Posts Tagged ‘Politics’

The despotism of First-Past-the-Post?

Sunday, November 12th, 2017

One of our favourite political bloggers wrote a desperate ‘cri de Coeur’ the other day against what he perceives as the despotism of first-past-the-post (FPTP) voting. He lives on Canada’s Left Coast and writes under the pseudonym ‘The Mound of Sound.’ Rather than simply refuting his assertions, I think it is important to find the source of his anguish.

To begin, there is his suggestion that 40 per cent support in FPTP voting can make any leader a despot. (Even Donald Trump needed the undemocratic Electoral College system to win the U.S. presidency.) We Canadians had a special House committee on electoral reform brought forward by the Trudeau Liberals. It was made up from all parties and spent a summer listening to submissions and writing a report on alternatives to FPTP voting. You know their conclusion. No change was made.

FPTP is not evil. It has worked for the people for hundreds of years. And if you want a real headache, check out how the Roman Republic elected its tribunes. One of the reasons to appreciate FPTP is that it is one of the most difficult systems of voting to cheat.

Maybe it is the simplicity of FPTP that turns off some intellectuals. If it is that simple, it has got to be wrong?

If your objection to FPTP is based on the ability of someone to win with less than 50.1 per cent of the vote—then fight for run-off elections. That is still much simpler and more democratic than other suggestions. You should not be enticed by preferential voting—it is not the same.

But before you demand change in how we vote, do you not think we should widen our outlook? Should we not take a look at the basics of our democracy—our political parties? Is it right for the Sikh community in Canada to swamp the membership of the federal New Democrats on behalf of that party’s new leader? Was that misogynistic and corrupted campaign in Alberta the way to choose a new Conservative leader for Alberta? Was it right for Brown in Ontario to buy the memberships for tens of thousands of immigrants to be the choice of Ontario Conservatives?

And does it surprise you to learn that the federal Conservatives and Liberals are funded from the same purses? What makes you think either party is run in a democratic fashion?

Before we have a liberal democracy in Canada we need liberal democratic parties. We have much work to do.


Copyright 2017 © Peter Lowry

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“Nice suits and empty slogans.”

Saturday, October 7th, 2017

That comment about suits and slogans was in the last line of the Toronto Star’s pompous editorial on “The challenge for Singh.” The newspaper editorialists want Singh and Trudeau to square off on progressive policy issues in the 2019 federal election. Lot’s of luck on that!

But the problem is that the Star writers think that Jagmeet Singh was selected by the New Democratic Party. That is a mistaken belief. The Ontario MPP was the choice of the Sikh community across Canada. Canada has been welcoming Sikhs to this country since the earliest government records were kept back in the 1800s. StatsCanada tells us there are more than 275,000 adherents to Sikhism in Canada today and the largest numbers are in British Columbia. For the Brampton MPP to sign up over 40,000 Sikhs in a few months was not a very difficult feat.

But why he would want to win the NDP leadership the same way as that putz Patrick Brown took over the Tory leadership in Ontario makes no sense.

As the new leader of the NDP, Singh’s first job is to make nice with the NDP caucus in Ottawa and then he has to get out to small town Canada and prove to Canadians that he and his party have a vision of this country that can be delivered by a guy in a turban.

And it also might be a good idea for Singh to stop dressing as though he is some sort of playboy. He should change from Harry Rosen bespoke suits to buying his clothes at Mark’s Work Warehouse. He needs to show that he is an NDPer, not a Liberal.

When he gets around to working out a program of NDP policies for the coming election, he can forget wrapping the packages in “love and courage.” Whatever theme his brain trust comes up with, it has got to have a lot more bite to it.

‘Chuckles’ Scheer and his Conservatives are all smiles these days because of the vision of Trudeau and Singh in the coming election beating each other up over the same ridings in the greater Toronto and Vancouver areas.

But I got the impression that the Star’s editorial writers might never have seen Jagmeet Singh MPP in inaction at the legislature in Toronto’s Queen’s Park. He is no Benjamin Disraeli.


Copyright 2017 © Peter Lowry

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Minister Monsef ‘s measure.

Saturday, February 6th, 2016

How would you like to have a job based on proving your boss is right? It seems the same as Canada’s Fraser Institute that is always commissioning studies designed to prove the Institute’s right-wing theories. Now we have a cabinet minister trying to implement her leader’s campaign promise that Canadians will never again use first-past-the-post voting to elect a federal government. It was a rash promise and neophyte Democratic Institutions Minister Maryam Monsef might not measure up to the task of implementing it.

It is hardly her fault. Psephology (the study of elections and voting) is not a common topic at dinner tables in this country. Nor do civics classes delve deeply into the subject. And judging by what we read from published political science post-graduates, real expertise is rare.

But that does not preclude lots of opinions that people are quite willing to share. For all we know, Minister Monsef might be more knowledgeable than her leader. She might even be wondering how the government would explain a change in voting to Canadians.

While Prime Minister Trudeau leans towards preferential voting systems, Ms. Monsef has probably already figured out that that would be a really hard sell. Quite a number of amateur experts have already figured out that in the election just past, the Liberals would have even more seats if a form of preferential voting was in place. There were lots of Canadians who preferred the Liberals, New Democrats and Greens while the Conservative support was sliding. Best guess, the Liberals would have won about 30 more seats if being elected required a 50 per cent or more preference.

Conversely, a run-off vote in those electoral districts where nobody won a majority would likely have produced more victories for the Greens and NDP. It would be a clear indication that preferential voting is not the same as a run-off election. Since run-off elections can be much less costly when using Internet voting, that is something that needs to be considered.

And proportional voting is far more complex a question. There are many variables in proportional voting. And there are more things it does not do than it accomplishes. It does not ensure more women and minorities are selected. It does not often produce majority governments. It does not improve the transparency of government. And since proportional voting was designed for voters who are mostly illiterate, why would we need it in Canada?

Minister Monsef is an unusual choice to address such a complex question for the government. She might be very willing and adroit in the task but she is coming from a serious lack of experience in government. She is going to have to prove to be a very, very quick study.


Copyright 2016 © Peter Lowry

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Do Ontario Tories need a leader?

Friday, May 8th, 2015

The Ontario Progressive Conservative Party will announce its new leader tomorrow. Will anyone care? Is it going to make a difference? With three years to go before an election in Ontario, will the voters notice the change? When you hear that timing is everything in politics, you get the idea that this is lousy timing.

And what possible difference in leadership potential is there between MPP Christine Elliott and MP Patrick Brown. Has either ever shown any? Has either one suggested in any concrete way how they would make life better in this province? Is either in demand as a speaker for Kiwanis or Rotary meetings? Has either ever held people spellbound by the brilliance of their argument? Both candidates have been in politics for nine years. They are both lawyers.

Christine Elliott’s claim to fame is that she was married to the late federal Finance Minister Jim Flaherty. She took over his old provincial electoral district in 2006 when he had moved to federal politics. She ran for the Ontario party leadership in 2009 and was defeated by Tim Hudak. Hudak appointed her deputy leader and then ignored her.

And if you think Christine Elliott is dull, you have never met MP Patrick Brown. There are three things in Patrick Brown’s life: they are political organization, hockey and marathon running. He is not very fast on ice or track and found he needed to make his money from politics. His only problem is that in politics, he is a drone. He does nothing, he contributes nothing and he is barely responsible enough to be on time for votes. He would rather be out running or playing pick-up shinny.

And if you think this guy is boring when reading other people’s speeches, try his cocktail conversation. Have you ever been to a cocktail party and been told afterwards that a person was there. And you do not remember them being there. Patrick Brown is not memorable in a crowd of three. He has no appeal, personality or possible reason to be chosen leader of the Ontario Tories.

You could flip a coin between these two for leader of their Ontario party and if you are really lucky, you will lose the coin.

There is no question that between the two, Christine Elliott is the more appealing person. She even has the blessing of Ontario Conservative icon Bill Davis. Mr. Brown has absolutely no redeeming qualities. It seems that most of Mr. Brown’s supporters have no knowledge of Ontario politics, probably did not pay their own membership and might not even be eligible yet to vote in an Ontario election.

Surely there is a better way to chose leaders.


Copyright 2015 © Peter Lowry

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Bearing bad news for NDP’s Tom Mulcair.

Tuesday, April 28th, 2015

George Lakoff is an American who thinks. The UCLA Berkeley professor was in Toronto last week. We missed a chance to meet him. He is reported to have told his audience there is no such thing as the political centre. That must have been bad news for the New Democrats who came to see him. Their federal Leader Tom Mulcair has been busy trying to find the political centre and in the process he has lost touch with the left. Lakoff could have told him that the centre is just a hypothetical point on a bell curve, drawn by statisticians.

In the same way, maybe Babel-on-the-Bay is just a hypothetical place. It stands on a lonely island where we are constantly besieged by the insufferable Whigs of Canada’s right-wing liberalism. Alone, we have to take on the harsh reality show known as Stephen Harper’s Conservatism while observing the wanderings in the wilderness of Tommy Douglas’ child-like socialists.

What do you have to do around here to get the system working for Canadians? Do we have to copy Preston Manning and start our own political party? Manning did that and his Reform Party turned around and ate the Conservative Party’s lunch. In response to that the Liberals and New Democrats should have merged into the Canadian Social Democratic Party. It was just neither party had the leadership, the will nor the smarts and Canadians have suffered ever since.

Maybe Lakoff would have known how to solve that. He might have sent the muddled moderates off to fornicate and produce offspring that could appreciate the necessity for more and more intrusive government and more taxes. Just not in our lifetime.

He thinks the basic difference between Democrats (progressives) and Republicans (Neanderthals) is that the Democrats went to college and the Republicans went to church. They are both mislead and confused.

Lakoff gives the right-wing full marks for marketing their product. He says they frame their proposition better because more of them must have gone to business schools. Moderates might understand philosophy but they seem to know squat about selling. Lakoff laughs at them for thinking reason will win.

What, regretfully, Lakoff cannot explain is the growing intransigence of the right and left of the United States of America. There is hatred in Washington that you can smell from the Beltway. Let us fervently hope this political vehemence does not spread into Canada.


Copyright 2015 © Peter Lowry

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The Candidate: Pre-writ canvassing.

Saturday, April 18th, 2015

Part 3 of our series for Canada’s federal candidates.

These spring days are golden times for canvassing. No political candidate worth the name can ever waste a single day without seeking out the opportunity to knock on doors. You can be relaxed, chatty and, above all, listening. This is when you learn what people are thinking, what is going to influence their vote when the election is held and what they think their neighbours will do. They might be reluctant to tell you their thoughts but you will often find what they attribute to neighbours are their own thoughts.

What your team is looking for at this time is balanced sampling. The candidate has to be moved about the electoral district and given an opportunity to hear from all demographics. You have census information and Google Earth that will tell you even more about the demographics street by street, block by block and rural route by rural route. You also want to move the candidate around so that s/he gets to know and is comfortable with people in all parts of the riding.

Always send your candidate with a small team. During this period, you want to send at least one experienced canvasser and one or two newbies. Take advantage of the training time and make sure they enjoy the experience. You will need these people to be working much harder once the writ is issued.

And if you are wondering were all your canvassers are in this period, you are engaging them in training, special events, and team building.

This is also the time when you can find out who among your volunteers can run successful coffee parties, which canvassers should be asked to be team leaders and who should head up election day efforts.

And keep that literature at this time basic. No heavy policy effort is needed. You are introducing your candidate. Keep the candidate the emphasis.

Weekly e-mails to all supporters are critical to keeping the momentum going. Build participation in planning and arranging special events. The dog days of summer are when candidates should be on the barbeque circuit.

And a further tip: keep the talks to these small summer groups to discussing your concerns for the people in your riding and what you, as a Member of Parliament, can do to help. We certainly need more pro-active MPs.


Copyright 2015 © Peter Lowry

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The Candidate: “What do we do now?”

Monday, April 6th, 2015

That question is never answered in the movie: The Candidate. It is the final line of the film delivered by actor Robert Redford. The bad news for any serious political candidate is that winning your party’s nomination is when the hard work begins. For all of those eager candidates being chosen for the upcoming federal election, Babel-on-the-Bay is going to provide periodic candidate check lists to assist candidates to be the best candidate they can be. Other readers can also enjoy:

When you hit your stride as a candidate by admitting that you have never worked so hard in your life, you will be able to say you are a real candidate. Sure, there might be candidates in Alberta who can take it easy but there are many cautionary tales of candidates who lost because they thought they could coast to victory. No candidate has ever been sorry for working hard every day of the campaign.

And every candidate needs a personal calendar so that every day to the election can be crossed off. And when you cross off another day, you have to remember that there are no do-over days or grace periods.

This initial period of the campaign is classroom time for the candidate. You keep your mouth shut and your ears and eyes open. Your time has to be spent learning every street and rural route in the riding. You study census information until you are quoting riding demographic information in your sleep. You study previous elections and learn by the mistakes of previous candidates.

Of course we all know that you will only win on your leader’s coat-tails but you never, ever know when you will come across someone who only votes for the individual. Those are the votes you have to win.

One of the major tasks in this period is finding voter groupings. Where are the pools of voter support that can be accessed for campaign assistance and support? You can find them in churches, community centres, temples, libraries, legions, hockey arenas and the local bocce association. And never forget the local religious groupings. Never interrupt services but there is nothing wrong with getting to know all the local pastors, priests, rabbis and imans. And never forget that when elected you represent all these groups.

Next chapter in this series, we will look at early communications needs.


Copyright 2015 © Peter Lowry

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Justin Trudeau and servant leadership.

Tuesday, April 9th, 2013

In his speech to the Liberal faithful from Toronto last weekend, Liberal leadership candidate Justin Trudeau referred to the concept of servant leadership to explain his approach to greater democracy in the Liberal Party of Canada. One of the most successful leadership techniques in business and organizations around the world, you rarely hear of servant leadership in politics. Too often, people question the sincerity.

And yet servant leadership is what politics is all about. The essential step to becoming an effective leader is to first be a good servant. That rare person who is a natural leader knows that instinctively. It is the desire to serve that brings that person to a position of leadership. To remain an effective leader, you remain an effective servant. It is leadership that can corrupt the servant.

While examples of servant leadership have been around for thousands of years, it was only in the late 1900s that an American, the late Robert Greenleaf, studied and tried to explain servant leadership. He listed the characteristics of servant leadership and identified how they contributed to successful organizations. His foundation today continues to train leaders and servants.

Many of us in business saw these relationships as just an ethical basis for moral dealings with the complex relationships of business publics. When Greenleaf was writing his books, we were addressing university business classes on the importance of ethics in all business dealings.

And yet in politics the struggle is always to find the people whom you can serve. The knowledgeable political apparatchik can always find takers. And they take until they bleed you dry. The more freely you give, the less likely it is to be paid forward or back. Your usefulness becomes finite to those you serve.

The greatest danger is for the need to serve to be taken as arrogance. The best example of this in politics was the rhetorical question Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau asked on a western trip: Why should I sell your wheat? What is always left out of that quote was his continuing with a defence of the Canadian Wheat Board.

It is expected that Justin Trudeau will be more cognizant than his father of why you should never ask rhetorical questions of an audience. He also appears to have more intelligence than people want to give him credit for. That could be the ideal balance.

It will be fascinating to see how Stephen Harper’s people decide to attack Justin Trudeau. He will not be as easy a target as they think.


Copyright 2013 © Peter Lowry

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This federal race is no place for punters.

Sunday, March 10th, 2013

If you are one of those who enjoys putting down the occasional $2 bet on an interesting horse race, you are hardly going to bet anything on the federal Liberal leadership. Is there even any point in establishing a morning line in such a limited race? You already know who will win.

And you certainly know who the real losers are! While insisting that anyone who wants to comply with the rules, has a right to run for the leadership, this blog has been regularly dismissing those who contribute nothing to the race and act as sandwiches of plain bread to dull the real flavour of the race. Takach and Bertschi were dismissed out of hand after their pathetic showings in Vancouver. Karen McCrimmon fell off the turnip wagon going through Winnipeg. Martin Cauchon had disappointed us to such a degree that he was dismissed after the Mississauga effort and Deborah Coyne had run her course by the time we got to Halifax. We have a present for the person who lets us down in the Montreal event later this month.

The good news in this race is that Justin Trudeau has grown. He has matured throughout the race. He is obviously getting better advice and—unlike his father—following the advice. And that is one thing that people should always remind themselves of: Justin Trudeau is more like his mother than his father. He is better looking than his father, he is more sensitive than his father and he does not have the snobbish intellect of his father. That could add up to being a better Prime Minister of Canada than his father.

Since Justin will win, Marc Garneau will come second and Joyce Murray third. Mind you, Martha Hall Findlay could challenge Joyce Murray’s position but we certainly hope not. Joyce Murray was the only candidate to bring concrete ideas to the race in terms of where the Liberal Party of Canada is heading and how to get there. Where she let us down was in her debating skills. She is not a leader.

In that sense, Marc Garneau showed himself to be much more than a flyer of jet-assisted space objects. More to the right than we like, he proved to be more aggressive and more of a quick thinker than we previously knew. Marc seems to need refreshers on political trends in the 21st Century. He appears to have been stifled by the Quebec version of Liberal politics. He needs to re-examine his stands on some critical issues.


Copyright 2013 © Peter Lowry

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Tories have opening at Queen’s Park.

Friday, February 22nd, 2013

Some Conservative friends want to run a want ad for the opening at Queen’s Park. They want to fill the position of Leader of Her Majesty’s Loyal Opposition and Leader of the Ontario Conservative Party. The previous job holder, Tiny Tim Hudak, appears to have left the building.

It is not as though Timmy has given up. Nor has he resigned. They just think it is time for Timmy to admit that he is not up to the job. It is time to end the embarrassment. Timmy just needs to look back to his predecessor, John Tory. John knew when it was time to resign. He gave the party his best shot. He did not need to be told when to turn in his key to the leader’s office. He left with grace and his head held high.

Now is Timmy’s time. He gave it his best shot in the last Ontario election. He has had more than a year as Leader of the Opposition in a minority house of cards. He effectively turned the job of Leader of the Opposition over to New Democrat Andrea Horwath. And Andrea pulled it off with her virtue intact. There were no demands on her. She even kept the job alive when the former Premier prorogued the Legislature so that the Liberals could have some playtime to pick a new leader.

And now there is a new leader and a new Throne Speech and all that Timmy finds to say is that the new cabinet is too big and he will not support the speech. First of all, Timmy has to understand that you end up with a lot of political debts to pay when you win both the Leader’s and Premier’s job at the same time. And everyone understands that the Leader of the Opposition will not support the Throne Speech but you are also supposed to pick a few things from it and propose alternatives. That is the job stupid!

Instead of doing his job in the old tried and proven ways, Timmy has been showering the news media with supposed white papers of policy alternatives that are of no interest to anybody. His transit solutions could cost him the vote of every Conservative on Toronto City Council. His white paper on post-secondary education is earning him derision from students and academics across the province.

What Conservatives are now realizing is that Tiny Tim has stopped trying to build to win in Ontario. He is using politics of division. He divides people not to conquer but purely for the sake of dividing. He wants to see the day that we have walled cities again to keep his rural riff-raff away from the decent people. He does not understand that some of those decent people are well-meaning but obviously misguided Conservatives.


Copyright 2013 © Peter Lowry

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