Archive for the ‘Repeat’ Category

Brush up your calculus for proportional voting.

Tuesday, May 15th, 2012

THE DEMOCRACY PAPERS #4- Revised  It was in 2007 that The Democracy Papers were written to make the case for our first-past-the-post (FPTP) voting in North America. Despite changes being rejected firmly in Ontario and twice in British Columbia, people still complain. The complaints are understandable. No system is perfect. Neither is democracy but it is better than the alternatives.

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 will not have a constituency and will not be directly responsible to the electors.

The referendum was defeated. By almost two to one, Ontario voters rejected this form of voting. You would think it was settled. No such luck.

People still want to have seats in the legislature and in Parliament for the losing parties, proportional to their popular vote. They think this is simple. It is not. When you agree to proportional voting, you will find you have to learn a new math.   It was in the plan for MMP produced by the Citizens’ Assembly on Electoral Reform.   What the citizens’ assembly attempted to do was give more legislature seats to smaller political parties by appointing members to the legislature instead of electing them.   They asked for a very confusing, if not mind-boggling, mathematical process 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 will be 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 will penalize parties that win more seats than the citizens’ assembly think they should. Under the new 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 political parties get 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.

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

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

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Copyright 2012 © Peter Lowry

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

 

Touting voting systems without knowing cost?

Monday, May 7th, 2012

THE DEMOCRACY PAPERS #3- Revised  It was in 2007 that The Democracy Papers were written to make the case for our first-past-the-post (FPTP) voting in North America. Despite changes being rejected firmly in Ontario and twice in British Columbia, people still complain. The complaints are understandable. No system is perfect. Neither is democracy but it is better than the alternatives.

If ‘mixed-member proportional’ (MMP) voting had become law in Ontario, it is taxpayers who would have paid, and paid and paid! The Citizens’ Assembly on Electoral Reform that came up with this idea seemed to have ignored the costs.  And you do not just multiply the number of appointed members (39) by $110,775 per year that we were then paying each of our MPPs.  The salaries for these unelected supernumerary legislature members would only have been 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.  Our MPPs collect additional pay and expenses for each day of committee meetings they attend during these times.  If the chair of the committee can arrange it, they also can get excellent perks by holding meetings at luxury locations with a decent golf course.

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 fromToronto?

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 who 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.  (That is outside downtown Toronto where what you really need for parking is a paid-up, no-limit American Express card.)

The good news for party leaders with the citizens’ assembly proposal was that they could list all their potential cabinet ministers at the top of what the citizens’ assembly calls ‘list seats.  (Political people call 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.

And then Ontario voters decided. In October 2007, they said ‘No.’

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Copyright 2012 © Peter Lowry

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

The myths of proportional voting.

Sunday, May 6th, 2012

THE DEMOCRACY PAPERS #2- Revised  It was in 2007 that The Democracy Papers were written to make the case for our first-past-the-post (FPTP) voting in North America. Despite changes being rejected firmly in Ontario and twice in British Columbia, people still complain. The complaints are understandable. No system is perfect. Neither is democracy but it is better than the alternatives.

There are many myths being told as to why we should have proportional voting in Canada. This is despite it being rejected by voters when proposed in British Columbia and in Ontario.

The first of the myths told by the proportional voting supporters is the suggestion that you have been wasting your vote when your candidate did not win. This myth is spurious. They are saying that your opinion has been treated as worthless. You went to vote so that your voice would be heard. You went to vote to express your belief in democracy. You went because you and the other people in your area had a choice to make as to who would represent you. Win or lose, you were expressing your democratic opinion.

You can be pleased when your candidate wins. You can be disappointed when your candidate loses. Your vote is never worthless. Candidates, politicos and statisticians spend many hours pouring over those results. Winning and losing candidates learn from them. They can help the loser to be a winner next time. They can show trends. They can be extrapolated by parties to forecast results in newly formed ridings. They are used for years to help academics learn from the past to forecast the future.

The most seriously flawed myth is that the selection of list candidates (the people whom the parties want to appoint to sit in government) will be open and democratic because the parties have to disclose their process of selection. The process of choosing all parties’ candidates has been corrupted for years.

The rule in Ontario, for example, is that no person can be a candidate for a party without the signed approval of the party leader. That means that despite the occasional attempt by a riding association to make the decision on their own, the leader’s campaign committee is the de facto selection committee. Any other explanation is nothing more than window dressing.

In most cases, you can count on a list that consists mainly of persons running for election in ridings. These are people the party leader and advisors want to be sure are in the legislature. If they lose in their riding, the list will be their second chance. It guarantees that most of the list candidates who are selected are losers. They have been rejected by the voters in their riding and are now available to be appointed.

The silliest myth of all is the one that the selection of list candidates will bring more women and minorities into the legislature. The implication is insulting. The political parties have done a much better job in recent years of encouraging women to run for office. The financial barriers have been mainly overcome with the use of taxpayers’ money. Many well-qualified women have run for office and won in their ridings. If you think there should be more, get to work and be sure they are nominated and then work even harder to make sure they are elected.

Minorities are a different matter. This has good and bad implications. There are no barriers. Ethnic background, race, religion, sexual persuasion or physical handicaps are not a problem but only representing a specific group is a problem. Every group is welcome to send people to the legislature but, in the legislature, these people must deal with many issues and they must represent everybody.

The myth that is the most confounding is the one that proportional voting systems such as MMP promote broader participation in government and more ready acceptance of government policies.   That, they believe, would seem to make it very worthwhile.   It would if we really want a lacklustre, do-nothing government.

The myth continues that MMP-type government will feature bargaining, will be inclusive and will include compromise.   There are a few ingredients of good government that are missing.   They forgot about ideas, drive and ambition.   And they forgot about leadership.   If you want this bland, non-competitive type of representation, you could have got the same thing by making the citizens’ assembly that selected it the Ontariogovernment.   They would do just as good a job.

The citizen’s assembly was chosen by lottery, one member per riding across the province.  They obviously did not know much about democracy or politics.

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Copyright 2012 © Peter Lowry

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

Solving voting concerns is not easy.

Saturday, May 5th, 2012

THE DEMOCRACY PAPERS #1- Revised  It was in 2007 that The Democracy Papers were written to make the case for our first-past-the-post (FPTP) voting in North America. Despite changes being rejected firmly in Ontario and twice in British Columbia, people still complain. The complaints are understandable. No system is perfect. Neither is democracy but it is better than the alternatives.

It was November, 2005 when the Ontario Citizens’ Assembly on Electoral Reform suggested a ‘mixed-member proportional’ (MMP) electoral system be voted on in a referendum accompanying the Ontario General Election in October 2007.   These people had no little or no experience with politics, political parties or the various electoral systems they reviewed.   Their proposed solution confused Ontario’s voters.

The citizens’ assembly suggested that people have two votes, one for a candidate in an enlarged riding and the other for a party.   In this manner, they believe, there could be a fairer representation in the provincial legislature of the popular vote between parties.   They never explain why this should be necessary.

The assembly members believed that because a party’s candidates receive maybe 15 per cent of the popular vote, then that party should be allowed to have 15 per cent of the seats in the legislature.   The question is: ‘Why?’

With only 15 per cent of the vote in a general election, your party is a loser.   Reality is that if your party cannot garner more than 15 per cent of the popular vote, it really needs to improve its platform strategy, reconsider its leadership and take a long hard look at its candidates.   To reward your party for this poor showing is to encourage mediocrity.

What used to happen to this 15-per cent party is that it got maybe three or four candidates elected.   This could be because these are outstanding people and the voters recognize this and vote for them despite their party affiliation.   It could also be that there is a large concentration of people sympathetic to the party’s ideals in that riding.   Or maybe so many people in that riding are related to the candidate and s/he cannot lose.   Whatever the reason, it is usually not difficult to figure it out.

If, for example, you are the New Democratic Party, it is not hard to understand that the party can do well in areas of the province with a strong union vote.   While the party fields candidates in ridings where there might be little union support, such as in the more affluent parts of the Greater Toronto Area (GTA), these party stalwarts are there to establish their credentials in the party. Realistically, they know to limit their campaigning to showing some signs and making appearances at all-candidate meetings.   And any long-term NDPer is realistic about how that works.   Most of the good workers in these throw-away ridings are asked to put their efforts into ridings with better possibilities.   And if the throw-away candidate makes a good showing despite the situation in the riding, they might be offered a more NDP-friendly riding next time.

Conservatives and Liberals have to spread themselves over far more ridings.   While there is always a tendency to slack off a bit in ridings where a sitting member seems entrenched, there will be a renewed effort whenever the incumbent shows signs of weakness.

Until the 1990s, Ontario political parties were ‘candidate-centred.’   This meant that local riding associations used to have the right to choose their candidate without too much interference from party headquarters.   While the system tended to produce the occasional maverick, everyone agreed that the stodgy legislature needed some livening. One of the problems with this was sometimes it was hard to find the right riding for a star candidate favoured by the party leadership.

Today, of course, party leaders control the ridings because they sign off on candidates so that they can be funded with taxpayers’ money.   The day of the maverick has ended.   Instead of being candidate centred,Ontario has been forced into a ‘party-centred’ political structure.   One thing that the citizens’ assembly’s MMP voting would help to ensure is that Ontario stays locked into being party-centred.

And there is no question that party-centred politics is a natural breeding ground for corruption.   The classic study of this is New York City’s Tammany Hall, the Democratic Party organization that controlled the city’s politics, throughout its boroughs, for 80 years.

Ontarians do not have to look far to see the potential problems with a party-centred system.   Québec’s federal Liberals are a good example.   The Montréal-based party organization appoints Liberal candidates across the province.   And that is another reason why Paul Martin’s Liberals were dragged from power by the sponsorship scandal.   Successive prime ministers, Chrétien and Martin had ignored the corruption-prone system at the roots of their Québec support.

But for the apolitical citizens’ assembly, political history such as this would have been a bore.   They were given the option of several voting systems.   They thought they were doing their job when they chose one of them.   They just did not have the political experience to know in what direction their option would send the province.

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Copyright 2012 © Peter Lowry

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

Every blog has its reason.

Saturday, April 21st, 2012

The following was originally run October 8, 2009.  We need to run it more than just every couple years.

Have you ever asked a blogger why? Did you get an answer? Did you get an honest answer? You wanted to know why they did it. You cannot believe that so many people have that big an ego. Could they really consider their pontificating so profound?

Or is the answer very simple. Take the case of this blog. What is it all about?  Why call Barrie, Ontario Babel? Simple answer: I am a professional writer. As a writer, I am available for hire. I write for people who pay me. If someone needs a writer to produce a speech, a lecture, a presentation, a brochure, a résumé, a book, a script, a poem or a posting for twitter, I am your ghost. The web site babelonthebay.com is a sampler. It showcases my wares.

It helps that I love writing.

I also make it easy for people who wish to hire me. Take a speech, for example. All you need to tell me is to whom you will be speaking, what is the subject and if you are for it or against it. You can tell me more if you wish but I am mindful of the time a client gave me a two-hour explanation of a 15-minute speech he needed. He was angry when he read my first draft. “This is just what I told you,” he blustered. “What have you contributed?” I thought I had done an excellent editing job.

And then there are clients who are not interested in your view. I was once offered more than twice my normal rate for a 50-minute lecture a client was giving at an American university. The reason for the higher rate was that the client was extremely rightwing politically. The client might have got a standing ovation for his speech but I deserved every penny of that fat fee for fiction writing.

Hands up everyone who thinks all business people write their own presentations. Those of you with your hands up; you must also believe in the tooth fairy. When I started writing presentations for others, we were still using slide shows. PowerPoint makes life much easier.

Modern low-cost, on-demand publishing has given impetuous to the world of business book ghost writing. It has reached a point that if you open a restaurant, the opening can be shared with the introduction of your new book of recipes that is a regular reminder of a good place to eat out. You have an auto parts firm, so you produce a book of tips on doing minor auto repairs. No matter what your business, there is a book that can be written that reminds people that they should deal with you because you are the expert. Just leave the writing to an expert at writing.

I am not sure I want to resume writing résumés. I used to brag that nobody I wrote a résumé for ever failed to land a suitable job. Today, it is necessary to qualify that bravado. One problem is that younger people do not trust someone my age to know their audience. And they might be right. Today, there are many barriers to getting your résumé to the person with whom you really need to communicate. I still believe in my résumés but I am losing touch with those barriers. It is becoming more of a team effort.

Poetry is something else. I tend to inflict it only on friends and family. While they are not always enthusiastic about my poems, they are kind.

What some people say is missing from this sampler blog is humour. I apologize for that.  I have been accused of being a bit capricious with whimsy. That is the reason that I refer to Barrie as Babel. I think Barrie gets a bad rap. Babel is a more whimsical place, more open and accepting. Babel seeks challenges and opportunities. Barrie is a harsher, colder environment, full of potholes and bars, hockey players and hookers. (Yah, I know, your sister plays right wing.)

But I love twitter. This is a venue where writers can shine. Effective tweets are full of alliterative allusions, weighty words of wisdom and devoted to doggerel. It is a medium that eschews whole sentences while demanding clarity. It is in twitter where everybody knows your name but not the name of your writer. Can you imagine a writing gig that pays you to write less than 280 characters a day? It’s golden!

And one last comment about the art: Writing to precisely fill a column is a big part of a writer’s training. A column is usually limited to an average of 800 words. As is this one.

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Enquire about rates and deliveries at peter@lowry.me

Canada’s Liberal Party, moving right or left?

Sunday, December 4th, 2011

The following first ran January 29, 2010.  It has been changed a bit to recognize some of the players are no longer with us.  The thoughts and ideas remain the same.

The Toronto Star ran a series on liberal philosophy in January of 2010 that ended with a summation by the late Tom Kent, the guru of the 1960 Liberal conference in Kingston Ontario. In advocating major social reform such as medicare, the Kingston Conference fit the tenor of aggressive social action of the times–50-years ago.

The question is what is the tenor of our times in 2010 and now at the end of 2011? First of all, there is the anger and frustrations people feel. Betrayed by the sanctimonious right and then left in the lurch by the left wing of the political spectrum, why should the voters trust them? The growing distrust of politicians has lead to both lethargy and perfidy in voting. Lower turnouts, confusing choices and destructive voting can leave politicians equating the voters with unruly children.

And why should the voters not take it out on the politicians.  Banks betray them. Business lies to them. Churches castigate them. Family ties have become more tenuous, easily broken. Who do you trust? Why do you want to trust them? Because in life, we need trust. We need trust to live. Hedonism is lonely. There is no such thing as the truly self-sufficient person.

People used to believe in their church. They used to accept the doctrines but today it is much safer to be born again and connect directly with your God. Priests and pastors used to be there to help you find God but you found out in recent times that there are priests who fondle little boys and pastors who fondle the organist. Connect directly to God and you cut out the weak go-betweens.  Unless you think your priest or pastor is God and that leads to all kinds of problems.

It is the same with business. If you put your trust in a company today, it will put you on tomorrow’s bread line.

Are you going to trust a political party that reads the polls and then tells you what you want to hear? Are you going to tell a pollster anything? Least of all, the truth?

Be honest, would you not rather have friends with benefits than a spouse? You will only change that course when you find someone who can hopefully share a family and, at least some, of a life together.

And that explains only a small part of the problem. The political party that wants to connect with voters today has to exhibit leadership, direction, confidence, excitement and look good while carrying out its program. And yet, Barack Obama, who excited voters in the United States, is dropping in the polls in a post-coital period of blues. Sustaining the expectations in today’s society is a monumental and, maybe, an impossible task.

Michael Ignatieff challenged Liberals to think of the party’s future but, he also needed to have the party recapture some of its past. For example, it needed to go back to the Kingston Conference to rethink the social issues that the party saw at that time and why the party chose that direction.

It was a different party. It was a party with strength and drive across Canada. It was a truly national party that was built from the ground up. It was not the centrally directed and controlled party of today. It was a party with strong riding organizations, effective regional and provincial organizations, solid policy development at what was referred to as the grass roots. It was a party that recognized the rank and file member as the very essence of the party’s existence.

Regrettably, that old Liberal party is gone. Not that we want to be maudlin about its passing but we do have to be disappointed with the weak, sham of a party structure that has replaced it. It is the same with all parties. They are all run today from the top down.Stephen Harper revels in the God-like control he has on the Conservatives. Even Jack Layton could not believe the control he had of the union organizers who always had such control of the old, more contentious NDP.

Maybe one of the problems Michael Ignatieff had is that the Liberal party apparatchiks around him were from the right wing of the party. Trying to find some left wing liberals in Ottawa today is a tough job. People like John Manley who took over the right-wing role of president of the Canadian Council of Chief Executives are among those around John Chrétien and Paul Martin who opened the door to Harper’s neo-conservatives. They have left our country floundering in the hands of a failed economist.

It will only be a rebuilt Liberal party that will enable Canadians to once again have a confidence in politicians. There is a long road ahead……….

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

Every blog has its reason.

Sunday, November 6th, 2011

The following was originally run October 8th, 2009.  We need to run it more than just every couple years.

Have you ever asked a blogger why? Did you get an answer? Did you get an honest answer? You wanted to know why they did it. You cannot believe that so many people have that big an ego. Could they really consider their pontificating so profound?

Or is the answer very simple. Take the case of this blog. What is it all about?  Why call Barrie, Ontario Babel? Simple answer: I am a professional writer. As a writer, I am available for hire. I write for people who pay me. If someone needs a writer to produce a speech, a lecture, a presentation, a brochure, a résumé, a book, a script, a poem or a posting for twitter, I am your ghost. The web site babelonthebay.com is a sampler. It showcases my wares.

It helps that I love writing.

I also make it easy for people who wish to hire me. Take a speech, for example. All you need to tell me is to whom you will be speaking, what is the subject and if you for it or against it. You can tell me more if you wish but I am mindful of the time a client gave me a two-hour explanation of a 15-minute speech he needed. He was angry when he read my first draft. “This is just what I told you,” he blustered. “What have you contributed?” I thought I had done an excellent editing job.

And then there are clients who are not interested in your view. I was once offered more than twice my normal rate for a 50-minute lecture a client was giving at an American university. The reason for the higher rate was that the client was extremely rightwing politically. The client might have got a standing ovation for his speech but I deserved every penny of that fat fee for fiction writing.

Hands up everyone who thinks all business people write their own presentations. Those of you with your hands up; you must also believe in the tooth fairy. When I started writing presentations for others, we were still using slide shows. PowerPoint makes life much easier.

Modern low-cost, on-demand publishing has given impetuous to the world of business book ghost writing. It has reached a point that if you open a restaurant, the opening can be shared with the introduction of your new book of recipes that is a regular reminder of a good place to eat out. You have an auto parts firm, so you produce a book of tips on doing minor auto repairs. No matter what your business, there is a book that can be written that reminds people that they should deal with you because you are the expert. Just leave the writing to an expert at writing.

I am not sure I want to resume writing résumés. I used to brag that nobody I wrote a résumé for ever failed to land a suitable job. Today, it is necessary to qualify that bravado. One problem is that younger people do not trust someone my age to know their audience. And they might be right. Today, there are many barriers to getting your résumé to the person with whom you really need to communicate. I still believe in my résumés but I am losing touch with those barriers. It is becoming more of a team effort.

Poetry is something else. I tend to inflict it only on friends and family. While they are not always enthusiastic about my poems, they are kind.

What some people say is missing from this sampler blog is humour. I apologize for that.  I have been accused of being a bit capricious with whimsy. That is the reason that I refer to Barrie as Babel. I think Barrie gets a bad rap. Babel is a more whimsical place, more open and accepting. Babel seeks challenges and opportunities. Barrie is a harsher, colder environment, full of potholes and bars, hockey players and hookers. (Yah, I know, your sister plays right wing.)

But I love twitter. This is a venue where writers can shine. Effective tweets are full of alliterative allusions, weighty words of wisdom and devoted to doggerel. It is a medium that eschews whole sentences while demanding clarity. It is in twitter where everybody knows your name but not the name of your writer. Can you imagine a writing gig that pays you to write less than 280 characters a day? It’s golden!

And one last comment about the art: Writing to precisely fill a column is a big part of a writer’s training. A column is usually limited to an average of 800 words. As is this one.

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Enquire about rates and deliveries at peter@lowry.me

America’s paranoia: Sitting with a sick friend (2).

Thursday, October 27th, 2011

This item first ran on September 10, 2011.  It has been removed from that date because, in error, we left it open for comments.  There have been too many comments for us to respond.  There were two negative comments out of many hundreds.  About ten per cent of the comments were automated spam—easy to delete.

To those who wished to support the thinking in their facebook and blog pages, please feel free but please recognize our copyright.  Serious queries can be directed to peter@lowry.me

 

President Barrack Obama, in a recent open letter to Canadian Prime Minister Harper, referred to the enduring friendship between Canada and the United States of America.  As in any friendship, the relationship has been strained at times.  The George W. Bush years in the American White House showed how difficult that relationship could be.

The fallout from the events of 9/11 proved the greatest strain.  Osama bin Laden won.      The perpetrator of the terrorist attacks on New York and Washington in 2001 drove America into a state of paranoia from which it has yet to recover. Canada has been sitting up with its sick friend and earning the brunt of the invective that paranoid minds can deliver.  A once proudly open and friendly border now wears the scars of barbed wire and fear.  The symptoms of delusions of grandeur led our neighbour into aggressive jingoism and interminable foreign wars of retribution.  Its suspicions and lack of trust built a wall against Mexico and endless demands on Canadian friends.

America does not know those who are its friends.  Nor does it look closely enough at its enemies within.  It is a country in turmoil.  The hard-edged nihilism of the American right wing is a destructive force, more powerful than anything bin Laden could have conceived.  The frustrated inability of American politicians to come to grips with the inadequacies of the American system of government speaks volumes about them.

Americans have destroyed the potential of air travel to make the world smaller, safer and more friendly.  Instead, air travel has become a distrustful, herding of sheep into flying pens of pain.

Wall Street continues to define capitalism to the world with its credo of greed.  American business is forced to operate in an atmosphere of distrust and suspicion.  The country’s own bankers drove their fellow Americans into revolving depressions for which nobody has come up with a cure.

Americans are dishonouring their dead of 9/11 by accepting the lessened freedoms of Homeland Security.  They must not accept the indignities of air travel with their heads between their legs.  They should not support the expenses (financial and human) of war over medicare.  Why choose the politics of hatred over the politics of reason?

Walk with your friends America.  Hold your head high.  Build a future of hope.  Seek your strength within.

-30-

Copyright 2011 © Peter Lowry

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

The Democracy Papers.

Tuesday, June 21st, 2011

This is the ninth 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 9  –  To be a ‘No’ committee is no easy task.

It started with the announcement that the Citizens’ Assembly on Electoral Reform had decided to support ‘mixed-member proportional’ (MMP) voting in Ontario.   Nobody really cared until we found out what that meant.   This generated a flurry of e-mails to other political people in our network to the effect that we should launch a ‘no’ campaign.  Some thought this might be fun, so we started talking seriously about it.

Our first problem was that very few of our potential financial backers knew what we were talking about.   We had to explain the citizens’ assembly.   For a representative group of voters, one from every riding in Ontario, the citizens’ assembly was remarkably apolitical.   It was supposed to examine Ontario’s electoral system and it chose a system that has been causing headaches for New Zealand voters for the past 11 years.   The assembly thought the idea was progressive.   It is based on appointing people to the legislature according to the per cent of popular vote for each political party.

The first problem voters have with that is that there is nothing progressive about appointing 39 out of 129 members of the legislature.   Ontario did that 200 years ago and it led to the Upper Canada Rebellion.   Allowing anyone a seat in the legislature who is not elected by the voters is anathema to those who believe in democracy.   And nobody wants another senate.

But arguing the case was not getting us closer to forming our ‘no’ campaign.

One problem with forming a ‘no’ committee, we were told, was that ‘no’ seemed so negative.   The advice was to make the ‘no’ sound like a ‘yes.’   That gave us food for thought for maybe 30 seconds.   If people think we are saying ‘yes’ then we could by accident make them think we were in favour of what is a really dumb idea.

We were rescued from that dilemma by Elections Ontario.   In its wisdom, this body declared that it would not ask the voters a ‘yes’ or ‘no’ question on election day, October 10.   Instead the question will be something like: do you approve of staying with the old-fashioned ‘first-past-the-post’ election method or do you approve of this new mixed-member proportional idea from the citizens’ assembly?   We were going to complain about how the question was worded but the ‘yes’ proponents beat us to the punch by complaining because theirs was not the first option.   We figured that it must be fair if Elections Ontario is being berated by both sides.

But we are a bit concerned about Elections Ontario.   That body has been charged and given a blank cheque to explain the options to the voters of Ontario.   Assuming that, at this stage, maybe 15 per cent of the population of Ontario would have the slightest clue what this referendum is about, Elections Ontario has a tough job.

Any editor or reporter could tell them the problem they face: There is no such thing as being impartial.   The very act of trying to explain the two options creates a conundrum. They are being forced to pose two options as though they are alternatives.   They are giving credibility to the idea of mixed-member proportional representation that it does not deserve when it is only one of many possibilities.

And to make matters worse, you had to be there to believe what Elections Ontario told us was necessary for us to be a ‘no’ committee.   Nobody, of sound mind, would want to play in that sandbox.

You may register, we were told, but if you spend more than $500 on (what they determine to be) advertising, you will report to us every penny you collect and where and from whom you got it.   Further, you will then declare where you spend this money and if there is any left over, you will promptly give it to us at Elections Ontario.

That would likely be on the same day that our pet pigs learn to fly.

This caused a serious right-about face on our plans to be an official ‘no’ campaign.   ‘Please do not send us your money,’ was the gist of an immediate series of e-mails.   (We were assured by a few of the e-mail recipients that we need not have been concerned.)

If it was any consolation to most of us, we were on the ‘no’ side of the last federal referendum.   That was an easy one.   It was the Charlottetown Accord.   Do you remember that all the party leaders supported that fiasco?   It lost.   Maybe that is why the two main political parties are keeping quiet on this referendum. They have enough problems without backing another loser.

And, while we have no intention of being complacent, this referendum looks like it is also heading for the dumper.   If Elections Ontario spends enough of our money to get more than 60 per cent of the population to understand the options, they would likely have to bankrupt the province.   Besides, someone with more brains than the average politician made sure that it would require 60 per cent of the total votes in favour MMP voting and with more than 60 per cent of Ontario’s ridings voting in favour to be approved.

©Copyright 2007, 2011, Peter Lowry

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

The Democracy Papers.

Saturday, June 11th, 2011

This is the eighth 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 – 8   Referendum could spell an end to democracy.

Do you want to trade our democracy for a parliament of minorities? Probably not, but that is one of the possible results of a referendum on mixed-member proportional (MMP) voting.   The people promoting MMP see it as the perfect opportunity for more minorities to have a say in the Ontario legislature.   They say it is fairer.   It is certainly more than fair to minority parties.   It is just not as democratic.

People promoting proportional representation argue that it is not fair for a party that might have won 45 per cent of the popular vote to win maybe 55 per cent of the seats in the legislature.   At the same time, they argue that a party that won 10 per cent of the vote but only 3 per cent of the seats should be given another 7 per cent of the seats to make up the difference.   That is how they see proportional representation working.

But all they prove by this argument is that they do not understand or want our democracy.   Evolving from the Parliament of Westminster, our democracy is not based around political parties.   It is a representative-based system of responsible government built on the principle that the people rule.   Added to the rule by the people is the protection of minority rights that makes democracy work.   This protection of minority rights has evolved to a strong judiciary.

But now people want to throw out the very basis of our electoral system.   They want it based on parties and not the representatives we choose.   They argue against the first-past-the-post election system that can see someone win with less that a plurality of votes.   These same people argue against run-off elections that could ensure that our representatives were all elected with majorities.   They argue that because what they really want is a parliament of minorities.

This can occur when many smaller political parties are created to take advantage of a political system such as proportional representation.   A recent example of proliferation of smaller parties occurred in the early 1990s when a number of new parties were formed to take advantage of changes in election funding.   With the taxpayers picking up more than 80 per cent of the cost of campaigning, Canadians found they now had new parties such as the Natural Law Party that had people as candidates who claimed they could levitate.

Other federal parties that formed or revived in this time of opportunity, and are still with us, are the Canadian Action Party made up of people who claim they do not approve of large banks or supra-national corporations, the Christian Heritage Party that claims principles based on biblical ethics, the Communist Party of Canada (Marxist-Leninist) and the Green Party.   These are all parties that would hope to have some of their people appointed to a proportional legislature.

In the proposed MMP system, a party needs at least three per cent of the party vote to be eligible for a portion of the appointments.   With as few as 200,000 votes across the province, a party could have no elected seats but be appointed to as many as five seats in the legislature.   From being a loser, this fringe party is being given a great deal of power.   They could demand concessions from a minority government for their support.   They could even demand seats in the cabinet.

What if the Green Party won enough party support across Ontario to be entitled to seats in a proportional legislature?   What are they going to do now that they are there?   There are few people who would complain about the Green Party’s objectives of preserving our environment.   In fact, the Green Party platform is actually well represented in the platforms of all the major parties.   Maybe not as prominent or as forceful but it is there.

The Green’s first choice might be to form a coalition with a party that needs a few extra bodies to form a majority government.   That is a common solution for legislative bodies with proportional voting systems.   The major party will promise to carry out some of the Green party’s ‘green’ promises, which are in its platform anyway, in exchange for the voting support to keep the party in power.

At the same time, consider how a larger party, needing a partner to form the government, accommodates a minority party with absolutely no similar policies?   For the Conservative Party, for example, to find any common ground with the Marxist-Leninists or the Canadian Action Party would be difficult.

The problem is the narrow focus of most of these splinter parties.   They can rarely win a riding because of that narrow focus.   They bring nothing to the legislature but their narrow view.   And they only represent the people who share their view.   Given enough of these parties, the legislative body can descend into a parliament of minorities.   Who then represents you?

©Copyright 2007, 2011, Peter Lowry

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