, such as in the 19th or early 20th centuries. Two striking examples of this has been the rise of China and Russia's belligerence on the international stage. Russia remains a threat to world peace: the invasion of Georgia, pressure on the Baltic States, and the military interventions in Crimea and eastern Ukraine. China likewise has become more aggressive in its sphere of influence and appears to be making investments in its military to ensure its dominance is harder to challenge. Meanwhile the past nine years has seen a crippling crisis slowly unfold in the European Union. Canada will have to navigate a more adversarial international scene and perhaps might have to find a faction to align its interests with besides the United States.

In 2003 PM Chretien's choice to keep Canada out of the War in Iraq felt fitting, but the position of non-intervention and peacekeeping-only seems more and more naive in a world where ISIS and like-minded revolutionary movements burn across the Middle East and North Africa. Add in the Syrian refugee crisis a refusal to engage in global affairs, with military force if necessary, seems irresponsible. When countries such as Belgium and Denmark are getting involved in these international crises it will be difficult to excuse Canada's absence from these conflicts. Likewise Canada may have to finally take military spending much more seriously to effectively participate in the global community.

In 2006 there were 32.6 million Canadians, today there are roughly 35.7 million. Much of that growth can be attributed to immigration. Many thousands of Canadians, increasingly from the "Global South" move to Canada every year. In time this has changed the character of our country, fueled growth of our cities, changed the nature of our classrooms, and streets and enriched our lives. At the same time, while broad multiculturalism is accepted by many Canadians there is a growing tension. During the recent election the niqab debate was a strong indication that our belief in diversity may be more surface level than we like to assume. If you recall the Marois Government in Quebec tried to introduce the Charter of Values, which would also have restricted clothes associated with minority groups. The place of minority cultures that challenge Euro-Canadian ones still remains up for debate.

It is not as though the Canada of 2015 and 2006 are unrecognizable from each other, but I think it is clear that the nine years that Stephen Harper was in power saw significant transformation of the country, and not all of it due to the social and economic policies of his government. The Liberals under Trudeau cannot simply pretend that returning back to the policies and practices of the 1990s will work in the current context. Perhaps Trudeau, like many new governments, will find oddly more to take from his predecessor than he first assumed. 

Thursday, November 12, 2015

Worth Reading - November 12, 2015

Andrew Coyne suggests that the Conservatives need to take a harder look at the Harper years if they want to return to government

Jen Gerson writes about the reaction of the 'establishment' to the defeat of the Harper Conservatives. There certainly has been some jubilation at the end of the Harper era among the intelligentsia of this country.

Maclean's has a piece on how the Liberals won their majority with new voters

An editorial from the Toronto Star on the Hurontario-Main LRT

The Ontario government is pursuing a sale of Hydro One even though many point to the fact that it will end a sustainable revenue stream and offers no long-term positive outcome. 

Apparently Patrick Brown, the current leader of the Progressive Conservative Party of Ontario, spent $2 million to win the leadership. Perhaps a sign of the increasing importance of money in Canadian/Ontarian politics. 

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Book Review: Paikin and the Premier by Steve Paikin

Since Confederation there have only been twenty-five individuals who have served as the Premier of Ontario. It is a small and exclusive club. Steve Paikin has been a reporter at Queen's Park for decades now and has a rare perspective. As Paikin writes, the books origins were in an observation that he was the only journalist to interview every Premier since 1971.

Paikin and the Premiers: Personal Reflections on a Half Century of Ontario Leaders is a collection of interviews and connecting biographies and histories. The interviews mostly consist transcriptions of interviews conducted at TVO. I found this perhaps the most disappointing part of the book. Paikin might be the best poised journalist in Ontario (or Canada) to land high-profile, challenging interviews. Former-Premiers Bill Davis and Mike Harris will not sit down for anyone, nor will current Premier Kathleen Wynne. When I began this book I assumed these would be new dedicated interviews with the Premiers on topics related to being a leader, governing Ontario, etc. The transcripts are fine and offer insight into the men and woman who have led the province, but at times it feels a bit like a square peg in a round hole. I cannot help but think this book would be substantially better with fresh interviews. I will concede this format did not work as well with me as I watched many of these interviews originally on TVO.

While most of the text is the transcripts of interviews I think the best parts might be Paikin's interstitial writing. The setup and context for each interview and the brief windows into Ontario's political history might be the most interesting aspects. Some of this is predictable given the subjects of the interview. Most of the interviewees were sitting Premiers. Their honesty and forthrightness could be, let's say, limited. Going into an election that one seemed doomed to lose (Eves, Rae) they were talking like victory was around the corner. It would be more valuable to interview them today and reflect back on that time.

The interviews with the men I was least familiar with were the most interesting. In particular, John Robarts, Premier from 1961-1971, had a fascinating and difficult life and remarkable premiership. The personal histories might be the real strength here. Paikin has a well-known sympathy and interest in politicians.

This book has a niche appeal. If you're interested in Ontario politics and snapshots of the past it may be of interest to you. I know it did not meet what I was hoping to find, but that's not to say it isn't interesting or compelling at points. Paikin's earlier books The Life: The Seductive Call of Politics and The Dark Side: The Personal Price of a Political Life are far stronger case studies of political life. Sadly, these interview may best be explored through TVO's archive of interviews rather than in written form.

Thursday, November 5, 2015

Worth Reading - November 5, 2015

Punjabi Canadians have a growing presence in the halls of power and reflect the shifting demographics of the country. According to The Hill Times Punjabi is now the third language of the House of Commons, after English and French. 

The Brampton Council voted down the Hurontario-Main LRT through downtown. During the vote Twitter was very active. Through that I was exposed to some new and interesting voices, one of them Fatima, wrote a piece about engagement in light of the meeting. You can follow her @Fatima_Barron

From the Toronto Star's Christopher Hume, Brampton drives another nail into its own coffin with the LRT decision. 

Final piece about the Brampton LRT issue (for now), Sean Marshall is another great Tweeter you should be following, @Sean_YYZ, wrote a response to Council's decision

A lot has been written about Justin Trudeau's new cabinet. The inclusion of so many rookies makes it tough for even junkies like me to wrap my head around what it all means. In light of that here is a simple list of all the new members of cabinet

Electoral reform is one of Trudeau's promises that I will be following most closely. Martin Regg Cohn writes that this might be his greatest challenge

If you want to follow the Trudeau Government's commitment to their promises a website has been set up to track their progress on their 184 promises

I first heard about this article on the Idle Thumbs podcast. This is an article about the potential hazards of artificial intelligence. AI has become an increasing topic of fear in our media, so check out how paper clips could destroy us.

This was one of the most disappointing articles I've seen this week. MPs in all parties are expressing reticence in adopting the new powers given to them through the Reform Act

Tuesday, November 3, 2015

Benefits of a Long Campaign

At several points during the election campaign I thought, "Thank God we have eleven weeks," or "How could we have done this in six weeks?" As you may recall much of the conversation at the beginning of the campaign was about the fact that the 2015 federal election was the longest campaign in modern history and therefore the most expensive campaign that would greatly expand the spending limits. Despite the added costs and challenge I think it is hard to say that the public did not benefit from a longer campaign.

This was the first election that I worked very closely with a campaign. I have volunteered on a few campaigns, but this was a different level of immersion entirely. I believe that the higher voter turnout, up to nearly 69%, can be attributed in part to the longer campaign. One of the first things you learn in a campaign is that voter contact is key to turning out your vote. Campaigns had eleven weeks to reach out to voters, compared to the usual six weeks. Add in the fact that election advertising had much longer to reach a greater number of Canadians and the media had more time to inform voters about the campaign and the issues. Every once in a while I'd hear a story about a voter who didn't know that there was an election on.

The short campaign benefits the incumbents disproportionately. In an era before fixed election dates this was even more the case. Incumbents can quickly secure their nominations, usually unchallenged and go on with the rest of the campaign. Challengers have to be invited to compete in a nomination contest, sign up members, hold a meeting and then try to bring together the local party afterwards. This directly affected Brampton South, my riding. The NDP did not nominate a candidate until August 17th. We were working towards an August 30th meeting when the election was called. The reason for the delay is quite simple. There are rules governing how the nomination meeting has to be run, such as at least two weeks notice to party members before holding a meeting sent by mail. Not to mention candidates need to sign up new members and want more time.

The longer campaign also made it a better, more substantial campaign. The initial "gotcha" stuff got out of the way pretty early, which in a standard campaign would have dominated the early third. Several substantive issues came to the forefront during the campaign including the Duffy trial, the Syrian refugee crisis, niqab and civil liberties, and debts and deficits. Historically our elections often only revolve around an election or two, but in the last campaign there was enough time to present a number of competing visions for Canada. The longer campaign also allowed time for more debates and gave local organizers more opportunity to prepare for their own.

It is not all upside, of course. The longer campaign means a heavier burden on candidates and volunteers. One of the most troubling stories during the last election for me was that an NDP candidate in Saskatchewan has to resign as the candidate due to financial pressures. Being a core volunteer for 11+ weeks was certainly challenging for me. Remember that candidates often have to take a leave of absence from work and are living off debt or savings during a campaign, or a spouse's single income. A longer campaigns, if not considered carefully, will exclude less well off candidates from running.

Overall I think it's clear that the benefits outweigh the cost and that perhaps as a country we should move the minimum length of an election 50 days. Though if we do other related parts, such as funding , need to be re-examined.