Thursday, April 28, 2016

Worth Reading - April 28, 2016

Hello all, apologies for no post on Tuesday. It was a busy morning and afternoon that day and when I sat down to write something writer's block overwhelmed me. I have a couple topics I want to address, but it felt like returning to the same well too often, and another wasn't ready yet for the light of day. If any readers have suggestions for what they would like to see on the blog in terms of topics I'd be happy to entertain suggestions.

The Ontario government has announced a highly ambitious proposal that by 2050 only 20% of commuters should travel by car. Best of luck with that.

Ashley Csanady writes that the Uber-Taxi debate in Toronto is missing the voice of women in regards to safety

From the National Post, why non-Native Canadians don't understand that just moving isn't a solution

Jon Lorinc in Spacing asks what Toronto can learn from Janette Sadik-Khan

The Star is reporting on some questionable fundraising practices used by the Ontario NDP

Related, Martin Regg Cohn questions the motivations of ONDP leader Andrea Horwath in including big business and big labour at the political fundraising reform committee. 

Thursday, April 21, 2016

Worth Reading - April 21, 2016

This is a fun article from the other week. Someone identified the different types of people at an NDP Convention. For the record I have been the guy in a suit.

I really like this Andrew Coyne piece that takes apart the Trudeau government's media strategy and its evolving record. It also resonates with what I wrote on Tuesday.

Susan Delacourt suggests that the debate over the suicide crisis in Attawapiskat is showing signs of civility

Some news has been made when Mississauga Mayor Bonnie Crombie raised the mantle of her city leaving Peel. There is little to worry about, it is a common tactic used by the city in debates/negotiations.

Conservative Member of Parliament Michelle Rempel writes about her experiences with sexism in the House of Commons

Tuesday, April 19, 2016

Kid Gloves Continues for PM Trudeau

Despite the fact that we have seen Prime Minister Trudeau slug it out in the boxing ring it appears that the press in general is quite content to treat him and his government with kid gloves. I noted some reaction by media observers of the coverage of the Prime Minister in the wake of this exchange. 

A reporter begins with a joke asking Trudeau to explain quantum computing, and then after the laughter dies down asks a real question about the government's arms deal with Saudi Arabia. Instead of dealing with his government's hypocritical position to sell military hardware to a repressive regime he offered a humorous explanation of quantum computing. It was a funny clip, but the concern is in the reaction.

The video quickly went viral. The glee evident in headlines about the smart, sassy PM putting a reporter in his place. Odd given that his fellow media colleagues leapt upon him. There is a fundamental problem with the coverage of Trudeau - he's popular and he's clickbait. For fairly simply reasons people like Trudeau and like positive news stories about him. Media are desperate for traffic and so the clip of him making an 'off-hand' remark is far more effective than a long essay criticizing his government's hypocrisy vis-a-vis the Middle East.

Another wrinkle on this is the fact that apparently Trudeau was coached on what quantum computing was and was ready to deflect it. Much like the "It's 2015" line, it was carefully scripted and Trudeau is talented enough to make it appear natural.

I have mixed feelings about Stephen Lewis, but one thing that can be said for the man is that at the NDP convention he offered a full-throated criticism of the Trudeau government that has been far too absent in the public discourse. You can read the transcript of his remarks here. Where are the changes to Bill C-51? Where is the transparency of government, long promised?

Until public perception of Trudeau and his government shifts it is unlikely to move the public discourse significantly. This may be a reinforcing cycle though as the public has little criticism to glom onto, especially now that both major opposition parties are off in the wilderness. 

Thursday, April 14, 2016

Worth Reading - April 14, 2016

Lots of NDP stuff this week.

Aaron Wherry writes up his summary of the NDP Convention and where the NDP stands

Jen Gerson writes that while the NDP Convention removed Tom Mulcair from power it is Premier Rachel Notley who was thrown under the bus

Premier Kathleen Wynne has shared her plans to reform political fundraising in the wake of scandal

Martin Regg Cohn offers his take on Premier Wynne's sudden change. On Twitter he suggested an all-party committee, with the Green Party leader, should shape the new rules, and he suggested some serious MPPs who could get the job done.

Sean Marshall investigates Metrolinx's purchase of properties in Downtown Brampton. 

John Geddes suggests that Megan Leslie, former Halifax NDP MP, would be the good consensus fit for the next NDP leader, and considers other alternatives. 

Jim Gilliam argues here that to solve America's leadership crisis more people need to run for office, highlighting the shocking large number of uncontested elections. 

In local Toronto news a leader of Black Lives Matter is embroiled in controversy for a tweet. Desmond Cole pushes against the reaction and contextualizes it. 

Tuesday, April 12, 2016

The NDP and Leaping into the Unknown

Before I launch into this piece I think it would be fair to lay out some of my own prejudices so that all readers have a sense of where I am coming from before moving forward.

I consider myself a centrist New Democrat. While my sympathies and beliefs put me well on the left, those attitudes and values are tempered by pragmatism and certain beliefs of what is possible in the current context. In the 2012 NDP leadership contest I support Nathan Cullen until he fell off the ballot and then I moved my support to Tom Mulcair. In the lead up to the party convention in Edmonton I supported Tom Mulcair's leadership.

This past weekend members of the New Democratic Party gathered in Edmonton to assess its position in the wake of the 2015 election losses. Immediately following the election the knives came out for Mr. Mulcair and there were a number who wanted him to resign that night. Mulcair wanted to stay on. The 2015 result was the second best in the party's history despite heavy losses in Atlantic Canada, Quebec and Ontario. The objections mainly came from the left-wing of the party who never sat comfortably with Mulcair's leadership.

Before the delegates voted on Mulcair's leadership though they endorsed a resolution to study the merits of the Leap Manifesto Measured against the current Canadian political debate I think it is fair to call it a radical document. It calls for an entire change over of our economy, an end to non-renewable energy industries, embracing NIMBYism. While it does not explicitly say it, it is implied that the state should be the prime mover of this shift and would theoretically call for government intervention in the economy not seen since the mid-20th century. It calls for a massive expansion of the "caregiving, teaching social work, the arts and public-interest media" to drive growth. This alone tells me this is not a series plan.

To be fair the Leap Manifesto isn't a set of policy plans, but an ambitious vision. Instead of adopting the manifesto into vague policy the NDP has decided to debate it, riding by riding. As such it will likely play a central role in the upcoming leadership race.

I was frustrated watching from afar as the NDP seemed ready to move strongly to the left. I first joined the NDP back when it was decisively an opposition party. I do not mind foregoing power in order to stand on principle. I would have preferred if the NDP made a concerted efforts in other directions.

Aside from Tom Mulcair the most important speaker at the convention was Rachel Notley, Premier of Alberta. Listening to her remarks I saw far more of myself in her than in the Leap Manifesto and its advocates. Perhaps I am a Notley New Democrat and the party has moved away from her. A troubling sign given that she is the party's most popular figure at present.

Now we must fight over the soul of the party. It is not a fight that I am eager for, nor one I particularly want to have. On the positive side I am hoping that a leader emerges that I can invest my hopes in and rekindle some of my passion in politics. 

Thursday, April 7, 2016

Worth Reading - April 7, 2016

John Ivison writes that the Conservative leadership race is getting underway with a possibility of drafting Brad Wall and resurrecting Stephen Harper to hold the party together. 

As a progressive media operation the Tyee has been full of pro- and anti-Mulcair pieces. This one caught my attention arguing it was strategic voters who sunk the NDP, not the leadership of Tom Mulcair.  It's not a perfect argument and may be a bit of a post hoc ergo propter hoc.

Yay! The government of Ontario has introduced legislation to allow municipalities to used a ranked ballot for their elections

Canadian Press wrote up a story on the role money had in the 2015 Canadian election. Big spenders did not necessarily win, but it did convey certain advantages.

In the New York Times Ian Austen argues Mayor Ford was a symbol of Toronto's health compared to American cities, reconciling suburbs and urban core

Martin Regg Cohn shares some stunning research on the donation patterns in Ontario

Archeologists have made a new discovery of a second Norse site in Newfoundland

One of the big criticisms of proportional representation is that it would let in the lunatic fringe, in particular right-wing parties. I argued against this in Tuesday's post.

Now, how about an sophisticated maze a man created for 300 marbles to roll through, almost Rube Goldberg in nature. 

Tuesday, April 5, 2016

Proportional Representation, Representing Even Unpopular Opinions

If the Justin Trudeau's Liberal government holds to its promise our next election will use a new system to distribute seats. Given this opportunity reformers have been aggressively pushing for their preferred choice. As should be expected critics have popped up to offer their views on proposals. I, like many reformers, support some sort of proportional representation in our new electoral system, but many dismiss it as an alternative.

I've read a couple of editorials in newspapers and opinions on Twitter that touch on a flawed argument. Proportional representation would award seats in parliament roughly in accordance with their share of popular support. A party that gets 10% of the vote would get about 10% of the seats. Countries with proportional representation tend to have a greater number of parties. Denmark, for example, has nine parties in its parliament. In Germany five parties are represented in the legislature, but over a dozen others contested the 2013 election.

Some argue that introducing proportional representation to Canada would similarly fracture our political system into smaller, more niche parties. I have my doubts. Canada already has a large number of parties for the first-past-the-post system. That system works best with two parties, the fact that we have five parties in the House of Commons already somewhat puts the idea that there will be an explosion of parties a bit to the side.

This piece by Christian Leuprecht in the Globe and Mail particularly raised my hackles. Leuprecht argues that proportional representation would lead to the growth of extremist parties, like the Front National, Alternative fur Deutschland and Donald Trump. This argument, to me, reeks of high-handed elitism. In essence it says, 'We cannot use proportional representation or otherwise those people with odious opinions may be given a voice.' You might not like what the United Kingdom Independence Party stands for, you may disagree with them  passionately, but having over 12% of the population support them in exchange for 2 seats in the House of Commons is hardly a roaring endorsement of the current democratic system. Saying a great feature of your electoral system is that it marginalizes the minority political opinions of your polity strikes me as anti-democratic at its core.

When I was going door-to-door during the election I heard many people say that they opposed letting in any of the Syrian refugees, yet none of the political parties had that position. These people were shut out from candidates and parties that expressed their opinion. Many Canadians have questions about our immigration policy on the right side of the spectrum, and on the left there are grave concerns about justice policy, the relationship between police and minorities and gender equity that the major parties pay little attention to. Shutting these people out of the system does not mean we have successfully ended racism as a problem in this country. We have deluded ourselves through our system which rewards centrist parties that don't rock the boat overly much. I for one want the presently unpopular positions, policies and opinions to be represented so they can argued.

Canada has a long tradition of sweeping the unseemly, impolite aspects of our culture under the rug. I don't believe in that. There are Canadians out there who wish Donald Trump was running in Canada, who have views that I find abhorrent, but that does not justify me, or anyone else, to perpetuate a voting system that keeps their opinions excluded from the system.

If Canada was to adopt proportional representation I believe we would more than likely see a new party appear on the right in Canada, likely taking up the socially conservative mantle that the Conservative Party has suppressed internally, views held by many in Canada that currently have no home. The NDP would probably move to the left as they do not have to rely on centrist voters to maintain their support. If not, a hard left party of socialists would probably pop up. Observers have expressed frustrations about how close the Conservatives, Liberals and NDP have become in policy, proportional representation would allow a truly diverse set of views to be shared and properly represented. Opposing a system because you are comfortable in the current milieu is hardly a reasonable justification for opening broadening the discourse and better reflecting the true opinions of your fellow citizens.