Archive for June, 2016

Vote Reform Primer: FPTP.

Monday, June 20th, 2016

The following is an updated primer on First-Past-the-Post voting from the Democracy Papers of 2007. This is the fourth of the vote reform series.

First-Past-the-Post (FPTP) voting is an electoral system that we have known for hundreds of years. While some people tell us that FPTP is flawed it is hard to pin these people down to exactly what is wrong.

We should start with the misconceptions about FPTP. A vote under this system is never wasted. It is not wasted when you vote for someone who loses, nor is it wasted when the person you vote for already has enough votes to win. All votes are counted and all votes are important to the candidates.

The one complaint that is considered valid is that in a large field of candidates, a winner can be declared with a plurality rather than a majority. With Internet voting today, we can have inexpensive run-off elections to determine the majority choice. This is much better than preferential voting where the voter numbers the candidates as 1, 2, 3, etc. While an attempt at making the party representation more representative of the actual vote, preferential voting tends to over-inflate the winning party’s representation.

But it is the simplicity of FPTP voting that is its most important feature. It is your best guarantee of democracy. It reflects the concept of one person-one vote. It is the easiest system with which to vote and the simplest to count. There is no ambiguity.

One of the most important benefits of our FPTP system is that we are voting for people. You can vote for a specific party if you wish but it is the person who will represent you in the parliament or legislature or council. That person is responsible to you and your neighbours. They are there to take our concerns to the seats of government. They are your advocate.

It is important to always remember that government is there to serve people. You will find that when things are going well and people are complacent, they tend to be more casual about voting. If you want to increase the voter turn-out just have the government make some mistakes that annoy large groups of voters.

Your individual vote for your candidate is your direct contact with government. Other systems where you only vote for a political party, you are part of a large mass of votes for the party you selected and you lose all connection. Nobody has to deal with your concerns or your ideas. FPTP guarantees you that your representative will be able to present individual bills or by-laws of direct interest to constituents.

FPTP has been able to withstand real and imagined criticisms for many, many years. It is a system that has served us well. It works.

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Copyright 2016 © Peter Lowry

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

 

Donald Trump’s White House?

Sunday, June 19th, 2016

You might be tired of hearing about Donald Trump. That is understandable. He is definitely a Johnny-one-note. There are still miles to go before the November election. The one way to reach people who see him as a solution instead of the problem is to ask them to imagine Trump in the White House. It is when you try to imagine him there that your stomach churns.

First of all, you need to realize that nobody is going to let him tear it down and build a hotel. In the overall scheme of things, he would never be there long enough. And there are strict height restrictions on building in the District of Columbia. At best he could turn it into a two-story inn. He would call it Trump’s Inn.

There would be no children in residence while he was there. He does not seem to like children anyway.

We are not sure who he cares about. He revolted a lot of decent people when they heard him talk crudely about his daughter.

The only people he has said he likes are bikers. It was fascinating to see how he interacted with bikers early in his campaign. He enjoyed their novelty. He seemed to fit right in with them.

But then, Trump is also a misogynist. He insults all women in general and his Democratic opponent in particular. He thinks his jokes that ridicule women are amusing.

He does not joke about Mexicans, or Muslims, or blacks. He is a bigot.

He obviously has a very poor understanding of Americans. He believes they are all National Rifle Association members. He thinks they all want to go to war. He sees the daily murders of Americans in their cities as just practice.

But Trump must be a bit of a dreamer. He actually thinks all those right-wing religious cranks who normally vote the straight Republican ticket are going to support him for the presidency. Why they would support an atheist, who also supports abortion is hard to figure out. Is he dreaming?

This is not to deny that quite a few million Americans will vote for Mr. Trump in November. There are the angry, the bitter, the losers, the vulgar and just plain stupid who are more than willing to waste their vote on Mr. Trump. Why not, they deserve to be heard too.

But if you think Mr. Trump is going to win, you obviously have a very low opinion of our friends in America.

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Copyright 2016 © Peter Lowry

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

If Canadians had their druthers on the Senate…

Saturday, June 18th, 2016

The delays are over on the government’s Bill C-14 on assisted dying. The Senate showed its true colours: cowardice. After one effort to help fix the flawed bill from the Commons, the senators surrendered. It is disappointing to report that Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s solution to the senate seems to be working.

When he was just third-party leader, the Prime Minister decided to solve the senate problem by telling the Liberal senators that they were no longer part of the Liberal Party caucus. And then as Prime Minister, he has tried to distance himself from his own appointments. These people—accept for the ‘government representative’—were supposed to act independently. And, to nobody’s surprise, they did—at first.

They had good reason to disagree with Bill-C14. The government bill on assisted dying was overly restrictive and missed the yardsticks suggested by the Supreme Court. It even seems to miss the yardsticks of public opinion. Canadians have clearly indicated that they are in favour of less restrictive end of life decisions.

But Justin Trudeau and his colleagues around the cabinet table would not accept the Senate changes. The Commons voted to send the bill back to the Senate unchanged. Pundits thought the cabinet had better options. They thought the cabinet might negotiate with the senators.

The only problem with negotiations is that the cabinet could only be seen negotiating with the senators through the government representative and nobody is sure how that would fly.

Obviously, the government did not want to be seen agreeing to the senators’ changes as that would guarantee a long line of bills over the next several years coming back with changes. It is not that the new ‘independent’ senators are all that political but most of them would certainly have enjoyed this new sense of power.

Of course, the best solution is still to do something about the Senate itself. If it is just going to defer to the House of Commons, what use is it? What kind of house of sober second thought have we created? Why are we wasting money on it and people who have no clear understanding of their role as senators? We need to be rid of it.

Sure, it would require changes in the constitution but Canadians are in a mood for that to change and Justin Trudeau still has the credits with Canadians that they would agree to it.

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Copyright 2016 © Peter Lowry

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

Who is reforming policing?

Friday, June 17th, 2016

It seems everybody is in on the act these days. The Province of Ontario is reviewing the Police Services Act. The City of Toronto keeps appointing committees to solve its budget problems with policing. And the cops are just digging in their heels against change.

But the question that has to be asked is, “Who is in charge?” The citizens of Toronto used to respect and like their police. The courts are befuddled by the cases of police malfeasance finally brought to them. A judge docked a Toronto police superintendent 30 days of holiday pay for abusing the civil rights of hundreds of citizens six years before. A court found a police officer guilty of attempted murder when he shot a confused young man with a pen knife repeatedly after he had already killed him.

And why are police officers paid over a $100,000 a year to direct traffic around construction sites? Nobody understands that.

But if you are waiting for wisdom from Queen’s Park in how we are running our police services, you can forget it. Police services boards are political fiefdoms for the party in power to pay political debts. Neither the provincial nor municipal politicians want to lose those payoff opportunities. And the public be damned.

You wonder sometimes about the spillover influence from America. Incidents of police brutality south of the border are played well by Canadian media. It is that old adage of news directors: If it bleeds, it leads.

Obviously many of those guns in the hands of young hoodlums in Toronto are being smuggled across the border. It is not ease of access to guns in Canada that is the first problem. The first problem is attitude. It is the collegial attitude of the police and their fellow officers protecting that long blue line. We still have had no accounting with former Toronto Police Chief Bill Blair for the incidents of the Summer of 2010. (He is busy as the Ambassador of Pot for the Trudeau government.)

What about the conservative attitude of the Ontario Government? They make the rules for polices services. The only problem with that is that we have to change the mindset of what policing is all about. ‘To Serve and Protect’ is not just a public relations slogan. It has to mean something. It has to be a creed.

It always impressed us when we were young that the Toronto police were always friendly and helpful. We liked those men and women. We supported them. We wish that was the case today.

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Copyright 2016 © Peter Lowry

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

Tried and found wanting.

Thursday, June 16th, 2016

If there was a God, would He not be looking down on us today in dismay. Would He be pleased with the state we are in? Would He be pleased with the way we are destroying this beautiful world? Can He be pleased with how casually we kill ourselves and each other?

Is it a contest to see if we can kill more with cars than with guns? Can we allow stupid bigotry to fuel the rise of fascist bullies? Why do we promote racist and religious and tribal hatreds?

And at the same time, we promote base stupidity. Take the Brits. These people who live in those beautiful little isles are so misled that they want to hang themselves economically. They are misdirecting their anger and fears. They are willing to destroy their own economy in their bitterness. If they leave the European Union, they might as well throw their British Pounds into the English Channel. They will be worthless. No other country can subscribe to such ignorance.

And if we send one more foolish Children’s Crusade to the Middle East, we deserve the horrendous costs. If you think you should visit Allah’s House or back yard, you have to wait until you are invited. To visit uninvited is to earn retribution. You cannot practice Jingoism and make peace. You cannot follow false leaders.

Nor should we peace-loving(?) Canadians sell weapons of war against their own people to the Saudi despots. Why do Canadians promote pipelines to export carbon pollution to the rest of the world? Is this not hypocrisy?

We ridicule Americans for their corrupt politics but does that make us any better? Like Americans, we kill ourselves with the sludge in our blood from Big Macs and fries. You can never look down on those you emulate.

And we should stop worrying about the One Per Cent. It is the 99 per cent who need the attention, the nurturing, the worry, as they are the ones who inherit what is left of this poor planet.

We must treat this world as the jewel that it is. It belongs to us and to future generations—our progeny. We must look after this planet and those whose lives intertwine with ours. For ours is but a brief span of a lifetime and we should treat this earth and fellow travellers with the respect they deserve.

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Copyright 2016 © Peter Lowry

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

Cabinet shuffle or spring cleaning?

Wednesday, June 15th, 2016

Canada’s Inuit used to have a traditional remedy for aging that involved putting the elderly on ice flows and waving goodbye. The Ontario Cabinet showed us the modern approach the other day—some of the seniors in the cabinet were told to quit so that the premier could bring in younger talent. Not all went quietly into the night.

Whether the new and enlarged cabinet is much younger is a mute point. The same old, same old are still in charge. The slightly younger and larger cabinet had to get three more chairs for its game of musical chairs.

The four obviously reluctant retirees took different actions. Long-serving Jim Bradley was demoted to caucus but will serve as government whip. Madelaine Meilleur, the former less than successful attorney general, left cabinet and caucus in a huff. Former Municipal Affairs Minister Ted McMeekin and former Seniors Affairs Minister Mario Sergio are staying in caucus for the time being so that the Liberals will not be faced with too many by-elections.

Despite some people thinking it was his reward for winning Sudbury for the Liberals, Glen Thibeault will find the energy portfolio is no bed of roses. There will be ongoing repercussions on the sell-off of Hydro One. And who would want to be continually apologizing for rising electricity costs?

But the real concerns of this so-called cabinet shake-up are the changes that did not happen. Charles Sousa could have been rescued from finance but he was left to bumble along. With a banker such as Ed Clark telling banker Sousa what to do, you can be sure there will be nothing innovative out of that Ministry.

While many thought Environment Minister Glen Murray should have been moved, the premier is still indebted to him for securing her job for her. We can all have the fun of watching him as the loose cannon of cabinet.

There were no surprises in the premier’s friend Liz Sandals sideways move to the safer job on treasury board. Nor was anyone surprised that Health Minister Eric Hoskins gets to complete the tasks he set for himself in health.

And nobody doubts the continued influence of Deputy Premier Deb Matthews in the newly named Training, Colleges and Universities portfolio.

If they had any serious opposition, you would worry about the future of this Liberal government.

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Copyright 2016 © Peter Lowry

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

At least Ontario’s Wynne has a plan!

Tuesday, June 14th, 2016

While many are willing to criticize Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne, she does have an ‘Action Plan’ to do something about climate change. And, yes, it is easy to criticize. The plan might not be perfect. It is complex. It has many components. It involves a cap-and-trade program for carbon and new taxes. It also promises new initiatives in electric vehicles and new energy sources.

But when the opposition and news media claim that Premier Kathleen Wynne’s government wants to spend billions on her new climate change action plan without proving that this plan is the right one, how would you expect her to answer? While the plan itself seems to be a logical progression of the approach taken by her predecessor Liberal Dalton McGuinty, nobody has proved the success of that program either.

The only difference we see is that anticipated costs for the new plan are to be covered by the cap-and-trade program directed at industries creating the most carbon. Since Canada’s energy sector contributes over 80 per cent of the greenhouse gas emissions, it means that users of gasoline for their automobiles, trucks or farm equipment and people who heat their homes with natural gas will be paying most of the bills.

But that means we all pay, in the food, goods and services we buy. We pay it in energy usage because nuclear, solar, wind and water cannot always meet the needs. And bicycles are a poor solution to transportation in the Canadian winter. Cities need light rail and subways. Commuters need electric rail and buses. Intercity trains need electrifying. Delivery vans and trucks need new forms of electricity storage.

What Ontario and other jurisdictions need is a clear plan. They need a route to the future. And we need the politicians who can imagine that future and provide the leadership. There is no point in criticizing one party’s plan unless another party’s plan makes more sense. And where are those plans? Where are their strategies for tomorrow?

The Conservatives and New Democrats in Ontario need to stop criticizing and realize that if they have no plan, they must not and should not be given control of the future. They can always disagree with details of the government plan but generalities are a waste of time. We need action now to built the better future we all want.

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Copyright 2016 © Peter Lowry

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

The braggadocio of the blogger!

Monday, June 13th, 2016

That is one way to describe it. There is a hollowness in the endeavour. It is not just a hobby or an interesting way to waste away a few hours in your day. A daily commentary develops a life of its own. It is not like a Facebook page that you tend like a garden (and use lots of manure). Nor is it as simple as a daily ego trip down Memory Lane. And it is hardly a “Look at me. Ain’t I erudite and bright just like the twits on Twitter?”

A blog is more like a daily massage. You pay for it to make you feel good about yourself. If you had a point to make it soon becomes lost in the challenge of creating pithy daily commentary on the rest of the world.

While we originally intended to be more wide ranging in our comments, the readership seemed to grow more rapidly with political matters. We have readers from sea to sea and also around the world of the web. There is no problem with coming up with opinions on politics.

But before we forget the objective today, the intent was to apologize to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau. The freedom of a blog does not excuse rudeness. And being angry at our Prime Minister is no excuse. He is not a boy and this commentator crossed a line in insulting him. Many of us lost respect for the office during Mr. Harper’s term but Mr. Trudeau has done nothing in that office to earn the scorn we had for Harper.

As a long-term liberal and Liberal Party Member, it is obvious to our regular readers that we do not agree all the time with our Liberal Prime Minister. That is our right. Obviously frustration is no excuse. We should always try to keep the commentary civil. And that is the apology about what we called him in the recent commentary on his problems with the Senate of Canada.

We are coming into what the media refer to as the summer hiatus. There is no concern for topics to discuss here. With the Three Amigo Summit coming up in Ottawa, the Brexit vote in Great Britain and the upcoming political conventions in the United States this summer, there will be much to fuel our commentaries.

But, please, can we make an exception for that despicable Donald Trump? He is obviously no politician. Be sure to drop by occasionally.

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Copyright 2016 © Peter Lowry

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

Vote Reform Primer: Preferential.

Sunday, June 12th, 2016

The following is a new primer as we did not consider preferential voting a factor in the Democracy Papers of 2007. This is the third of the updated series.

Preferential voting is a system that is also known as alternative voting, instant run-off, ranked voting, transferable voting and other variables that have been considered and then forgotten. It is not as wide-spread a type of voting around the world as proportional or first-past-the-post (FPTP) voting.

The main concerns with this type of system is that there have to be many rules developed for the voters because of the ease of manipulating the vote and the confusion in the counting systems involved.

The basic premise is that the voter indicates a first, second, third or more choices among the various candidates. In some jurisdictions, the voter must indicate a number for all candidates to prevent what is called ‘plumping’ for a single candidate or multiple candidates.

The counting is based on creating a majority vote for a winner by adding the second choice of the lowest scoring candidate and adding those second choice votes to the other candidates’ totals. This can continue, taking the votes of lowest scoring candidates until one candidate has a majority. This is why the system is ridiculed as a method whereby ‘the losers are the choosers.’ Votes for losing candidates, in effect, determine the ultimate winner.

Proponents of proportional voting tend to reject preferential voting because the system can actually create the opposite results from proportional representation. It tends to over inflate the winning party’s share of the seats. A good example of this can be postulated for the recent federal election in Canada. There were three strong parties at the beginning of the election. All three of these parties were, at certain times during the campaign, in the lead in the polls.

But what was really happening was that it was a choice between two parties to remove the third from government. If there had been a preferential system of voting in that case, the winning party would have won as much as 65 per cent of the seats in parliament (versus the actual of 54 per cent), the former government party about 20 per cent (actual 29 per cent) and the former opposition party as few as 10 per vent (actual 13 per cent). That did not happen under FPTP and certainly would not have happened under proportional voting.

Many people think of preferential voting as an instant run-off. It is not. It does not allow the opportunity to consider the results of the initial voting. It is this consideration that makes a second or even third round of voting a much more acceptable solution than trying to do it all at once.

The reason for the rejection of run-off elections in Canada has been because of the perceived high costs of conducting a second vote. That is no longer the case today as Internet voting has become a practical solution. Instead of large numbers of voting locations, Canadians can now exercise their vote from home, at work, at public libraries, government buildings or from their smart telephone. It is easy for Elections Canada to update security systems as the need arises.

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Copyright 2016 © Peter Lowry

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

He wanted an independent Senate; he got it.

Saturday, June 11th, 2016

We told Prime Minister Justin Trudeau that this independent Senate of his would bite him on the ass. And it happened sooner than anyone expected.

But to make the point on the assisted dying bill was pure justice. The Senate has challenged Justin on a key provision of this ill-considered bill. It is the very restrictive clause that was to keep people who might be depressed from their illness from calling it quits prematurely. The government bill was restricted to people who were sure to die shortly anyway.

It seems that the ‘Independent Senate’ was going along with many Canadians who cared about this bill. Justin’s Catholic sentiments aside, this was not what the Supreme Court had in mind when it insisted on Canadians having a say on life-ending decisions. ‘Severe and intolerable suffering’ is cruel and untenable in the 21st Century and cuts a broader swath than the Trudeau cabinet might want to go.

But it is Justin’s Senate now and he better just suck it up. He stupidly kicked all the Liberal retirees from the Liberal caucus and told these loyalists that they were no longer Liberals. And he hurt more than a few feelings in the process. To make matters worse, he sent a retired civil servant to the Senate—and at a nice stipend—to run the place. You just knew how that would work out.

And the Senate was just testing the waters when it sent the one amendment to the House of Commons. This was just the litmus test. If Justin and his gang reject the change, it will be war. If they do an end run and accept the change, the Senate wins and the government will be in danger with every single bill it sends to the Upper House.

And do not forget, the Senate can come up with some bills of its own. That will be the end of ‘Sunny Days’ for our boy leader.

Like it or lump it, our boy leader needs to accept the fact that his solution to the Senate is a crock. It does not make sense and does not work—at least for him. He needs to re-address his solution. He has either got to win some friends in the Senate and add enough other friends to control the damn place, or find another way to fix it.

The point is that somebody has to act responsibly. Our suggestion was that we ask all senators to resign and let all the political parties appoint replacements (until the next federal election) equivalent to their percentage of votes in the last federal election. That way the parties will be responsible for the Senate and the public will know who to blame if things do not work.

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Copyright 2016 © Peter Lowry

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