Monday, November 23, 2015

Follow the Yellow Brick Road Even Though There Is No Final Destination

"Toto, I've a feeling we're not in Kansas anymore."    (Dorothy from The Wizard of Oz)

Ain't it the truth Dorthy.  Ain't it the truth.

In one of my all time favorite films, The Wizard of Oz, we are treated to a wonderful morality tale that cuts to the quick of what it's like to live early into the twenty-first century.  In short, the life scripts provided for Dorothy don't really pan out, and although the film has a Hollywood ending in which Dorothy is magically returned to the home she was trying to escape and everything seems fine, a close reading of the film reveals that it is where life deviates from the scripted narrative that the real magic is found.

In case you have forgotten, a synopsis of the plot goes like this.

Essentially, the film tells the story of a series of failed scripts.  It begins with the depiction of the orphaned Dorothy who lives with her Auntie Em and Uncle Henry.  Faced with a court order to have Dorothy's dog put down, the elderly couple offers no resistance and allows the spinster, Miss Gulch, to make off with Toto.  Having no one to take up her cause, Dorothy runs away from a situation in which she has been left defenseless.  In the bigger picture, a family is supposed to take care and to protect its members, but in this case Dorothy must fend for herself if she wants her dog alive.  The adults on the farm are powerless, unable to live up to their societal roles as buffers to the societal injustice at large.

Related Post

Once transported to the magical realm of Oz, Dorothy follows the advice of the munchkins who tell her that if she wants to get back home, she will need to seek out the aid of the Wizard in Emerald City, and to get there she must follow the yellow brick road.  With this in mind, she embarks on a path which leads her on an incredible journey filled with disappointment of what was supposed to happen, wonderfully offset by the spirit of camaraderie and the joy of self discovery.

Despite the hokey ending, the Wizard of Oz is the quintessential "it's not the destination, but the journey" film.  Above all, the yellow brick road is a path of the heart, a journey revealing the nature of the "somewhere over the rainbow" experience of the soul, casting doubt on the supposed gains that result from attaining a specific goal.

All in all, the narratives Dorothy follows end badly.  She follows the yellow brick road to Emerald City only to be put off by the Wizard; she leaves on her quest to return with the broom of the Wicked Witch of the West only to discover that the Wizard is all smoke and mirrors with no magical powers at all; finally, just as she is to leave for Kansas in the Wizard's hot air balloon, it takes off suddenly leaving Dorothy behind.  So much for the extrinsic rewards for accomplishing a task.

Nevertheless, the film is a classic because we witness the friendship and self-discovery that emerges between her and her three companions, the scare crow, the tin man, and the cowardly lion, along with some very catchy show tunes.  As it turns out, the scare crow does have a brain, the tin man a heart and the cowardly lion is courageous, and it is their journey together with its trials and tribulations that gives evidence of the fact and not the bogus awards that the Wizard bestows, like pulling a rabbit out of a hat, upon Dorothy's three friends near the end of the film.

Indeed, the magical return to Kansas that Dorothy brings about by clicking her heels together and reciting the trite cliché, "there's no place like home" rings false, like the end of a fairy tale in which we are told that everyone lives happily ever after, but in reality is the same as it ever was, with all the problems that motivated Dorothy to leave in the first place.

More and more, our own yellow brick roads leading us towards the supposed rewards suggested by our societal scripts are also not panning out.  Blue collar workers struggle to find gainful employment as manufacturing has been transferred off shore, leaving them with little hope of realizing the American dream.  University graduates live with their parents unable to make it on their own while paying off their student loans.  Today, children are less and less likely to live with their biological parents as the traditional family has morphed into a series of temporary living arrangements.  The post-war script that guided a whole generation of boomers: go to university, get a job, get married, buy a house, have kids, and save for retirement no longer offers a path that most people can or perhaps even want to follow.

What are we to do?

That's simple: follow the yellow brick road!

Like Dorothy, we never know what fate will bring our way.  We may never get to see Emerald City, but that's OK.  Life still can be lived in an authentic manner.  We still can be true to our friends, our loved ones and to ourselves.  We just need to realize is that the yellow brick road never ends.  It is a road to be travelled to the end of our days, and we should take carry to journey down this road in a soulful manner, regardless of whom we might meet along the way.

If we bring forward our intelligence, tempered by empathy for each other, and bolstered by the courage of our convictions, we'll do just fine no matter where the road may lead and what surprizes lay in wait, as long as we stick together.

Monday, October 26, 2015

In Opening Up the Pandora's Box of Electoral Reform, Canada Should Look Down Under

Politics is the art of the possible, the attainable -- the art of the next best.  (Otto von Bismarck)

I never thought that I would see this day come.  We have a newly elected Prime Minister, Justin Trudeau, who stated publically that this election would be last using the first-past-the-post voting system, which is quite something considering he now governs Canada with a majority government although the Liberal Party only garnered 39% of the vote.

Scrapping the present voting system and putting another one in place, especially since it hasn't been decided what that new system will be for the next election, is a monumental task.  It would involve public consultations, adopting legislation, and retooling Elections Canada within the constitutional requirements of section 3 of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms  which protects the voting rights of Canadians.

Related Post

We also need to keep in mind that in our system of governance Parliament is bicameral, comprised of the lower, elected House of Commons and the upper, unelected Senate.  For any law to be enacted, it needs the assent of both chambers.  As a result, it would be unwise to radically reform the lower chamber with a proportional voting system of which there is great debate with regard to which to choose from and to leave the upper chamber untouched.  Imagine having an unelected Senate ruling over the House of Commons that can no longer effectively control how Senators vote.  Not a good idea!

Fortunately, the Senate as it is now functions is in disrepute and the idea of having an elected Senate has been discussed extensively but never enacted.  So, it would not be a great leap for Canada to change the voting system in the lower house and to introduce one into the upper chamber.

What we must realize is the scale of the institutional change Canadians are now thinking of making.  We simply cannot abandon our present system of governance under the rule of law and start over from scratch.  We would be much better off to take an incremental approach and to look to another member of the Commonwealth, Australia, a nation that has already evolved a political system much more democratic than its predecessor, the Westminster system that we both inherited from Great Britain.

In short, both the upper and lower houses are elected in Australia.  The lower house is elected using a preferential voting system in which electors rank the candidates, and the first candidate that receives fifty percent of the vote after the lower finishing candidates have their ballots redistributed on the basis of their electors other preferences.  The upper house is elected using a single district proportional voting method in which the percentage of the vote obtained by each political party in each state and territory determines who gets elected.

Importantly, this system is transferrable to Canada. 

For the next election in 2019, it would be feasible to transfer in a preferential voting system.  We could use the existing electoral map.  Moreover, this system has the advantage of requiring that each elected representative have the support of at least the majority of the electors that vote in his or her riding.  What it doesn't do is to correct for the distortion of the representation on the basis of the first choice, which, after all, is the most important choice a voter can make on this type of ballot.

Herein lies the brilliance of the Australian voting method.  It is in casting the second vote for the Senate where each vote counts and has equal weight.  The method is proportional, which allows for smaller political parties like the Greens to gain representation, and reflects, in the distribution of seats, how the electors actually voted.  Essentially, the Aussies made their political system more democratic without throwing out the existing system altogether, something I think the vast majority of Canadians would agree to be an important principle to follow.

Presently, Canadians are thwarted in making qualitative change to their dysfunctional Senate because of the Constitutional requirement to have unanimous consent of the provinces.  However, simply changing how Senators are chosen, moving to election instead of appointment, without changing the number of seats each province receives is entirely within the prerogative of Parliament.  Most assuredly, this would be challenged in the courts, which is why the present government must seek the opinion of the Supreme Court on the matter, preferably within the first year of its mandate.  Thereafter, Elections Canada, with the new minted proportional voting method in hand, could then go about educating Canadians on how to vote in the subsequent election in 2023.

There you have it, turning the world upside down by transferring the Australian electoral system into Canada.

Tuesday, October 20, 2015

Once Again Huge Distortions of the Popular Vote Mire Canadian Election Results

Four years ago I wrote a similar blog about how the voting system distorts the popular vote and produces a government that the people did not vote for.  As is quite often the case with the first-past-the-post method, 40% of the vote produces 60% of the seats in Parliament, thereby giving 100% of the political power to a political party that does not have the support of the majority of those who voted, and no where near the majority of registered electors of which 40% did not bother to vote. 

The only thing that really changed in the 2015 general election is that the distortion shifted from favoring the Conservative Party to the Liberal Party.

Related Post

In 2011, the Conservative formed a majority government largely due to the extra 27 seats they were awarded in Ontario because of the vagaries of the winner-take-all representation that plurality voting entails. 

In Canada, as in other countries that use the first-past-the-post method, how the vote is distributed is as equally important as how many votes are won since representation is awarded to the candidate who garners the most votes in a single relatively small electoral district.  This is not the case in a proportional voting systems that employ relatively large electoral districts and where the number of seats awarded to each political party is proportional to the percentage of the popular vote obtained.  In other words, 20% of the vote allocates 20% of the available seats, 30% of the votes allocates 30% of the seats, 40% of the votes allocates 40% of the seats, and so on.

What is truly remarkable about the 2015 electoral results is what happened in the Maritimes region in Eastern Canada.  This time around 60% of the popular vote that the Liberals obtained gave them 100% or 32 of the 32 available seats in the region.  In fact, although 40% of the electors voted for the other parties, they have no representation whatsoever in Parliament.  In doing the electoral math, the Liberals received an extra 13 seats over and above what they would have received if the seats were allocated on the basis of the popular vote in the region.

This trend continues in Quebec where the Liberals received an additional 13 seats over and above a popular vote allocation and even more so in Ontario where they received an additional 26 seats due to the voting system distortion.

Simple addition tells us that in Eastern Canada, the Liberals received 52 bonus seats, two more than the national distortion of having 50 extra seats than what would have been awarded according to the popular vote across Canada.  So, the headlines could as easily read: "voting system produces yet another false majority" instead of lauding the Liberals victory.

During the electoral campaign Canada's newly elected Prime Minister, Justin Trudeau, declared that if elected this would be the last general election in Canada using the first-past-the-post method.  What remains to be seen is what will be the new voting system.  Will it be a preferential voting system that uses a different method to add up the votes but produces similar distortions or a truly proportional system that gives Canadians the government that they voted for?

The devil is in the details.  Only time will tell, but don't hold your breath.

Monday, October 19, 2015

The Reason I'm Not Voting In Today's Election Is That Canada Does A Poor Job Of Protecting Voting Rights

OK Canada, you win.  Keep your outdated voting system.  Continue to outsource the nation's governance function to one person and his inner circle.  Carry on with this democratic farce called the general election.  I'll have none of it.

I used to believe that it is worth the effort to engage in politics in Canada, but no longer.  I know that in the desire to transfer the sovereignty of the nation's citizens to the winner of an electoral contest, the political party that wins the most of 338 simultaneously held elections across the land, my Charter Right to vote gets flushed down the toilet.
Related Blogs

The reason?  My vote will not count.  It is completely ineffective because if I vote according to my heart, to my values, in other words, for the Green Party of Canada, I know in advance that voting for the Green Party candidate is a total waste of time in this joke of an electoral system that dates from the medieval ages.

According to the Supreme Court, Section 3 of the Charter guarantees the right to vote, meaning the right to participate meaningfully in the electoral process.  Well then, how meaningfully is it to participate in an electoral process in which your vote does not count?

There is no way around it.  The practice of ensuring that millions of votes cast across Canada are totally ineffective does not jive with the values that inform the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, the values of a free and DEMOCRATIC society.  First-Past-The-Post is profoundly undemocratic.

And it would be so simple to rectify the problem.  Simply put into place a proportional voting system.  This was the recommendation of the Law Commission of Canada, the former federally funded organization that examined the societal ramifications of Canada's legal system until it had its funding cut by the present government.

At this point, you might think that this is a matter for the Courts to decide.  Been there, done that.  We took this question to the Supreme Court of Canada, which simply refused to hear the case, leaving me totally flabbergasted since the entire case was based on the jurisprudence coming from the Supreme Court.  I find it completely unsettling and shattered my confidence in the justice system when the highest court in the land that takes the time and effort to define what is meant by the right to vote in a previous case dealing with the right of candidates to have their political party affiliation on the ballot (an impairment that affected less than one tenth of one percent of all votes cast) and then not to apply the same said principles in the much more important institutional practice that translates votes into seats in Parliament (a process that affects all the votes cast).

WTF?  Where am I living?  The Dominion of Canada?

In my present situation, the electoral system adds insult to injury.  Not only will my vote be wasted, I have to cast it in an electoral riding that has had it boundaries redrawn to maintain the constitutional requirement determined by the Supreme Court that all of the ridings need to have a relatively equal number of electors.  In my case, I happen to live in a section of the former city of Hull in Quebec that has been transferred to the rural riding of the Pontiac during the 2012 electoral redistribution. 

Sorry, as a resident of an urban centre, my concerns are very much different from the concerns of the farming communities in Western Quebec.  So, why am I being lumped in with them?  Because it's a constitutional requirement?  You mean the same constitution that doesn't guarantee that my vote will be an effective one?  Get out of town.

In other words, to save some semblance of legitimacy for this out-dated electoral system, those who have been entrusted in drawing up the electoral boundaries have to engage in a process of gerrymandering the electoral map in order to comply with Section 3 of the Charter as defined by the Supreme Court of Canada, the same Court that could easily declared First-Past-The-Post null and void and avoided this entire mess but instead refused to even hear the case.

I find it extremely odd that I live in a country where, due to the intervention of the Supreme Court,  I could marry another man if I were so inclined, legally procure marijuana from a federal government approved provider if I have the necessary medical condition, and even end my days with the assistance of a doctor if I so chose, but I can't get my preferred voting intention to count.

Go figure.

In the end, I won't cast my vote today to protest the injustice of the electoral system, but I will watch the results as they come in.  Who knows, the New Democratic Party has promised to introduce a proportional voting system if they form the government.

No wonder they are trailing in the polls.  Canadians prefer to live in the Dominion of Canada than in a modern nation-state.   

Friday, October 16, 2015

You Were Right Kim, An Election Is No Time To Discuss Serious Issues

Back in the 1993 Canadian General Election the then Prime Minister of Canada, Kim Campbell, in a moment of candor declared that "an election in no time to discuss serious issues," and judging by the manner in which the 2015 Canadian General Election has unfolded, she was right, at least with regard to how the traditional media has covered what has been an excruciatingly long electoral campaign.

For those who are serious about their politics, it is possible to visit each of the political party's websites and download each platform to see where the parties stand on various issues.  Moreover, an elector can seek out the candidates in their riding to seek out further information, but that's not how the vast majority of Canadians exercise their obligations as citizens to be well-informed.  In fact, most Canadians rely on the sound bytes and video clips proffered by the traditional media to determine how they will vote.  Consequently, complex issues are dumbed-down and image replaces substance during the campaign.

Related Blogs

Don't get me wrong.  There are some very serious concerns that need to be discussed like how Canadians can position themselves in the fast-changing global economy, the sustainability of the health care system, and, of course, what to do about climate change, but that's not where the media focuses the electorate's attention.

For example, the Canadian Government has agreed to the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TTP), a trade agreement between twelve Pacific Rim countries that are responsible for 40% of global trade concerning a variety of economic policies and trade practices.  Problem is that no text has been released, so, as a result, Canadians are being kept in the dark about the details other than knowing that the federal government is already prepared to come to the rescue of dairy producers at a cost of four billion dollars and another one billion dollars for the auto sector.  Seeing a tight-fisted government throwing money at what have already identified as adversely-affected sectors gives me reason to think that people should be able to know the details of the agreement before they vote in a general election.


Discussing the details of the TTP won't sell newspapers and won't get people to watch television commercials or click on Google ads. So, what do we get, a cheap mash up of various images strewn together in a maudlin five act play.  In Act I, we saw images of the participants of the Senator Mike Duffy criminal proceedings.  What did the Prime Minister know and when?  In Act II, the body of a small Syrian boy washed up on a beach started us to question if maybe the government had a part to play in the refugee crisis happening in Europe.  However, in Act III, we were shown the barbarians at the gate in the guise of a Muslim woman who had the audacity of wanting to wear the niqab during a citizenship ceremony to become a Canadian citizen.  Tensions were rising, racial slurs were being tossed, so fortunately during Act IV, attention was focused ever so briefly on the TTP, giving the entire electorate the opportunity to cool down and watch the Toronto Blue Jays play baseball in their quest to win the World Series.  This much needed break gave way to the final Act, which is essentially the call of the first-past-the-post electoral race: the Liberals have broken away from the pack, the NDP are fading, and Stephen Harper's Conservatives are whipping their old horse of tired, worn out ideas as hard as they can, but to no avail, they can't keep up with the guy with the nice hair.

That's it.  That's the 2015 Canadian General Election in a nutshell.  Like I said before, when it comes to politics nobody does boring better than Canada.

Now, how about them Blue Jays!!!

Monday, September 28, 2015

Desperate Times Require Desperate Measures: Canada's Old Stock Political Parties Fan the Flames of Prejudice With Canada's Old Stock Voters

Pretty pathetic if you ask me.  During the longest campaign in living memory, suddenly the question of a Muslim woman wearing the niqab (a partial veil that covers the face but not the eyes) is front and center during the 2015 Canadian General Election.  WTF?

Recently, a Canadian tribunal overturned the requirement that a woman could not wear the niqab during a ceremony when new Canadians become citizens.  The court ruled that it was sufficient that the woman showed her face to the judge in private before the public ceremony and then could participate in the ceremony while wearing her niqab.

Related Posts

Now, the Conservative Party of Canada swears it will appeal the decision to the Supreme Court, and if elected will pass a law in parliament banning the wearing of the niqab during the citizenship ceremony during the first 100 days of a new mandate.  Likewise, the Bloc Quebecois is running television ads in Quebec demonizing the front-leading New Democratic Party with a graphic of black oil oozing out of a container and pooling into the shape of a niqab.  Enough to drive a separatist to shout out "Hostie, Tabarnac" (swear words in Quebec referring to sacraments of the Catholic mass).

Yet, as Elizabeth May, leader of the Green Party, so eloquently pointed out during the leaders debate in French, "what does a woman wearing the niqab have to do with the economy, climate change, or health care"?  Well Elizabeth, if you would permit me to respond to your rhetorical question: nothing, zero, zip, nada, sweet fuck all!!!

Really what it comes down to is two political parties that are trying to avoid a disaster and are appealing to their voting base of old stock Canadians of either English or French heritage, you know the two founding peoples, that just happen to be mildly to overwhelmingly xenophobic.

Their chains are being yanked to bring them to the polls because as it stands now, if many of the party faithful decide to stay home on election day, the Conservatives will not only lose their majority government but will register their worst share of the popular vote since Confederation, and the Bloc stands to be wiped off altogether from the electoral map.

Fortunately, such fear mongering doesn't work with the vast majority of Canadians that have come to accept that Canada is a multicultural nation that respects the rights of each of its citizens regardless of the color of their skin, their gender, their age, their sexual orientation, and yes, their religious beliefs.

Oh Canada, I stand on guard for thee!!!

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Hey Canada, Step Into the 21st Century: Stop Outsourcing Governance of the Nation

I get the Empire Loyalist thing.  The way we go about running our society is firmly anchored in our colonial past.  Canada is a proud member of the British Empire.  Well, the world has changed a lot since the demise of our historical progenitor.  The UK is no longer a world power.  It no longer matters what Britain thinks or does within the existing global order.

As a result, we are on are own.  We have to be making on our own decisions and we should do so with a decision making process that is made in Canada, a Canada that exists and preferably thrives in the twenty-first century.

 As a former colony we should know a thing or two about wealth extraction, particularly our natural resources, a process carried on principally for the benefit of those who do not reside here.  Sure, some of the wealth does trickle down, but for the most part, the most important economic activity centered on the depletion of our natural resources (oil, minerals, and forestry products) creates wealth disproportionately for the directors of foreign corporate entities.  In other words, the lion's share of the profits are funneled offshore.  It's been that way since the Hudson Bay Company and the Canadian Pacific Railway Company planted their corporate banners on Canadian soil and opened the land up for business.

 Related Blog Post

In order to keep the natives from getting restless (I'm talking about the millions of people who came here as economic refugees and their descendants and not the First Nations Peoples since they were taken care of by all together different and by far more cruel means) they are allowed to participate marginally in the electoral process that installs another corporate entity, otherwise known as a political party, that administers the affairs of the Dominion.

Importantly, it must be kept in mind that this process has never been democratic.  Canada is not a democracy.  How could it be democratic if it inherited its political institutions from the UK, which still to this day has a hereditary monarchy, no written constitution, and a bicameral parliament in which the upper house is still called, get this, THE HOUSE OF LORDS!  Rule Britannia.

In keeping with corporate rule, a political party is most definitely a corporate entity.  Its leader is the chief executive officer: he signs the papers of all those who would be candidates; if he forms a government, he chooses who will be his cabinet ministers; he appoints people to the Senate; he names judges to the Supreme Court; hell, he can unilaterally declare war if he wants to.  With such concentration of political power in his hands, small wonder that in reality the federal government in Canada is run out of the Prime Minister's Office.

At first glance, it may appear that Canadians are electing those people who will represent them in Parliament.  In reality, however, since all those who are elected to Parliament vote as they are told to vote by the party almost all of the time, what they are really doing is participating in the process which will see the governance function vested with the citizenry transferred to the Prime Minister, who for the most part becomes Canada's elected monarch, assuming the Crown's Royal Prerogative while governing the land.

As a result, a general election in Canada is in fact a contest to see which of the political parties will win "the contract" to administer the state.  Thereafter, having effectively transferred their sovereignty until whenever the Prime Minister calls the next election, (yes there is a law that stipulates that general elections are supposed to take place every four years, but because of the Prime Minister's Royal Prerogative, he is not obliged to abide by it) Canadians then stand on the sidelines and watch how power is wielded by the man to which the contract was awarded.  

Importantly, since the object of the exercise is to outsource the governance function and not to  democratically elect the people's representatives, it matters little that the political party that wins the contract rarely has the support of the majority of the electorate.  Most often, only forty percent of the votes cast is sufficient to award the contract to a single political party.  Yes, that does mean with a participation rate of about 60% (the eligible voters that actually cast a ballot) in a general election, the political party that has been chosen to run the country in reality does so with the support of less than 25% of those who are eligible to vote.

As you can imagine, such institutional practices have democrats in Canada wringing their hands and tearing out their hair in disgust.  Yet, Canadians seem to be quite content with the how the voting system performs its function: all four referendums that were held to change the first-past-the-post method at the provincial level did not gain sufficient support to go ahead and make the change.

I do not believe that is the unwavering respect for the Westminster parliamentary system that prevents Canadians from abandoning what is truly an outdated political institution.  Instead, I think the majority of Canadians prefer to be called upon only once every three to five years to make a political decision.  Let someone else sweat it out while we concentrate our efforts on our individual concerns.  If things get really bad, we can simply award the governance contract to another competitor.  That way we really don't have to keep on top of things like concerned citizens in other countries that enjoy democratic rule.  Who's got the time?

That being said, regardless of the Canadian desire to cede the political decision making to someone else, the present political landscape no longer lends itself to false-majority rule (plurality of seats won in Parliament).  Five out the six Parliaments have resulted in minority governments.  Moreover, it now appears that each of the three contenders for the crown have more or less the same support, perhaps two or three percentage points more for the leading party than the third party in the contest, well within the margin of error.  Finally, it could easily happen that the party that receives less of the popular vote than one of the others will form the next government because of the vagaries of the first-past-the-post voting system.

Perhaps, it is time Canada modernized its political institutions, beginning with the voting system.  Unlike Senate reform, it is entirely doable, no constitutional amendment needed.  Indeed, both the Liberals and the New Democrats have stated that if elected, this general election will be the last to be held under first-past-the-post. 

What remains to be seen is what type of voting system will replace the present one.  The New Democrats propose a proportional system that would make each and every vote an effective vote.  In such a system Canada would be moving to a more consensual form of government.  The Liberals, on the other hand, favor the alternative vote, which will keep Canada in a majoritarian/authoritarian system of government, much like Australia, which uses the alternative vote for its lower house, but elects its upper house with a form of proportional representation.

Could this be the last Canadian general election held under first-past-the-post? 

I bloody well hope so!!!