Has Martin Singh compromised a Gurdwara’s charitable status? #ndpldr

I posted this morning about Martin Singh’s interesting release about hosting polls for the NDP leadership race.

I noted that it didn’t seem like it violated any of the NDP or Canada Election rules, but one further recollection I realized that the rules being broken weren’t by Martin Singh’s campaign but by the Malton Gurdwara.

Continue reading Has Martin Singh compromised a Gurdwara’s charitable status? #ndpldr

Martin Singh sponsors Ontario #ndpldr polls

Party leadership contests are not exactly like general elections.

In a typical election there is one or two days when you have to make your way to the local community centre, school, or (begrudgingly) church where officials check your identity, give you a ballot and a little cardboard cubicle to mark it in.

The NDP leadership contest, on the other hand, is done by mail-in or electronic ballot – or live at the convention.

So it’s very interesting to see this release from Martin Singh’s campaign about “easily accessible voter polling stations” in Ontario, which happen to be his Mississauga campaign office and a local Gurdwara.

As far as I can tell, there is nothing against this practice in the NDP Leadership rulebook [pdf here] or the Canada Election Act. In some ways it’s a creative way to ensure that every member gets a chance to vote.

Of course the timing for what might be considered a shady electoral process couldn’t be worse for Singh. But in a race where every last vote is likely to make the difference between an early ballot loss and a late ballot victory, I guess every candidate has to exhaust every option they have.

No clear mandate #ndpldr

The race to be the next leader of the NDP and Leader of the Official Opposition is looking like it’s going to take at least a few rounds to decide. Few candidates seem to have wide enough support to win on the first, or even second ballot.

In which case, it becomes increasingly hard to justify that whoever wins will have a sweeping mandate to implement their personal platform. Perhaps in light of the attack ads during the last election, no candidates are talking about how they would view a late ballot win. What would will they compromise to attract voters from other camps?

For most candidates, I wouldn’t argue that this is an issue. There are (at least) two candidates though that I see this being an issue.

First, and most obvious, is Nathan Cullen and his plan for joint nominations. I’ve heard and read a number of people who really like Cullen and his approach to politics but are very wary of him winning and implementing a strategy that might compromise the party and throw the next year into wild media speculation.

There is currently little evidence that Cullen has the first-ballot support to win on the first or second ballot. In which case, if he manages to pull off a win, it seems most likely that it will come from other supporters who maintain some reservations about Cullen. This leads to the obvious question: Will Cullen claim to have the mandate to implement his plan if he wins on a late ballot?

On the other hand, there may be enough ballots remaining (in person and online) on convention day for Cullen to discuss what parts of his plan are negotiable to gain support for later ballots.

The second candidate facing a similar issue is Thomas Mulcair’s plan to “bring the middle to us.” His social democratic bona fides have been routinely brought into question during the race as many (I believe justifiably) fear he will move the party more to the mushy middle to win over soft Liberals.

The question for Mulcair at this stage is if he doesn’t win on the first or second ballot (and he is probably the only one with the chance to), what will he offer those remaining sceptics to join his camp?

I’ll try to offer up my final thoughts and endorsements in the next day or two, which will be subject to change until I get to voting (electronically) on election day. With luck the Vancouver Point Grey constituency association will be organizing a pub day viewing and voting session if you want to hang out (if we can ever get the schedule from the NDP). For now, I encourage you to check out Greg Fingas’ comments on his blog (which I mostly agree with).

Niki Ashton’s Vancouver visit #ndpldr

I should have posted about this ahead of time, but here’s a video I took of Niki Ashton on Tuesday evening when she spoke at the Lion’s Pub in Vancouver. Besides this stump speech, Niki spent most of the evening very casually talking to people (very literally) young and old. Along with the youth for Niki contingent was a 94-year old veteran who was very supportive of her campaign.

I’ll have some thoughts on the leadership race and my preferences soon. I got a call from NDP HQ today that voter packages are heading out next week.

More on the Cullen plan #ndpldr

It’s always interesting when I post a piece that was mainly intended to give an extended response to one of my friends on Facebook, and then suddenly Macleans picks it up and I get responses from all over the internet. I hope to do my best here to respond to some of the comments raised on my piece about why joint nominations are still the wrong idea.

First, my criticisms aren’t directed at Leadnow.

Leadnow is an advocacy group, that I signed onto early and continue to support, which seeks to promote progressive politics and more engagement.

When I criticised their survey, it was more people using it for their own purposes. That poll is only useful for exactly what Leadnow is using it for: Deciding whether the organization should support cooperation. It clearly should.

What the poll doesn’t support is anything but what the members of Leadnow believe. It doesn’t tell us anything about Canadians in general, NDP/Liberal supporters, or even about progressives in Canada. Any extraction of those to a larger population (as Michael Wheeler did in his original post) is a fallacy. It’s like using a poll of a pro-life group to support the notion that all Conservative voters are anti-abortion.

There is nothing wrong with Leadnow (or any group) polling its members – in fact, it’s generally a great idea – but those numbers are only useful to that group.

Second, vote splitting doesn’t exist in Canada.

How can I say such an outlandish statement? Let’s even grant that the Liberals are a progressive party (which many would debate) for a minute. Isn’t it obvious that if we simply combined the Liberal and NDP votes that we would beat Harper’s Conservatives in enough ridings to install a progressive majority government?

Setting aside the fact those votes are not transferrable, this argument is still wrong.

In the vast majority of ridings in Canada, the number of non-voters is large enough to swing any election. This means if people who are not voting in the bluest riding in Calgary showed up and uniformly voted Orange (or Red or Green), they could toss out such horrible MPs as Rob Anders. Nearly 38,000 people didn’t vote in Calgary West in 2011. Anders only received 40,000 votes (11 000 for the Liberals and around 6000 for both the NDP and Greens). And Calgary West is an extreme example where Anders received over 60% of the vote, in most ridings we only need to inspire a few thousand more people to drastically alter the outcome of a vote.

We don’t need to eliminate choices to defeat the Conservatives, we need parties and candidates that inspire Canadians. Imagine a Canada where 80% of people voted.

Third, electoral reform is a losing campaign issue.

I am a strong supporter of elector reform. I believe we would be much better represented under either MMP (proposed by the NDP) or STV (as proposed under two BC referendums).

However, attempts to reform provincial electoral systems have repeatedly failed. The reasons are many but the fact remains. While students, academics, and many political geeks believe strongly in electoral reform, to a large number of Canadians it ranks well behind the economy, the environment, health care, and every other issue that affects our daily lives.

I have a strong suspicion that if we followed Nathan Cullen and Leadnow’s idea to put electoral reform front and centre as the single issue of a number of united campaigns that the media and Conservatives would tear it to shreds. Our progressive candidates will look like they are putting irrelevant issues ahead of the important issues of today.

Again, I see the anger coming for this, but I will offer an alternative path to reform. Most NDP leadership candidates recognize PR as necessary; however, I believe only Brian Topp so far has called for it to be passed as legislation instead of a referendum.

While referenda seem to be the preferred way to try to implement PR these days, it wasn’t always the case. Alberta had a proportional voting system for Calgary and Edmonton between 1921 and 1959. The system was implemented, reformed, and abolished all through legislative acts (by successive Liberal, UFA, and Social Credit governments). Passing such a reform through legislation will be seen as less democratic (because it is) but can be done in a consultative way to identify the strengths and weaknesses.

This path has several advantages. First, it saves money. A national referendum, even in conjunction with an election, would costs in the millions. Second, it’s more likely to be successful. Most of the provincial referendums in Canada have seen special interest groups (typical business groups that like FPTP for its ability to produce right-wing majorities with a minority of the votes) confuse the issue. Third, it will be faster. While I wouldn’t call for this legislation to be passed with Harper-esque closure, it can be done in under a year after a progressive government is sworn in. A bill would have to be passed to hold a referendum which would then take another few months to plan, count, and implement.

So let’s not lose focus. ER is important, but I don’t see it as a promising campaign to bring large chunks of Canadians back to the polls (feel free to prove me wrong).

Fourth, I am not opposed to cooperation.

I don’t mean to contradict my other piece at all with this point. In fact, as Jack Layton showed through his politics, one can be incredibly partisan (he likely bled orange) and still find ways to work across the hall. I support coalition governments and prefer minorities to majorities.

Jack won Quebec under the banner traivillier ensemble, working together. The appetite for cooperation is there, and I share it. That doesn’t mean we have to resort to cheap tricks to win elections.

Finally, it’s not the old way versus joint nominations, there are better ways.

Following directly from my last point, and in response to the few who seem to think I am advocating that we just keep doing the same things that haven’t worked in the past (the definition of insanity), we can do politics better. Jack laid the ground work while leader, reaped many of the rewards in the 2011 election, and the sentiment continued with his last letter and Steven Lewis’ eulogy.

Somewhere since then we’ve lost some steam. Rather than focussing on building a Canada that works together, we’re squabbling over the fastest path to victory. It doesn’t help that the media has been underplaying the race to replace Jack. Yet candidates like Paul Dewar are talking about building a “stronger, more caring Canada,” and Niki Ashton speaks about the need for a New Politics.

I like each of the candidates so far and was sad to see Romeo Saganash bow out. These women and men each represent a positive, progressive vision for Canada.

Conclusions

I don’t begrudge people for wanting to push this electoral cooperation plan. I can understand the frustration with our government and the fact that our electoral system is screwing the majority of voters out of having their voices heard. Nevertheless, I believe that this idea is born more out of an appeal to hipster post-partisanship. Similar to the calls for strategic voting in 2008, this argument is misguided at best, and potentially dangerous at worst (if it makes our candidates come off as single-issue opportunists).

If it all comes to pass that Nathan Cullen’s plan gains the support of the NDP and Liberals, I will get behind it, but I see far more successful paths to a progressive Canada, which don’t involve reducing our democratic choices.

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)

1 month left to register #ndpldr

There’s less than one month left until the deadline to register as a member of the NDP so that you can vote for the next leader of the NDP and leader of the Official Opposition (and hopefully our next prime minister in 2015).

Go to the website and register today, it’s only $10 or $1 if you’re under 26 or un(der)employed.

I don’t really care who you vote for, or even if you tear your membership the day after the vote so you can go be a Liberal supporter in the fall. There’s a lot of great candidates (eight) and this is the one chance we ever really get in Canada to pick our leaders.

Youth ostracism in Canadian politics

Elections in recent history have told the same story again and again: Young people aren’t voting.

Sure, some of us are. Many others are attempting to bring in more of their peers through vote mobs and other social media pressures, yet to date the evidence is that these efforts have been a disappointing flop.

The occupy movements were a brief glimmer of hope, but it remains unclear whether these protests have truly engaged the disaffected youth or just tapped into those who were already involved.

Progressive parties know that the next generations shares their values of equality and inclusiveness, yet they have failed to date to truly connect.

Two recent stories only further the disenfranchisement.

This weekend the Liberal Party of Canada held their Renewal conference in Ottawa. The conference is meant to reverse the tide of bad luck that has befallen the party over the past decade.

While some big ideas were put forward to revolutionize the internal structure of the party, the policy resolutions mostly avoided discussing real issues in favour of commitments to form committees to study issues. As an example, the environment was absent from the proposed resolutions, while a plan to develop a national food strategy was passed.

One of the failed resolutions was to study whether Canada should seek to abolish the monarchy and replace it with an elected Canadian head of state. This motion was put forward by the party’s youth wing and Liberal Youth Vice-President Sean Southerland argued vociferously in support of the motion

“No Canadian can ever aspire to hold the position,” argued Liberal youth vice-president Sean Sutherland, who presented the motion. He urged delegates to be bold as they were Saturday night when they adopted opening up the party to a new class of “supporters”.

“Instead it has been historically held by an unelected monarch who lives an ocean away,” said Mr. Sutherland.

He noted that Liberals are not strangers to controversial positions, saying that in the 1990s their debates about legalizing same-sex marriage were dismissed as not important as this monarchy resolution is being today.

“That didn’t stop young Liberals then. This won’t stop us now,” vowed Mr. Sutherland.

62 per cent of delegates ended up voting against the youth-led initiative. While many argued either in favour of Canada’s historical ties or that the issue was too divisive, the most worrying issue was the following:

But what received the most applause and support were the delegate’s statements, who accused Liberal youth leaders of betraying the trust of other young Liberals.

Instead of talking about what is important to them and what truly affects their lives – “shrinking jobs,” post-secondary education and increase of aboriginal Canadians in jail – they chose this motion that can “only bring harm and ridicule to our party,” [delegate Ryan] Barber said.

There is nothing quite like the party elders talking down to the younger generation. Clearly the young Liberals are mistaken about what issues their supposed to be representing.

Imagine the controversy if people applauded when the chair of a women’s or First Nation’s caucus was chastised for not properly representing their constituents. If young people in the Liberal Party are dissatisfied with their current leadership or the resolutions put forward, I’m assuming the party has democratic means for them to be replaced.

But by approving of this attitude that young people should know their place, the Liberal delegates have shown their hands as intolerant and untrusting of younger people and their ideas.

The next story comes from Alberta NDP member Denny Holmwood who has accused the federal NDP of discriminating against young and unwaged party members.

The controversy comes from the registration process for the coming leadership convention. While all members will be able to vote for the next leader, many will want to attend the conference in person. The fees are set at $299 until the end of January and $349 afterward. These costs are prohibitive to many and the NDP has a long history of offering discounts to those who can’t afford them – typically the young and unemployed.

However, to reduce the number of potentially fraudulent registrations, the party is requiring youth and unwaged delegates to call a 1-866 number, which may only be available during Ontario business hours (9am  to 5pm in Ontario is 6am to 2pm Vancouver).

With today’s connected youth, do we really want to be adding additional hurdles to their full participation? Conventions are a great chance to build connections and to rally new members into the party. The NDP should be seeking to encourage more young people to be attending the conference, not impeding their ability.

Please sign Denny’s petition to get the NDP to change their position.

I would rather see more people sneak in at a discounted rate than anyone be turned away by difficulties.

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