Category Archives: World Politics

Introducing the Liberal Queer Caucus

The Liberal Party has a lot of work to do this weekend as Liberals from across the country schlep to Ottawa for our biennial convention. This morning we are all reminded of what exactly is at stake as it appears that Stephen Harper is engaging dog-whistle politics over marriage-equality.

A few weeks ago a newly-formed group, the Liberal Queer Caucus, caught my eye. The Liberal Party is the party of same-sex marriage but we have been pushed aside, in perception, as the progressive party of LGBTQ rights by the NDP.

I contacted the LQC’s Director of Communications, Christopher Ide, with some question about the Liberal Queer Caucus and he promptly responded:

—————————————————————————————–

The Liberal Queer Caucus (LQC) is a newly formed grassroots group made up of Liberal supporters who self‐identify as belonging to the LGBTQ community. Long‐term, we are committed to:

1. representing the interests and values of queers to the Liberal Party of Canada (LPC);
2. encouraging the fair participation of queers at all levels within the LPC; and,
3. communicating Liberal values to queer Canadians.

More immediately, we’re dedicated to identifying and connecting with queer Liberals interested in working with the LQC to execute our mandate. We’d like to grow the caucus to include members from every region, coast to coast. The Liberal Biennial Convention will be a great opportunity for LQC to do just that.

In the spirit or renewal and as newly elected members to the executive of the Toronto‐Danforth Federal Liberal Association, Brad Lister and I began brainstorming around ways in which our riding association could reconnect with the queer community. Brad enlisted the help of several queers from various ridings: Penny‐Lane Beames, Kelly Foote, Phillipe Murphy‐Rheaume, and Jerry Jarosinski to name a few. After two successful friend‐raisers in December, LQC supporters made their wishes quite clear: the movement needed to grow beyond the Toronto‐
Danforth riding. Liberal supporters nationwide are now joining the cause.

Since our launch, the LQC has hosted three well supported socials and a fourth is scheduled to take place during the Biennial Convention on Saturday January 14th from 8:00PM to 10:00PM (and onward) at the Lookout Bar in Ottawa (41 York Street, Byward Market).

Post convention, the LQC is hosting a participatory Coffee House at The 519 Church Street Community Centre in Toronto (519 Church Street) on Sunday January 29th from 2:30PM to 4:30PM. Not another talking heads meeting, queers will begin working to fulfil our short‐term and long‐term commitments. Participants will be able to create and manage their own agenda in parallel working sessions. Potential working sessions may include: articulating the Liberal Party’s past and present support for the LGBTQ community, communicating the Conservatives’ antiqueer agenda, developing internal (e.g., fair representation of queers in the House of Commons and Senate) and external policy positions, LQC governance and infrastructure, etc.

More personally, I was a disaffected Liberal who had let my membership lapse years ago. To help rebuild a party whose values I share, I renewed my membership not long after the 2011 federal election. The queer caucus has provided me with an opportunity to actively engage with the party, like‐minded queers and queer allies. Together, we will create an inspired caucus that will deliver extraordinary results with regularity.

Sincerely,
Christopher Ide
Director of Communications
Liberal Queer Caucus
liberalqueercaucus@gmail.com | @queercaucus (twitter)

Canadian Politics Word(s) of the Year: 2011

Today is the final day for writing/releasing end-of-the-year posts. 2011 featured a federal election and provincial/territorial elections in Manitoba, Ontario, PEI, Newfoundland, Saskatchewan, Yukon and the NWT. At the end of 2011, Canada now has 4 female premiers (up from 2 at the beginning of the year), the BQ have 4 seats in the HOC and the Liberals and NDP have interim leaders. It is impossible to summarize the year in one paragraph/blog post, so I have decided to highlight 5 words that paint a picture of the last 12 months in Canadian politics:

1. Contempt:

Though the Harper government wants to forget what precipitated the 2011 election, the catalyst for what the massive shift in Canadian politics that seems to have occurred this year, is the motion that held Prime Minister Harper and his government in contempt. This was Michael Ignatieff’s last noble act as leader of the Liberal Party of Canada. “Contempt” is the best word to describe how Stephen Harper and the CPC treated the media and the Canadian voter during Canada’s 41st election campaign and it describes the triumphalism of the Harper government in the months after the vote. With a declining voter turn out and memberships in political parties, it seems that “contempt” is how many Canadians view politicians in Canada. As a Liberal I have felt my share of contempt from the media. The amount of ink/bandwidth spent on why the Liberal Party is doomed is unprecedented (the NDP/Reformers/BQ were dismissed but never faced an unending flow of articles on why they should just fade away.) Let’s hope that 2012 is the year where the oppositions channel their anger at the arrogance and contempt of the Harper government into substantive debate and strong political organization.

2. Orange Crush/Jack Layton/Le Bon Jack:
Though I believe it is too early to view the NDP gains in the last election as evidence that the Liberal Party of Canada is doomed, I also reject the notion that a view polls in Quebec show that the NDP wave is receding. The NDP gains in 2011 have drastically changed the political dynamic across Canada. No one can deny that the routing of the Bloc Quebecois is a good thing, but we should not convince ourselves that the NDP MPs who supplanted the BQ are themselves strong federalists (the Sherbrooke Declaration makes no mention of the Clarity Act and argues in favour of asymmetrical federalism for Quebec only.) The massive electoral shift in 2011 has been combined/overshadowed/absorbed by the tragic death of NDP Leader Jack Layton. It seems like the NDP want the letter released after Mr. Layton’s death to be the final word on his legacy but the reality is that we finish 2011 with more questions and flux than certainty and answers. Questions still remain about the media’s coverage of Layton’s health and his choice of Nycole Turmel as NDP leader will be explored over 2012. Jack Layton was a very gifted politician but the beatification that occurred after his death could have negative implications for the next NDP leader.

3. Omnibus crime bill:
Bill C-10: The Safe Streets and Communities Act is the perfect microcosm of the Harper government: it puts gut feelings over evidence, it will do the exact opposite of what it claims to do and it wastes hundreds of millions of dollars for no reason. This bill is going to create criminals, bankrupt governments and destroy the futures of many young Canadians. C-10 is a farce. Harper claims to be for decentralized, fiscally responsible government that puts safety first. This bill flies in the face of all three of those proported ideals. The process of passing this bill was an affront to democracy and is further evidence of the Prime Ministers contempt of parliament. With the leader of the opposition, Nycole Turmel, being so weak and the NDP’s front bench running for its leadership it has fallen to the provinces, the ones who will be bankrupted paying for the bill, to opposite PM Harper’s regressive crime agenda. The only positive outcome from the passage of this bill is that the Liberal Party has finally realized that if we are to differentiate ourselves from the Conservatives, we must be smart-on-crime and it showed us how dumb we were to fear being labeled “soft-on-crime.”

4. Insite:
On September 29, 2011, the Supreme Court of Canada ruled unanimously to uphold Insite’s exemption from the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act, allowing the facility to stay open indefinitely. This was not only a rebuke of the Harper Government, it was judge-created public policy that will let the provinces lead on crime prevention and treating mental health and addictions. In the year of the Harper majority, this Supreme Court ruling was a sign of hope for progressives. There is even talk of a safe-injection cite opening in Montreal. Since there was no strategy for the Insite victory (besides using science and facts) it is not as if this blow to the Harper government can be replicated.

5. Strong Stable Majority Government/Moving Forward Together:
Even with the so-called “orange crush”, 2011 was a year where the plurality of voters said they preferred stability or the perception of stability, over change. On the federal scene, the Prime Minister used “chaos” as a stick and “continuity” as a carrot. In Ontario, the Premier used “Hudak” and “growth” to the same effect. Manitoba, Saskatchewan, and PEI all said “Yes” to the status quo. In Quebec, voters lined up for a leader who spent his life in politics and who didn’t necessarily call for drastic change in Quebec’s approach to federalism. Though it seems like 2011 was the year of anti-change, with the occupy movement and the arab spring, the dynamic of 2012 could be defined in opposition to the fear of change voters.

What word(s) do you think defined 2011?

Doug Ford as Ozymandias (or How I learned to stop worrying and love libraries.)

“When I read about the way in which library funds are being cut and cut, I can only think that society has found one more way to destroy itself.”

 - Isaac Asimov

OZYMANDIAS

I met a traveller from an antique land
Who said: `Two vast and trunkless legs of stone
Stand in the desert. Near them, on the sand,
Half sunk, a shattered visage lies, whose frown,
And wrinkled lip, and sneer of cold command,
Tell that its sculptor well those passions read
Which yet survive, stamped on these lifeless things,
The hand that mocked them and the heart that fed.
And on the pedestal these words appear –
“My name is Ozymandias, king of kings:
Look on my works, ye Mighty, and despair!”
Nothing beside remains. Round the decay
Of that colossal wreck, boundless and bare
The lone and level sands stretch far away.

- Percy Shelley

—————————————————

I am a big Margaret Atwood fan, so when I first read that Doug Ford had ignorantly dismissed her while ignorantly dismissing libraries, I was angry. Then I realized that in 20 years no one will remember who Doug Ford is and Margaret Atwood (who has a list of accomplishments that is most likely longer than anything Mr. Ford has ever read) will still be taught in high schools, and considered a national treasurer & one of Canada’s greatest writers.

The problem with conservatives like the Ford brothers (and Stephen Harper) is that they don’t follow their nonsense anti-government philosophy to its logical end by actually cutting waste, they go after government programs that actually work efficiently (like the long-form census, and the Toronto Public Library system.) The Globe and Mail  neatly summarizes the awesomeness of Toronto’s 99 libraries: “Toronto’s system is the second largest, by number of branches, and the busiest by circulation, on the continent. New York City public libraries lent out 24 million volumes in 2010; Toronto’s lent out over 32 million. The system has innovated, offering music and e-book downloads, making Internet access widely available, delivering materials to local branches, and lending out cards that give free access to local museums.” The library is one of humanities greatest accomplishments. It is a place where anyone, literally anyone can come for the ultimate democratic experience. Immigrants and those who live in poverty can help lift themselves up with the information found in our libraries. Libraries are one of the last/best places where people are brought together in the world of social isolation that we all now inhabit. Doug Ford’s dismissal of libraries is an attack on an institution that brings out the best in people.

Finally, the fact that Doug Ford said that he would only talk to Mrs. Atwood if she were an elected politician is complete horse-feces. During the election campaign both Ford’s claimed to have received calls from private citizens demanding an end of the so-called “gravy train.” Margaret may be an internationally respect author but she is also a Torontonian, one of the “tax-payers” that the Fords falsely claim to defend.

When industrialist Andrew Carnegie wanted to create a legacy he donated money to build gigantic libraries in New York City as he knew that they were a public good. What will Doug Ford’s legacy be? A $60 saving on a car registration fee? Several bleak parking lots where libraries used to be? Look on his works, Toronto, and despair.

Update:

From July 27 to 31, Indigo Books & Music Inc. is offering library card-carrying customers a 30 per cent discount on Margaret Atwood titles.

My First OYLAGM!

Last weekend (February 11th – 13th) I attended the Ontario Young Liberals’ Annual General Meeting in Toronto-Centre. This was my first time doing anything Young-Liberals-related and I had a blast. The OYLAGM had a solid attendance (around 300 young liberals from across Ontario). After an energetic opening ceremony at the Pogue Mahone Pub (located in Trinity-Spadina as folks from that riding were quick to point out) which featured speeches from Bob Rae, Min. Glen Murray, Sophia Aggelonitis, Yasir Naqvi and a surprise visit from Premier McGuinty, we had an extremely productive Saturday. In Bob Rae’s speech he asked us all to take note of what happened that night in Egypt and what was going on in Tahrir Square. As this weekend was a gathering of young people from across the province the theme of global activism, driven up the young/education/energetic generation that I am proud to be a part of, was prominent this weekend. During his speech Michael Ignatieff also touched on the importance of Cairo and how, as Liberals, we must be “fiscally responcible, socially compassionate and internationally minded.” That is a great summary of the Liberal Party of Canada and my OYLAGM weekend.

I took lots of notes so here is a brief summary of each speaker:

Minister John Milloy: Post Secondary Education in Ontario:

The minister really fired up a crowd with a well argued defense and explanation of what the McGuinty government has done (a lot) to improve post-secondary education in Ontario. One poignant fact the minister mentioned was that 82 000 of the Ontarians who lost jobs during the recession had less than a high-school level of education. After the dark days of Mike Harris, with a Liberal government Ontario now has the highest level of post secondary graduates in the OECD (62%.) Under Tim Hudak’s party funding for student aid went down 41% while tuition cost went up 60%. Liberals have doubled student aid, added 60 000 more apprenticeship positions (as education isn’t all about University) and have grown 140 000 new university spots (twice the population of U of T.) Minister Milloy impressed upon us the fact there is still more to be done. “We must make education more accessible and more affordable.” The Ontario Liberal government has improved OSAP, is implementing the New Repayment Assistance Plan and has increased the amount one can work for per week under OSAP from $50 to $103. Now 61 cents of every provincial dollar provided to students is in grants. He argued that the PSE system in Ontario is exactly that a “system.” We don’t need 20 laws schools, teachers colleges, etc. As the son of a teacher the strikes and generally uncertainty in my education is something I remember clearly from my childhood. The McGuinty government has done a great job in educating the job creator and innovators who will keep Ontario strong over the next decades.

Keynote address by Hon. Michael Ignatieff:

I have now lost count of how many times I have seen Mr. Ignatieff speak in person/online. This speech was most excellent, it was the perfect balance between the intellectual and barn-burner style of speeches he has developed over his time as Liberal leader. I jotted down my favourite quotes:

  • On Stephen Harper’s home alone ad: “It is a terrible life being PM when you are that far away from the Canadian people.”
  • “I was a Ontario Young Liberal!”
  • “The young generation that is supposed to be turned off of politics, well not in Tunis, not in Cairo and I hope not in Canada.”
  • Only 1 in 5 if your generation voted in 2008. Low student turn out, low engagement, people giving up on the process, this suits Stephen Harper.
  • On if he was Prime Minister: “I would listen to Canadians and accept the limits placed on my power by the constitution.”
  • “[Access to] information is the lifeblood of democracy.”
  • “A citizen of Canada is a citizen of the world.”
  • “When you are fighting for the Liberal Party you are now fighting for the integrity of Canada’s democratic system.”

Senator Art Eggleton on Liberal International:

This is an organization that I knew very little about but seems interesting and important. The Liberal Party of Canada is one of the oldest and most successful Liberal parties in the world. Liberal International has been neglected over the past decades It was founded in 1957 and has its headquarters in London (the Oxford Manifesto is the founding document.) Despite what Stephen Harper’s parochial vision for Canada is, we Canada isolate ourselves as Canadians, or Liberals. There is a Liberal Party in Tunisia, the Democratic Republic of the Conga and in many other countries, they come to the LPC to learn how to better build a democratic society. On Hosni Mubarak stepping down, the Senator said “It was a great victory yesterday, but there is lots of work going forward.” There are two parties in Egypt that are affiliated with Lib. Int’l.  In the coming weeks CILI.CA will go online, this is a Canadian Liberal International website. I am really looking forward to it.

Rob Oliphant: Federal Caucus Liaison Update:

This was a great speech. Some top quotes:

  • “Politics is important, policy is great but people are what the Liberal Party is all about.”
  • “When things got tough not once but twice [Harper] prorogued.”
  • “Out of the Montreal Conference, Mr. Ignatieff said we will not support further corporate tax cuts. This is not a new policy.”
  • “The Charter [of rights and freedoms[ is a hurdle for the Conservative party, it is a problem for them.”
  • On losing the U.N. Security Council election: “Under Harper, Canada has lost its right to exercise world leadership. The Environment, the poor in Afghanistan, Maternal heath and now in Egypt Harper is ten days late.”
  • “We need to be tough on issues, not tough on people.”
  • “I’m not against punishing the bad guys, but I’m more in favour of making them into good guys.”
  • “Ignatieff has visited Alberta more than any Liberal leader.”
  • “The Party is a laboratory for the country, the youth wing is a lab for the party.
  • “The upcoming budget will be a test for the Liberal Party and a test for the country.”

The most poignant part of Mr. Oliphant’s speech, for me was when he told us all to “dig in.” Young Liberals need to pick a riding and stay in it for the long haul. Get to know a candidate from the beginning, before the writ is dropped. Don’t float around the province, you help the party more by digging in. The Don Valley West MP told a great story about how he is still friends with folks he met in the Ontario Young Liberals. He closed by stressing the importance of engaged youth and the fact that the Liberal Party will need new campaign managers, candidates and policy and that every generation needs to fight to have a place at the table.

Grassroots organizing: David Meslin:

There were two breakout sessions, this one and one on “Women in Politics” with Amy Kishek and Courtney Bragg of Equal voice. I would have gladly gone to both. However, I am a big fan of David Meslin and I bought/read his new book “Local Motion: The Art of Civic Engagement in Toronto” in anticipation of this AGM. I feverishly took notes so I’ll do another set of quotes:

  • “Most people don’t vote and aren’t engaged. We need to get into a frame of mind where we believe that the world is malleable, that our efforts can change the world.”
  • “We don’t want to end an election with division (like Toronto.)”
  • “Don’t become so committed to your party that it prevents you from working with other people in other parties.”
  • The premise he starts from in community organizing: “People are smart. The average person cares. Something is preventing people from joining the process.”
  • We need “digestible” policy.
  • Political stories in the news rarely end with “and here is where the next meeting is.”
  • “You can be in a party and be an activist.”
  • “Design and marketing is important for engaging busy people.”
  • Engagement builds on engagement. Activism is addictive.
  • Humour can be crucial in effecting and changing a narrative.
  • Collecting e-mail addresses and making sure you follow-up is important to growing a movement.
  • You can’t be 100% policy or 100% social, both isolate people.
  • We need to encourage people to run for office and make the process for doing so easier.
  • Burn as few bridges as possible but sometimes you need to burn some bridges to actually achieve something. Being ostracized in one community creates spaces that didn’t exist before for you to work.
  • Targeting votes may be counter intuitive. Bringing new people into the process (canvassing in low voter turn out areas) can be more effective, you just need to find what issue drives these people.
  • “Confidence: build a brand big enough and you can do almost anything.”
  • On social media: If you aren’t interacting in real life, it isn’t worth it. Some media can disengage people, we need to get people off their asses.

One thing I took from this presentation, and the book, is that successful activists may have to say “it is better to beg forgiveness than ask permission” to be effective. When I asked Mr. Meslin about this, he said that activists walk a fine line and there are many cases (like guerilla gardening, and making your own bike lanes) where the bureaucracy puts more energy into saying “no” than to fixing what you have done.

Miscellaneous:

  • I had two really great conversations on faith and politics during the in-between time of this AGM. I am a practicing Catholic and a lot of my political beliefs are informed by my faith. What I don’t understand is a how Catholics are drifting over to the Conservative Party when they have a leader who is pro-death penalty and shows no commitment to the social safety net, international peace or the environment (all topic of recent Papal encyclicals, and pillars of the Christian faith.) It was nice to find other Liberals who were strong in their faith and who also believed the party should be doing more to reach out to religious groups.
  • It was AMAZING to meet so many people who I knew from the twitter but hadn’t had a chance to meet in the world of reality yet. I recently created an Ontario Young Liberals list which you can follow here: http://twitter.com/Uranowski/ontario-young-liberals
  • I had a number of conversations on high-speed rail. This is an issue that I believe could motivate young Canadians to come out and vote Liberal (it creates jobs, is great for the environment, makes Canada more interconnected and has a romantic sensibility.)

Conclusions:

I would like to give the OYL executive a huge “You go girl!” for a fantastic retreat. The whole weekend was a massive success and as a first-timer I felt welcomed into the OYL. The Liberal Party is strong and election ready and our future leaders are bright, enthusiastic and hard-working.

Whitby-Oshawa doesn’t have a Young Liberals club, I am going to work to rectify that.

Under Harper, Canada ranks last on freedom of information

The aptly named, Government Information Quarterly has ranked Canada 5th out of 5 in a study on freedom-of-information laws in Australia, New Zealand, Ireland, the United Kingdom and Canada. The study blamed low use, low political support and a weak Information Commissioner since its inception for Canada’s falling behind. From 2009-2010 only about 16 per cent of the 35,000 requests filed last year resulted in the full disclosure of information, compared with 40 per cent a decade ago (under the Liberals.)

This government, Stephen Harper’s government, regularly blocks access-to-information requests. In Lawrence Martin’s “Harperland” he argues that it is fear of ending up like PM Joe Clark’s government that has turned the Harper Conservatives against their own values. But they should only shoulder part of the blame, there is no access-to-information lobby group in Canada strong enough to keep this important part of our polity strong and Canadians have turned inward with the global recession and ignore many of our democratic responsibilities.

It is the year 2011 and while President Obama and Prime Minister David Cameron have made “Open government” the watchword of their respective governments (with http://data.gov.uk/ and http://www.whitehouse.gov/open) Canada’s government has cynically and selfishly abdicated the only mandate they received from the people of Canada in 2006, the promise to make Canadian government transparent and accountable.

There are foreign policy implications behind Canada’s low ranking. There are some 70 countries that have embraced open government initiatives. Canada used to be a leader in transparency but now, thanks in large part to Prime Minister Harper, we are no longer a model for other democracies and emerging democracies.

Check out the Liberal Party of Canada’s Open Government platform documents here: http://www.liberal.ca/open/

Kory Teneycke’s Farcical Foreign Policy

Kory Teneycke, Stephen Harper’s director of communication from July 2008 to July 2009, is now a contributor to the CBC. On June 1st he appeared along side Don Newman on P&P to discuss the Israel Flotilla incident. Unsurprisingly he tried to couch his uncritically pro-Israel opinion in the language of “wait-and-see” but in his bout with Newman he betrayed the neoconservative philosophy that the Harper government has been covertly injecting into Canadian foreign policy.

After falsely equating the current situation in the Middle-East with the First and Second World Wars and being corrected by Don Newman (Mr. Newman reminded him that what is actually happening is a “Low grade conflict.”) the conversation went to the United Nations and Canada’s role in the U.N. (with the flotilla attack as the lens.)

On multilateralism, Mr. Teneycke made two outlandish statements that are as divorced from reality as the MP-of-the-Year award going to John Baird. Teneycke says that Canada should not be engaging in multilateral institutions.

If [the U.N.] had been successful in the Middle East we wouldn’t have seen the wars and bloodshed that we have seen over the last half century in that region. I don’t think it’s been effective there.

When Newman suggested that Canada needs to win on of the two open seats on the Security Council the former Stephen Harper Communications Director referred to this as “whoring yourself to the highest bidder.

From 1945 Canada has been instrumental in building the foundation for the current international system. We have always punched above our weight because our leaders have contributed to international law intellectually with our representatives making principled and pragmatic contributions to international debates. This has been true of Prime Ministers during global crises and when long-term planning was taking place from Louis St. Laurent to Mulroney to Paul Martin. Multilateralism is a Canadian value and because of our commitment to multilateralism it is an international value.

Apparently, Mr. Teneycke thinks that the problems in the Middle-East, which are the result of an Ethnic/Religious Conflict that has been going on since the 1200s where every country has been affected by colonialism, WWII and the Cold War, could have been solved in 60 years. The U.N. has actually made progress to resolve some of the conflicts in the Middle-East but the job is so big that it is laughable to suggest, as Teneycke does, that the issues that this region faces could be solved using a unilateral approach.

Kory Teneycke was hired by Prime Minister Harper because they were ideologically similar so one can infer from Teneycke’s statements that this is what Harper also believes. For evidence corroborating this extrapolation just look at how Canada is now opposing an impartial, United Nations led investigation of the flotilla incident.

Stephen Harper’s government is actively seeking a spot on the United Nations Security Council while working against the U.N. in what Kory Teneycke calls a “Principled Approach.” When we strip the Orwellian double-speak from the Conservative approach to foreign policy it’s obvious that Teneycke and Harper think that Canada should go it alone and go against 65 years of post-War Multilateralism.

H/T Impolitical.

Nick Clegg, Alternative Voting, and the Destruction of the Conservatives?

(They totally made-out.)

After 24 minutes (in heaven) with the Queen, David Cameron is now Prime Minister of Britain. After five days of talks the 306 Conservative MPs with David Cameron as their leader will form a formal coalition with the 57 MPs elected from the Liberal-Democratic Party, led by Nick Clegg. That’s 363 seats (55.8% of parliament the U.K. HOC’s 650 seats), 37 across the 326 line needed to form a majority. The Conservative-LibDem “Blellow Coalition*”” represents 59.1% of the British electorate. Nick Clegg is going to be Deputy Prime Minister and 4 other Lib-Dem MPs will be joining Clegg in cabinet.

Prime Minister Cameron and Nick Clegg have agreed to at least one, big, concession from the Conservatives for the support of the Lib-Dems, a referendum on electoral reform. The compromise both made is that it wont be for the horribly misnamed/misguided “Proportional Representation” System but for the super fantastic Alternative Voting (AV) System (also know as: Preferential Voting, Ranked Choice Voting, Ranked Voting or Instant-runoff voting.)

Alternative Voting ensures that the member of parliament for each riding receives support from the majority of that riding.

From the vote count of the recent U.K. election it seems like the majority of British citizens support electoral reform so hopefully a referrendum would favour reform.

Some arguments being used against AV and some rebuttals:

  • It’s too confusing: If you are a proponent of so-called “Proportional Representation” and use this argument against AV then I may have to quote Senator Nancy Ruth as the voting and counting of PR ballots (especially STV) is way more confusing. This argument is one used against almost every form of electoral reform and it is one of the silliest. The right to vote should be and is a right we all share but all of our rights come with equally important responsibilities and you have a responsibility to make an informed vote. The standard “mark an X” system (which AV only deviates from slightly) isn’t obvious or natural. We know to vote that way because we are taught and any electoral system can be taught to citizens.
  • It produces unstable governments: The AV system produces a more proportional parliament and this leads to minority/hung parliaments with minority/coalition governments. There are coalition governments across the democratic world and many of them have operated and continue to govern successfully. A system like AV where candidates need the majority, not just the plurality, forces those candidates to compromise as behaving like bully (see Stephen Harper) will get you turfed (you want to be palatable as a second choice.)
  • It leads to cynical strategic voting: Strategic voting is part of every election and isn’t inhanced or mitigated by any specific electoral system. Polling in the U.K revealed that in many ridings the reason Labour/Conservative candidates have dominated is that Liberal-Democratic voters are already voting strategic. AV lets voters vote with their heart first and balance that first vote out after.

Alternate Voting increases the legitimacy of each MP while maintaining their link to the electorate (no list of candidates, no gigantic ridings, no fringe parties dominating coalitions and no unaccountable MPs.)

And now for something completely different: Is a more proportional voting system bad for Conservative parties?

Andrew Sullivan seems to think so.  He argues that because Britain is a centre-left country, (as Margaret Thatcher never managed to get a majority of the vote) an electoral system that is more proportional will mean that the Conservatives will never be able to form a majority government as the system will normalize coalitions and ensure that the centre-left parties (Labour and Lib-Dems with a smattering of Green) can always form a coalition. 63% of Britons did not want a Tory government (hence the coalition) just like 62.35% of Canadian voters didn’t want a Conservative government here.

One completely serious and valid argument (among the hundreds of thousands) against PR is that it would give the NDP more seats (not a good thing for parliament or Canada.) But when it is reframed like this: PR would reduce the amount of seats won by Bloc Québécois and Conservative candidates it is a major boost to the PR argument.

Besides relegating them to permanent minority status the very structure of Conservative political parties would be affected. The Conservative Parties in Canada (The CPC) , the U.K., and the USA (the GOP) are all coalitions of many different groups, all on the right-wing of the political spectrum. A more proportional system could create a wedge and incentivize certain niches within the party to break off and form their own. Harper’s Conservative Party is a conglomerate of: far-right populists, far-right fiscal conservatives, far-right religious conservatives, far-right anti-Federalists, people who like punching trees and people who hate reality. If Canada had a different electoral system the right in Canada could split up (it has happened before.) The British Conservatives are an anomaly in Europe where coalitions of centre-right party are he norm (see Germany.) The Republican party would be 5 different parties in Europe but the United States’ electoral system binds them together.

Canada is a centre-left country. Even if Britain doesn’t implement a fairer voting system in the immediate future, we Canadians should wait to take our cue from the U.K. Let’s reform our system first.

The Guardian has a neat breakdown of the terms of the Blellow Coalition:

Full coalition with David Cameron as prime minister; Nick Clegg as deputy PM and four other Liberal Democrat cabinet ministers – 20 government posts in total. Last night Danny Alexander was confirmed as Scottish secretary. Others rumoured to include Vince Cable in a business and banking job, David Laws in education and Chris Huhne as justice secretary.

Liberal Democrat wins:

• Referendum to bring in an alternative vote system. Coalition members will be subject to three-line whip to force legislation for referendum through, but will be free to campaign against reforms before referendum.

• New five-year fixed term parliaments, an entirely or mainly elected second chamber and a commission to review party funding. According to this plan, the next general election will be held on the first Thursday of May 2015.

• Reduce tax burden on low earners. A substantial increase to personal tax allowance from April 2011 with a “long- term goal” of a £10,000 personal tax allowance. Tory plans to reduce inheritance tax that would have benefited the richest people most have been scrapped.

• New pupil premium to be introduced, steering more funding to schools for every child they take from poor homes to help close class gap in school results.

Tory wins:

• £6bn cuts this financial year and a reversal of some planned rises in national insurance contributions.

• A cap on immigration with Lib Dem plans for an amnesty on illegal immigration dumped.

• School reforms to introduce more Swedish-style “free” schools.

• A commitment to maintaining Britain’s nuclear deterrent .

• No proposals to join the euro and a referendum lock will ensure that any proposal to transfer new powers must by law be put to a referendum.

• The Conservatives have kept their plan for a £150 marriage tax break. Lib Dems will abstain but not oppose this.

———————————————————————————————————————————————————

* Combination of Blue and Yellow the colours of the Conservatives/Liberal-Democrats. H/T to @stratosphear.

Coalition Governments are Brilliant! (A lesson for Canadians from the U.K. Election)

Tomorrow, May 6th, is Election day for citizens of the United Kingdom. Uncertainty hangs over this election as four in ten voters are said to still be undecided. Canada’s government, parliamentary and electoral systems are derived from the Westminster tradition. With 650 seats in their HOC, to form a government, a party needs 326 for a majority (18 more seats that the 308 that make up the whole of Canada’s parliament.) After the last ballot is cast tomorrow it is strong possibility that no one party will win a majority (they call this a “Hung Parliament” there, while we would call it a “Minority Government.”) The three major political parties in the U.K. (the Labour Party, the Conservatives and the Liberal-Democrats) do not correspond neatly with Canada’s three major federalist parties. This British Election is one where two parties have been forming governments back and forth for years, the Lib-Dems (with lots of credit going to their leader Nick Clegg*) have succeeded in making this a three-way race. The first-past-the-post electoral system does not treat the Liberal-Democrats so though they have been polling at parity with Labour they could conceivably come in a distant third (FiveThirtyEight.com has the numbers.)

The term Hung Parliament is definitely a name that Canada needs to adopt as soon as possible. Instead of presuming that the party with the plurality of seats should form government (which happens in a Hung Parliament situation in Canada) the current Prime Minister (in Britain’s current case: Gordon Brown) is giving the opportunity to form a coalition (this doesn’t necessarily mean the man/woman who was last PM will succeed.)

The British electorate are intelligent enough to know that the party leader with a plurality didn’t “win” the election. Looking at this kind of scenario through the “Hung Parliament” lens gives all of the party leaders more options/chances to work together.

In 2008, Stephen Harper didn’t “win” anything either. He failed to win a majority but the Canadian “Minority Government” perspective feed the arrogant presumptuous lie (put forward by Harper and the CPC) that Stephen Harper was “Elected” Prime Minister. If that election night had ended with journalists/politicians/Canadians calling the result a “Hung Parliament” Harper would still have become Prime Minister (no one can look at the results and say that Mr. Dion won) but Prime Minister Harper would have been forced to cooperate with the 163 MPs who make up the majority of parliament/represent the majority of Canadian voters.

The word “Coalition” is one that all Canadian voters know (though the majority are grossly miss-informed on it as a concept) and it is a term that has been front and center in the minds of British citizens since the first ever televised leaders debate on April 15, where Nick Clegg earned a solid win and “upset the apple-cart” of U.K. politics.

The leader of the U.K. Conservatives has attempted to scare voters by presenting coalition governments as a bogeyman (using similarly deceptive arguments as Harper has in the past such as “economic instability”) but David Cameron’s efforts haven’t paid off. The British Media, and the majority of British voters understand that coalition governments can be very positive (representing the majority of voters, forcing the governing parties to cooperate and keeping a Conservative Party out of government.)

There has been a lot of discussion on how exactly the U.K. Election will affect democracy here in Canada, with the majority focus being on the first-past-the-post voting system. Though David Cameron’s party seems to be headed to a minority government, I still hold out the possibility that either Labour or the Conservatives will look to the Nick Clegg/the Lib-Dems for a coalition. The 2010 U.K. election will lead to some form of electoral reform in the U.K. no matter which party (parties) form government.

Let’s take a cue from our British brethren and hang our parliament or at the very least take coalition back!

———————————————————————————————————————————————————

* Jack Layton ≠ Nick Clegg/ The NDP ≠ Lib-Dem: The Liberal-Democrats were formed (in part) by Labour Party members who were anti-Union, Nick Clegg worked in the European Union and the Lib-Dems are pro-free-trade. The NDP are dominated by Unions, hate free-trade and are bereft of foreign policy.

The other Harper deficit: Canada’s International decline under this Conservative government.

Stephen Harper came into office with less foreign policy experience than any other Prime Minister from the last century and it showed. The list of Prime Minister Harper’s foreign policy mistakes is length, the greatest hits are:

  • Agreeing with Israel on everything without asking questions.
  • Ignoring India and China for four years.
  • Killing his own free-trade deals with Jordan and Colombia by proroguing parliament.
  • Trying to derail President Obama’s campaign by leaking information on NAFTA.
  • The Czech/Mexican visa policy.
  • Afghan Detainees avoidance.
  • Ignoring Kosovo’s independence even though the United States and most European recognized their sovereignty (in international relations you only need one country.)
  • Abandoning Africa.
  • Muzzling Canadian NGOs.
  • The Rights and Democracy embarrassment.
  • Doing absolutely nothing to combat climate-change.

Now an international poll has been released that confirms that Canada has fallen in influence under Prime Minister Harper (20,000 people across 18 countries, the poll was conducted by the international opinion research company GlobeScan and the BBC World Service.) Canadians are also becoming skeptical of our international clout, according to the poll 86 per cent who felt positive about their country’s influence in 2008 shrank to 75 per cent last year. This poll comes on the eve of the Vancouver Olympics and 8 months before the UN Security Council election (Minister Cannon declared the government’s intention to get one of the spots on the SC.)

Canada’s foreign policy was developed by Louis St. Laurent, Lester B. Pearson, Paul Martin Sr./Jr., and Jean Chrétien (all Liberals though Brian Mulroney was a laudable PM in terms of FP.) Stephen Harper has squandered our international soft-power by taking his hyper-partisan/brinkmanship style of governing to the international arena. Harper has also completely failed to engaging Canadians in a national debate on international issues.

In an increasingly defuse international system where the United States is no longer the sole global hegemon and the world economy has become integrated with new technology and free-trade, Canada needs a leader who is respected around the world and has the intellect to tackle international issue.

David Suzuki and Al Gore on QTV