Monday, October 31, 2011

Connecting the Dots from the Electoral System to Income Inequality

It warms my heart to see how the Occupy Wall Street has taken hold. At long last, people have realized that the politics of economic growth are conceived to enrich the top 1% of the population at the expense of the bottom 99%.

However, one huge question remains: how do you fix the system?

The answer is that you have to change the electoral system that enables a small minority to effectively buy the politicians that will do their bidding. To do this, we have to get rid of selecting our elected representatives by the single member plurality method more popularly known as first-past-the-post.

If ever there was a voting system designed to favor rent seeking, the economic term for buying favors, it is first-past-the-post. I love the name because the horse race allusion captures what happens in the stands at a race track: being able to pick the winner backed by a significant wager pays off handsomely.

Let us remember that there is no greater return on investment in countries that use first-past-the-post than making a financial contribution to a political party coupled with a post election lobbying campaign. In the market, competition is fierce and investments to increase market share or profitability are fraught with uncertainty as competitors try to gain advantage in a zero-sum game. So, instead of trying to tip the entire playing field in one's direction, it is much easier to increase profits by getting those who set the rules of the game to intercede on one's behalf with a government contract, favorable legislation, or fiscal policy.

This is how the top 1% reap the lion's share of the nation's wealth. They hedge their bets, so it doesn't matter who wins the election. Both parties that offer government options to the electorate are funded by or by those who owe their social standing to the one per centers. Consequently, electoral campaigns come and go, focusing on peripheral issues, leaving in place the cumulative gains that the constant lobbying piles up for those in the upper most echelons of the society.

Indeed, accumulating favors is relatively easy to do when polling data tells you where the political parties stand relative to one another and all that is required is to pick which candidate will garner the most votes in each single electoral district. No messy formulas that award seats on the basis of the popular vote. Few surprises with regard to which candidate from which party will get elected. As a result, it is not difficult to identify who needs to be influenced in order to obtain preferential treatment and a cosy symbiotic relationship between politicians and their financiers comes about.

No wonder the anachronistic first-past-the-post resists attempts to replace it with other electoral systems that give better representation of the popular vote. To change the voting system, especially for one that gives proportional representation, increases the uncertainty of the results and consequently increases the risk of getting a return from one's campaign contribution.

In fact, multiparty coalitions are much more difficult to influence since there is no one who can wield authority in a unilateral fashion. Moreover, when everything has to be negotiated, there are no guarantees that the negotiated agreement will deliver the goods. In the process of negotiation, one's preferred outcome may fall off the table in the process of reaching an agreement.

To change the political economy so that there is a more equitable distribution of a nation's wealth, the demos, in other words the 99% who are effectively under-represented, must ensure that the transfer of political power from the electorate to elected officials that occurs as a result of election is done in a truly democratic fashion.

This will not occur as long as the first-past-the-post system is in place. To change the distribution of wealth, people must disable the political institution that enables the concentration of wealth in the first place.

Friday, October 21, 2011

It's Now Up To The Supreme Court of Canada

Seven years later, two refusals to entertain the evidence, we finally arrive at the end point of our journey: applying for leave to appeal our case concerning the constitutionality of the first-past-the-post voting system to the Supreme Court of Canada.

Essentially, the question we are asking of the courts is whether the current voting system respects the equality guarantees laid out in Canada's Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

That the Quebec Superior Court and the Quebec Court of Appeal did not grant our motion to have the articles of Quebec's Electoral Act that stipulate the use of the first-past-the-post method declared null and void did not come as any surprise. After all, Quebec still hasn't signed the the constitution circa 1982, which establishes the Charter.

Our expert testimony that provides both mathematical and empirical evidence demonstrating the systemic discrimination inherent to the system is barely mentioned in either decision. In the first instance, the judge wrongfully dismissed our case saying that the question was essentially political, and in the second instance the appellate court concluded that although our case was indeed judicable, such egregious democratic anomalies like a political party that received nearly a million votes but was denied representation and political parties that received less votes than another but still went on to form a majority government were not sufficient grounds to demonstrate that first-past-the-post impinged upon citizens's rights to effective representation.

Comments like that blow my mind.

In trying to wrap my mind around such outrageous statements, I can only come up with three explanations. The first is that the Quebec Appeal Court decided to evacuate any democratic norms from the notion of effective representation: being able to cast a vote, become a candidate, and being represented by a deputy is all that is required for representation to be effective. That the result of the electoral process is undemocratic does not matter. The second is that the since the Court didn't understand the nature of the question that was being asked, it consequently opted for the default option and denied the motion. The third is that judges acted upon the notion is that they are there to ensure the continuity of the state as it presently exists and will therefore not grant a motion that would effectively cause a significant rupture with the past.

All three scenarios give us grounds for an appeal.

In the first instance, the application of the Charter is guided by the values belonging to a free and democratic society and not a society that is free from the constraints that democracy imposes. In the second, it appears that it is only at the Supreme Court of Canada that we find the human resources and intellectual rigor to properly render an informed judgment on what is a fundamental question concerning Canada's system of governance. Finally, in the third, it is the primary role of the Court to uphold the rights protected by the Charter not to uphold a government's right to continue an electoral practice that contravenes each citizen's right to participate in a democratic election.

So we now arrive at a moment of truth, a moment that speaks volumes about how this nation-state is constituted.

For the Supreme Court to hear our appeal demonstrates a commitment to the values of a free and democratic society.

For the Supreme Court to decide not to hear our appeal would be an instance of dismissive silence that demonstrates that Canada has not yet evolved from its colonial past as an English settler state.

Our appeal will be filed before November 14, 2011.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

There's Something Rotten in the Province of Quebec

This week was a remarkable week. On two levels, I witnessed now badly the situation has unfortunately deteriorated in la belle province.

I am of the opinion that under the guidance of Premier Jean Charest, Quebec has devolved into a kleptocracy and Charest has become a modern day despot exercising his control over the entire state including the judiciary.

Early in week, the report leaked to the press from the Quebec Government's anti collusion squad was damming. It went as far as to say that some functions of the state had been overtaken by a consortium of public servants working for the Ministry of Transportation, engineering firms, and the criminal element, supported by a clandestine financing of Quebec's major political parties in the way of kickbacks which arise from charging overinflated prices for construction projects and a portion of which eventually reach their way to the political party in power.

In other words, everybody in the consortium is taking a cut while the taxpayer is being ripped off for the replacement of the crumbling infrastructure at a cost that is 40% higher than the rest of Canada and is of lower quality. It goes as far as having the Ministry of Transport contracting out to the private sector to do the required inspection and supervision of the construction performed by the private sector firms. The report details how the consortium will arrange to charge the government for 1000 truckloads of contaminated earth to be removed when in reality it takes only 100 truckloads to perform the task.

No wonder the Quebec Government announced in the same week a 800 million reduction in budget expenditures, including funding for Health and Education. Faced with a mountain of debt, the Quebec Government has to find some way to keep the infernal money machine operating.

Incredibly, when Premier Charest faced the media, had the audacity to say that it was thanks to the determined efforts of his government that we have become aware at how corrupt it has become. He went as far as too say that he hadn't even read the report. Imagine going in front of the nation without having read the document leaked to the press and is available on the Internet that asserts that your government is the most corrupt in living memory.

Yet, Charest has something up his sleeve that most Quebecers are only vaguely aware of despite the recent public hearings of the Bastarache Commission that investigated irregularities in appointing judges to the bench.

During his press conference, Charest would keep coming back to the point that we live by the rule of law, evidence must be obtained, and that the government is determined to prosecute those who have engaged in illegal activities.

What is left unsaid is that Charest and his Liberal cronies effectively control the legal system. They decide where and how legal resources will be deployed concerning who is targeted for investigation and who will be charged. Moreover, they have put in place many of the judges who preside over the trials and more importantly the judges that decide which of their peers will hear which cases. In short, the fix is on as we should expect when candidates applying for positions on the bench have their resumes forwarded to Premier Charest with post-it notes that indicate whether they have supported the Quebec Liberal Party in the past.

At a personal level, I have first hand experience with how political power controls the judiciary. As any reader of my Taking On The System blog would know, we have filed a motion to have the first-past-the-post electoral system declared unconstitutional.

This week we received the decision from Quebec's Court of Appeal that I would liken to the insult to their intelligence that Quebecers felt when their Premier appeared before them to defend himself from the accusations from a report that he commissioned but couldn't be bothered to read.

Not surprisingly, the decision did not support our motion to have the electoral system declared unconstitutional. After all, for better or for worse, the first-past-the-post voting system distorts the popular vote to give dictatorial control of the government to the leader of the party that wins the most seats. The political power that the Premier enjoys results from a manipulation in the manner the votes cast are transformed into seats in the legislature and that power is used to appoint judges. Simply put, judges are human and they are not going to bite the hand that feeds them.

Intellectually, I understand the systemic bias that protects the status quo, but what I didn't expect is a decision that would make Kafka laugh in the way it was rendered.

In rendering his decision, Judge Dufresne did toss us a crumb in asserting that the lower court judge had erred when saying our case wasn't judicable. Wow! This question had already been addressed when Quebec's Attorney General tried and failed to have our case declared inadmissible at an earlier instance in the proceedings. Moreover, even a cursory reading of the jurisprudence would indicate that the Court is obliged to hear a case when reasonable doubt on the constitutionality of electoral practices has been produced.

However, when it came to the real question that was put forward, it was as if the three judges put their hands over their ears and started singing and uttering the phrase, "we can't hear you".

In our case, the judge accepted what was obvious, the first-past-the-post voting system distorts the popular vote, but declared that this in itself wasn't sufficient to grant our motion since all voting systems produce distortions.

Well then what about the scale of the distortions and the manner in which they are produced? We have provided expert testimony that demonstrates that the level of distortion is beyond that of the distortions caused by other electoral practices and were subsequently declared unconstitutional and that the manner in which it is done is unclear violation of the equality guarantees of the Charter.

No matter. We won't give that evidence proper consideration. In the lower court decision not a word was devoted to our most compelling evidence in the analysis and the Appeal Court Judges decided that this slight of hand did not constitute a judicial error.

Excuse my language but "What the Fuck!"

Again, I would accept the decision if it were demonstrated that we had erred in claiming that the fact that first-past-the-post denied representation to as many as a million voters that voted for the Greens in the 2008 federal election was an infringement of their democratic rights guaranteed by the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

But this was not done. They simply dodged this inconvenient fact with dismissive silence concerning how such an electoral anomaly could be countenanced. To date, the contestable prejudice caused to those who have their votes discarded by an electoral system that is unique in that it doesn't possess a mechanism to aggregate votes or voting preferences has not been addressed and thus gives us grounds for an appeal.

Moreover, Judge Dufresne went on to make two outlandish statements that suggest that he doesn't understand or chooses not to understand the fundamental democratic principles upon which the case is founded.

The first was to suggest that the fact that the reversal of the democratic result of the Quebec 1966 and 1998 general elections (the party that won less votes than another went on to form a majority government) and the fact that almost a million voters who voted Green did not gain any representation in the 2008 federal election did not constitute a grave injustice. At the same time, Judge Dufresne uses a statistical outlier, a once-in-a-hundred year electoral result from the 2007 Quebec General Election (the three major parties gained more or less representation proportional to the popular vote) to demonstrate that the distortions inherent to first-past-the-post are not systemic yet ignored that two smaller parties that together garnered 7% of the vote were denied any representation at all.

He then suggests that the most recent federal election in which the Conservatives form a majority government with only 39% of the popular vote and in Quebec the Bloc is reduced only 4 out of 75 seats despite amassing 25% of the popular vote while the the NDP gains 70% of the seats with only approximately 40% of the vote is evidence to the contrary. In making such a claim, Judge Dufresne is suggesting that black is white for in no way do these electoral results conform to the principles of democracy, in particular that each and every vote carries equal weight.

One has to wonder what is the frame of reference being used to apply the concept of effective representation for each and every citizen. Do the egalitarian values inherent to democracy enter the equation? Apparently not in Quebec at this time.

Clearly, an appeal grounded on democratic principles would go nowhere in Charest's Quebec because to grant our appeal would upset the very power base that political parties rely upon to gain absolute control of the state and their subsequent ability to redirect a large portion of the collective wealth into private hands. Too many people profit handsomely from this dysfunctional form of governance to let it be replaced with a democratic electoral system.

In order to seek justice, we will need to have our case heard in a different political context, which we hope to find in having our appeal heard at the Supreme Court of Canada.

Monday, September 5, 2011

Epilogue: The Tao of Politics

Having taken a break from writing this blog over the summer, I have had the time to reflect over the texts that I have read and written over the last two years. I'd like to share those reflections with you.

At the heart of the Tao is the dynamic interaction between yin and yang represented by a symbolic circle divided into a black and a white half, each containing a smaller circle or dot of the opposite color. Effectively, this represents a perpetual motion in which yin gives way to yang, which in turn transforms back to yin and so on.

When I was reading John Dunn's brilliant book, Democracy: A History, I came across a reference to an essay written by Philippe Buonarroti shortly after the French Revolution in which Buonarroti asserted that at the base of any society is an intractable conflict or tension between the order of privilege and the order of equality and this conflict was the driver of the French Revolution.

In other words, at the heart of societal discord is a binary opposition. Sounds familiar.

While I was mulling this over, I picked up a copy of George Lakoff's, The Political Mind. In his book Lakoff puts forth the idea of the family as the central metaphor that controls American politics. He says that there are two competing visions of the family at play, the conservative family dominated by the authoritarian male and the progressive family in which more or less equal partners nurture the family.

What makes Lakoff's thesis particularly interesting is that he claims that these differences are to be found at the synaptic level in the brain. Those with conservative synaptic networks have much difficulty processing information associated with progressive perspectives and visa versa.

Pushing this binary opposition towards the Tao, a pattern begins to emerge in which we can associate the male energy of yang with the order of privilege and the conservative mindset while drawing parallels between the female energy of yin, the order of equality, and the progressive mindset. Importantly, this opposition or complementarity is grounded biologically in the structure of brain.

What really brought the notion home to me concerning the relevance of the Tao when looking at politics is primate expert, Robert Sapolsky's, finding that when looking at human sexual behavior and social patterns, we find that humans display characteristics associated with both tournament and pair-bonding species. According to Sapolsky, we have aspects of both species hard-wired into our DNA.

To paraphrase Sapolsky, "isn't that interesting? What's up with that?"

Well, in my opinion it goes a long way to explaining the historical ebb and flow of political conflict over the last two hundred years and perhaps longer. In short, this basic biological duality hard-wired into humanity is the root cause of the tension between the order of privilege and the order of equality, between conservative and progressive. Essentially, the order of privilege is the manifestation of an alpha male status hierarchy finding its way into conservative rhetoric while the equalitarian traits of a pair-bonding species is manifested into the social democratic beliefs of progressives. The interplay of these two opposing but complementary forces unfolds as the Tao of politics.

The incorporation of two radically mating patterns into the evolution of the human species begets an intractable conflict between the opposing sides. Nothing is stronger than the biological imperative to reproduce, so it should come as no surprise that each side is incapable of finding common ground with the other since to do so runs contrary to the genetic program each group possesses that is designed to increase their chances of passing on their genes to the next generation.

Simply put, alphas will be alphas and betas will be betas and never the twain shall meet.

Consequently, what we see at the society at large is a small group of alpha males trying to amass as much wealth and power as possible so they can engage in an ostentatious display of wealth in order to attract the most desirable females. If in doubt, take a look at the advertising for the sale of luxury items. This group is opposed by a much larger of beta males and females that push for a more equal distribution of the society's wealth.

Of course there is a variance in how this opposition plays out from one society to another. Path dependence is in play, so turning points in the evolution of a society, (wars, revolutions, changes in religious beliefs) can push a society in either direction so that we can identify societies as being predominantly supportive of either alpha or beta procreation patterns. This is not say that societies attain a permanent equilibrium that entrenches the rule of one over the other. In fact, over time each element can gain ascendency over the other in what could be described as the eternal motion of the Tao.

History repeats itself in an unmistaken pattern.

Regardless of the supporting ideology favored by the alphas, wealth is concentrated over time into their hands in order to support their mating habits at the expense of the betas. Eventually, the betas realize that the depletion of resources threatens the survival of their offspring so they organize and depose of the alphas that rule the society. Previously, this was done exclusively by armed conflict, but as societies develop they come to realize that it is advantageous to contain this perpetual conflict within their political institutions, hence the spread of democracy across the globe over the last two hundred years.

Each side possesses a competitive advantage that allows them to rule the roost periodically. In short, alphas are more motivated to organize so they can extract wealth from the betas, but betas have numbers on their side. Also, alphas are extremely sensitive to differences within a status hierarchy so they will be tenacious in their attempt to procure wealth since inequality of wealth distribution and subsequent ostentatious display of wealth is greatest at the very top of the hierarchy. Their steadfast refusal to share wealth is their undoing because eventually the sleeping giant awakes and addresses the situation. Betas, on the other hand, have difficulty organizing. Their propensity to share and cooperate makes them reticent to confront the forces of the alpha groups early on. It takes considerable time before their collective angst reaches a tipping point and they spring into action.

Looking back at the post war years, there is a definite oscillation between the order of privilege and the order of equality. Indeed, the conclusion of the Second World War ushered in a historical period in the English speaking countries in which there was great economic growth and the increased wealth was equitably divided throughout the societies. Thirty years later, marked by the election of Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher, the order of privilege reestablished its control and material wealth over time became more concentrated in the upper echelons of the respective societies.

Today, we appear to be at the beginning of the end of the rule of the order of privilege. The global economy which the alphas so diligently worked to bring about is about to collapse. Mountains of debt have arisen as a result of the desire to increase economic growth so to enrich a privileged elite. To meet these debt obligations, the order of privilege is attempting to force austerity measures upon the betas. The question that remains to be answered is how long will it take the betas to respond and in what manner their response will take form.

Were the recent riots and looting in England an isolated event or are they the precursors to the type of change of regime that we have seen during the Arab spring? Certainly, the mettle of the West's political institutions are about to undergo a severe stress test. Perhaps, they will hold. Perhaps, they will buckle. One way or another, as we enter a period of crisis for the global political economy, there will be opportunities for significant societal change to come about.

This state of affairs reminds me of the lyrics from Bob Dylan's song, The Times Are A-Changing:

Come writers and critics
Who prophesize with your pen
And keep your eyes wide
The chance won't come again
And don't speak too soon
For the wheel's still in spin
And there's no tellin' who
That it's namin'
For the loser now
Will be later to win
For the times they are a-changin'.

Monday, May 23, 2011

Trickle Up Economics and the Perversity of Cuts to Public Health Care

It's common knowledge that throughout Canada, the UK, and the US continued economic growth has not translated in increased living standards for the masses. For example, in the US the economy has doubled in size over the last 30 years, but the median wage has remained stagnant when adjusted for inflation.

In fact, the lion's share of the gains caused by economic growth accrue to the top 1% of revenue earners. As a result, pursuing continued growth within the present economic conditions only serves to exacerbate rising inequality, which in turn only exacerbates a degradation of the public's health, which in turn increases expenditures on public health care.

What I truly find perverse in the political rhetoric prevalent in both the UK and the US is the fixation on making cuts to public health care as a means to addressing the fiscal woes caused by the collapse of the financial markets, which both countries came to rely on for generated economic growth, and the subsequent global recession that ensued.

The securities markets have recovered thanks to the trillion dollar bailouts supplied by the public purse. However, the real economy peopled by wage earners has not. The timing of austerity measures could not be worse for those in need and yet cutting back on public expenditures to those in need seems to have gained the status of received wisdom.

What doesn't make its way onto the political agenda is a realignment of fiscal policy to reflect our present fiscal reality. In short, financiers, the corporate sector, and the political class (see the documentary film, The Inside Job) perpetrated the largest Ponzi scheme in history upon unsuspecting public and now behave as if nothing extraordinary happened.

Where's the payback?

There won't be one because of the colossal failure of collective memory and the capacity of the traditional media to frame the current state of affairs so that the only option is to cut public expenditures aimed to help those who are the victims of a financial fraud that defies the imagination.

Faced with an unmanageable debt load, the governments in place could raise taxes on those who could afford to pay and to the corporations that don't pay them, but that would reduce financial contributions much needed to wage successful electoral campaigns, so the institutional lock is on and the population has no way out but to see a significant reduction in living standards for the bottom 90%.

At the same time, a growing body of evidence demonstrates that inequality of income correlates to a host of societal ills that require public funds if they are to be addressed. However, it appears that faced with the choice of reducing the wealth of the very well off in order to address the societal problems that inequality brings about, keeping in mind that the reduction of inequality itself can have a beneficial effect, and doing nothing other than leaving more and more people to fend for themselves in underperforming sectors of the economy, there is considerable will for the latter.

Consequently, politicians will continue to portray themselves as managers of THE economy bolstered by economic data selectively aggregated that supports the ruse when in reality the economic trajectory of the haves and the have nots will only to continue to widen.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

We Are All Protestants Now, Slouching Towards the Apocalypse

Well, not exactly all of us, but with Conservatives now in the driving seat in the UK, Canada, and the US, a Protestant derived mindset is firmly in control of the Anglo-American Empire as we leave behind the gains that secular humanism brought about for the great "unwashed" masses.

When trying to name this mindset, the term Cultural Calvinism is often applied. Of all the protestant sects, it is the doctrines of the Calvinistic creed that have had the greatest impact upon the English speaking societies. Importantly, the ideas are no longer anchored to a particular faith or dogma. Instead, they have drifted to permeate large parts of socio-economic discourse, and, as a result, have become more insidious with regard to how they exercise control, framing socio-economic debates unbeknownst to the participants.

In a nutshell, Cultural Calvinism is founded on the belief that human society is essentially God's creation and that we should not interfere with God's plans for each and everyone of us. People get what they deserve, especially the rich whose wealth demonstrates their favored status in the eyes of God. The less well off must be content to toil away at their callings/jobs, and the wretched of the earth must be purged of their imperfections and be punished for their sins.

Once one understands the extent to which Cultural Calvinism permeates English-speaking cultures, a great deal of the mind boggling inequality actually makes sense from within the framework and of course looks like a bunch of self-serving bullshit on behalf of the rich and powerful from the outside.

From the perspective of the rich, there's probably no better self defense that to invoke God's name to fool people into thinking that the existing social order has been sanctified by the All Mighty and that to seek change is an invitation to invoke God's wrath.

Never underestimate the gullibility of the masses and the extent to which they'll by into the schtick. Just ask Bernie Madoff.

So, looking at the collapse of the financial markets, the onset of the Great Recession, and the austerity measures taken to slay the dragon of budgetary deficits, events are unfolding pretty much to the liking of Cultural Calvinists.

The great transfer of wealth is just God's way of rewarding his favored ones. Those who lost their jobs, homes, or both deserve what they got. Consequently, no prosecutions against those who were responsible for humanity's greatest financial swindle and little or no relief for the afflicted.

In fact, the building of more prisons to "house" the less fortunate at public expense is just what the good Lord wanted.

Moreover, catastrophic climate change is in reality the apocalypse, which according to the word of God will usher in the second coming.

By all means should we ratchet up the economy as fast as she can go so we can bring more wealth to the Elect and bring the chosen few closer to that day when they will meet their maker and enter into paradise.

If the rest of the world goes to hell in a hand basket, it's all part of the master plan, and if you don't get it, there's no special place for you.

Thursday, May 5, 2011

In Canada It's All Part of the Game

The Canadian federal general election has come and gone and from what I can gather most Canadians are pretty well satisfied with the results: a majority government, the centre left in opposition, the blasted sovereignists almost swept completely off the electoral map, and Canada's first Green MP elected. Something for everyone.

You might object that once again the voting system generated significant distortions that left large swaths of the population under represented, in particular, the Liberals, the Bloc Quebecois, and the Greens. But hey, that's the way the ball bounces. One election the voting system favors you and in another you are on the wrong side of the distortions.

You might think that given the history of the vagaries of the electoral system that Canadians would be apt to put into place a fairer voting system in which everyone's vote was given equitable treatment. But that's not the case. In fact, the vast majority of Canadians are not bothered at all with the fact that the voting system is inherently unfair.

Indeed, the vast majority of Canadians accept that an election is not a democratic exercise but a game played between rival clans. To them, it's the winner-take-all aspect of the game that makes interesting to play. Hell, it would be boring if we knew in advance that a party showing 35% of the vote would expect to receive 35% of the seats in Parliament.

Play the game, place your bets, take your chances.

The idea that an election is far too important to be framed with a gaming metaphor appropriately named first-past-the-post is beyond them. If the game entails the systemic elimination of millions of voices in Parliament, so be it. Only the sore losers complain about the rules.

Democracy? What's that?

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Huge Distortions of the Popular Vote Mire Canadian Election Results

How is it that a supposedly developed country, a member of the G-8, endures a medieval electoral system?

The Conservatives's quest for what Canadians erroneously refer to as a majority government was fulfilled, largely due to an outrageous distortion of the popular vote in Ontario. As well, the newly formed NDP opposition had its number of seats bolstered by an even more outrageous distribution of seats in Quebec.

In short, the election was decided in Canada's two most populous provinces. Effectively, the massive vote splitting in Ontario was more than enough to offset the massive vote splitting in Quebec. The principle victims of this democratic charade were the Liberals and the Bloc Quebecois. What goes around comes around.

Taking a closer look at the results, one can easily see how the voting system and not the electors determined the formation of the government and the opposition.

In Ontario, the Conservatives received 44.4% of the popular vote, yet received 68.9% of the available seat, a classic example of coming up the middle when two other parties split the outstanding 50% of the vote. With regard to the allocation of extra seats as a result of the plurality method, the Conservatives received an extra 27 seats. To put this in perspective, the total number of extra seats allocated to the Conservatives nation wide in the 2008 election was only 30.

In Quebec, the distortion of the popular vote is even more spectacular. The NDP won 42.9 % of the vote, yet garnered 77.3% of the seats. In this instance, the allocation of extra seats totals 26. In other words, instead of receiving 32 seats in Quebec, which would be the number in proportion to the number of votes, the NDP was awarded 58 seats. The transfer can be attributed to the huge under representation of the Bloc Quebecois: the Bloc captured 23.4% of the vote but received only 5.2% of the seats.

Instead of having an election where the electoral results reflected the manner in which people actually voted, Canadians witnessed once again the application of a voting method that generates wild deviations from democratic norms.

I think the question that needs to be asked is how much longer are Canadians going to sit back and let their political class make mockery of the very notion of democracy. In my case, I have taken the issue to Court and am waiting on a decision from the Quebec Appeal Court with regard to the constitutionality of the first-past-the-post system.

While in deliberation, I hope the three judges take note of the antidemocratic nature of the latest federal election.

Friday, April 29, 2011

Canada's Facebook Election Changes the Face of the Nation

Yes, I've seen the latest polls and have jumped on the bandwagon. I'm putting aside the pessimist belief that the vagaries of the voting system would undo the sudden rise in support of the NPD.

There's something historic going on and it has more than just a shift in voting patterns. More importantly, this is the election that historians will point to as the election where social media, in particular Facebook, played a determining role in bringing about the electoral results.

In short, what has occurred is that the traditional media has lost its ability to control how elections will be played out. It no longer can decide on how the issues will be framed. Although it stills plays a role, the advent of social networking tempers what was a previously unchecked power to determine who will win elections.

In the case of this election, people entered into hundreds of thousands, perhaps millions, of political exchanges with their Facebook friends. Essentially, all of us who participated became media sources. As a result, traditional media was no longer privileged as an information source. On the contrary, it became more important to see how the issues were playing about on our News Feeds.

This is not to say that you wouldn't find links to articles stemming from the traditional media, but what is different is that when posted they were followed by comments that weighed the opinion and allowed for exchanges between the participants. This is a significant break from the one-to-many communication pattern that gives traditional media its power. Often, it is the comments that follow that are more informative than the original article.

As well, these millions of exchanges allowed Canadians to self organize in an unprecedented manner. At the beginning of the campaign, the Prime Minister framed the ballot question as a choice between a Harper majority or a reckless coalition. Canadians then took it upon themselves to talk it over and see what they could come up with.

Following the lead of Quebecers who have an uncanny ability to mobilize their vote in favor of the party that will go on to form a government, Canadians have responded to Mr. Harper's framing of the question and have decided that they would prefer to be governed by a coalition government and that this coalition should be led by the leader of the NDP, Jack Layton, and it shall be formed without the support of the Bloc Quebecois.

Talk about the wisdom of crowds.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Canada's Progressives Are About to Get Screwed by a Corrupt Electoral System

The sudden rise of the NDP in the polls gives reason to hope that the political landscape is about to change fundamentally.

Don't bet the farm on it.

What the pundits don't say is that the NDP is far from playing on an even playing field. As anybody who is even vaguely aware of the way our electoral system actually works, national or even provincial percentages of the popular vote do not produce a proportional number of seats. It all depends on how the vote is distributed.

Concentrated support in smaller regions pays off whereas moderate support over large regions provides disappointing results. Add to mixture the possibility of a relatively even distribution of votes among opposing parties that allows candidates to triumph with only 30% of the vote and an electoral map that is gerrymandered to give rural ridings more voting power than urban ridings and you find a recipe for a democratic debacle.

For instance, it is most probable that in Quebec despite gaining more of the popular vote than the Bloc Quebecois the NDP will find themselves with less seats than they deserve. The Bloc will win more seats because of their strength in the rural regions and because of vote splitting between the federalist parties.

Likewise, across Canada the Conservatives will benefit from the vote splitting between Liberals and the supporters of the NDP. In fact, it is quite foreseeable that the Conservatives will win more seats this time around with a slightly smaller share of the popular vote as compared to the 2008 election. So much so, they will go on to win a majority government with slightly more than just one third of the popular vote.

Perhaps some will find solace if the NDP forms the opposition, thinking that they are only one election away from forming a progressive government. So close and yet so far from real power.

My advice for any of my progressive readers is to watch the results on election evening in a bar. You're going to need a stiff drink when reality sets it and you realize that the country is still ruled by a minority with whom you have little in common.

Monday, April 25, 2011

Are the Political Planets Re-aligning in Quebec?

Elsewhere in Canada, the political continuum is from right to left. Here in Quebec, the parties have been aligned on the basis of a federalist-nationalist allegiance for more than 30 years. The question on everyone's mind within the political class is whether the rise of the NDP signals a rupture with our recent political past.

Considering the current state of affairs in Quebec, accusations of corruption abound, it's not that surprising that Quebecers are seeking an exit strategy from the way politics are usually done. Essentially, the Liberals both at the provincial and federal level have been the default option for those who don't support the sovereignty movement. The Conservatives don't have much appeal for the vast majority of voters.

However, successive scandals involving the Liberal Party of Canada and the Quebec Liberal Party have rendered the Liberal brand toxic. At the same time, the fervor for sovereignty has waned. Consequently, the third federalist option, the NDP, has gained much in the way of support.

What is significant in the rise of the NDP is that the party attracts voters from both the federalist and the sovereignist camps. The party's left-of-center policies are in keeping with the political values of Quebec society. Yet for the last twenty years, the sovereignist Bloc Quebecois has been able to position itself as the protector of Quebec's social democracy. But will that tendency continue?

Perhaps, what we are witnessing is a demographic shift in political power in Quebec. Those born before the war are apt to continue in the Roman Catholic tradition of supporting the Liberals. The Quebec baby boomers defied their parents by supporting the sovereignist parties. Today, it's generations x,y, and zed's turn to define their political identity by rejecting the federalist-nationalist dichotomy altogether.

Certainly, it will take more than just one election to see how this plays out, but I have the feeling that we are at the beginning of the Internet generation's emergence as a political power.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

The NDP Has Gone Viral in Quebec

I woke up this morning to see confirmation in two polls that with regard to voting intentions in the upcoming federal elections Quebecers have gone viral in their support of the NDP.

You need to know that the Quebec population is very closely knit. I'm not exaggerating when I say that there is only three degrees of separation. Changes in attitudes can occur quite rapidly.

What's happening right now reminds me of the June Quebec by-elections in 2002 when the ADQ won three out of four seats up for grabs and got 45% of the populate vote. Unfortunately for the ADQ viral epidemics reach their peak and eventually fall off quickly. One year later, the party received only 18% of the vote.

Consequently, as we know all to well timing is everything and it looks like the NDP has hit the perfect storm.

On Thursday morning, Quebecers woke up to the news of the polls. By Thursday afternoon the great provincial wide trek to visit the extended family during the Easter long weekend began. Across the province, hundreds of thousands of families are getting together and without question there will be considerable talk about the federal election. Quite often an influential family member will come and say who he or she is voting for, and this gesture tells other family members who are less inclined to invest the energy to make up their own mind on how they should vote.

Consequently, there can be a domino effect and with only a week to go during the campaign there might not be enough time to get the genie back into the bottle.

The important question to ask is how much further will the ascension continue before it tops out. At 35%, the NDP could win about 10 seats, but at 40-45% they could end up with the majority of seats in Quebec, 40-50.

This would change the power dynamics in Canada completely since it would probably put the NDP as the opposition, with the possibility that they could lead a coalition government with the Liberals. For this to occur, people in B.C. and in the greater Toronto region would need to take notice and to vote strategically. This way those who are motivated to vote against the eventuality of a Harper majority would vote strategically for the NDP instead of for the Liberals, a complete reversal of historic strategic voting trends.

Suddenly, what was a Seinfeld general election, a story about nothing, might become a historic event.

Friday, April 15, 2011

North America Has Become a Huge Fat Farm

Last year, I had the shock of my life when I visited the US. I had never seen so many super obese people in all my life. Statistics say that one in three Americans is obese, but I wasn’t prepared for how big people have become. During my vacation, I felt slim on the beach and by the pool as compared to the people around me, when in reality I could stand to lose 40 pounds.

In some ways, I can sympathize with my obese friends across the border. I have been working out four to five times a week for the last two years; I watch what I eat, cutting down on carbs, eating more fruits and vegetables, but after an initial weight loss of about 20 pounds, I’m stuck at my present weight, which is not a healthy weight.

I went for my annual check-up and my doctor said I was in excellent health despite my ample girth. I told my story and she told me that it was genetic, my pancreas is super- efficient and that I easily store the smallest amount of extra blood sugar as body fat. Apparently, if there were a famine, I’d be one of the last to die.

This was depressing news since I’m pretty close to my limits for working out. Much more and I would risk injury.

Then by chance, more precisely because of my personalized magazine application for my iPad, I received an article from the New York Times questioning whether sugar was toxic. Within the text, there is a link to what I believe to be perhaps the most important video on Public Health in the last thirty years, Sugar: the Bitter Truth.

In short, we are told that the decision thirty years ago to promote a low fat, high carbohydrate diet across North America has been an unmitigated disaster. Yes, we are eating less fat, but now we are eating more sugar in our diets as never before, about 140 pounds per person per year. Simply put, our bodies cannot metabolize this amount of sugar, especially when it contains fructose. So we pack on the pounds, add to our bad cholesterol, and increase our risk to heart attacks, diabetes and cancer.

The food industry and the regulatory agencies are largely to blame. High Fructose Corn Syrup is found in almost all of our processed food. Looking at the evidence presented in the video, it appears that Fructose is indeed a toxin. Unfortunately, regulators will not act to curb its use since it falls into the category of a substance that is not acutely toxic (it won’t kill you after just one meal) but is toxic with chronic use (it will make you sick after a 1000 meals.)

Consequently, food producers in North America are pumping out enormous amounts of cheap, sugar-laced processed food products unabated by government and the population is more than happy to gobble them up.

Driven by the profit motive, politicians representing the food industry and the interests in the health sector have come to realize is that there is a fortune to be made by fattening up the population, and the beauty of it is that no one is forcing anyone to consume the adulterated food stuffs. In fact, we are genetically programmed to seek and ingest that which is sweet.

First, the US government subsidizes the corn producers so they can provide the food industry with a cheap foodstuff that can be used widely and generates huge profit margins. Second, private health care providers can then capitalize on a disease ridden population, whose treatment is also subsidized by the state.

It has been estimated that the US government could save more than one trillion dollars a year by simply reducing the incidence of preventable disease among its citizens that is largely attributable to lifestyle. However, to do so would cut into the profits of the food-health service consortium. As a result, nothing substantial gets done to address the root cause of the obesity epidemic in North America, its addiction to sugar.

Is there anything more American than knocking back a Coke or wolfing down a double slice of apple pie?

Yeah, the insatiable greed that drives people to exploit as many as they can and sticking the government with the task of having to deal with the mess.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

The Sacred Cows No Politician Dares To Touch

Thank God the Stanley Cup Playoffs start this evening. This has to be the dullest federal election since Sir John A. swore off the bottle. Same old. Same old.

Yet, around the world things are different. Despots are being disposed, countries teeter on bankruptcy and severe austerity programs are being implemented in response to a perceived debt crisis.

Here, the election is being framed as the choice between the “reckless” coalition and the stability of a Harper majority government. In other words, the choice is between the Liberals in bed with the separatists and socialists or a Canada governed by a guy with a bad haircut.

These are the choices?

This election would generate a lot more interest if our politicians started focusing on the real problem facing Canadians, especially for those who believe that it is our social programs that keep this nation together.

Sky-rocketing health care costs coupled with an ideological belief that no new tax revenues can be raised threatens the continued viability of the Canadian social system. At the present rate of growth in health care costs, expenditures for health care will represent 50% of budget allocations at the provincial level by 2020, and this includes monies targeted for health care transferred to the provinces from the federal government. In other words, if we continue on the present course, we will not be able to adequately fund education, welfare, public transportation, environmental measures, debt reduction, etc.

Faced with such a dilemma, we need to cut to the heart of the matter and address two outstanding issues that politicians fear to discuss publically since it places them in opposition to the rich and the powerful. The first is the method in which doctors are remunerated in the public health care system, fee for service performed, and the second is the imposition of a financial transaction tax, which is often referred to as the Robin Hood Tax.

With regard to the former, we cannot endure the continued growth in health care costs. Technological advances in medicine combined with an aging population create a situation where the potential for the expansion of medical services to be performed will surpass our capacity to pay within the present payment structure. To rein in costs in the public system, all medical personnel will need to be salaried as is the case with other professionals employed by the state. No exceptions. Those wishing to continue working within the fee for service model can continue to do so within the private sector.

With regard to the latter, we need to be able to distinguish between no new taxes for those who are already taxed to the hilt and new taxes for those who pay no tax or very little tax at all. Presently, the financial sector escapes paying its fair share and receives preferential treatment. Remember the federal Goods and Services Tax replaced the hidden Manufacturers’ Sales Tax? Financial services were among the exemptions. Yet, even a ridiculously small levy of one tenth of one percent on all financial transactions has the potential to raise billions in revenue. This new revenue could then be used to pay down the debt thereby liberating billions in service charges that could be reallocated to continue making investments to promote the social well-being of the population.

Serious debate on core issues like these will generate genuine interest in the electorate. However, as long as the political debate is confined to peripheral issues the electoral campaign will continue to be a sleep fest.

Perhaps, that’s how the powers that be prefer to have the electoral campaign contested.

Monday, April 11, 2011

Tired of Having the News Dumbed Down? Turn Off the Tube and Get An iPad!

I've enjoyed my iPad for about a year now. For someone who is an info-holic and works in communications, it's changed the way I access information and there's no going back.

High definition touch screen with which I get the news on line from around the world, watch the videos I want when I want, read e-books that take 30 seconds or less to download, surf the web, connect to social media, compose and post my blogs, send and receive email, read a personalized magazine dedicated to the subjects which are of interest to me, keep track of everything with powerful applications, and that's without mentioning all the fun stuff.

Lately, I noticed by the time I get home in time to watch the evening news, it's no longer news. Not only am already aware of the day's events, but I have already read the pertinent comments from my Facebook friends. As a result, I rarely find the so called expert analysis all that interesting. Moreover, the presentation of the news by the major television networks smacks of low grade propaganda. It goes out of its way to treat complex issues with trite explanations that fit easily with the dominant worldview put forward by the powers that be. Heaven forbid that a cultural myth is called into question.

Take advantage of what newer communications technology has to offer. I've already replaced commercial radio in my car with a satellite feed, and I enjoy not having my favorite tunes interrupted by the banal sales pitch trying to sell me something I don't really need.

So, I'm going to kick the filthy habit. I'm no longer going to park my ass in front of the Tube to watch the news. There's only so much time in the day and I'm not going to waste it being forced fed commercials that intersperse sound bytes featuring low information content.

Be a wise-guy or a wise-gal. Get an iPad or its equivalent and set your mind free. Not only will you become more intelligent, you will be less stressed out by having escaped thinking about all the crap the networks force you to attend to.

Thursday, April 7, 2011

In Canada the Powers that Be Conspire to Suppress the Emergence of Alternative Voices

Catch 22 for the Green Party of Canada. Because the Greens haven't won a seat in Parliament, their leader can't participate in the televised leaders debate. Because their leader doesn't participate in the leaders debate, the Greens can't win a seat in Parliament.

At first glance, this seems to be a rather straight forward number being perpetrated against the Greens that would be easy to fix. Change the electoral system or change the rules for the leaders debate.

Fat chance.

The powers that be: the political parties, the corporate sector, and the media, buttressed by a complacent judiciary, are just far too comfortable with the status quo to allow anyone else into the game, especially a political party that proposes to change the rules concerning the way the game is played.

That the political system has become out dated and dysfunctional is beside the point. If you play your cards right, life can be quite comfortable as long as the status quo is maintained.

That globalization has rendered many of our ways of thinking about how and what social services to deliver and how and when to intervene in the multiple spheres of economic activity obsolete is also a moot point as we continue to pile on the debt that we will ask future generations to pay. If the ship of the nation has veered off course, no matter as long as you're in first class.

In short, the social contract between the forces that be in Canada asserts that the political parties will ensure a socio-economic sphere that is favorable to wealth extraction by the corporate sector, the corporate sector will provide financial support to the traditional political parties, the media will act as the gatekeeper to what actually makes it onto the nation's political agenda, the political parties and the corporate sector will purchase advertising from the media, and the judiciary will ensure (I hope to be proved wrong on this point) that the rules of the political economy remain in place.

Dissent is fine as long as it remains contained within the confines of the existing power structure. Emerging political parties that attempt to change the "gentleman's agreements" in place will have their hopes dashed by an electoral system that either denies or severely distorts the representation given to smaller parties, closed doors when seeking funds, and hostile treatment from the media that will cast dispersions upon the capacity of the emerging party to form a government.

Moreover, those who are brave or foolish enough to put their name forward to appear on the ballot for an emerging party also face the the wrath of those who will use administrative means to make it as difficult as possible for someone to be a candidate.

On two separate occasions for two different political parties, I have been subjected to personal harassment from employers when I announced that I was to be candidate for a smaller party in which I expected and received only 10% of the vote. In one instance, I had my salary cut, and in the second, I received written notification that I would be fired if I did indeed become a candidate.

Needless to say, claims made about how Canada cherishes democratic values tend to make me scoff and wonder what is the person talking about when he or she mentions the word "democracy."

On this note a disgruntled democrat will sign off with the intention to examine what the term actually means and how it is being misused in my next blog.

In the meantime, I salute all those candidates who put their names forward knowing full well they have no hope of being elected. In doing so, they allow a great many of us to express our political beliefs in what is a sham of a democracy.

It warms my heart to know that the spirit of democracy is alive and well in the hearts of those who get it.

Monday, April 4, 2011

Canada Should Look Down Under to Address Its Democratic Deficit

I think that most people would now recognize that the world has moved on and Canada is still stuck with it colonial system of governance. No modern democratic state has a lower house elected by first-past-the-post and an upper house that is unelected.

Elsewhere in the Commonwealth, in particular Australia and New Zealand, political institutions have evolved, and Canada would do well to look down under for a model to bring about democratic reform.

Both countries ditched first-past-the post: Australia uses the Alternative Vote to elect the representatives in the lower house and a proportional method for the Senate, while New Zealand uses a proportional method to elect the members to its unicameral legislature.

Either country could serve as a model depending on what Canadians decide to do with regard to the Senate.

If Canadians choose to abolish the Senate, a mixed member proportional electoral system found in New Zealand has the advantage of combining territorial representation, using a voting method Canadians are familiar, with a list method to ensure that the electoral results with regard to representation are proportional to the popular vote.

If Canadians choose to retain the Senate, the Australian system is also appealing. In short, the lower house retains its territorial representation, electing one member per electoral district, but does so by requiring the winning candidate to seek a majority instead of a plurality. To obtain the 50% plus one, electors are asked to rank the candidates and voting preferences are transferred until one candidate receives a majority of the votes. In the Senate, multimember region districts are in place and representation is awarded in a proportional manner based on the number of votes cast for each of the political parties. Taken together, voters maintain the strong link with an individual Deputy in the lower house and enjoy equitable representation in the Senate.

Where to begin?

It would appear that the best place to begin would be to replace the voting system used to elect representatives to the House of Commons. Again, we should look to New Zealand for a model to guide us with regard how to go about making the change. Importantly, a committee of citizens should be entrusted with implementing a two-round referendum to choose the new system. On the first ballot, there should be at least four alternative voting methods. The first referendum would determine the two most popular alternatives and they would appear on the second ballot. The second referendum would then determine the people's choice by obtaining a majority result.

With only a few weeks before Canadians choose to elect a fourth minority government in seven years or to award a false majority to a single political party, we would do well to consider how to replace a broken electoral system that is beyond repair.

Saturday, April 2, 2011

We All Lose When Only the Winners Gain Representation

While campaigning against the alternative vote option on the ballot in the UK referendum on the voting system, British Prime Minister, David Cameron makes the following analogy that underscores the dominant belief for those who support the first-past-the-post voting system:

"Just think forward to the Olympics. Usain Bolt powers home in the hundred metres but when it comes to handing out the gold medals they give it to the person who comes third. You wouldn't do it in the Olympics, we shouldn't do it in politics, we've got to vote no to this crazy system."

Clearly, this analogy asserts that it is the winner of the contest that deserves the prize, a seat in Parliament. Push the analogy a little further to include its intended audience and the assertion reads: you are the winners of the socio-economic game and, as a result, you are the ones who deserve to rule.

This is also the rhetoric heard during the 2011 federal election in Canada. Time and time again we hear Prime Minister Harper say it is only the "winners" that have the right to form the government and not the "coalition of losers".

In other words, only the strong should be allowed to rule, and the weak, even if they are in the majority, should submit to the rule of those who have been deemed fit to rule because of their performance in the contest to see who gets the most votes.

The obvious question is why should the formation of a government be reduced to a sporting contest? Why should representation be seen as the prize to be awarded based on the results of a winner-take-all contest?

There are other ways to form a government.

We could make it a game of chance. That's what the ancient Athenians did when they formed their government that gave birth to the term democracy, the rule of the demos, the people. Most office holders were chosen on the basis of drawing lots. That way domination by any one group could be avoided because the odds on being selected were equal for each citizen.

We could also make it a game of sharing the pie. Everyone gets their fair share. The size of the slice, the number of seats in the legislature, is proportional to the number of voters who support each party.

With regard to the results of this type of exercise, a fundamental question must be asked when choosing the rules of the game: is it our intent to give preferential treatment to some players or shall we be equitable in the treatment of all the players.

Let's not forget where we are coming from. Our political institutions have evolved over time from our inheritance of a political system from a class-structured British society. As little as 150 years ago, only white, male, Protestant, land owners had the right to vote. The entire system was set up to privilege this part of the population.

Over time, our political institutions have evolved: universal suffrage became the norm and the power of money to influence electoral outcomes has been significantly reduced. However, one powerful institution has not changed.

We still have in place a political system that privileges the so-called "winners" in Canadian society. Indeed, a winner-take-all electoral system leads to a winner-takes-most economy. The inequality of economic results reflects the inequality built into the political system. Yet, this inequality comes with a price.

Research shows that societies that have greater economic inequality experience higher incidents of social problems and the members of these societies have shorter lives, yes even the rich, than their counterparts in societies where the wealth is more equitably distributed.

So, let's do everybody in Canada a favor: drop the idea that forming a government is like winning a sporting contest and let's give everyone their fair share of the electoral pie.

Thursday, March 31, 2011

Contesting Canada's Shamocracy

"Although we like to think of ourselves as living in a mature democracy, we live, instead, in something little better than a benign dictatorship, not under a strict one-party rule, but under a one-party-plus system beset by the factionalism, regionalism and cronyism that accompany any such system. Our parliamentary government creates a concentrated power structure out of step with other aspects of society. For Canadian democracy to mature, Canadian citizens must face these facts, as citizens in other countries have, and update our political structures to reflect the diverse political aspirations of our diverse communities." (Stephen Harper and Tom Flanagan: Our Benign Dictatorship)

Well then, if you try pass of something little better than a benign dictatorship as a democracy, you would be engaging in a sham, and in this case the set of institutional practices in question should be referred to as a shamocracy, a cheap imitation of the real thing.

The exclusion of Elizabeth May, the leader of the Green Party of Canada, from the televised leaders debate because the Greens have yet to win a seat in Parliament is a flagrant example of the systemic discrimination that the Greens face in their attempt to gain representation.

In this instance, we are talking about a political party that garnered nearly a million votes during the 2008 federal election but did not receive a single seat. How can you square this anomaly with any conception of a modern democracy? You can't. In fact, Stephen Harper was bang on with his assessment that Canadians need to update their political institutions.

However, what we see time and again is that regardless of the individual the desire to make institutional change is related to the distance from exercising real political power. The closer one gets, the less one is inclined to bring about change.

As a result, I was glad when I learned that the Greens are taking the issue to Court. Already, the constitutionality of the first-past-the-post voting system is before the Quebec Court of Appeal and appears destined to make it's way to the Supreme Court of Canada.

Eventually, the Courts will have to deal with the systemic discrimination facing the Greens. Judges would do well to draw from John Hart Ely's theory of judicial review, which asserts that it is exactly in theses instances when those who are "in" the corridors of power conspire to keep those who are outside the said corridors "out" should the Court intervene.

In the near future, the Court will need to make a fundamental distinction of whether Canada is indeed a democracy or a cheap facsimile.

Monday, March 28, 2011

The Bloc Quebecois Has the Last Laugh Since Canada Has Become Ungovernable

One thing is for sure. Once the writ is dropped, partisan interests prevail and the leaders can't see the forest for the trees.

For example, all this fear mongering about the participation of the Bloc in a ruling coalition misses the point. Indeed, what has happened is that the Bloc has appropriated a disproportionately large share of our electoral system's best known distortion, the winner's bonus, which, as a result, renders the system wholly dysfunctional since it cannot produce the desired result: a false majority, where a plurality of the votes is transformed into a majority of seats.

Generally speaking, 40% of the vote garners 60% of the seats for the party that gains the most votes when using the first-past-the-post voting method. The so called winner's bonus results from the inability of smaller parties whose distribution of seats is spread too thin geographically to effectively turn those votes into seats. In other words, the distribution of votes is as important as the number of votes cast. For example, in the 2008 federal election the Green Party of Canada received approximately 1.0 million votes and did not elect a single MP whereas the Bloc received 1.3 million votes and elected 49 MPs.

In fact, looking at the numbers from the 2008 election tells us that the Bloc received a winner's bonus that is three times as large as what the Conservatives received.

For instance, the Bloc received 38.1% of the popular vote and yet obtained 65% of the seats in Quebec, the only province where it fields candidates. This represents a winner's bonus of twenty extra seats, which is a 69% increase in the number of seats as compared to the number of seats obtained if the seats were distributed on the basis of the popular vote.

Likewise, the Conservatives also enjoyed a winner's bonus. They received an extra 27 seats or an increase of 23% of the number of seats as compared to a distribution of seats based on the popular vote. However, it should be pointed out that the Conservatives fielded candidates in 308 ridings as compared to only 75 candidates for the Bloc.

In other words, the Bloc was much more effective in capturing the benefit from the distortions derived from the voting system than the Conservatives. So much so that it thwarts the capacity of either the Conservatives or Liberals to form a majority government, thereby rendering the country ungovernable over the long term.

Given the disproportional number of seats awarded to the Bloc and the ideological differences between the parties that excludes the Bloc from participating in a stable coalition, Canada appears to be stuck in a pattern of successive, short-lived minority governments.

Ironically, the Bloc uses a core feature of the British Parliamentary system to bring about electoral results that run contrary to the design of the system and much to the rest of Canada's chagrin.

Of course, this anomaly could be dispensed with by changing the voting system so that it produces more proportional results, but for that to occur either the Liberals or Conservatives would have to renounce the blatant unfairness of the electoral system that they have used to gain advantage for quite some time.

Methinks that neither party is prepared to bite the hand that feeds them.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Truth Be Told Coalition Governments Have Become the Norm in Westminster Parliaments

The red door and the blue door. Forming a coalition with the socialists and the separatists. Give me a frickin break.

Here we are about to embark on our fourth general election in seven years and the two leaders of Canada's major political parties are afraid to address the big issue: the quest for a single party majority government is a thing of the past.

Take a look around the world. India, Australia, New Zealand, and the United Kingdom all have coalition governments. What distinguishes Canada from its Westminster cousins, apart from the frequency of general elections, is that we are clinging onto the outdated concept that we must be governed by a single political party.

Elsewhere, politicians can speak openly about confidence and supply agreements with smaller political parties, meaning that smaller parties will cooperate with larger ones so not to bring down the government on confidence motions or budget matters. Forming a stable long-lasting coalition that votes as one on all motions is but one option amongst many to bring more stability to the political system.

Are we going to go through this entire campaign with a blind eye towards what's happened in the other counties that use the Westminster parliamentary system?

The media needs to push this button.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Forget an Election. We Need a Referendum on the Electoral System!

So here we are. Yet again facing the possibility of a general election that won't resolve anything. A few seats will change hands, but for the most part the distribution of seats will still give us another Conservative minority government. So, why bother?

We can no longer throw the rascals out because the electorate no longer plays the game as it was intended to be played. In the United States, on the other hand, people still cling to the Republican/Democrat dichotomy, but here in Canada people have moved on.

For example, Greens are still going to vote Green, the supporters of the Bloc are still going to vote for the Bloc, and almost half the electorate won't vote at all. Each of the governing options, the Liberals and the Conservatives are unable to form a majority government, and, in fact, their combined support comes from less than 50% of the eligible voters.

This means that we will be continued to be ruled by a minority that usurps the political power of the majority because of the divide and rule component built into an outdated electoral system that is a vestige of the British Empire.

Canadians now have to face up to the fact that our political system is broken and is beyond repair as long as we stay with our current electoral method. Majority government, the cornerstone of democratic government, is possible but not one constituted by a single political party. The formation of a majority government can only arise as a result of a coalition between two or more parties.

So, here are the choices: we continue with the same electoral system and endure minority rule with the faint hope that one day a new leader will emerge and deliver us to democratic government, or we take the situation in hand and change our electoral system.

To stay with the first choice is to consent to an undemocratic system of governance. To make the second choice is an affirmation of democratic rule.

Let's be clear. Those who are elected by first-past-the-post are in a conflict of interest when it comes to changing the electoral system, and as recent history attests in B.C., Ontario, and the UK, they cannot be trusted to put into place a fair and equitable process that might put themselves out of a job.

Consequently, let's go with a process that has proven to be successful. Drawing inspiration from the New Zealand experience, we should have a citizens committee come up with four alternative voting methods to appear on the ballot of the first round of a two-round referendum. Leave it up to the committee to decide whether to use a simple plurality method or a preferential ballot for the first round. In either case, two options will advance to a second round ballot, and it will be the the population at large in which each and every citizen has the opportunity to have their vote count that will decide. It takes a democratic method to move us towards democratic rule.

Come on Canada. What do you have to lose?

A dysfunctional system of governance.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

How to Best Stop Natural Gas Drilling in Quebec? Give the Administrative Regions the Power to Revoke Corporate Personhood.

Like the majority of Quebecois, I feel that we are being taken for a ride when it comes to the drilling for natural gas using the controversial hydofracking process.

Essentially, a toxic mixture of water and known carcinogens are pumped into the ground under high pressure in order to fracture the shale in which the bubbles of natural gas are trapped and thereafter extracted. Trouble is what to do about the fracking fluid that escapes into the ground water and how to treat the leftover fluid that is pumped out into retaining ponds.

A government study was done in record time and is advisory in nature. This means that the government can spin the findings so to appear that it is moving forward with the necessary precautions in place. In my opinion, the citizens of the affected regions have little reason to believe that the government will act with their best interests at heart. Time and time again, the Charest-led Liberals have shown their propensity to reward their financial contributors at the expense of the public good.

If we want to see the precautionary principle put into place with regard to natural gas drilling, we will have to move the locus of decision closer to those who are at risk of having their health and the health of their children adversely affected.

The most effective way to do this is to give the citizens of an administrative region the power to control the manner in which the natural gas is to be exploited, if at all. Corporations that seek to do business within an administrative region must be able to demonstrate that their business activities advance a public good.

If not, the citizens of an administrative region should be able to revoke the corporate personhood of the business entity, thereby stripping the limited liability protection of the officers of the corporation with regard to its activities within the region. That way, the individuals involved in the management of the business assume the responsibility for the corporation's activities, both legally and financially.

Of course, for this to happen it will require the devolution of political power from the province towards its citizens by creating political entities out of the administrative regions. France, Germany, and Switzerland have such regional governments in place.

Elected regional assemblies combined with citizen initiated referendums could help to restore confidence in the democratic process since citizens would have more meaningful ways of participating in the political process that shapes the socio-economic quality of their lives.

As it stands now, we are little more than, to use former Quebec Premier Jacques Parizeau's phrase, lobsters caught in a trap. Our future is determined by those who are far off and who have little concern for our well being.

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Corporate Fascism

If there is a God, he must ask for our pardon.
(Words scratched onto the walls of the barracks in the Mauthausen concentration camp)

There are times when we learn things that we may prefer not to know.

I had this experience after visiting the Mauthausen Memorial for the concentration camp that was built there. Mauthausen was a category 3 camp, which meant that it was a forced labour camp for political prisoners, the intellegensia, and other undesirables. It is located above a granite quarry that supplied building materials used in the construction of monuments glorifying the Third Reich.

In my view, there are two separate but related components of the horror: the psychopathic and sociopathic elements.

At first, it's the psychopathic element that rises its ugly head. Barbed wire, gas chambers, throwing people off cliffs, human experiments, starvation, torture, and the list goes on.

How could anyone commit such atrocities upon other humans and at the end of the work day go home to a wife, family, and a modest bourgeois lifestyle as if it were just another job?


Afterwards, we push a little further and ask the question, considering how everything was so planned out, what kind of sick fucks would work out the logistics so that the camps could operate at the scale they did. Psychopaths couldn't work out the details and the protocols necessary to manage the information requirements. They would need the help of sociopaths that could bring in their expertise of managing business systems, so they turned to the corporate sector and found that there were many in this sector that were more than willing to embrace fascism in order to turn a profit, including those in the United States like Ford, Coca Cola, and the notorious complicity of IBM.

Growing up as a kid, I was taught the the German corporate sector profited enormously by providing the armaments required for Hitler's military exploits. Makes sense, tanks, bombs, guns, aircraft and ships are normal fare.

What I just learned is that the corporate sector also profited from the machinations of the Holocaust.

Mauthausen, for example, was an enormously profitable joint venture that included amongst others Dailmer, of Mercedes Benz fame. Not only did it record multimillion dollar profits by first stealing from and then working to death those condemned to the camps, including extracting the gold in their teeth, but they also exterminated anyone who dared to express their dissidence.

Moreover, the ruthlessness was not contained to the German soil. American corporations, in particular IBM, knowingly aided the Nazis in their heinous crimes. For example, according to Edwin Black in his book, IBM and the Holocaust, IBM furnished the machines and the punch cards to record the demographic information, including racial profile, during the 1933 and 1938 national German census. This enabled the Nazis to locate with precision their prey for future ethnic cleansing. As well, IBM leased the machines and supplied the punch cards and the personnel to program them to capture the pertinent data (ethic origin, reason for interment, cause of death) concerning the inmates of the concentration camps.

It is important to note that the contracts signed with the Nazi regime did not originate from their European subsidiaries but from the parent head office in New York, which suggests that American corporate executives were well aware of the atrocities that were being committed and from which they were drawing profits.

There might be a temptation to dismiss these events as aberrations caused by the limited thinking and belief systems that were in place during the time. However, if we push the question even further, there appears to be a strain of corporate fascism that survives and flourishes today.

The first characteristic of corporate fascism is the belief in an extremist, speculative, narrative. In the case of the fascist state, there exists the fundamental belief in the inherent superiority of the chosen people. Others can be tolerated only to the extent that they serve the interests of the fascist state. In the case of the fascist corporation, there exists the fundamental belief in the inherent superiority of the market. Everything should be controlled by private interests and commercial relations should predominate.

The second characteristic of corporate fascism is its fundamental amorality. Whereas in the fascist state human sentiments are not ascribed to those who are genetically inferior, similar treatment is afforded by those working in the fascist corporation to those or to that which does not generate profits. There is no intrinsic value. Worth is determined only by the market.

The third characteristic follows the second. Without moral sentiments there can be no empathy. Living things are there to be exploited. All relations are subject to cost benefit analysis.

The last characteristic of corporate fascism is that corporations and the people who work within them share no responsibility to advance a common good. They exist only to generate profits. Just as those who participated in the commission of crimes against humanity during the Holocaust offered the feeble excuse that they were just following orders, corporate criminals offer the same lame type of excuse to justify their criminal behavior.

Finally, corporate fascists are willing to pursue the realization of their core narrative to its very end indifferent to the harm they inflict and the probable collapse of the underpinnings of their enterprise. As long as they able to carry on with their activities unabated, they will, even if it entails the collapse of the environmental conditions that enable humans to live on the planet.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Hey Quebec! What Are You Waiting For? Take It to the Streets

Maybe it's just me. When the president of the association of the province's crown attorneys declares publicly that the Quebec government is acting in a manner that is unconstitutional, irresponsible, and immoral, you would think that given the political context in Quebec, corruption and collusion at all levels of government, that people would get riled and take their protests to the streets.

That didn't happen. Instead, a former PQ minister releases a tepid manifesto that may or may not lead to the formation of a new political party. Wow.

In the Arab world, citizens are putting their lives on the line to depose of despotic rule. Even in Madison, Wisconsin, tens of thousands take to the streets to protest the government's desire to strip some of the collective bargaining rights of its public sector workers.

Here in Quebec, we signed an on line petition asking for the Premier to step down; there was supposed to be a protest march in front of Quebec's National Assembly, but it was cancelled so it wouldn't interfere with the winter carnival; and, oh yes, 50 thousand people did assemble in Quebec City to express their desire for a professional hockey team.


Having just spent the last several years in the Quebec Courts pushing forward the question of the constitutionality of the electoral system, I have cause for concern with the government's decision to enact legislation to force the crown attorneys back to work.

In our case, I was quite surprised by the lack of resources and the quality of arguments put forward by the Crown, especially since a decision in our favor would have huge consequences on Quebec's political system. In my opinion, their arguments were hastily prepared and they didn't seek out any expert witnesses who could speak with authority on the subject of voting systems. In fact, just two of us with very limited means could totally out resource the Crown with regard to assembling a legal team and obtaining expert witness testimony. Just imagine what happens in criminal cases where the defendants are capable to hire the best legal team available.

So what, coconut.

Adding the legal system to the long list of government services that don't function very well doesn't make much of a difference. What really counts is how far the Habs go in the playoffs and which couple wins the tele-reality show, Occupation Double.

Brave New World anyone? No thanks, I already live there.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

The Tyranny of Class in the Anglo-American Empire

Money, money, money. Lots of it. Can't get enough. Makes the world go around. Keep your grubby hands off my pile.

Familiar words? They should be. These are the sentiments at the heart of the Anglo-American Empire. Those with the cash rig the rules of the political game so they can make as much as they can with as little interference from the unwashed masses as possible.

But deep down they are running scared. They still haven't gotten over the fact that a French-speaking mob lopped off the heads of 20,000 of their kind and that their Russian cousins met a similar fate.

So, they decided to give us the vote, knowing that this would be enough since having the vote is not nearly as important as establishing the rules of how campaigns are to be financed and how the votes are to be counted.

Moreover, they propagate the myth that the regime is democratic. In the United States where corporations can spend without limits in support of their favored candidates, it is hard to imagine that a corporate elite would not dominate the political process. In other words, the wealthy few dominate the many.

In a similar vein, in the UK there is soon to be a referendum on the choice of a voting system where the choices are between two majoritarian systems in which in either case majorities are created by eliminating the voices of minority groups. In the case of First-Past-The-Post, the voices of the minorities are systemically reduced or eliminated altogether from Parliament. With the alternative vote, the supporters of smaller parties are supposed to find consolation after their political preferences are denied representation with the fact that their second or third choices might make a difference in the electoral result.

In both instances, there is a steadfast refusal to give equal treatment to the entire electorate. As a result, a general election is not a democratic exercise to form a government of, for, and by the people. Instead, it is a show of force. To the winner go the spoils of victory, the transfer of the political power of the majority to the privileged minority.

Never mind the tyranny of the majority. What the populations of Anglo-American empires are subjected to is the tyranny of a minority. The super rich have gained an institutional lock on the political process and will continue to exploit this advantage to their benefit and to the detriment of the population at large.

Monday, February 14, 2011

Exhorting Egypt Towards Democracy, Obama Embraces the Big Lie

It's interesting to hear the president of a country that is only nominally democratic exhort the citizens of another that have just recently deposed their despot to embrace democracy.

Believe it or not Mr. Obama, there are some of us who take the time to read up on the subject, and even with a just a quick survey of the literature, one quickly comes to the conclusion that the US, despite having put into place popular elections, is far from being a democratic country.

Yes, there were some democratic rights gains in the 1960s, most notably the Voting Rights Act, but these historic gains are far from sufficient to counter the huge disparities of political power that presently exist and continue to grow in the US.

Democracy is a political philosophy that is based on a radical conception of equality. It posits that all humans are born equal and that equality exists between citizens with regard to political rights, speech, and power and that all citizens are equal before the law.

Upon close analysis, it is not until the late twentieth century that America finally owns up to the belief that all Americans are born with equal rights. For the other components of democracy, America is far off the mark, so much so, I would rank the belief that America is a democracy right up there with the belief that the American dream is available to all Americans. At best, wishful thinking, at worst, in the words of eminent political theorist John Dunn, "a thumping falsehood, a bald-faced lie."

America since its inception has been a plutocracy and even more so today than in the days of its founding fathers. Essentially, a aristocracy based on hereditary common in Europe was rejected in favor of a plutocracy of land owners that has evolved over time into a corporate plutocracy. If you are interested in knowing more, I would suggest picking up Michael Parenti's, Democracy for the Few.

Putting aside the obvious anomalies, the Electoral College, the composition of the US Senate, and the influence of the judiciary on electoral results, (Bush v. Gore), Obama has done nothing to make the US more democratic and, in fact, has already thrown his hat in with the corporate elite in order to finance his 2012 electoral campaign.

No real democrat, by this I mean one who understands and supports the equality provisions of the creed, would set out to maintain the tax advantages for the super rich and then go on to cut the budgetary allocations that support the middle and the working classes in order to mitigate the deficits that the favorable treatment for the already privileged brings on.

Money and the power it brings has completely undermined the democratic legitimacy of the electoral process in the US. What Obama has done in his first term is to demonstrate that behind the soaring rhetoric is a man who is quite comfortable presiding over corporate America but doesn't have the interest of the vast majority of Americans when it comes time to defend the interests of the average American.

Greatest country on earth, beacon of hope and liberty, defender of democracy, and the bullshit goes on and on because that's what the American people want to hear and that's what Obama gets paid to deliver: empty eloquence about a fairy tail future.

In reality, the corporate elite have already moved on to seek their fortunes in a global economy, leaving the poor, the uneducated, the unskilled, and the unwanted to fend for themselves in the decay of an abandoned America.