Archive for May, 2011

Comment for today.

Saturday, May 21st, 2011

A parent who denies their child’s sexuality,

Might be somewhat removed from reality,

But kids can usually solve it with puberty.

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The will of the people.

Friday, May 20th, 2011

How do you make change happen?  There are many steps in that journey.  You start with an idea.  You make your case.  And then you promote it.  You endure the apathy, the critics, the naysayers and their sneers.  You build your support.  You compromise to make common cause with others.  Your strength is your determination.

Your cause must be simple.  It must be easy for everyone to understand.  You do this with a simple statement, such as by saying there needs to be an elected constitutional conference for Canada.  That is the entire idea.  Canada has had many examinations of its structure and governance over the years but never a successful one.  One reason is that the bodies doing the studies have never been elected to that purpose.  The idea is as simple as saying that it is time the people had their say.

But the breadth of the idea is huge.  To any Canadian with a millilitre of intelligence there has to be something in that statement that impacts on a personal want, wish or wonder.  It can be a ‘why?’ or ‘why not?’

But be ready for the spurious arguments.

It is expensive some will say.  Not doing it is becoming more expensive.

It will cause discord.  It can pull this discordant country together.

Where will you find people who can do this?  Ask and they will come.  They will be academics and politicos.  They will be monarchists and republicans.  They will represent the right and the left and the perennial also-rans.  They will be people with ideas and people who will fight for the status quo.  They will be people who believe in Canada.  And they will be people of a region.

And when they come to a conclusion, we can all vote on whether we want to make their ideas happen or not.

We cannot prejudge what they will decide.  We do not know.  There are many scenarios.  There are many visions of our country.

What will they do about the Senate?  Will they do anything about our first-past-the-post voting?  Will they give the provinces more powers?  Or less?  Will they want to change how we choose a supreme court?  Do they want to retain the monarchy?  What kind of a country do they think we want?

Maybe we should keep an open mind.  We could use the electoral districts to choose these representatives.  We should give the elected constitutional conference sufficient time.  How about two years?  Then give them a year to sell their solution to the Canadian people.  You can bet their solutions will be important enough for a national referendum.

The solutions will not come easy but if we think about them, we will get the answers.  Canada deserves no less.

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Complaints, comments, criticisms and compliments can be sent to  peter@lowry.me

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Thursday, May 19th, 2011

Mr. Harper is not much of a cabinet maker,

With the people available, he’s more faker.

He’ll get the Ottawa mandarins to quaver,

Seeing Harris’ Ontario henchmen in favour.

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The Democracy Papers.

Wednesday, May 18th, 2011

This is the fourth of the Democracy Papers written in 2007 in answer to the Ontario referendum that year on electoral reform.  The referendum was defeated but the need for reform continues to rankle.  We believe Canada must have an elected Constitutional Conference.  Electoral reform is just one of the topics to be brought to the gathering.  For this reason, the Democracy Papers are being updated and rerun.

Chapter 4 – Brush up on your calculus for voting methods

In October, 2007, Ontario voters were presented with a referendum ballot that asked them if they wish to have mixed-member proportional (MMP) voting.   This is a system in which each of the political parties provides a list of people eligible to be appointed to 30 per cent of the seats in the legislature.   If chosen, these selected people would not have a constituency and would not be directly responsible to the electors.

On top of that, if the voters agreed to MMP, they would have to learn a new math.   It is all in the plan for MMP produced by the Citizens’ Assembly on Electoral Reform.   What the citizens’ assembly attempted to do was to give more legislature seats to smaller political parties by appointing members to the legislature instead of electing them.   This requires a very confusing if not mind-boggling mathematical process for appointing 39 people to the legislature.

With this new math also comes a new language for elections.   The simplest of these terms is quotient.   We learned that one in the lower grades at school because it is what you call the answer when you divide one number by another.   The example given is when you divide the Ontario population of 12,160,000 by 90 electoral districts and you find there is a quotient of 135,100 people per riding.   Those are very large ridings.

But the quotient, according to this new math, can change if you have an ‘overhang.’   This is one of the more interesting of the new terms.   Overhangs occur when your party wins more local ridings than the number to which it would be entitled according to the party vote which has been separated from the candidate vote.

In effect, the system penalizes parties that win more seats than the citizens’ assembly think they should.   Under these game rules, parties who overhang will not get any of their list candidates appointed to the legislature.   A party with more elected seats than all other parties combined could thus be restricted in its ability to form a government.   The final results are determined by a calculation using something called the ‘Hare formula.’   This formula is used to help distribute seats to losing candidates.

This means a candidate who has lost the election in his or her riding can still be a member of the legislature because of the Hare formula.   Technically, loser candidates are known as ‘list candidates.’   These are people who run in ridings and are listed in order of preference by their political parties and the names are given to Elections Ontario before the election.   These listed people will be available for appointment to the legislature, only if they have been rejected by the voters in their riding.

What this means is that the citizens’ assembly was trying to give political parties the decision making power over that of the voters.   If the party’s candidates are rejected by the voters in a riding, the party can still appoint them.   This conclusion is not surprising.   Since the citizens’ assembly members were themselves chosen by lottery, there was no requirement for them to understand democracy.

Under this formula, to form a majority government, a party has to have a minimum of 65 members in the legislature, holding either riding or proportional seats.

Much of the 2007 effort of Elections Ontario was to try to simplify the citizens’ assembly proposal for Ontario voters.   We expect that was the reason literature spent little time clarifying the disproportionality figures.   We also remain somewhat in the dark about the so-called Loosemore-Hanby Index.

Luckily for Ontario voters, all this confusion was to be swept away by the people (one per riding) hired by Elections Ontario.   These people were there to explain MMP voting to Ontario residents before the October 10 election.   Elections Ontario decided to spend just $6.8 million on all of their educational efforts.   The ‘Yes’ side thought they should spend at least $13 million of taxpayers’ money to help people understand the proposal.   Judging by the mathematics involved, that figure was low.

The people who did not help clarify the situation were the Conservative and Liberal parties.   Why should they?   The proposal did nothing good for either of them.   The citizens’ assembly was just another election promise from Dalton McGuinty that he really should not have kept.

But the funniest error of all was the union support that was going on riding by riding, organizing for a pro-MMP organization called Fair Vote Ontario.   The unions thought that MMP would bring the NDP more seats in the legislature.   Now there is a group that really needs to study the mathematics.

©Copyright 2007, 2011, Peter Lowry

Complaints, comments, criticisms and compliments can be sent to  peter@lowry.me

Comment for today.

Tuesday, May 17th, 2011

Researchers call it the Don Cherry effect,

Loud-mouthed, opinionated, you detect.

It is not as good as our hockey can offer,

But it’s the best a right-wing can proffer.

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Marrying the Canadian left.

Monday, May 16th, 2011

The bringing together of the left of Canadian politics will not happen overnight.  No left of centre party is going to take up housekeeping with another.  The truth is there are no truly left of centre parties in Canada.  Neither the Liberal nor New Democratic parties are totally on the side of socialism.  While the left wing of the Liberal Party is open to a marriage with the NDP, it can only happen when the NDP is weaned from its long-standing union domination.

The Liberal Party of Canada has campaigned as a centrist party for many years but not since social activists such as Alan MacEachen, Lloyd Axworthy, Jean Marchand and Herb Gray served in the Cabinets of Pierre Trudeau, has the party shown a truly left-of-centre bias.

If the NDP were the natural offspring of the Cooperative Commonwealth Federation (CCF), there would be little question that the party of Tommy Douglas was socialist.  The problem is that the NDP was born from the alliance of the Canadian Labour Congress (CLC) and the CCF.  The CLC were hard-nosed labourites.  They worked for labour, not for social needs.  They dealt in conflict.

Canada’s labour movement is not really home-grown.  We imported it.  We brought it up from the United States as the excesses of international business generated international unions.  We imported it from the crucible of middle Europe where business and government allied to repress the workers.  We imported it from the British Isles, from where it also brought a bloody history.  And we burned the struggles into our conscience with the Winnipeg General Strike.

But the struggles are over.  They are largely of the past and today’s wage earner sells his or her skills in an open market of knowledgeable business.  The excesses of the board room and some private owners still go on but long-settled accommodations or destruction of labour have turned private sector labour unrest into rare events.  It is in the public sector that old battles are still fought.

The public sector unions always had an abused ally: the public.  The denial of services is indirectly against the political bosses but felt by the public.  It is usually a question of how much the public can endure before shifting the blame to the politicians.  That is the point where political resolve collapses.

It was the strength of the public sector unions that demolished Bob Rae as NDP Premier of Ontario back in the 1990s.  He was unable to deal effectively with his own supporters and it left him a failed politician.

The NDP ties to these public sector unions today are a barrier to left-wing Liberals seeking to unite into a viable social democrat party.  We have to wait until the need is obvious.  It will be when we have to stand against the rampaging right of Stephen Harper and his friends. It will be a rampage, we will regret.

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Complaints, comments, criticisms and compliments can be sent to  peter@lowry.me

Comment for today.

Sunday, May 15th, 2011

The media make much of the new parliamentary bed fellows,

Jack an’ Stephen, getting along like a couple of ordinary Joes.

_____________________________________________

The Democracy Papers.

Saturday, May 14th, 2011

This is the third of the Democracy Papers written in 2007 in answer to the Ontario referendum that year on electoral reform.  The referendum was defeated but the need for reform continues to rankle.  We believe Canada must have an elected Constitutional Conference.  Electoral reform is just one of the topics to be brought to the gathering.  For this reason, the Democracy Papers are being updated and rerun.

Chapter 3 – Vote for a new system without knowing cost?

If ‘mixed-member proportional’ (MMP) voting had come to Ontario, it is taxpayers who would have had to pay, and pay, and pay! The Citizens’ Assembly on Electoral Reform that came up with this aberration seems to have ignored the costs.  And you do not just multiply the number of appointed members (39) by $110,775 per year that was the current annual pay for MPPs. (They had recently given themselves a nice 25 per cent raise.)  The salaries for the unelected supernumerary legislature members would only be the beginning.

To $4.2 million in salaries, you have to add far more for the care and upkeep of these party stalwarts.  For example, if you have not parked a car in downtown Toronto in the past few years, you might have no idea how much it costs to park all the MPPs’ personal autos at Queens’ Park.  Suffice to say, if they all travelled to the legislature by Toronto Transit Commission, we could probably buy each of them a nice compact car every couple years from the savings.

And do not forget that they have a subsidized lunch room and paid meals if the legislature sits late.  This is even a better deal when the legislature is not sitting.  The MPPs collect additional pay and expenses for each day of committee meetings they attend during those times.  If the chair of the committee can arrange it, they also can get excellent perks by holding meetings at luxury locations with decent golf courses.

Nobody should complain about the cost of constant travel by members of the legislature if they are going to and from their ridings.  They represent the people in those ridings and need to meet with them on a regular basis.  The proposed political appointees to the legislature will only represent their party.  Can we hope the 39 political appointees will all be from Toronto?

The really expensive travels for our MPPs are on what are called ‘fact-finding missions.’  These are often arranged by the party whip after the doors are locked at party caucus meetings.  Imagine, if you will, the whip or party leader asking, “Who hasn’t been to Europe yet this year?  We have a lovely cruise down the Rhine for those who want to look as though they are checking on municipal sewage solutions.”

The party stalwarts get their pick of these plums.  Conversely, the caucus bad apple that made the mistake of arguing openly with the party leader will get offered a fact-finding mission to examine policing for unauthorized weapons on the streets of Baghdad.  (This probably explains why so few politicians are seen to argue with their party leader.)

As the 39 party appointees would obviously all be good party people, we can assume that they could get first pick at the travels if they are not kept busy with cabinet appointments.  That is its own expense item as cabinet members are not only paid more but do not have anything as mundane as parking problems.  They are driven at the taxpayers’ expense by government-paid chauffeurs.  No cabinet member is allowed to worry about things such as having toonies and loonies for parking meters.  (Mind you, what you really need for parking in downtown Toronto is a paid-up, no-limit American Express card.)

The good news for party leaders with the citizens’ assembly proposal is that they can list all their potential cabinet ministers at the top of what the citizens’ assembly calls ‘list seats.  (Political people are calling them ‘loser seats.’)  That way, if the cabinet hopeful loses in his or her riding, the leader still gets a chance to get them into the legislature.

Mind you, if out of the 90 members to be elected from ridings, your party gets 50 seats, you would expect to feel like a winner.  Yet, you might be a loser if you do not get as high a percentage of the party vote.  If the voters perversely only gave your party 40 per cent of the party vote, the complex formula might refuse you any list seats.  You need to have 65 members in total for a majority government.

Obviously there is endless speculation among political junkies about what could happen under MMP voting.  It is a potpourri of ‘what-ifs?’  Luckily for them, the citizens’ assembly did not have to worry about any of this.  The assembly members were chosen by lottery on the basis (one voter from every riding in Ontario) that they probably knew nothing about politics or voting systems.  And it appears that they really knew nothing.  They were indoctrinated and since they did not want to appear to be wasting the taxpayers’ time and money, they chose one of the options presented to them.

It was left to the voters to reject the concept.  During the 2007 election campaign, neither the Liberals nor Conservatives commented.  Most backroom politicos had other fish to fry at the time.  The NDP and the smaller parties embraced it.  That was understandable.

©Copyright 2007, 2011, Peter Lowry

Complaints, comments, criticisms and compliments can be sent to  peter@lowry.me

Comment for today.

Friday, May 13th, 2011

The Tories are giving the price of gas a look,

Admiringly, on that the east can make book.

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Liberalism might not be dead.

Thursday, May 12th, 2011

It is easy to be a liberal.  Being a liberal most of your life is not a particularly demanding challenge.  You do not have to hate anybody.  You can live and let live.  You can accept diversity—of lifestyle, of sexuality, of thought, of religion and even of political persuasion, within reason.

Having known many members of the Liberal Party over the years, it has always been amazing to note the breadth of that acceptance.  Last year, listening to Michael Ignatieff promote his ‘Big Red Tent’ approach to the party, one could wonder who was excluded from squeezing under that all-enveloping canvas.  At least the tent illustration is better than the one about the need for the right and left wings of the party to flap in unison.

One of the observations made over the years is that there are right wing members of the Liberal Party who can embarrass a conscientious conservative.  No Conservative finance minister in the last 100 years could have been more ruthless than Liberal Paul Martin during the 1990s.  He did not just rename the unemployment insurance system, he gutted it.  If he had wanted to destroy Medicare, he could not have done it more damage than he did by stripping its funding to the provinces.

When Martin replaced Chrétien as Liberal Leader, the left wing of the party had been decimated.  Paul had rejected their pleas for some common sense in his crusade to cut the deficit.  They, in turn, rejected his pleas to continue to support the party.

There was little choice for the voters in 2006.  You had the real right wing of Stephen Harper or the de facto right wing of Paul Martin with its thin veneer of left-wing promises.  As the marketers of Coca-Cola can tell you, people opt for the ‘real thing.’

But it was obvious that nobody trusted Mr. Harper.  It took him three tries to get a majority.  And even his working majority on May 2 is no ringing endorsement of him, his party or his platform.

The Liberals had good reason to dump an unrealistic Dion after the 2008 disaster.  They should have taken more time.  The rushed imposition of Ignatieff on the party was a serious mistake.  There should have been a proper leadership convention instead of a coronation.  The convention would have served to introduce Ignatieff more effectively and short-circuited some of the effectiveness of Harper’s attack advertising.

With the time the party is now contemplating taking to find a new leader, we will have lots of opportunity to consider our wishes.  Instead of settling for one of the contenders now emerging, we should build a model of what we want and then we can look for someone to fill those shoes.

One thing for sure, we must find a leader who recognizes the need for democracy in the party.  The new leader must agree to only authorize candidates for an electoral district who have been chosen democratically by the members of the Liberal association in that area.  We must also have a party hierarchy that works for the people in the electoral districts.  Liberals can do no less.

Liberals must rebuild.  They must decide what they represent.  They must democratize the party.  And then they can choose a leader who can speak for that party.

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Complaints, comments, criticisms and compliments can be sent to  peter@lowry.me