Archive for November, 2016

Ten reasons to support first-past-the-post voting.

Sunday, November 20th, 2016

This is an updated version of the paper of the same name from the Democracy Papers of 2007. With the special committee of the house of commons due to report soon on their findings, it is something the committee needs to consider.

First-past-the-post (FPTP) voting is an awkward name for simple, single-member constituency plurality voting. It is almost too simple: you just go to the polls, vote for one person, the votes are counted and the person with the most votes wins.

And that gives you reason number one in favour of FPTP: There is no confusion. What you vote for is what you get–if enough of your neighbours agree with you. If your candidate loses, you tried and you have nothing of which to be ashamed. Your vote was counted and you made a contribution to democracy.

It is the matter of democracy that gives us reason number two for FPTP: it is the most democratic method of electing members to government. Whether there are two candidates on the ballot or 20, FPTP means that in your constituency you elect the person preferred by the most voters. If it is fair when there are two candidates, why would it not be fair with 20? If you would prefer that the person be the choice of more than 50 per cent of the voters, with today’s Internet voting, it is simple and inexpensive to have a run-off election among the leading candidates.

But ideally, we want to keep the voting simple, which is reason number three for FPTP: it is very easy to keep honest. There are no complicated formulas, no mathematical manipulations, just a plain simple, easy to understand, count of ballots for candidate ‘A,’ candidate ‘B’ and so forth. The one with the most votes wins. No questions. An occasional recount is needed when the vote is close but that can be as much fun to watch as a close horse race.

We cannot compare our politicians to horses but if we learn one thing at the racetrack, it is that training and past performance are critical factors to consider before we place a bet. And people need to find out something about the people on the ballot before placing their trust in them as politicians. There is far more than money at stake.

That is reason number four to support FPTP: You are putting your trust in people. You do not have to vote for a party. You can vote for a person, a person you trust, one who works on behalf of the people in your riding. Parties do not have to keep their word. It is difficult to hold a party accountable. A person, your MP or MPP, comes back for re-election and is accountable to the voters if he or she wants to be re-elected.

When you think about it, politics is about people. That is reason number five to support FPTP: It serves people. Elections are not about political parties, or party platforms or any of the parties’ broken promises (or, even worse, promises they kept that they should not have kept). To put parties ahead of the people we choose in our constituencies is to give political parties control of our lives. Political parties deal with ideology, broad solutions and power. It is people who can deal with our concerns as individuals.

In that vein, you have reason number six to support FPTP: It gets things done. An election is a call to action. It is when we sum the activities on our behalf of the previous government and our member and consider our collective needs for the coming term. It is a time for change or a time to consolidate and it is the voters’ decision to make.

That leads us to reason number seven to support FPTP: It gives the voters control. It means, the voters can quickly remove a government that becomes so convinced its ideology is right that it ignores the needs of the voters. Both left and right wing parties have felt the wrath of voters over the years. The ability to change governments is one of the most important capabilities of FPTP.

When our votes are counted, we have reason number eight to support FPTP: We know who to call. Your politicians are there to represent all the voters in their riding. They can ignore you, if they dare. They can even disagree with your ideas. They might have to tell you why they cannot support your ideas, but, if they are good at their job, they might have an explanation that satisfies you.

That is reason number nine for FPTP: Our politicians are accountable. They cannot get away with an answer such as ‘my party leader said I had to vote for it, so I did.’ There are no excuses. The record of our politicians is there for us to examine. They have to meet our expectations.

And, finally, reason number ten for FPTP: It is hard to get elected and hard to stay elected. To be the first past the post in an election is no easy task. The voters are demanding and ruthless with those who think there are shortcuts to earning our trust. Should we ever ask for less?

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Copyright 2007, 2016 © Peter Lowry

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

The Party is Over?

Saturday, November 19th, 2016

The good news is that we are doing away with organized political parties. The bad news is that we are doing away with organized political parties. And one or both of these statements has the seeds of a problem in it.

The bad news is that non-political people with very large egos and lots of money will be your candidates for office in coming elections. The good news is that we are going to be rid of those rotten politicians who knew what to do when they got elected.

The bad news is that the people running for office will all lie to you. The good news is that you will not have to listen to the truth.

And obviously, we will do away with all that left and right confusion. All candidates will be considered populists. You will only have to vote for people who will cut taxes and build just the roads you need to use. Maybe we can all quit work and go on the dole.

Since nobody is working, the newspapers, magazines and radio and television stations will all stop functioning. A few volunteers will keep the Internet going so that you can read all about your political candidates on their FaceBook pages. The only news will be posted on Twitter. You will have to use YouTube for entertainment.

You can fill in the blanks from there. Did Donald Trump really mean to destroy the Republican Party in the United States? Just as serious, did Justin Trudeau really understand what he was doing when he told Senators, they could no longer be Liberals? Did he have a clue as to the long-term consequences of further disorganizing a highly disorganized Liberal Party of Canada? A leader without an organized party has rabble to gather. You have to keep putting yourself in front of your mob.

And comes the day when you find an arrow in your back, you know that someone behind you wants your position. It creates an endless cycle.

But there are people who understand the importance of organized political parties. They are of the same importance as the organized food distribution systems we have created over the years. They serve a purpose.

Parties provide food for the mind in their policy development. They define our principles. They raise political funds and choose our politicians and leaders. They communicate for them. They make the system work for all.

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Copyright 2016 © Peter Lowry

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

It’s the leadership, stupid!

Friday, November 18th, 2016

Martin Regg Cohn of the Toronto Star is usually a quite astute observer of Queen’s Park and the political machinations there. What we did not know about him was that he considers himself something of an economist. If he is not an economist, why would he suggest that the Wynne government in Ontario was right or wrong in following the directions of banker Ed Clark?

Clark, of course, is a banker. If Wynne just needed a banker’s opinion, she had Finance Minister Charles Sousa, an unreformed banker, sitting right there at the cabinet table. Since an expert is someone from further away, the cabinet listened to Ed Clark instead of Charles Sousa.

But the economy is hardly the basis for all political decisions. When Bill Clinton’s campaign used the slogan, “It’s the economy, stupid,” it was a way of focussing the direction of that one campaign.

Trump just won the American White House with a mindless slogan of “Make America Great Again. It was a terrible slogan but it worked when Hillary Clinton could not make up her mind about a slogan. How can you vote for a politician who does not even have a slogan?

The conundrum that Martin Regg Cohn addressed recently was that things are actually going well in Ontario but the Wynne government might be guilty of bad politics. He says selling off pieces of Hydro One was good economics and bad politics. He thinks Ontario is in a political depression.

But there is absolutely no excuse for that political depression. When calling for Wynne’s resignation the other day, we gave only part of the answer. Wynne is a terrible leader. She is no liberal. She is not a leader. She weaselled her way through the Liberal convention that chose her by manipulation and backroom deals. She was by no means the popular choice of the party. And she has proved she is a disaster.

And what has Kathleen Wynne’s leadership done for us? Forget the polls. What bye-elections has she won since her foolish manipulations in Sudbury? How do Ontario voters feel about her government? Why does she dribble out reforms on booze sales instead of making a decisive move? What the hell has she ever done that showed clear and decisive leadership? Even the needed improvements in government pensions by Ontario were just a ploy to move the federal government to do it.

Wynne has obviously been listening to her advisor, former Premier David Peterson, for too much bad advice. David is a nice guy but he sometimes acts as though he has the political smarts of an Ontario raccoon. Like a raccoon, he is great on family but he too often ends up in the wrong garbage can.

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Copyright 2016 © Peter Lowry

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

Breaking in the new POTUS.

Thursday, November 17th, 2016

POTUS is what the U.S. Secret Service, who are charged with protecting the President, call the President of the United States. The service has a long tradition of doing that job. It is a job that can involve four years of excruciating boredom and three seconds of horror.

It is a job that has been glamourized by Hollywood. Even Dirty Harry (actor Clint Eastwood) had an opportunity to stop shooting bad guys and portray an aging Secret Service agent determined to protect his President.

But the truth is that it is an almost impossible job. The lone, crazed person with a gun is the danger and fits no pattern or obvious threat. The politician in POTUS and the ego demands access to voters, admirers, crowds and nobody knows what danger lurks in a gun-happy environment.

In years of being involved in public events in Canada’s largest city for the Prime Minister of Canada, we learned from the Americans the screening systems, the checks and changes that could keep the event as safe as could be. It was routine to provide information to the Metro Toronto Police and the R.C.M. Police detailed to the event.

One of the first of these Canadian events for us was a large dinner at Toronto’s Royal York Hotel for Prime Minister Lester B. Pearson. The party had provided a seat at one of our media tables for the wife. She was dropped off at the Prime Minister’s suite in the hotel after the dinner and speeches while we completed some wrap-up details with the media. (It was years later that the task was referred to as being a ‘spin-doctor.’)

When coming back to the Prime Minister’s suite, the hall door was open and there were only two people there. The protection detail had dropped off the Prime Minister and wandered off. He was sitting on a love seat with the wife, deep in conversation. The man actually blushed when I came up behind them and said, “Hi dear, who’s your friend?”

‘Mike’ Pearson was a gentleman and it was a delight to know him. He was the last Prime Minister of Canada to not have a regular R.C.M. Police detail for protection and the last P.M. to routinely drive himself to work at the parliament buildings. The world has changed very much from those days.

No doubt the Americans will have to increase the U.S. Secret Service detail on the new POTUS-elect. The honeymoon for President Donald Trump might not be too long.

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Copyright 2016 © Peter Lowry

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

 

The devil is in the details, Ms. Wynne.

Wednesday, November 16th, 2016

The Ontario government’s water torture continues. There has been a reluctance to write about the so-called ‘reforms’ in political fundraising until we knew more of the details. We are still waiting. The Wynne Liberals like to dribble out their giving in to the inevitable over multiple news cycles. And the hypocrites in the opposition parties are having an ongoing field day.

It is a given that political fundraising in Ontario has been a disgrace for a long time. We should not forget that the rules have not changed appreciably since the 1970s. The same basic rules apply today as applied during the Conservative regime of Mike Harris and the New Democrat interregnum of Bob Rae. Mind you there have been times over the years that even this old apparatchik had to shake his head at the foolishness of the rules.

The problem with working on political campaigns over the years is that at the beginning of each municipal, provincial, federal or leadership campaign you have to sit down with the team’s lawyer and/or accountant to get a refresher on the rules. If you have not gone through that session you had better not touch a donation cheque and definitely do not pay a bill.

What is encouraging so far in this proposed change in Ontario is that the opposition keep daring the Liberals to go further.

And as it stands now, some of the rules have reached the silly stage. One of the proposed rules is that cabinet members and their staff as well as paid political staff of the party are forbidden to attend party fundraising events. A party’s candidates will also be barred from attending fundraisers.

The major changes that nobody seems to be arguing about are that individual donors will be limited to $1200 per year (down from almost $10,000) and that corporations and unions will no longer be able to donate funds.

To make up for the anticipated shortfall in funds because of these supposedly restrictive rules, the public purse will be tapped to make sure that our political parties have a base of financing. About $3 million a year will be divided between maybe 400 electoral district associations for them to kick-start local campaigns while the central parties will be lavished with an annual subsidy of $2.71 per vote received in the last election. These figures look like more than $5 million for the Liberals, $4 million for the Conservatives, $3 million for the New Democrats and just $639,000 for the Greens.

The good news in the package will be the setting of restrictions on third-party advertising by groups such as ‘Working Families.’ This was a group of teacher unions that spend a considerable amount of money attacking the Conservative Leader Tim Hudak in the last Ontario election. What limitations will be set on this third-party advertising is one of the details we have to wait for the law to be passed and the regulations put in print.

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Copyright 2016 © Peter Lowry

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

The glass house of Ontario’s Conservatives.

Tuesday, November 15th, 2016

Somebody in the Ontario Conservative party is going to have to take Ottawa-Vanier PC candidate André Marin aside and read the riot act to him. The guy thinks he is lawman Wyatt Earp. He actually describes himself as an anti-corruption and ethics expert. And that is the last thing PC leader Patrick Brown wants in the PC Corral down at Queen’s Park.

Get this: Marin is sending out fundraising e-mails that are reported to say “This is one of the most unscrupulous and unethical governments in Ontario’s history.” Boy, that is sure biting the hand that fed him for the past ten years.

Who does Marin think he is, Donald Trump?

And where was Marin hiding in the years of the Mike Harris government? At least when Marin was ombudsman for the Ontario government of Dalton McGuinty, nobody shot one of our aboriginals just because the premier was annoyed at a protest.

But his real concern is that too many of the voters in Ottawa-Vanier are going to find out how useless he was when he was ombudsman for the Canadian army and how bad he turned out to be as Ontario ombudsman. As an experienced crown attorney, he cannot even name just one successful investigation and conviction from his office in the ten years Marin had to prove himself in Ontario.

It seems that the biggest boondoggle at Queen’s Park during the McGinty-Wynne years has been André Marin.

We will leave it to the auditors to discuss his office procedures and expenses.

When nobody at Queen’s Park (including Conservatives) stood in the Legislature to support him staying on as ombudsman, it told us everything we needed to know about him.

If the voters in Ottawa-Vanier are so tired of Kathleen Wynne and her government that they send someone like him to represent them, they will deserve nothing and they will certainly get nothing in return.

And if Marin thinks Canadian politics allow you to make corruption charges so casually, he has another think coming. People who live in glass houses do not get to throw the biggest rocks.

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Copyright 2016 © Peter Lowry

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

The rise of the exurbanites.

Monday, November 14th, 2016

Trump reached for it in America and the exurbanites coalesced behind him. With these new rural voters who have fled the cities and in sync with the traditional American Gothic farmers, he dominated state after state. These people resent and fear our conglomerate cities, the liberal attitudes they promote and the crush of the ethnic hordes. Many of these exurbanites commute to the cities for work and they hate it. The buttons are there; you just have to press them.

It is a supposedly easy route to power. There are two good examples of politicians seeking out those voters here in Ontario. They are the ones working that grungy side of the street. They are MP Kellie Leitch from Simcoe-Grey who is trying to muscle in on the federal party leadership and Ontario PC Leader Patrick Brown, currently representing Simcoe-North. They are here in adjoining ridings in central Ontario, pandering to the same type of narrow-minded, bitter and easy to anger voters.

And if you think Barrie voters are going to elect Patrick Brown in the 2018 provincial election, you are wrong. Barrie was deliberately gerrymandered under the Conservatives to cut the city in half and give each half a solid slice of exurbanite and rural voters. The edge in both north and south Barrie ridings goes to the Conservatives.

Brown’s current problems in Ontario are that unlike Donald Trump, he tries to keep a foot on each side of the street. He is a social conservative and he tries to find the middle ground. Eventually he is going to find that there is no middle ground and make a decision.

Meanwhile, in the safe ground of small town and rural Simcoe-Grey, MP Kellie Leitch is moving forward with her hate-filled Canadian-values campaign for her party’s leadership. Donald Trump is her hero.

Leitch has neither the money nor the ego of a Donald Trump and is hardly expected to sustain this aspect of her campaign under the intense pressure by her colleagues in Ottawa to tone it down. What her fellow MPs are concerned about is not as much as whether she wins the leadership but the very real concern of creating a schism in Canada’s Conservative Party. A large block of the urban Conservative vote across the country are progressive conservatives who pride themselves in not being knee-jerk rednecks. They will never buy into Dr. Leitch’s Canadian-values, anti-immigrant B.S. and you cannot win Ontario without winning any urban seats.

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Copyright 2016 © Peter Lowry

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

Watching Justin suck and blow again.

Sunday, November 13th, 2016

One of our favourite progressive bloggers is on the West Coast and he likes to refer to Prime Minister Trudeau as ‘le Dauphin.’ He actually wrote that the Dauphin’s announcement of a $1.5 billion fund to upgrade responses to tanker and oil spills on the Pacific coast was a good start. Start at what?

The Prime Minister actually appears to think that this ‘generous’ plan will make us all amenable to supertankers filled with bitumen plying the waters around Vancouver Island. He thinks that the money will be spent on teaching us how to do a better job at cleaning up spills.

It must have taken Toronto Star pundit Chantal Hébert all of two minutes to figure out the Dauphin was using the announcement to pave the path for the tripling of Kinder-Morgan’s TransMountain pipeline capacity. We are not all gullible here in Ontario. We will be back out there one of these days and we want to find that beautiful City of Vancouver right where we left it.

Reading the announcement of how the $1.5 billion of our tax money is to be spent (over five years) begs the question: “What the hell have we been doing about spills previously?” This is lame.

And who is paying for this program? Does this mean that the tankers carrying the bitumen away from the West Coast get a couple of free spills? How much of this money is being spent to help protect our West Coast? And what is the share required to protect the Arctic and the East Coasts? Who is helping pay the bills there? And God save the Bay of Fundy if TransCanada Pipeline’s Energy East gets approved.

Is exploiting Alberta’s bitumen that important to the Trudeau government? Maybe if the bitumen producers took all the money they are currently spending on television and newspaper advertising, they could spend it on protecting our environment.

But shipping bitumen to countries that cannot afford to be concerned about the environment is hardly the answer. Bitumen is extremely polluting in the process of turning it into artificial crude oil and then further polluting when burnt to create energy. It has far too many strikes against it to be considered for any energy needs.

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Copyright 2016 © Peter Lowry

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

Our electoral discontent?

Saturday, November 12th, 2016

There was an item among progressive blogs the other day that said Canada needed to change how it votes so that what happened in the U.S. did not happen here. The writer seemed confused by the way Americans elect their President. The reality Tuesday night was that Hillary Clinton won the popular vote by over a million votes more than Donald Trump. Trump won the state-based Electoral College. Now that question has been cleared up, why is it so urgent for Canadians to change how they vote?

We should be terribly tired by now with all the knee-jerk demands for change in how we vote from people who have never really thought through how voting works. A change at just the voting stage of the governing process can have major ramifications for how our political parties function and the kind of governance we get. We have enough problems with our political parties today.   And it really does not hurt to remind people that under the supposedly safe proportional voting in the Weimar Republic, Adolph Hitler’s Brown Shirts gained control of the German Reichstag in 1933 with just a third of support from German voters.

One of the key benefits of the Canadian first-past-the-post system is that every member of the legislature or parliament has to be elected in a single-member constituency. It was very amusing that one of the possible systems voted on recently in Prince Edward Island was the idea of appointing party leaders to the legislature if their party got more than ten per cent of the vote. The idea was not a winner.

Academics love to give their advice to politicians on a variety of subjects but it does not necessarily mean they have worked with all these systems they suggest. The best advice heard in those elitist sessions of the Special Commons Committee on Electoral Reform was that no system is perfect.

The Canadian problem is not so much in how we vote but in the Constitution of Canada created for us by the British government 150 years ago. We have a non-elected Senate of Canada that is an embarrassment. We have tiny provinces and we have large provinces and we are a very large and diverse country. Before we change how we vote, we need to take a look at what we vote for. We cannot continue to use band-aid solutions to solve critical needs.

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Copyright 2016 © Peter Lowry

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

People are not lab rats.

Friday, November 11th, 2016

There is no question but that we have a high regard for former Senator Hugh Segal. But for God’s sake Hugh, you have got to stop treating people as laboratory rats. They do not and we do not need another damn test of how little people can live on.

And why would you ever get involved in another test with that brain-dead bunch at the Ontario government. They do not need more excuses not to help people in a manner that they need to be helped. We know what people need. They need dignity. They need the same as others need to live. They need decent housing. They need a nourishing diet. They need something to do!

The last thing that these people need is to have some money thrown at them and be told to go away. Each of those people is a complex individual. They have different needs, different diets, different interests and they need different levels of support. And you want to test them on a fixed income? That would be as bad as the stupidity that is going on now!

It was very amusing Hugh to read of your experience as a child in Montreal when your family would debate which two creditors you would pay in a particular month. At least you could pay two! Along with a mother and five siblings trying to survive in Toronto in the late 1930s, we had little for anyone so we were frequently evicted. It made for a hectic and varied life.

But that hardly equips either of us as experts. If you really know what people need, then good on you. Our guess is that we need to ask each person and then see what can be done to help. It actually needs to be a negotiation because, a) most people really do not want something for nothing, and b) they also want to contribute something. Because sitting around with nothing more to do than watch television is demeaning and crushes self respect.

Back when serving as president of the Multiple Sclerosis Society of Canada, we would often be asked to visit nursing homes where there were numbers of MS patients. These nursing homes were often infuriating because they seemed to be nothing but warehousing for people nobody knew how to help. It is why we kept services to patients high on the society’s priorities.

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Copyright 2016 © Peter Lowry

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