Archive for the ‘Politics Canada’ Category

Voting Systems – be careful what you wish for

March 25, 2017

There are numerous voting systems, none without bias. It is just that the bias favours different groups and so explains who supporters and opponents are. The recent Dutch national election reveals how proportional representation (PR) can work, and the implications if Canada chose a similar system. At present, the federal government has decided not to make changes. While criticized for reneging on an election promise, the government should be congratulated for retaining the status quo.

The Dutch example

The Netherlands adopted PR for its recent election. It works as follows. The country is treated as one constituency with 100 members elected according to the number of votes received by a party. There were 28 parties on the ballot and members elected for thirteen of them. It will take a coalition of four or five parties to achieve a majority for legislation to be passed.

A Dutch voter has no member representing her or his district if the voter has an issue to discuss. Maybe this works with a population of 17 million in a relatively small homogeneous land area, but I doubt whether it would in the widely distributed and varied Canadian situation. A voter in Newfoundland, Quebec and BC for instance would each want to be able to contact someone familiar with conditions in their location. This is one reason why a constituency system is more suited to Canada. There are others. It is possible to have a mixed system with some members elected in constituencies, and some chosen from a list of candidates proposed by parties. How the latter are chosen to be party representatives raises all sorts of issues.

In Canada it is sometimes thought that only the existing parties would run candidates if PR was adopted. This is unlikely as the case of the 28 parties on the Dutch ballot reveals. Under PR, The NDP and the Greens would have collected more seats, and the Liberals fewer seats in the 2015 Federal election, but only assuming that no other parties had formed and were on the ballot, an unlikely event.

With the existing first past the post Canadian system, you can end up with members elected with less than 50 percent of the constituency vote, but it seems to have worked out pretty well over the years not only here but in the UK and a number of other countries, …….and in contrast to the system south of the border where creation of an electoral college to elect a president and gerrymandering of Congressional districts have subverted representation.

When Provinces have held referenda on changing the Canadian voting system, there has been no strong support for change. Maybe the voters are smarter than those supporting change. To repeat, there is no unbiased voting system. Each favours some groups at the expense of others both in electing members and in the passage of legislation. A main check of the existing system is elections required at certain dates or with the defeat of the government.

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A Future for News

March 8, 2017

Jodi Rudoren, Editorial Director of the New York Times Global, writes March 7th, 2017.

“The idea of NYT Global is to grow our audience around the world and to make The Times a truly international news organization. That means expanded coverage in Australia and Canada, where the decline of the local media has left readers clamoring for quality journalism.”

As a reader, it appears that the local print media in Canada is dying, at least in the case of the Ottawa Citizen, which has become an emaciated news sheet. There are some excellent columnists writing in various publications and appearing on TV, but in order to find out what is going on beyond the Canadian borders, and understanding how this might affect the country, one is forced to look elsewhere.

Each person is constrained by the 24 hours in each day and has to allocate time for news consumption by reading, listening and watching. The possibility of gaining quality access is expanding with developments in communications technology.

What does populism mean?

February 22, 2017

Populism is a loosely defined term which seems to refer to actions taken by any group within a society which is fed up with conditions affecting them, low wages, unemployment, refugees, immigration and so on.

It is used to describe the reasons for Brexit in the UK, terrorism/racism/immigrants and unequal income distribution in the US, and refugees and related conditions in countries such as France, the Netherlands, Italy and even Germany.

In Canada, according to Wikipedia, populist movements describe the Social Credit and the Reform Party in Alberta, Creditistes, the Union Nationale and PQ in Quebec, the federal Liberal party under Prime Ministers Mackenzie and Laurier, labour parties leading up to the CCF and NDP, and support for various premiers of Ontario.

This seems to be rather all inclusive referring to any time when a group in society becomes activated and organizes politically. It merely describes contemporary political conditions. A recent case of populism today would be Ford Nation in Toronto, where one segment of the city feel that they are taxed for the benefit of another. The Ford brothers used this to their political advantage.

It does not seem to be a useful term unless the reasons for it are given.

Cultural Appropriation

February 15, 2017

Political correctness beyond understanding

November 28, 2016

Political correctness (PC) has gone rogue. Anything said by anyone that is conceived as mildly offensive to someone else is today often deemed to be off limits for discussing or even mentioning. The consequences for intelligent and informed debate are chilling, and reminiscent of what successful dictators attempt and often achieve, at least until their demise. The new Vice-Chancellor of Oxford University, Louise Richardson, in favour of promoting robust debate over contentious issues, stated that educational institutions are “places where we should hear any legal speech, and we should teach our students how to confront any speech which you (they) find objectionable.”

The Vice-Chancellor has specialised in studying and publishing on terrorism while holding academic positions on both sides of the Atlantic. Her research on terrorism and its causes culminated in an acclaimed 2006 book What Terrorists Want, described by the New York Times as an “essential primer on terrorism and how to tackle it”. In the 1970s, she was recruited by the student branch of the IRA, attended meetings and discussions but decided not to join as she could not endorse the use of violence.

If PC is given a free rein, it will ultimately restrict informed debate and support conditions for a type of theocracy to prevail that will suppress the discussion needed to stimulate understanding, especially regarding social (political and economic), cultural and scientific issues. We see this already in the field of climate change and global warming where not only deniers but sceptics are widely considered to be beyond the pale as they are told the “science is settled.” As opponents of Galileo found out, the science is never settled.

 

 

 

The Promise of Canada by Charlotte Gray – A review

November 7, 2016

I would strongly recommend this book to all diplomats posted to Canada, as well as to all Canadians posted abroad who need to understand the history of their country. In fact, the same is true for all Canadians who, if like me, may think they know how Canada evolved but would be pushed to identify all the relevant factors. Charlotte Gray has done this in a brilliantly researched and written way.

I came to Canada from the UK over sixty years ago and have lived here ever since, except for a period of study at the London School of Economics. Two years after arrival I became a landed immigrant and after a further thirteen a citizen. My children and grandchildren are all Canadian by birth.

Charlotte Gray arrived in 1979 and has become a superb chronicler of the evolution of Canada over the past two centuries. In my time here, I have not fully appreciated what was going on around me, but now I do, as she has skillfully authored an account of the country’s evolution from the time of politician Sir George-Etienne Cartier (1814-1873) to rapper Shad (1982- who is new to me).

It requires an enormous amount of skilled research (using both secondary sources and interviews) to develop these materials, and still more to integrate them into an intelligent portrait of a country which has grown in both size and numerous other ways.

Canadian literary blue-bloods have rightly given the book outstanding reviews. Rather than add to these, I will try to outline several things I have learned or have come to appreciate about Canada.

  1. One starting point to understanding Canada is geography, both its relation to other parts of the world, and what goes on inside. As for the latter, there are very few people in Canada in terms of population density or persons per square km. In 1961, the figure was 2/sq km and in 2015 4/sq km. Comparable figures for other countries are Russia 7 and 9; US 20 and 35; China 70 and 146; Singapore 2541 and 7829. Canada is largely empty.
  2. By far the majority of Canadians live in urban areas,18 million (about 60 %) in the ten largest metropolitan areas as of 2011. A light map of the country shows most of these people living close to the US border, while large swathes of the country are drenched in darkness.
  3. The rural population expects preferred treatment and often has difficulty in making its voice heard. The continuation of such measures as supply management for dairy products shows that in some instances this occurs.
  4. The diverse regions in which Canadians live include the Maritimes, Central Canada, the Prairies, British Columbia and the North. The economic, cultural and social character of each has meant that it is often difficult to get agreement on things that affect the whole country, and explains why parts, especially French Canada, from time to time toy with separation. Holding the parts together is a continuing challenge for federal politicians.
  5. All Canadians are immigrants who have arrived at different times. The original settlers came out of Africa about 60,000 to 100,000 years ago, travelling up to and through today’s Russia, across the land bridge to Alaska and down into North and South America. Later settlers, the ones most often covered in history books, came from Europe, especially the French, English, Dutch and Spanish. The arrival of each changes the lives of those already there, and does so for migrants arriving today.

It is how Canada has and continues to respond to these geographic and demographic factors which has influenced how the country has and may evolve in the future. Charlotte Gray’s detailed portraits of nine Canadians from different walks of life, politician, policeman, artist, academic, lawyer, and vignettes of five others (journalist, business, mayor, rapper and pop artist) provides the reader with an outstanding introduction to understanding Canada today and how we got here from there.

Clumping, 23 days and counting, to what?

October 15, 2016

General Franco and Chairman Mao climbed to power through force. Mussolini and Hitler took the political route of getting elected and then abolished the institutions which gave them power. Mussolini did it first and provided Hitler with a role model. Once in power, Hitler was better able to control events, while Mussolini both lost control and was defeated militarily prior to the demise of Hitler. Mussolini ruled constitutionally from 1923 to 1925 and then set up a legal dictatorship, if that makes any sense. All these events took place in the past one hundred years and many in the past 82 years of my lifetime. Could any of this happen again?

Chairman Trump and some of his supporters sound very much like those who supported Hitler and Mussolini. They are willing to give him the benefit of any doubts, and there are many, that they have in order to bring about political and economic change. They don’t respect the political mechanisms in the US, at least federally, and don’t believe they can be changed without exploding the Trump bomb. These conditions in the US are, in some ways, like those previously in Italy and Germany.

An account of how the US political system became and remains toxic is found in a book by David Daley, Ratf**ked: The True Story Behind the Secret Plan to Steal America’s Democracy. It is reviewed by Elizabeth Drew in the New York Review of Books, August 18, 2016 (available online). Canadians have not reached, nor appear to be on track to reaching a state of political paralysis, and yet are considering changing their federal voting system. Why? There is no unbiased system, and a new one will merely change the biases with the possibility of encouraging paralysis in the future.

Clumping Along

September 16, 2016

Sixty days to the US presidential election presents a period of uncertainty. Whichever candidate wins, the issues that propel this election will remain. Countries including Canada are far from immune from the outcome and may well be sideswiped by what follows.

My observations at this point are:

1. The US has a first class economy and a third class political system. A danger is that the latter will undermine the former. Respect for the economy is shown by the fact that many if not most people want to hold US dollars, visit the US whether to work there as legal or illegal migrants, do business and study there. It has some of the best universities in the world.

2. The political system was designed to be first class and to address the weaknesses of the Westminster system that prevailed at the time of independence when George III reigned. It has become sclerotic as voters and politicians have learned how to play the electoral process and the steps needed to pass and implement legislation. Elizabeth Drew describes this well in The New York Review of Books August 16, 2016, “American Democracy Betrayed”. I recommend that it be read.

3. Clinton and Trump or Clump, the two candidates reflect different aspects of this political train wreck. Clinton is viewed as having been for the past quarter century an insider and part of the forces that shaped the malfunctioning politics. Trump is seen as a political outsider without the Clintonesque scars, but someone who benefited from the gravy that the political system produced and still produces for some. Thus there are many voters who don’t want to support either candidate and may turn to the two third party candidates.

4. While the winning count of 270 electoral college votes seems to favour Clinton at this stage sixty days out, the voters could upset these predictions. They did that when it came to the Republicans choosing their candidate Trump, out of seventeen contenders.

5. After election day the issues that gave voters the Clump choice will remain, and until a way is found to revise the underlying conditions the US political system is likely to stay either broken or severely damaged.

6. Many Canadians seem to think they are separate and isolated from Clump on one side and Brexit in Europe. I doubt this is the case. How this will all work out is a mystery to me.

Grazing at the public trough

August 25, 2016

Making life easy and rewarding for servants of the people remains with us, although social media may today make it more embarrassing for MPs and government appointees. In February 1960, the board of directors of the Bank of Canada unanimously decided to increase the pension of the Governor of the Bank, James Coyne, from $12K to $25K. His salary at the time was $50K, or around $400K in today’s dollars. At the time, the Governor was in a controversy over monetary policy with the Conservative government headed by John Diefenbaker with Donald Fleming as Finance Minister. Coyne resigned at the time the pension decision was made. He died in 2012, age 102.

I have been unable so far to find on the web the names of the board members at the time, but this should be possible. They apparently had no difficulty in providing what some might consider a generous settlement out of public funds. Scott Gordon, then professor of Economics at Carleton, lead the criticism of a number of Canadian economists of the Governor’s monetary policy decisions which lead to his resignation.

Federal Voting in Canada

May 20, 2016

The argument made that the Bloc and the Green Party should have a vote in the Canadian House of Commons (HOC) Committee to propose a new electoral system is, in my view, without much merit. If it has any, it is more so in the case of the Bloc with ten seats and 4.5% of the popular vote, than the Green Party with one seat and 3.5%. The Green party member could be considered an independent MP who happens to be associated with a party. In the future, any elected independent MP could claim some party affiliation to gain membership. In the 2015 election there were candidates from 18 parties other than the 5 with seats in the HOC.

This is an illustration of what could happen with an electoral system using proportional representation. Debate to-date assumes that only the five parties who at present have elected members will run candidates. If that was the case, then these parties would get more members elected at the expense of especially the Liberals and the Conservatives. But that will not be the case, as other parties will spring up, and the HOC could look like a case of measles with an array of parties, and increased difficulty in getting a majority vote on anything like a budget, unless each of the parties is bought off with taxpayers funds. To see what might happen watch Borgen on TV, a Danish series based on what takes place in the Danish parliament where there are many parties.

If there is change to the existing system, then some form of preferential voting appears preferable, where elected members retain links to ridings. Proportional representation, in my view, invites disaster for the governing process, and has not been favoured in referenda in several provinces. No province appears to be making any changes, suggesting that the present system is probably the least worst of those being considered. Regrettably, no party elected on a platform of electoral change can be seen doing the sensible thing and not making a change.