The Cons found a scapegoat

It seemed pretty obvious when Harper claimed no knowledge of the Robocon scandal that someone in the Conservative party would quickly have to take the fall.

Guelph staffer Michael Sona took that fall today, despite a lack of any “public evidence” that he was involved.

I doubt this will be enough to quiet the opposition, Elections Canada, or the RCMP. Let’s hope the pressure stays on – perhaps we can get a do-over in some of these ridings.

Finally, for all the flack thrown at Postmedia, I am quite impressed by the quality journalism done by the Ottawa Citizen here, as well as the rest of the media’s latching onto this story. A CTV piece on TV the other night even did the amazing thing of tying this scandal to the growing narrative of Conservative dirty election tricks – like the in and out scandal and the recent guilty plea.

Cullen is still wrong #ndpldr

Leadnow.ca recently polled its email contacts to declare whether they agree/disagree with the statement “The NDP, Liberals and Greens should work together to defeat Conservative incumbents. After the election, they should cooperate to pass electoral reform.” They posted their preliminary results with nearly 8000 votes, and 95% of respondents agreed, with most strongly agreeing.

If this were a scientific poll of public opinion, the results would be definitive.

Of course, it was not a scientific poll but rather a straw poll of the small subset of actively involved young progressive Canadians. Not exactly a representative sample. But I won’t quibble with the results other than to emphasize that all this shows is what Leadnow members think, not all progressives or Canadians.

Yet, this is still urging some to argue that Nathan Cullen’s plan is on the right track to unseat Harper and replace him with something better. A friend linked me to this post on Praxis Theatre by Michael Wheeler where he argues that we need to work outside partisan lines to defeat Harper. Specifically he uses the Leadnow poll and some comments by EKOS pollster Frank Graves to defend his position.

The Graves article is on iPolitics (which requires registration to view, so I can only quote the conclusions Wheeler posted) and claims several things:

  • First that Canadians have strong negative views of political parties.
  • Second, that only 44% of people disagree that political parties have outlived their usefulness, which means nothing when phrased as a double negative. Further, this number is isolated from the other options – how many people have no opinion or think parties are out-dated – which means that political party supporters may still be the plurality.
  • Third, he concludes that NDP supporters are less supportive of the party system than Liberals and Conservatives. This doesn’t bode well for those hoping to get the Liberals to buy-in to any cooperation scheme though. It also likely reflects the fact that the NDP base has been only 10-15%, and it was only last year that Jack Layton brought the vote up to 30%. All this proves to me is that the NDP vote is softer than the (larger) Conservative vote or the (smaller) Liberal vote.
  • Finally, Graves states that young, non-voting Canadians have less trust in the government. It’s not clear to me how joint nomination deals will improve trust in government, as this seems to be taken on faith.

Wheeler’s conclusion sounds noble too:

Moving beyond their own self-interest to that of the country may ironically be their best chance for electoral success. Increasingly, progressive Canadians seem to be demanding cooperation from their political opposition that will allow them to vote FOR and not AGAINST something, through  a serious and credible movement to form a government that represents the majority of Canadians.

Yet, as I said back in October when I first considered Cullen’s joint nomination suggestions, this amounts to little more than uniting AGAINST something. The only reason people seem to be suggesting any cooperation is so that they can vote against the Harper Conservatives. It makes absolutely no sense to me how joint nominations somehow present a candidate you can vote for when  each of those candidates could simply run in the general election.

Here’s a scenario: Imagine you get three progressive visions for Canada coming to the joint nomination meeting in a Conservative held riding. The first argues that inequality is the issue of the day and that we must raise taxes on the 1%, lift seniors out of poverty, and reduce tuition fees. The second argues that the environment is the biggest issue. We should review the Enbridge pipeline, invest in Green Energy, and offer more investment to green energy, while not hampering the economy with unnecessarily high taxes. The third candidate wants to see a balanced approach of fiscal responsibility with social liberties. The government should implement smarter solutions to today’s problems while also seeking to reduce the deficit. Each candidate agrees on electoral reform as the first priority and that Stephen Harper’s Conservatives have done untold damage to our country.

Because of the supporters who show up to vote (or who cast their ballot online or by mail) one of these people becomes the riding’s “progressive” candidate. It turns out during the campaign though that this candidate is actually against abortion, leaving many progressive pro-choice voters in the riding with a dilemma. Do they support a candidate who may roll back women’s rights (imagine that the despite the electoral cooperation, Harper still wins another government and one of his MPs brings forward a private member’s bill against abortion) or do they stay home on election day and protest the situation?

While this example is extreme, there are a number of sitting Liberal MPs who are pro-life, and similar issues will be just as passionate for voters in any riding. Some right-Liberals strongly oppose the NDP as neo-Communists, while some New Democrats see the Liberals as Conservative-light. Some Greens have left-wing economics, while others are quite right-wing – the only thing truly uniting their party is a concern for the environment.

In every riding will exist partisans who will not vote for one party or another. Many will switch to the Conservatives before they vote for a different party as well. Progressive votes are not transferable.

By reducing the number of options on a ballot, we necessarily reduce our democracy, and force strategic voting against someone rather than for someone.

The implementation issues

Leaving aside for a moment the fact that joint nominations won’t work if they happen, let’s also recognize that they probably won’t even be able to happen. The entire idea rests on getting each party to agree to allow these meetings. While a local riding association may choose to hold this meeting with their rivals, there is no guarantee that the parties will respect this decision. Each party has the ability to parachute candidates, so unless there is agreement from the leadership of each party, this idea is dead before it lifts off. To date, only one NDP leadership candidate has expressed any support for this idea and no one from the Liberals has agreed to it.

And as Denny Holmwood points out, even if Cullen wins the NDP leadership, he may not be able to implement the policy in his own party. It may be necessary for him to actually ask the members of the party for a constitutional amendment for this. Whether such a motion would pass is an open question as delegates to last year’s convention defeated a resolution to “reject any proposals to merge with the Liberal Party.”

Finally, Alice at Pundit’s Guide dissected the nitty gritty of what would actually happen if there was buy in from the NDP and the Liberals. She remains very sceptical of the entire situation. I strongly suggest reading her post, as she does the most thorough take-down of the entire proposal.

Conclusions

This post is already too long at over 1000 words. In a coming post I’ll try to lay out a defense of partisanship and the role that political parties have in our democracy.

I want to see Harper lose but there are no shortcuts to progressive victory. We have to actually get ready to do some real work to earn people’s votes.

Nathan Cullen in Vancouver #ndpldr

While I haven’t made it to a Nathan Cullen event yet, and still have my reservations about his joint-nomination proposal, I did get the audio from a recent speech he made in Vancouver when local MP Fin Donnelly endorsed him for leader of the NDP.

You can hear the audio and the Q&A below in MP3 format.

Cullen emphasizes the need to reach beyond partisan politics. Noting that more people are members of Mountain Equipment Coop than all political parties in Canada. He defends his joint nomination meeting as a way to work to rectify this issue and put progressive politics back on the agenda. His emphasis is on the local associations making the decision to enact this process and that it is a one-time offer to get electoral reform on the agenda.

He also warns that Harper will gerrymander the new seats – despite the fact that Canada’s electoral boundaries are drawn by arm-lengths committees of Elections Canada.

He mentions that he is a secularist who “believes in the separation of church and state”, while also a supporter of the progressive church run aid organization KAIROS. This follows his call for putting the monarchy to a vote.

He notes his tendency to commit “exager-Nathans” with regards to his tendency to inflate crowds while saying he did get over 100 new members for the NDP at his Northern Gateway meeting at the Roundhouse that attracted 500 people without pitching for memberships.

He also talks about how the Conservatives walked into the Ethics Committee and demanded that the CBC be their key investigation. He opposed the Conservatives call to drag a judge before the committee, breaking the unspoken separation between the judiciary and legislature. Cullen, as chair of the committee was forced to right the subpoena, but left an out for the judge.

He finishes with an interesting exercise in psychology to note how when we shift patterns things become uncomfortable but we slowly adapt until what was once awkward becomes the norm. He relates this to politics by noticing that we need to recognize the discomfort that shifts in thinking require, but that they are possible.

Overall, a good speech, up to par with the expectations he’s been setting. I haven’t finished listening to the Q&A yet, so I don’t have any comments to add on that audio.

Nathan Cullen speech

Nathan Cullen Q&A (quieter)

BC NDP Convention #ndpldr Town Hall

As promised, here are some thoughts on the federal leaders from the BC NDP convention.

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Since every leadership candidate was in town for the town-hall, most were sure to be as ever-present at the convention as possible. Outside of the debate though, only BC MP Nathan Cullen had access to the convention floor (pictured on right).

Continue reading BC NDP Convention #ndpldr Town Hall

#vanelxn Debrief

It’s hard to believe that the election was an entire week ago. Luckily though I handed in my thesis on Friday, so regular blogging can resume again.

A lot has already been written about the Vancouver election, and I just thought I’d summarize my thoughts here quickly in a feature of The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly.

The Good

The best news for me was the Burnaby Citizen’s Association’s sweep of everything. Derek Corrigan seems to know how to run a progressive city and has a competent team. While I wouldn’t normally be too concerned with how Burnaby was being run, it was very heartening to see Parents’ Voice and their homophobia be soundly rejected by the city. Good job.

Gregor Robertson soundly defeated Suzanne Anton. While there are legitimate criticisms of Robertson, Anton’s “common sense” platform was anything but. Furthermore, Robertson’s first moves after the election were to continue on his commitment to ending homelessness with the announcement of more homeless shelters.

It was also good to see a progressive majority. Vision handily won every seat they contested and will have little difficulty doing whatever they want in the next three years, which is generally positive for the city. The Vancouver School Board is definitely in good hands.

I was happy to see Adriane Carr make it in as Vancouver’s lone Green councillor. I won’t agree with everything she says, but her voice will provide a strong balance if Vision gets away from its roots.

Finally, it was good to see a strong showing by Sandy Garossino and Neighbourhoods for a Sustainable Vancouver. While not close to winning, they did well for being outside the establishment, and represent a glimmer of hope for some progressive alternatives in the next election.

The Bad

COPE was badly defeated. We lost almost everything except for Alan Wong’s seat on the School Board. It’s not clear to me if we lost many votes or if more people just turned out and only voted for Vision. Clearly the COPE-Vision coalition will need to be questioned. This story is likely far from over.

Voter turnout, despite a slight increase, is still embarrassingly low. Two-in-three people don’t care about how their city is being run, and that’s sad.

The Ugly

The finger pointing started within hours of the election results.

Sean Bickerton criticized his party, the NPA, for running a nasty and bitter campaign. Others said they needed more bitterness.

Tim Louis quickly blamed the coalition deal and COPE’s leadership. David Cadman blamed Tim Louis for knocking him off the ballot. Others blamed the leadership for blocking Tim Louis with RJ Aquino. Some suggestions were made that Vision didn’t promote COPE enough (despite evidence to the contrary and the fact that it’s not their job). Almost no one has been willing to take any responsibility on their own. For my own part, I didn’t canvass nearly as much as I’d hoped. People need to start setting aside their egos and begin work figuring out the goals of COPE and how to accomplish them.

Ian votes in Vancouver

Because Saturday is municipal election day in Vancouver, it’s the week of announcing everyone’s slates, and I don’t intend to break that trend.

Before I state who I’ll be voting for in Vancouver, I want to highlight a couple other worthy candidates in the Lower Mainland.

I’m not too familiar with Burnaby’s politics, but Derek Corrigan’s Burnaby Citizens’ Association has kept Burnaby as one of the best run cities in Canada according to Maclean’s magazine. More importantly though, I strongly urge everyone in Burnaby to vote for the BCA slate for School Board to block any religious homophobic candidates from Parents’ Voice from getting elected. The anti-homophobic bullying policy they recently passed needs a strong voice to continue its implementation to ensure that LGBTQ students feel safe in their schools.

In New Westminster, Humanist Canada’s 2011 Humanist of the Year Lorrie Williams is standing for re-election to council. Vote for her.

Now, on to the main show.

Continue reading Ian votes in Vancouver

#ndpldr Paul Dewar in Vancouver

I should note first that Nathan Cullen, a BC MP and NDP leadership candidate will be meeting tonight at 5pm at The Greedy Pig on Cordova St. I’m still trying to decide if I’ll go or if I need a break from running between events. I have said a few words before about Cullen’s proposals.

After meeting Thomas Mulcair last week, last night I raced around Vancouver and got to meet NDP leadership candidates Paul Dewar and Peggy Nash. Last night was a busy evening as I ran from SFU in Burnaby to King Edward Village (at Knight and Kingsway) for a meeting with Paul Dewar to the Railway Club downtown for Peggy Nash’s event.

My best advice is that you shouldn’t try to do this. After each of these events I like time to sit and collect my thoughts and impressions about the candidate, but this time I was running from one event to the other and only just made it in time for Nash’s speech. Luckily, I grabbed a video of Dewar and the audio of Nash (the lighting in pubs is too poor for good video) so you and I can review their speeches today.

My initial impressions though are that Paul Dewar quite exceeded my expectations, while Peggy Nash was a bit underwhelming. Since I have quite a bit to say, I’ll cover Paul Dewar first and post about Peggy Nash’s event in a subsequent post.

This is perhaps mostly because I wasn’t sure what to expect from Dewar. I’ve never really heard him speak, and I had partially written him off after being disappointed by his religious views. Yet last night he came off smart, articulate, friendly, and focussed on issues. Unlike Thomas Mulcair who cruised the bar quickly, shaking hands but failing to really connect with anyone, Dewar seemed genuinely interested in everyone he spoke to.

When he spoke to issues about how to promote social democratic values, he talked about the need to promote positive policies that will prove that social democracy is good for the economy. His example, dear to my heart as a masters of science student, was our current (and arguably failing) approach of giving research tax credits to industry. He says we should instead be looking to places with better success, like the German model of investing in public research institutions.

He also suggested establishing a national green energy grid to get renewable electricity efficiently across the country. I could see some federal-provincial conflict here, but I think it’s better to be too visionary than too cautious here.

In the question and answers he was also asked about the Israel-Palestine issue. As foreign affairs critic, Dewar had little trouble establishing a firm and respectable position. He fully supports a two-state solution established peacefully. Canada’s role, he argued, was to start doing our parts again, and to act as a leader to other countries. By getting each country to do a little bit, he says the peace process will get moving again. Specifically, our part involves reinvesting in the UNRWA who help out on the ground in Palestine and by supporting refugee programs – both things Canada used to do.

He was also asked about growing the party, to which he didn’t just give platitudes about the grassroots, but called for more on the ground organizers, and constituency associations in every riding.

The event organizers basically had to cut him off from taking more questions, but he also answered a question about the Occupy protests. He says New Democrats get the protests and should fight not just for tax fairness, but tax justice. He ruled out any sales tax increases and promised to recover money from tax havens. He was also asked about his position on unions in the NDP, to which he said they are an important part as unions helped form the NDP, but that union values are also NDP values and that the NDP needs to fight for those rights (pensions, labour laws, etc.) for everyone. Finally, federal NDP candidate Meena Wong asked about how to increase diversity in the party, to which Dewar responded that we need to keep reaching out in the same way that Jack Layton and Olivia Chow reached out to her.

Also in the audience was Sheryl Palm, wife of MP Don Davies (who was in the air during the meeting). She said she hadn’t made up her mind, but lived so close to the event that it was worth checking out.

I will finally mention that the event had a very diverse audience with young and old, and a mix of ethnicities. It may have just been partially a function of the area, but it was definitely a promising mix.

Paul Dewar will be back in Vancouver on November 20th and will be speaking for my riding, Vancouver-Quadra at the NDP constituency association AGM.

Here’s the video of his speech:

#ndpldr Is Quebec the key?

First, I’m going to try to tag the titles of future posts about the NDP leadership race with #ndpldr. This way if you don’t care you can skip over or if you do you can perk up. It also makes the posts a bit more obvious when they get posted to Twitter.

The quick question I want to consider this morning is this standard media narrative that whoever wins the NDP leadership must appease Quebec first and foremost.

The standard line of thought is that since the NDP elected 59 MPs in Quebec in May, that they will need a leader who is popular in Quebec and will win over the francophone vote to hold Fortress Layton. The argument is not without merit, the Quebec caucus counts for over half of the total NDP seats, but I still think it is misguided.

Poll numbers and Threehundredeight’s seat projections are starting to suggest that the NDP has reached a ceiling in Quebec. It’s possible that they may squeak a bit higher, but even the Conservatives have trouble breaking 60% in Alberta. Sure 60% will give you all but one seat, but there’s only 75 seats in Quebec. A gain of 15% in Quebec would translate to 10-12 more seats in total while potentially risking seats in BC and Alberta to Western isolationism.

In the next election there will be 30 new MPs. 3 of these MPs will come from Quebec while 27 will be scattered across BC, Alberta, and Ontario. If the NDP wants to form the next government, they need to win these provinces. Ontario alone will account for over 1/3 of the seats in the country.

The NDP currently has no seats in Saskatchewan despite winning 32% of the vote there. Meanwhile they only have 35 seats in BC, Alberta, and Ontario combined (minus one vacated by Jack Layton, RIP). In 2014 these four provinces will total 211 seats.

Whoever wants to be the next prime minister doesn’t need to win Quebec. He or she needs to be able to hold the majority of those seats, but also needs to reach out strongly to the West.

The NDP was born in the West, now it’s time to take it back.

Paul Dewar ALSO in Vancouver Thursday

For those who can’t get enough of NDP leadership candidates, Thursday looks like a good day to live in Vancouver.

I just found the Facebook event for Paul Dewar’s planned appearance at King Edward Village (Knight and Kingsway) at 5:30 PM.

This event is scheduled to wrap up just before Peggy Nash makes her appearance at the Railway Club downtown at 7:00 PM.

Nash has been tweeting from Occupy Vancouver and the CUPE meeting in town. I wonder if Dewar will be around either of those events.

Even more interesting would be to see Nash attend Dewar’s event and vice-versa. The relative attendance at each event ought to be a good early indicator of their support levels.

I’ll definitely attend Nash’s event (since I heard of it first and her campaign interests me more), but if I can make it work, I may try to attend both events. You can look forward to some updates on Friday.

Peggy Nash in Vancouver this Thursday

Vancouver will get another NDP leadership candidate through town this Thursday when Toronto MP and (former) Finance Critic Peggy Nash comes to town. Brian Topp has already visited once, Nathan Cullen announced his race here, and Thomas Mulcair was here last week.

She’ll be meeting up with people at the Railway Club downtown (Seymour and Dunsmuir) and I’ll try to get a recording of any speech she might give.

More details are available on Facebook.