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.