Tuesday, November 26, 2013

If we had ranked ballot, Liberals would’ve earned 3 of 4 by-elections

Last night, constituents of Brandon–Souris in Manitoba voted for change, but got stuck with the same old same old.

Fifty-five percent voted for a center-left candidate. But because we have a horse race instead of a democracy, a 44% minority overruled the 55% majority.

Imagine the freedom

Just image if we elected MPs the way we elect party leaders: with the ranked ballot. This is the version of voting reform Justin Trudeau proposes. Yesterday’s distorted election result would’ve merely been the outcome of the first round.

With ranked ballot voting the last-placed candidate is removed each round. People’s alternative votes are then distributed to other candidates. This process continues until one candidate wins with a majority.

Here’s a rough simuluation of how the election would’ve turned out under PV ranked ballot:

Ranked ballot: 1st round

Party Candidate Alt Votes Votes Vote %
CPC L Maguire 12,205 44.1%
Liberal R Dinsdale 11,814 42.7%
NDP C Szczepanski 2037 7.4%
Green D Neufeld 1354 4.9%

2nd round: instant runoff vote

Party Candidate Alt Votes Votes Vote %
Liberal R Dinsdale +542 12,356 44.6%
CPC L Maguire 12,205 44.1%
NDP C Szczepanski +812 2849 10.3%

3rd round: instant runoff vote

Party Candidate Alt Votes Votes Vote %
Liberal R Dinsdale +2846 15,202 54.9%
CPC L Maguire 12,205 44.1%

Conclusion

The ranked ballot doesn’t just benefit the Liberals. It would’ve allowed the NDP to form a minority government with Liberal support back in 2011.

It’s time Canadians upgraded to a democratic voting system like 91% of developed countries have done. There’s absolutely no reason why voters should get stuck with politicians and governments they don’t want and didn’t vote for.

Sunday, November 24, 2013

Thirty years of Cheaponomics: crumbling infrastructure, soaring debt

Back in the 1950s and 60s, Canada engaged in big, expensive infrastructure projects like the Champlain bridge in Montreal. These created good paying jobs and greased the wheels of business. They were investments that not only paid for themselves, they paid dividends.

Today we apply duct tape solutions to keep crumbling infrastructure from falling into the river. Where did it all go wrong?

Paradox of thrift

To understand the answer we have to go back to the Great Depression of the 1930s. Back then, free-market ideology caused the global economy to implode in a never-ending depression. At the source of the problem was the “paradox of thrift”: people were afraid to spend which killed economic activity and jobs in a vicious circle.

Centrist system

John Maynard Keynes identified the problem as a lack of demand. From this he created the centrist mixed-market system founded on partial government involvement in the economy and progressive taxation.

In the post-war era, Western governments embraced the Keynesian system. Even though they had greater debt than they do today, they spent big on infrastructure and social programs to prime demand and keep the economy firing on all cylinders.

The end result? An economic golden age which enabled governments to pay off most of their debts by the mid-1970s.

The empire strikes back

In the 1980s, free-market ideology made a comeback through leaders like Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher. To them, Keynesian “big government” was the problem. This began an era of big tax cuts, deep spending cuts, deregulation and trade liberalization.

The result? Instead of paying our bills we borrowed vast sums to dole out in tax cuts to the rich. Instead of investing in infrastructure, we let our roads and bridges crumble. Instead of having an economy firing on all cylinders, we got soaring inequality and another free-market implosion.

Conclusion

We don’t need to reinvent the wheel to fix the mess we’re in. The centrist Keynesian system worked before. It works great in northern European countries today. It will work here again.

Friday, November 15, 2013

Harper’s hidden “starve the beast” agenda

Neo-con columnists from Maclean’s and the National Post are praising Harper’s efforts to “starve the beast.”

In case you’re not familiar with this morally-bankrupt strategy, it’s a 4 point program designed to destroy centrist government and bankrupt the social safety net:

  1. Implement reckless tax cuts.

  2. Manufacture a budget crisis.

  3. Justify deep cuts to spending.

  4. Go to 1.

Low tax, small government

Right-wing economist Stephen Gordon outlines Harper’s low-tax, small-government scam:

As I’ve written before, the Conservatives have applied the “starve the beast strategy”: First, cut taxes; second, cut spending in order to match lower revenues; third, obtain a balanced-budget for a smaller government. … And as each year passes, Canadians will get more and more used to the idea of a government with taxes lower than Diefenbaker’s.

John Ivison of the National Post says “draining the swamp” of big government with reckless tax cuts is foolproof. It puts the opposition in a tough spot: “The challenge is then issued — repeal our tax cuts or raise money by imposing your own tax hikes.”

Is it foolproof?

The Achilles heel of this reprehensible scheme is in the name itself, “starve the beast.” All it takes is for opposition leaders to raise awareness of what the Cons are doing. For example:

Mr. Speaker. Economist Stephen Gordon from Laval University says Stephen Harper has engaged in a “starve the beast” agenda. It’s a 4 point plan to bankrupt government and destroy the social safety net. I don’t recall the Harper Conservatives running on “starving the beast” back in 2011. Does Mr. Harper believe he has a mandate from voters to “starve the beast?”

The term “starve the beast” gets uglier the more you hear it. Opposition leaders should ensure it becomes a household phrase. Canadians will be aghast — and outraged — at what the Cons are doing.

In 2015, opposition leaders can run on stopping Harper and his “starve the beast” hidden agenda. It’s the gift that keeps on giving.

Monday, November 11, 2013

Lest we forget the real purpose of Remembrance Day

Remembrance Day has never been about glorifying war. People who think that are forgetting the symbolism. Why do we hold 2 minutes of silence on the 11th month of the 11th day at the 11th hour? To reflect on the stark reality that humanity is on the verge of destroying itself with war.

Remembrance Day is also a good time to keep in in mind that war is insane. Given war has been a constant presence in the world since the dawn of civilization, sometimes it's easy to forget.

Even though war exemplifies the banality of evil, sometimes it’s a greater evil to do nothing while evil flourishes. It would've been a greater evil to do nothing while Hitler enslaved Europe and attempted to destroy democracy. We should remember the sacrifices our ancestors made to pass down the freedoms we enjoy today.

We should also take note of the other way we are destroying ourselves: with environmental degradation. Let's keep in mind, we are not required to lay down our lives to preserve the world for our children. We merely have to take responsibility for our actions. If that's asking too much then Remembrance Day is surely a farce and our ancestors died in vain.

Saturday, November 9, 2013

Why women’s issues are crucial to society

Many accused Justin Trudeau of being sexist for holding a women’s-only fundraising event titled, Justin Unplugged. Emma Teitel of Maclean’s points out the irony that it was actually a charity fundraiser put together by female volunteers.

Lindsay Mattick, who oversaw the controversial invitation design said, “The fact that an invitation could cause women to think there was sexism involved in this event was really upsetting to me. This was an event designed by women for women.”

Are there women’s issues?

Conservative MP Michelle Rempel and NDP MP Megan Leslie went so far as to say there are no women’s issues: “All issues are women’s issues.” Although I happen to be male, I think they are wrong. Women have a different take on things than men and it’s important that their voices are not only heard, but acted on.

Despite 50 years of the women’s liberation movement, we still live in a very patriarchal society. Women are kept down by a corporate-culture glass ceiling. This is not only unfair, it’s destructive to society.

Why we need to talk about differences

To tackle sexism back in the 1960s, society took the unisex approach making it politically incorrect to talk about how the sexes differ. Pointing out differences could imply one sex is superior to the other.

But pretending there are no differences means patriarchy wins by default: the male way of doing things becomes the only way.

How men and women differ

Generally speaking, men and women take very different approaches to life.

Men tend to be individualistic. Women, community oriented.

Men suppress their emotions to show they are strong under adversity. Women are better able to comprehend feelings through non-verbal cues and better communicate on an emotional level.

Men are competitive and see everything as a game to be won. Women focus on creating solutions that work for the entire group.

Global patriarchy

The end result of global patriarchy is a corrupt civilization with many serious problems. Self-aggrandizing alpha males see the world as something to be conquered and dominated. Greed and self-interest are promoted as values. Social and environmental injustices are dismissed as unfortunate necessities.

If we lived in a world that was half-way influenced by women, we’d have a much more progressive and responsible civilization. Instead we have an ugly mess of war and oppression on a fast track to self destruction.

In order for humanity to survive and thrive, we need a stronger input from women.

Friday, November 8, 2013

RoFo 2014!! (This is your democracy on drugs)

What’s worse than having a crack-smoking, alcoholic mayor who hangs out with criminals and indulges in violent outbursts? Watching one get re-elected…

Under siege

This is your democracy on drugs.

Ford Nation makes up about 32% of the vote and according to them, it’s all a big misunderstanding. The fault really lies with the media.

According to Christie Blatchford of the National Post, Ford is akin to Piggy in the book, Lord of the Flies. Piggy was ridiculed by the other boys and eventually murdered by them. See, Ford is just a regular guy and that’s why media elites persecute him so ruthlessly!

More insane

What’s more insane than that crack-addled interpretation of events, is our primitive voting system, First-Past-the-Post. Instead of Torontonians deciding who will be their mayor in 2014, they have to rely on a crapshoot. The candidate with the biggest block of voters wins the race, not the one who commands a majority.

So all is left to chance on how the vote is divided. If Ford alone runs on the center-right, and many candidates on the center-left, he could win on 32%, even though 68% would rather poke out their eyes with knitting needles than see him mayor for another term.

Real democracy

In a real democracy, voters elect their representatives with a majority of votes. The only way to do this is with runoff voting — or the ranked ballot which is instant runoff voting.

Ford might win the first round, but if the people of Toronto don’t want him — and nothing could be more painfully obvious — there’s no way he’ll win the final round.

Harper

In a related note, if we used the ranked ballot during the 2011 federal election, Harper would be gone. That’s right. Finished. Vanished. Relinquished. No more!

Instead of a 40% minority overruling the 60% super-majority — and plaguing Canada with its worst government in history —we would’ve got an NDPLiberal government that held 53% of the seats on 50% of the vote.

Conclusion

Tired of putting up with a democracy on drugs? Just say No to First-Past-the-Post! Justin Trudeau proposes ranked ballot voting reform. In 2015, let’s put our electoral system in rehab!

Thursday, November 7, 2013

Senate a corrupt mess long before Harper

Some people are claiming the senate was this wonderful institution of “second sober thought” before Harper came along. Pure hogwash.

Let’s not forget one of the four corrupt senators caught with his hand in the cookie jar was Liberal Mac Harb. He was appointed to the senate by Chretien for working on his campaign. Harb kept a 0.01% stake in a house he never lived in to fraudulently claim housing expenses. Like all disgraced senators, he resigned before being forced out so he could collect his lucrative senate pension.

Fact is, prime ministers have been shamelessly stacking the senate with their partisan friends for a long time.

Senate appointments by PM

Prime minister Appointments Partisan % Partisan
Stephen Harper 59 59 100%
Paul Martin 17 12 71%
Jean Chr├ętien 75 72 96%
Brian Mulroney 57 55 96%
John Turner 3 3 100%
Joe Clark 11 11 100%
Pierre Trudeau 81 70 86%
Lester B. Pearson 39 38 97%
John Diefenbaker 37 36 97%

Loosing my religion...

The senate debate is one where all rational thought flies right out the window.

I find that belief in the senate is the same as belief in religion. People abide by it purely out of an obligation to tradition. The last thing they want to hear is that what they believe in is absurd. But it is.

Rest of developed world

Canada is the only developed country that has appointed senators. Other countries that still have senates elect their senators. Most would be shocked to discover the morally-bankrupt appointment process we have in place.

In an democracy, the concept of appointed politician is an oxymoron. The purpose of politicians is to represent voters who put them in power. Then they are held accountable at the ballot box come next election.

Canadian senators have none of these qualities. They are not beholden to Canadians. They are manipulated by their party leaders from the House of Commons.

Liberals just as corrupt

When Justin Trudeau voted for mandatory minimum sentences for growing a few marijuana plants in 2009, he was probably assured he’d have nothing to worry about. Liberal senators ended up gutting the bill. (Which is why it wasn’t passed until 2011.)

Mulroney received fierce opposition from a Liberal senate against the Free Trade Agreement. Liberal senators, controlled by John Turner, blocked his efforts. He ended up calling the “free trade election” to decide the issue in 1988. Today, Liberals proudly proclaim they are the “party of free trade.”

Conclusion

The senate is an intolerable mess and has been for decades. We must either elect senators like other democratic countries. Or just get rid of it.

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Proportional Representation ensures “equality of ridings”

The Cons have started a new misinformation campaign. They claim democracy is founded on the “equality of ridings” and somehow First-Past-the-Post is the only voting system that can deliver it. They couldn’t be more wrong.

No doubt, equality of ridings is important in a country with diverse regions like Canada. It ensures regional representation at a federal level. That’s why all the major kinds of voting reform being proposed take equality of ridings into account.

Single Transferable Vote (PR)

In our current Westminster system, voters elect one MP to represent their riding. STV allows voters to elect many MPs per riding.

This not only delivers equality of ridings, it gives constituents better representation. Instead of voters getting saddled with a single MP on 35% of the vote, they have many who can speak for them.

Seats are awarded to party candidates proportional to the riding vote. Collectively this approximates federal proportional representation ensuring equality of voters as well.

Mixed Member Proportional (PR)

MMP is a hybrid of Westminster plus party list PR. It ensures equality of ridings plus it distributes federal votes so parties get the same percent seats they got in votes.

It delivers the best of both worlds: equality of ridings and equality of voters.

Ranked Ballot (runoff voting)

This keeps our existing Westminster system intact but makes MPs earn their seats with a majority — ensuring they have the right to represent constituents. It stops vote splitting and prevents wasted votes. Not only are all ridings equal, all voters are equal as well.

First-Past-the-Post doesn’t deliver

FPP doesn’t deliver on equality of ridings or equality of voters.

Thanks to vote splitting, some voters are more equal than others. In 2011, a 40% Conservative minority had more say than the 60% super-majority. That’s the opposite of voter equality — and democracy.

Voters didn’t fare any better at a riding level. The Conservatives won dozens of center-left ridings saddling voters with the opposite of what they voted for. Obviously there is no equality of ridings when constituents have the wrong person/party representing them.

Conclusion

Both equality of ridings and voters are essential to democracy. That’s why 91% of developed countries ditched FPP for a democratic voting system. In 2015, we need to tackle the democratic deficit with voting reform.

Monday, November 4, 2013

If we had ranked ballot, Reform party wouldn't rule the country

Ranked ballot voting is a modest kind of electoral reform that accomplishes a lot. It changes the ballot letting voters rank candidates by number instead of marking one with an X.

It makes MPs earn their seats with a majority, which is how all parties elect their leaders.

2004 Conservative merger

If we had PV ranked ballot in 2004, right-leaning parties wouldn't have needed to merge. Back then, FPP vote splitting gave the Liberals a big unearned advantage (which the Conservatives now enjoy.)

Take the 1997 election. The Liberals won a majority with 38.5% of the vote when the combined conservative vote was 38.2%.

Australia uses PV and actually has four conservative parties that form an “Anyone But Labor” voting coalition. There's no worry about vote splitting there: PV distributes right-leaning votes among right-leaning parties.

In Canada, it would distribute center-left votes among center-left parties. People could vote “Anyone But Conservative.”

2011 Election

In 2011, Harper won 54% of the seats on 40% of the vote giving him 100% of the power. This is because vote splitting allowed him to win dozens of center-left ridings.

If we had PV ranked ballot, he would've got 46% of the seats. That would've let the NDP and Liberals form the government with 50% of the vote and 53% of the seats. Much more reflective of the will of voters.

Conservative future

In 2004, the conservative parties didn't really merge. The Reformers swallowed up Canada's historic conservative party. Now the united conservative party is ruled by extremists and many moderates are forced to vote Liberal.

If we implement ranked ballot voting in 2015 — as Justin Trudeau proposes — Red Tories will be able to get their party back. Even better, Canadian conservatives will likely vote for the moderate conservative party over the extreme one. This will relegate the Reformers back to the lunatic fringe where they belong.

Conclusion

If we don't fix our voting system in 2015, the Conservatives will soon be back in power for another decade. Only someone like Jason Kenney will be destroying the country instead of Harper.

Some believe PR is the better kind of voting reform. But Canadians rejected it by over 60% in provincial referendums. Now is not the time. We must fix our existing system with the ranked ballot first.

If we don't, the Reform party will become Canada's natural governing party and change our country beyond recognition — as promised.

Friday, November 1, 2013

Conservative ideology and brain damage

Colby Cosh of Maclean’s muses how the cold winter weather of Edmonton produced the “cradle of leadership” in Canada. He bases this on a study out of Japan which claims people who live in northern latitudes have higher IQs.

That got me wondering: how bright can Albertans be? These are, after all, people who divide the vote among two main parties: conservative and ultra-conservative.

Lizard brain

According to Psychology Today, conservatives are ruled by their lizard brains (that is, amygdalas):

Researchers at University College London found that self-described conservative students had a larger amygdala than liberals. The amygdala is an almond-shaped structure deep in the brain that is active during states of fear and anxiety. Liberals had more gray matter at least in the anterior cingulate cortex, a region of the brain that helps people cope with complexity.

Author Seth Godin has a more colorful take:

The lizard brain is hungry, scared, angry, and horny.
The lizard brain only wants to eat and be safe.
The lizard brain will fight (to the death) if it has to, but would rather run away. It likes a vendetta...

Nurture vs. Nature

The Japanese study indicates it took 60 generations, or about 1200 years, for the effect to take place. Clearly Albertans haven’t had enough time to evolve into lizard people.

So what turned the province into a bastion of angry cranks all too eager to slap bumper stickers like “Let them Eastern basterds freeze in the dark!” on their pickup trucks?

The only remaining possibility is their rigid rural culture which fosters rugged individualism and stone-cold apathy for any person outside of the family circle.

So if culture can actually change the structure of one’s brain, it follows that conservative ideology causes brain damage!

Zombieland

Perhaps Health Canada should insist the Sun Media and National Post put warning labels on their publications.

Just look at what Fox News did to the American South. The Tea Party movement appears to be the outcome of a science experiment run amok that unleashed a contagion of stupid upon the populace. Woody Allen aptly describes the people infected with the brain-wasting meme as “crypto-fascist zombie airheads.”