Fringe party crashes election debate in Hornsey

I can safely say I just got home from one of the most bizarre electoral hustings I’ve ever been to.

Tonight’s debate, hosted by Horsney Parish Church and moderated by Father Bruce Batstone, invited candidates from the five largest parties running in my constituency, Hornsey and Wood Green:

  • Suhail Rahuja from the Conservative Party
  • Gordon Peters from the Green Party
  • Catherine West from the Labour Party
  • Lynne Featherstone from the Liberal Democrats (incumbent)
  • Clive Morrison from UK Independence Party


The other three candidates were invited to submit questions for the debate.

That’s not what happened though.

Continue reading Fringe party crashes election debate in Hornsey

How to lose an election

Alberta’s election continues to be far more entertaining than the one here in the UK.

Amid his party’s plummeting polling numbers, Progressive Conservative Premier Jim Prentice needed to re-connect with voters and rebuild trust for his party during the leaders debate last night.

Instead, he told the only woman on stage that “I know the math is difficult…” in a discussion around tax increases. Very soon after #MathIsHard started trending in the province and NDP leader Rachel Notley was able to remind viewers that this is the leader who doesn’t want Albertans to “worry their pretty little heads.”

There’s an adage that governments typically lose elections, rather than opposition parties win them. In this case, I think Prenctice just lost it and Notley has a truly unexpected chance to win it.

For more on the debate, read Don Braid’s analysis in the Calgary Herald.

Humanist Hustings–Europe Votes 2014

Moving to London (details eventually coming) has allowed me to attend more great events. Last night, I attended the British Humanist Association’s Humanist Hustings all-candidates forum for the upcoming European Parliamentary Elections. The event was held in Conway Hall, London’s freethought home.

To my mind, no humanist group in Canada has ever hosted a similar event, but the first major difference here was how, in their opening speeches, nearly every candidate identified as either being a member of the BHA or an atheist. This was especially surprising for some as all major parties, including the Tories and UKIP, were in attendance.

I live tweeted the event, so you can find my reactions under #HHEP14. I thought I’d just post some additional thoughts here.

First, the strongest speaker was, by far, UKIP candidate Tony Brown. Faced with a largely antagonistic audience, Brown made his best case to connect with the audience, discussing his upbringing in an “atheist family” and noting his admiration for Richard Dawkins. He repeatedly tried to draw a link between the EU, and particularly the large European People’s Party (representing numerous Christian Democrat parties), and the Catholic Church. It was a fairly novel argument and could appeal to a nationalistic secularist. Nevertheless, his line that “I’m not a climate change denier, the climate has always been changing” and subsequent denial of man-made climate change was met with heckles.

The other stand-out speaker was Caroline Allen of the Green Party. Her smartest line was to admit that the Green’s science policy had been pretty weak in the past but that they’ve done a lot of work on it and people should give it another look (I will, the link is here). Unfortunately, she lost some credit on this front (in my mind) by maintaining the party line against fracking and GMOs.

Otherwise, the Liberal Democrat, Matt J McLaren, and Tory, Caroline Attfield, both sounded a bit nervous, although McLaren caught his stride near the end and made a strong argument about secularism as a core Lib-Dem value. Attfield, meanwhile, went off policy on a couple points, suggesting that Europe could play a bigger role on security issues (she clarified that she meant foreign policy when probed) and that the role of the Church of England is shrinking.

Dr Louise Irvine of the National Health Action Party made a spirited defense of the NHS and represented her single issue party well. On other issues, she sided between Labour and the Lib Dems (ironically also where she was seated).

Finally, Mary Honeyball, representing Labour and the only sitting MEP at the debate, gave a decent defense of her party, but I got the sense after that she didn’t really inspire anyone. Whether she was aiming to play it safe or not, I think there was a missed opportunity by Honeyball.

My question, prefaced with a thanks to the parties that voted for recent clinical trial regulations (#AllTrials), was on how the candidates would involve evidence in their decision making in the future. Each gave a relatively predictable answer (evidence is widely seen as a good thing), with Dr Irvine mentioning the value of publishing all clinical trials and Brown admitting that the UKIP vote against the regulation was about keeping the policy within the UK, rather than being personally against the idea.

I realised later I should have asked if the candidates would publicly change their mind if evidence proved them wrong. When I asked this to Brown after, he pointed out that Nigel Farage has repeatedly done just that, in particular, noting where his party has been far off.

After the event, I went for a couple drinks and finally managed to meet Andrew Copson, the BHA’s Chief Executive, who very expertly chaired the evening.

Albertans choose progressive mayors

After a surprise victory in the 2010 purple wave, Naheed Nenshi became one of Canada’s most popular mayors during his handling of severe floods in Calgary earlier this year.

Few predicted any chance of him losing his position in yesterday’s election and perhaps the only shock was the size of his victory, with 74% of the city voting for him.

Meanwhile, Edmonton saw a heated race as popular incumbent Steve Mandel opted to retire on a high note (rather than be unseated like most of his predecessors). Three councillors stepped forward to challenge for the seat, with Don Iveson’s ‘policy wonk’ campaign taking over 60% of the vote in the end. Iveson’s campaign drew on his time at the University of Alberta and engaged a number of my friends.

Both mayors have promised to slow urban sprawl by investing in urban density, mass transit, and bicycle lanes. This approach is familiar and popular in Vancouver, where Gregor Robertson is equally popular.

The results aren’t too surprising for anyone who closely follows Alberta politics. Despite the province’s tendency to vote overwhelming for Conservative provincial and federal parties, the cities tend to be more liberal and many mayors of both major cities have been further to the left than their provincial and federal colleagues.

Meanwhile, a right-wing slate of candidates for Airdrie’s city council was rejected in favour of the incumbents.

And congrats to my aunt who was re-elected to the Rocky View Municipal Council.

Alberta’s next cabinet: Bigots and Theocrats?

After Naheed Nenshi became mayor of Calgary and Alison Redford won the Progressive Conservative leadership race, becoming Alberta’s first female premier, I thought things were turning around for my homeland.

Moderate, pragmatic, and relatively progressive ideas were starting to take hold. Plans were on the way to improve the Alberta School Act and mass transit was taking precedence over freeways.

But now polls are suggesting that Danielle Smith and the Wildrose Party are on track to a majority government. Of course, polls can be wrong, and things can still turn around for Redford (or for that matter for Brian Mason or Raj Sherman), but we’re sitting in dangerous territory.

Much ink is starting to spill on Smith’s dangerous flirtations with so-called conscience rights whereby marriage commissioners and physicians would be free to discriminate against gays, lesbians, interracial couples, and women. Dave Cournoyer took a closer look at some of the candidates carrying the Wildrose flag, showing that a Wildrose government could very easily put homophobes, Christian extremists, and bigots into cabinet.

I think the key to understanding Albertan politics is that it’s not so much about left or right, conservative or liberal, but about pure populist tribalism.

In over 100 years, the province has been represented by 4 different governments. The leaders change, but the governments are routinely re-elected, so long as they maintain the air of competence (actual competence is not required).

When government change occurs, it seems a bit like dominos falling. Once a certain threshold of legitimacy is crossed by the opposition – or perhaps illegitimacy by the current government – voters move en masse to the new choice.

This is why the federal Conservatives win with more than 60% of the vote in many Alberta ridings and arguably even how Linda Duncan increased her share of the vote in 2011. It also explains the quick rise of Naheed Nenshi, the rising support of Stephen Mandel, and the lasting strength of other mayors like Dave Bronconnier and Al Duerr.

It’s this key that also worries me most. With the Wildrose is seen as the alternative and the PCs looking like corrupt crooks, it could very well shift even more. Hence, my bets (and fears) for the final result are Wildrose – 50%, PCs – 19%, Liberals & NDP – 11% each, Alberta Party/EverGreens – 4% each, others – 1%.

My early rankings #ndpldr

First note that the vote for the leader of the NDP is still 3 weeks away, and through the magic of the internet, there is no need to actually vote until convention day (when you can vote in real time with the convention), these rankings aren’t finalized.

Each candidate has their strengths and weaknesses, many of which were obvious at the start of the campaign, some have been exposed through the race, and a couple have tried to counter their weaknesses . To determine my ranking I compared each candidate to each of the other candidates, determining subjectively which I would rather see lead the party.

My key issues for leader are:

  1. They must be able to grow the party in Western Canada. We need to win seats in Saskatchewan and Alberta and build on our strength in BC and Manitoba. We also have to break into Ontario. These are where the new seats are coming, and its where any future government will need its base. This means understanding rural and western issues and reaching those voters where they are.
  2. Obviously we also need to hold Quebec. Polls are starting to show that wave of support simmer down. While we’re still competitive, we can’t slip much further. I want a leader who can hold 30-60 seats without costing ones in Western Canada. Nothing alienates Albertans more than extra deference to Eastern issues.
  3. Our leader must be able to articulate a positive, progressive vision for Canada. We won’t beat Harper by going negative and we don’t need to be Liberals – there already is a party for the mushy middle. This includes reaching out to non-voters and those disaffected by the poisonous partisan rhetoric.
  4. A strong commitment to keeping Canada secular.

Before I get to my rankings, here’s what I see as the strengths and weaknesses of each candidate:

Continue reading My early rankings #ndpldr

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).