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Executed Prisoners Are Not Political Props

June 25, 2015

Huffington Post: The Conservative Party of Canada uses the execution videos of the people they want to protect as props to attack Liberal leader as unprepared for leadership.

Whether military action is warranted and productive is a case by case decision. That is a discussion to have and the Liberals and Conservative and NDP may be right or wrong on it. Most likely they’re all wrong. I don’t know if Canada’s contribution to air strikes is the best use of our resources or if the current strategy for fighting ISIS is the right one. But I know this, using video clips from the terrorists we are fighting, of prisoners which they were in the process of executing is beyond inappropriate.

I know this has been done this before by the Conservative Party, and probably others have too, but that doesn’t make it alright. You could use images from old wars, dying soldiers or bombings to whip up fear, that would be wrong too. But this is actually worse than using such images, because the prisoners they are showing died recently in the current conflict. Maybe they aren’t even dead yet. They could still be in prisoned or be being tortured. These are actually the people you are trying to save, them and people like them.

Yet it seemed reasonable to use an image of the worse moment, and likely the last moments, in the lives of these prisoners to score a minor point on one of your opponents?

This is the definition of fear mongering and it is insulting to the intelligence of Canadians. But above all, it is a supremely disrespectful use of the prisoners whom ISIS has killed, the very people we are arguing about how to protect and save.

The Conservative party must stop using these images in their attack ads and completely and fully apologize for their usage including firing everyone who thought it was a good idea.

If an election falls in the forest and nothing changes…ever, is it still a democracy?

May 3, 2015

I’m an outsider to Alberta politics so I’ll try to avoid talking about which party should win or what policy issue is most important. But there are some disturbing, anti-democratic threads in the wave of editorial endorsements for the ruling PC party in Alberta that I want to highlight.

I was going to build a careful argument about the message in the editorials but some of their ideas seem so directly absurd, cautious or insulting to democracy that I think they can almost stand on their own, all emphasis added is my own.

The main argument of all of them comes down basically to this:

Desperate times don’t always call for desperate measures.
Calgary Sun

First off, they all admit the problems and where the anger is coming from:

Jim Prentice…is largely running against the record of his predecessors. So are the opposition parties. There’s a lot to run against.
Globe and Mail

The party must find a way to address a growing list of problems and infighting, or its tenure as ruling party will draw to a close.
Calgary Herald

The party around him (Prentice) still carries decades of rot…The absentee landlords of our public purse binged on us for political gain.
Calgary Sun

They even admit the differences between the NDP and the PCs aren’t that great in some ways:

Mr. Prentice’s budget agrees on the principle (of raising taxes on upper incomes), though his tax increases are smaller than the NDP’s.
Globe and Mail

While we are not fans of the increased taxation in his budget, we understand the end game.
Calgary Sun

In a vibrant democracy, dissent is a needed force.
Edmonton Journal

Yet they argue that voters should be satisfied with a change in leadership of the same party only.

Albertans can anticipate that their government will be countered by a strong opposition after Tuesday’s election, and that’s a reality that should only serve to strengthen the quality of our governance.
Calgary Herald

It (the NDP) could make a fine Official Opposition, but it isn’t ready to govern…But his government deserves to face something Alberta hasn’t seen in a long time: a strong contingent of opposition members.
Globe and Mail

A strong opposition could provide some innovative solutions he hasn’t considered to smooth out the province’s notoriously unstable revenue regime.
Edmonton Journal

That sort of thinking is a clear sign that Prentice isn’t leading the same old Tory party; he’s a leader with clarity of vision and the aptitude to chart a new course for Alberta.
Edmonton Journal

Well, what more could the voters really ask for?

Then there is the scaremongering about the essential fact of democracy, change.

But in this economy, we need to be wary about putting in rookies to run the show.
Calgary Sun

No one wants another costly and divisive election, hard on the heels of this one.
Edmonton Journal

The problem is that the Wildrose is untested. Jean, while a member of the Stephen Harper government for many years, only assumed the party’s helm on March 28.
Calgary Herald

Rather than wavering too far to the left or right, and from a proven path.
Calgary Herald

People seem to disagree about how “proven” that path is, thus the dissatisfaction that shows up in the polls.

But here’s the kicker:

If we’re going to have “generational change,” let’s strengthen Alberta’s foundation, not put it at risk.
Calgary Herald

This is an important point, by “generational”, I think people are actually talking about the one unavoidable, unarguable fact of this election. It’s a sentence that sits quietly two thirds of the way down in every single article about the election:

The Progressive Conservatives have held power, without interruption, for 44 years.
Globe and Mail

That’s half a lifetime, a whole generation. Half the voters out there have never seen another party win, ever. Democracy is about representation and change. More precisely the ability to change government in a peaceful manner. This is something we have only in recent centuries begun to master, but if we never use the power to change, do we really still have it?

Usually once a single party wins a couple times in a row, the opposition tears itself to pieces with internal strife trying to figure out why no one chooses them. Eventually they find an answer which is more palatable to the electorate or someone starts a new party to fill the gaps the perennial party has since no one and no party are perfect. Alberta has done this more than most regions in Canada at the federal level. So why is that the province can’t handle a change at least once every 44 years?

The voters of Alberta have a choice to make on Tuesday and they need to make that choice based on their own beliefs and their own strategic thinking about the situation. This thinking should include the message that it will send to everyone who has supported the PCs for those 44 years if their party wins again. Mr. Prentice may be very different from his predecessors but those supporters and others in the party will get another message which is: “Carry on, carrying on”, because voters are happy with the party.

If that’s the message you want to send, then go for it. But consider it carefully, the rest of Canada is watching and the implications of your choice are going to be the most important political event that has happened since the collapse of the Bloc.

On the significance of sound and fury.

April 17, 2015

Oh journalists, you love a strong response to an unanswerable question don’t you?

The media are really into nailing down what each party leader thinks about coalitions after the next election at the moment. Case in point, this week’s little drama with Liberal leader Justin Trudeau trying to answer questions about coalitions with the NDP after the election which he shouldn’t be answering:

The CBC even posted a video question on Facebook about: Coalition for Canada?

As someone on that Facebook thread pointed out, the simple story that many are reciting is that Trudeau said he’d be willing to have a coalition if it weren’t for NDP leader Mulcair. All the articles just snap parts of the quote to magnify this context. I can’t find the full interview. But it doesn’t matter because the next day:

Well that’s nice, glad it’s all wrapped up and we know what Canadians want.

This article by John Ibitson has some bluster about the Liberals being closer to the Conservatives than the NDP but is more on target about what the coalition options really are after an election :

I don’t really think Trudeau meant the problem is Mulcair. He said he doesn’t want to talk about it, trying not closing the door entirely and unwisely responded to a ridiculous personality question, and then he closed the door entirely.

But here’s the thing, none of this really matters.

Begin rant

The great thing about democracy is those running for office can propose to do whatever they want and if they can get the voter’s support, then it’s ok (within the bounds of the constitution). That is literally all that there is to it.

So if the NDP and the Liberals can come to a coalition agreement or a non-aggression pact of some kind before the election, the voters will take that into account. If they stay vague, the voters will take that into account. If they don’t say anything either way, then after a hung parliament (because that’s what it really is when no one wins an outright majority of seats, and in the UK they’ll call it that) they can try to work together to form a government…or not.

Whatever they do they will be acting within their mandate because the MPs are elected individually. The parties are merely useful hallucinations which we created to simplify the process of making a hard, unified decision across hundreds of ridings, and of course to make fundraising easier.

Regardless of what approach the MPs take, or what approach their parties decide on and ask their MPs to support, the voters will react and the next election they can make a different decision. In the mean time if the voters are unhappy they can protest, raise funds for other parties, start new parties themselves or run in by-elections to make their unhappiness known.

So should party A and party B agree to form a coalition before the election happens? It doesn’t matter and why would you answer that question? Why tie your hands before you even know voter intentions? Even if they take a stand either way, they don’t need to stick to it. All that matters are what all the voters say in each riding which determines who their empowered elected MPs are. Then it only matters what those MPs decide to do to work together and form a government, in full freedom, on behalf of their ridings.

Our democracy is at once simpler and richer than any of this discussion gives it credit for.

There is nothing illegal, misleading, or dishonest about forming a coalition before the election or forming it afterwards, whether it was planned and discussed or not. It’s just parliamentary democracy in action.

Embrace it.

Should America Make Voting Mandatory?

March 19, 2015

So US President Obama recently suggested that making voting mandatory. There are multiple reasons for this, one being that the people who don’t vote are more likely to be low income and democrat so it would favour his party. But he also suggested it would reduce the influence of money in politics since the candidates that can spend more to make sure their base get out would lose the advantage.

I don’t disagree but I think there are many better ways to get people voting, like ensuring every vote counts equally and that every significant voice is heard even if they don’t win the horserace. Mandatory voting can’t really hurt despite some wails from people who will reliably claim this is removing people’s freedom. Voting is one of the duties we have as citizens in our society. However, that doesn’t mean you have to vote for someone. I don’t know if Australia or the other nations with mandatory voting do this, but I would think it absolutely essential with mandatory voting would come the universal inclusion of a ‘none of the above’ option on every ballot. This would allow people the freedom to protest the choices or the entire system system without paying a fine. It should be mandatory to show up to the ballot box, register and do something with the ballot. Most people will choose to vote but we cannot mandate free citizens to choose from a list of two, or even five or 20 for that matter, without giving them the option of saying “no, just no”.



Toronto’s Future Isn’t Written Yet

October 20, 2014

If you make to the end of the Back to the Future movie trilogy, past the flying cars and cowboys the last scene has a sage bit of wisdom to help you get through life…and voting:

Jennifer: I brought this note back from the future (about Marty losing his job) and…now it’s erased!

Doc: Of course it’s erased!

Jennifer: But what does that mean?

Doc: It means that your future hasn’t been written yet. No one’s has. Your
future is whatever you make it. So make it a good one.

In a way, opinion and voter intention polls are like that note, they are an attempt to look into the
future. Then pundits and journalists sit around looking at empty pieces of paper asking “what do they mean?”.

Polls come from asked people to predict how they’ll vote at some point in the future. These predictions are analyzed statistically but pollsters need to make assumptions. Assumptions about how good people are at predicting their own future decisions. Assumptions about how likely they are to lie to pollsters. Even assumptions about what kind of people the respondents are. After all, these are people already on their call list, usually with landline phones and who actually answered the pollster’s call rather than just hanging up the phone. That’s definitely not everyone.

The polling companies do their best try to correct for these biases but with limited data it is, unfortunately, more of an art than a science. In the past few elections in Canada, analysis of polls has been quite misleading. The current election for Toronto’s Mayor on October 27 could prove to be even worse. The reasons people would vote for any of the main candidates is very complicated and emotional. A lot will depend on who comes out to vote, which campaigns can get their supporters out and how afraid some of the city is of one candidate or another actually winning. The pollsters can’t predict how all of that complexity will affect the election result.

So there are lots of reasons to be cautious about what polls say but there is even more reason to be cautious, or ignore completely, what you see on the news about polls and polling trends. Just look at the media interpretation of polls in the run-up to the most recent BC, Quebec and Ontario elections, there were lots of surprises once the voting results started coming in.

And if the polls are suspect, if the outcome is unpredictable then strategic voting is even more dangerous than usual. I’ve supported strategic voting in the past, and I still believe that every vote is a strategic vote. But strategic voting doesn’t mean you always have to vote for someone you don’t like to avoid someone you hate. It just means you think about what is likely to happen and take that into consideration when making your decision. The polls are relevant but so are many other things: who’s supporters are likely to show up on election night? what population do the polls miss and how would they vote?

Pundits talk about inertia in polling numbers. But this is an illusion that can fade like a puff of smoke on election night, if we so choose. The citizens of Toronto are not a train barreling ahead off an abandoned bridge, that has inertia. It takes no more effort to change your mind in that little voting booth than it does to decide what to have for lunch today. But it’s much more important! So whatever you think, whoever you believe, wherever you think Toronto needs to go in the next four years: get out on October 27 and vote so your voice is heard. If you don’t know where and how to vote check out the Toronto Elections website.

Personally, I don’t think we need to worry so much about the precise details of each candidate’s plans for transit, child care (if they have one), jobs (if they have one) or how to bring in more business and tourists. Carrying out any plan requires all of council and usually all levels of government. So we need to rather worry about what their high level goals are, how they think about these problems and how they plan to work with others so the city can move on to reach it’s potential to be truly great for everyone who lives here.

When making your decision the most important fact to remember should be this one: we haven’t made our decision yet. So don’t make it out of fear, make it out of hope.

The future of Toronto is whatever we make it. So let’s make it a good one.

Ranking the Lesser of All Evils

September 14, 2014

So we finally know exactly who will be on the ballot for mayor of our quiet little town of Toronto.
It’s not who we expected, which isn’t surprising in a strange way, but it is done.
In a sane world the municipal campaign wouldn’t start until now. Six weeks is more than enough time to hear from the main candidates and make a decision. If it’s good enough for federal elections why isn’t it good enough for city elections?

In all these months the main issues of this election have been discussed ad nauseum: Transit, Anyone But Ford, Taxes, Services, oh and Transit. So how about talking about something else? How about talking about the democratic machinery we are participating in as citizens?

Wow, boring right? Or maybe it’s too complicated? Journalists, politicians and pundits tell us that citizens don’t have time or interest for such things.

Well tough.

This entire four year slow motion train wreck was enabled by some structural failures in our democratic system. From a close two-and-a-half-way election four years ago, to the lack of impeachment powers at the municipal level, to wasted years and millions due to a lack of central decision making on long term, regional transit planning.

A few days ago, before Friday’s big news about the Ford family playing musical chairs at the last second, some current and former candidates for mayor addressed one simple way of improving our democratic system. David Soknaki and Olivia Chow pledged support for ranked ballots in city elections and for reform to make democracy more representative at all levels of government. John Tory says he’d rather wait for a report from the province on democratic reform. Prudent and cautious as usual for Tory, but unnecessary. Admitting the fact that our current system is flawed and committing to fight to fix it does not require a report from a Royal Commission. You’d think someone who has lost so many elections would be more willing to change the system. Rob Ford did not reply to that article’s request and no one knows what Doug Ford thinks of such a proposal, but I suspect the answer is ‘not much’.

The idea of ranked ballots is very simple and described well by the Ranked Ballot Initiative (RaBIT) which is trying to get this change adopted. Ranked ballots are not without controversy. One of the other major democratic reform groups active in Toronto, the national Fair Vote Canada (fantastic organization, sign their Declaration of Voter Rights!), is opposed to ranked ballots and other instant runoff systems. This is because simply ranking candidates and doing runoffs does not guarantee that election results will match the proportion of votes in the population. This is true, but they do provide less ambiguous results as the winner will always have at least half the city’s votes. Even Rob Ford’s landslide win last election only amounted to 47% of the votes. A clear win but not what many journalists lazily continue to call a ‘majority’. Meanwhile around 10% of the vote from that election went to a third candidate who, it turned out, could never win. In a ranked system at least those voters would have had a second shot to influence the real contest between Smitherman and Ford, perhaps leading to the same result. Another benefit could be to discourage candidates from burning bridges by disparaging similar candidates to themselves whose second and third choices they would like to get in the instant runoffs.

You could say that in normal years, the Toronto Mayoral election already has a flavour of ranked ballots as candidates self-select and drop out before the deadline when it becomes clear they can’t win. I’d rather the voters make that choice, but no matter. Of course, this is not a normal election year with the deadline this year seeing the incumbent drop out while his brother jumps in to the race for the final stretch. Now more than ever we need to acknowledge that an election choice is more subtle than any winner-take-all contest can ever capture. Voters are forced to choose the lesser of all evils and vote strategically about who they want as well as keep in mind who they are afraid might win. Why not let the voters rank the evils directly and stop worrying? It would be more honest.

Good for Olivia Chow for supporting democratic reform so directly.

Government and democracy are about more than just finding efficiencies, lowering taxes or even getting people moving. Informed and responsible citizens of a democracy need to work to make the system better, more representative and more responsible. Just because the media and many politicians find that too boring or pretend it is too complicated is no excuse.

So let’s get on with it.

The Judoon Summarize Today’s Toronto Election News

September 12, 2014

A Message from the Shadow Proclamation summarizing today’s events in the Toronto Mayoral election.:

RoFo no go fo mo of TO.
RoFo go fo cou of TO so,
MoFo no go fo cou of TO
MoFo go fo scho bo of TO.
DoFo go for mo of TO!
TO po so mofo cray yo!


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