2 votes, 2 weeks

May 11th.

Just over one week after the federal election, myself and voters of Vancouver-Point Grey will be going back to the polls to vote for/against Christy Clark in the byelection she just announced.

Perhaps she’s hoping that since the NDP don’t even have a leader yet (not till Sunday) and are likely busy fighting the good fight in a number of local ridings (including the too-close-to-call Burnaby-Douglas) to mount a strong defense. Or maybe she just wants to get in before the HST mail-in vote begins and people start to remember how much they dislike it.

Regardless, this is much sooner than I expected.

My vote for BC NDP leader: Mike Farnworth

After a long campaign, highlighted more by how much the leaders agreed than any substantive disagreements (except maybe on who hates Gordon Campbell the most), voting has commenced for the BC NDP, and I have made my votes.

It’s a preferential ballot, and I tried to balance competing needs in my head, yet I don’t think much has really changed since I watched their debate in Vancouver over a month ago. My thoughts then are written here, but I’ll reiterate some and give my justifications for my rankings.

Ideal first choice: Nicholas Simons

It was unfortunate to hear Simons dropped out of the race, because I really thought there was something special to his campaign.

While he wasn’t the most charismatic of the bunch, he was seemingly more honest and approached politics from an empirical standpoint – looking for the policies that were best supported by the evidence to make BC a better place.

I would have given Simons my first vote not just as a nod to the underdog, but as an attempt to promote a better kind of politics (even if it might have eaten him alive).

Now my ballot choices in reverse order:

Fourth choice: Dana Larsen

I don’t have anything against Mr. Larsen personally. I thought he had a very idealistic and admirable platform, although it was a bit lacking in depth and perhaps a touch away from reality.

I’m glad that he was in the race and stuck it out, and hopefully we see him run for MLA next election. It was definitely good to see the narrative shift in the media from him being the “cannabis activist” to the “long-shot” candidate (although it still somewhat doomed him).

However, his campaign seemed unorganized and underfunded. At a time when the BC NDP needs strong leadership, Larsen came off as amateurish (although he did exceed expectations in the debates). Further, when the party needs to be taken seriously by the media, Larsen lacks credibility and would likely be openly mocked by our overly corporate media.

Third choice: Adrian Dix

In some ways, this was Dix’s race to lose.

He’s the fighter of the Clark era NDP and can command the stage. He claims (or at least is attributed) to represent the socialist left of the party (which I’m sympathetic to), even though the finer details of each of the “big three” candidates are quite similar.

Yet Dix rubs me the wrong way.

He seems to have a very classic, authoritarian approach to party discipline and would rather have party members work within the structure (i.e. at conventions every couple years) to reform anything than to actively promote dialogue and change himself.

And while Dix has great zingers, he’s more likely to end up spending too much time attacking the BC Liberals in a debate than actually building up a reason why people should vote BC NDP.

Finally, I think he’s really disconnected if he thinks the over 1 million non-voters are just waiting for more polarization before they vote NDP. His style is too closed  and divisive for me to support him.

Second choice: John Horgan

I think Horgan wins the ‘”most improved candidate” award.

He started as an outsider and likely risked the race becoming simply a Farnworth-Dix two horse race, but in the end with strong performances in debates and a good policy document, he won over many people (including Simons and Larsen).

I think Horgan could take the leadership in the same way that Ed Stelmach took the Alberta PC leadership (by being the second choice of everyone); however, in this case I think we’d actually come out pretty strong.

Horgan’s poll numbers aren’t as good as Farnworth’s, but I think that has a lot more to do with the lack of exposure than anything else.

My biggest skepticism of Horgan is his “fair tax commission,” which seems to be a way around actually tackling tax policy. However, I am a supporter of participatory democracy, and engaging stakeholders, so it may be an honest way to start the discussion about how our services should be funded.

First choice: Mike Farnworth

Farnworth was played as the “moderate” or centrist candidate, yet his policies are as progressive as the others: reversing tax cuts, funding health and education, and taking action on climate change. He’s polled strongest against Christy Clark, which means he has less distance to work toward the next election. He’s also attracted some strong endorsements including former premier Mike Harcourt.

What really wins me to Farnworth’s team is that he endorses electoral reform, notably absent from all but Larsen’s platform (which advocates for preferential ballots), specifically a mixed-member proportional system. BC has a tepid past with electoral reform, sparked by a Glen Clark win over the BC Liberals despite losing the popular vote. Campbell then initiated a citizen’s commission which recommended the single transferable vote system. The first ballot on STV garnered over 50% of the vote, but failed to meet the arbitrary 60% requirement set my Campbell. The subsequent referendum then failed to even earn 50%. Nevertheless, the first-past-the-post system is grossly inadequate in modern parliamentary democracies with more than two parties (remember, there’s still BC Conservative and Green voters about). So seeing Farnworth’s endorsement of MMP is a good sign.

Similar to Horgan’s promise of a tax commission, I would like to see promises on education beyond a commission; however, again the consultative approach is not to be discounted.

All in all, Mike Farnworth has thoroughly impressed me throughout this campaign, and he earns my ballot.

Nevertheless, any of the candidates will be a strong leader for the BC NDP, and it’s good to see them all reject the stupid “axe-the-tax” campaign of 2009.

Christy Clark to run in my riding

Among the worst kept secrets is that new BC Liberal premier Christy Clark will be running in an (eventual) by-election in Vancouver Point-Grey.

This most likely means that less popular, but the safer riding held by former finance minister Colin Hansen (of the HST defender) won’t be available for her.

The article is a bit sketchier on the details about who the NDP will be represented by:

On Monday, Mel Lehan, the former NDP candidate for Vancouver-Point Grey, said his party has identified a new candidate for the riding, but will not announce who that is until a byelection is officially called. NDP spokesman Michael Roy said no nomination meeting has been scheduled.

I don’t know what Lehan’s talking about, but no candidate has been nominated here, unless of course the BC NDP decided to just appoint someone without notifying their members who live in the riding (i.e. the one’s who get to vote in the nomination meeting). I can understand that they want to pick the best candidate for the job, since this riding has been within striking distance in the past and a lost bid by Clark to gain a seat would embarrass the BC Liberals, but I do hope that the party still has some concern for its membership.

Nevertheless, one of the rumoured candidates looks pretty sharp on the surface to me:

David Eby, executive director of the B.C. Civil Liberties Association, confirmed Monday he is considering seeking the NDP nomination in the riding, but will make no decision until a byelection is called.

The BCCLA is the premier defender of free speech and civil liberties in Canada, and while I don’t know Eby, I am interested in this possibility.

Of course, it’s also an option that if a byelection is planned far enough in the future that a Reason BC could make an appearance.

Canada.com–Apathy and contempt threaten Canadian democracy

I totally missed that my other (less inflammatory) submission to “The Real Agenda” on Canada.com got picked up yesterday. It’s already moved to place on the ‘featured article’ list and has 45 comments (in comparison, my religion article got around 110).

Apathy and contempt threaten Canadian democracy

While we watch Arabs fight and die for the right to vote a world away, it becomes obvious that in Canada democracy does not work anymore.

The voter turnout has been in freefall for many years now, and it seems our political parties are content to let it continue. Undoubtedly, this disengagement benefits some parties more than others, which creates a stake in corrupting the political system.

Yet even the mainstream media is partly to blame, continuing the narrative of voter fatigue and apathy, neglecting issues that do not fit into convenient sound bites.

The problems run much deeper and are more systemic than simple laziness. Our current government has been found in contempt of parliament three times more than any other government in the Commonwealth, and the previous two also fell under their own corruption.

Our electoral system rewards sweeping majorities to parties that receive two in five votes and renders no voice to more than a million voters. Even worse, in a single riding many often vote “strategically” and end up voting for the lesser of the evils; this despite game theory telling us that this is still voting for evil.

Furthermore, due to the history of our country, some ridings represent fewer than 30,000 voters, while others have upwards of 170,000. This means that if you live in Labrador, your vote is worth five times as much as some people in Ontario and Alberta.

Meanwhile, politicians perpetually ignore younger Canadians, who in turn are even more disillusioned, with upwards of 65 per cent of those under 25 staying home in 2008.

There is no shortage of possible solutions.

Fair Vote Canada argues that proportional representation and a new method of electing our representatives would revitalize our system.

Others point to the poisonous rhetoric that infects our national dialogues. Despite the recent successful coalitions in Britain and Australia, people still speak of them with disdain in Canada. Attack ads have filled the airwaves for months now, getting so bad as to prompt the Green Party to release a satirical attack ad on attack ads.

There are also suggestions to reform our house of sober second thought. Yet the Triple-E Senate has fallen off the radar as Stephen Harper has stuffed the building full of patronage appointments.

The key here, though, is that if none of our leaders acknowledge the issues plaguing our democracy, even fewer are proposing solutions. So inspire me, supposed leaders of Canada: what will you do to fix our democracy?

Ian Bushfield is currently a masters student in physics at Simon Fraser University and lives in Vancouver. He is president of the B.C. Humanist Association and blogs at terahertzatheist.ca and canadianatheist.com.

BC NDP: By the numbers

(Note: I would have delayed this post until tomorrow; however, I wanted fresh numbers here, guess you have to deal with extra posts today).

I like leaders who get social media. So how are the candidates stacking up on Facebook?

Dana Larsen: 1816 likes, latest post an hour ago

Mike Farnworth: 667 likes, latest post an hour ago

Nicholas Simons (dropped out): 565 likes

John Horgan: 562 likes, latest post an hour ago

Adrian Dix: 272 likes, latest post an hour ago

Dana’s lead is quite impressive. He’s more popular than the rest of the candidates combined (if we don’t count Simons). It’s also good to note that they’re all updating their pages. So despite Dix’s small numbers, the platform is still being used (just not to its full potential).

It’s worth noting that the BC NDP page has 1166 likes and was last updated 22 hours ago.

However, the BC NDP membership is reportedly around 30,000 and with likely 50-60% voting, that means Larsen will need a lot more support than that to bring him up in the pack.

I’d count twitter followers too, but many people follow twitterers from across the spectrum (at least I do).

Then there were four

Following Harry Lali’s early departure, and realizing that the media has unfortunately written off his campaign, BC NDP leadership candidate Nicholas Simons has backed out and endorsed John Horgan.

Personally, I’m disappointed at this move. I liked Simons’ positions and openness. While I’m not convinced he could have won an election, he seemed to have an honest approach and also endorsed evidenced based policy in some of his materials.

Eyes are now turning to Dana Larsen to see if he’ll stick it out.

And while the race drags on (the 90-day membership limit needs to be changed to something realistic like 5 or 30 days), it’s sometimes still tough to tell the candidates apart. Likely not wanting to repeat the internal struggles of last year, the leaders seem to have nothing to criticize about one another.

It’s almost turning into a question of what shade of orange you want.

Adrian Dix still strikes me as the attack dog who will also whip the party hardest, stifling any dissention. He also has the more progressive policies and likely would do the most to right the wrongs of the Campbell years.

Mike Farnworth, while more moderate, is definitely likable. He’s well spoken and many people from across the political spectrum speak of him as the best premier material.

John Horgan is fighting hard as the underdog of the three. Luckily though, he’s no Ed Stelmach since if the Farnworth and Dix camps split with him as their second choice and he cruises by to win, he still likely has what it takes to be a strong leader.

Reading through the comments in the second Tyee article that I linked to reveals a couple commenters who think too poorly of their peers who could be turned off of Farnworth because he’s gay. It’s a sad bit of homophobia to say, “we shouldn’t run a gay candidate because other people might not like it.” Should we not allow women to run because sexists exist? What about Sikhs and Muslims? How about if homophobic comments come out we call them out on it rather than punish the victim some more.

Other issues that come up are Dix being the only real left-wing candidate, while Horgan is the only one untainted by some scandal in the past.

All that aside, I’ll have another run through the candidates websites closer to the voting period and will post my final decisions then.

Young Canadians are not alcoholics

I know it fits a nice narrative about drunken college students, but before publishing an article like this, perhaps actually talk to some voters, not just a shock jock.

Election activity: ‘Coalition’ drinking game the new buzz

If Canadians are hanging on politicians’ every word this election, there’s a good chance it’s because alcohol is involved.

The “coalition” drinking game was sparked on Twitter shortly after a Brampton, Ont., speech in which Stephen Harper dropped the political c-bomb a full 21 times in 10 minutes. From that point forward, every time the Conservative leader used the contentious term, the rules dictated that a shot must be swigged.

Key findings from a 2009 Health Canada report (and the alcohol-specific section):

  • Among Canadians 15 years and older, the prevalence of past-year alcohol use decreased from 79.3% in 2004 to 76.5% in 2009.
  • Three quarters of youth (75.5%) reported consuming alcohol in the past year. This is a decrease from 2004 when 82.9% of youth reported past-year use of alcohol.
  • The prevalence of heavy frequent drinking among youth 15 to 24 years of age, was three times higher than the rate for adults 25 years and older (11.7% versus 3.9%).

… Compared to 2004, a significantly higher percentage of Canadians in 2009 reported either not drinking (11.6% versus 7.3%) or drinking more moderately. In 2009, the rate of light frequent drinking at 31.3% was significantly higher than it was in 2004 at 27.7%. In contrast, a lower proportion of Canadians in 2009, than in 2004, reported heavy drinking to be their usual consumption, whether they be drinking frequently (5.1% versus 7.1%) or infrequently (3.7% versus 5.6%).

Note, that only 11% of youths are binge drinking, and those numbers are falling.

There is arguably no youth alcohol epidemic, but articles like this promote a negative stereotype which can drive more young adults away from the polls (the real issue).

Your Agenda: Religious beliefs affect policy–so the leaders should talk about them

This is a piece I was asked to submit to Canada.com’s new “Your Agenda” election feature.

Religious beliefs affect policy – so the leaders should talk about them

The night Stephen Harper was first elected prime minister in 2006, he shocked the nation by ending his speech with a phrase that sounded almost American: “God bless Canada.” Yet, even after five years in power, the media and politicians have yet to broach the taboo subject of religion in Canadian politics.

Agreements between British Protestants and French Catholics led to the creation of our country. That multicultural spirit continues today in a country that welcomes people of any or no faith. However, this multiculturalism is under increasing strain as continued immigration brings customs that clash with other Canadian values and freedoms.

As more Canadians abandon Christianity or bring other beliefs from around the world, some of our older traditions look increasingly archaic. Some surveys have pegged the number of Canadians who don’t believe in God as high as 1 in 4, yet our anthem and Charter both explicitly favour belief in God.

When last year’s Throne Speech promised updates to the national anthem that would address some of the sexist phrasing, the uproar from conservative believers forced a retreat. Few expected such a progressive change from the current government, and many sought further improvements, but Harper’s backtracking was too fast for any actual discussion on the merits of change to occur.

Much of this uproar came from the Christian right in Canada, which has been growing over the past few years. Journalist Marci McDonald documented this growth in her 2010 book The Armageddon Factor. Organized in response to the gay marriage debates, McDonald credits evangelical Christians with rallying behind the Harper Conservatives, propelling him to victory.

Their success is such that Harper’s Minister of State for Science and Technology made some unclear statements about his beliefs on the subject of evolution while others have stood in the House (http://www2.macleans.ca/2009/04/02/james-lunney-v-science/) and defended Biblical Creationism. In 2000, similar statements led to Liberal strategist Warren Kinsella openly mocking then Canadian Alliance leader Stockwell Day on national television.

Yet questions about the personal beliefs of candidates for our highest offices seem to remain off-limits. While there should never be a religious (or atheistic) test for our government, it is greatly mistaken to think that deeply held beliefs will not affect the policy positions once in power. People have a right to know if any of our elected officials think the world will end in our lifetime.

These beliefs lead to actions like the government’s denial of funds to maternal health initiatives that might have provided access to abortions in the Third World, and to social-justice group KAIROS that apparently represents the wrong kind of Christian. Dennis Gruending documents numerous other organizations (http://dennisgruending.ca/pulpitandpolitics/2011/03/25/stephen-harpers-hit-list/), including Pride Toronto and Planned Parenthood, that have fallen victim to these seemingly ideological cuts. While past Prime Ministers have harboured varying levels of commitment to their beliefs, few have let it bleed into their policy. Until recently, most politicians seemed to take Trudeau’s legacy of keeping the government out of the bedroom to heart.

My hope for this and future elections is that we can have an open discussion about the role of religious belief in Canadian politics. We need to shed light on hidden agendas and move toward policy based on reason and evidence.

Ian Bushfield is currently a masters student in physics at Simon Fraser University and lives in Vancouver. He is president of the B.C. Humanist Association and blogs at http://terahertzatheist.ca and http://canadianatheist.com .