31 May 2010

He Talketh Out of Both Sides of Mouth

Liberal MP Joe Volpe tweets: "I stand with Israel. Critics would be wise to reserve judgment until all the facts are clear."

Clearly, Volpe considers his own advice to be valueless.

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Edmonton Sun Favours Electoral Reform

"The single-member plurality system, which allows a candidate to win without a majority of electoral support, has several other natural consequences: it leads to long periods of governance without effective opposition, as opposing parties typically receive far fewer seats than their vote count should represent. It also leads to an erosion of checks and balances over power. And it leads to public disenchantment with the consequences of under-representation, which in turn leads to not only less voter involvement, but less candidate/platform promotion, as well.

"...until abolished for political gain in 1956 by the Social Credit Party, Alberta had effective alternate voting systems that were, by Canadian standards, revolutionary. Those included single transferable votes, which let voters in Edmonton and Calgary pick MLAs based on an order of preference, with the remaining percentage of votes over what was required to win transferable to another supported candidate. Ironically, the single transferable vote system is now among more popular modern proposals to amend western democratic systems."

Hear that BC?

Our 160-member Citizens Assembly on Electoral Reform got it right. After almost a year studying the various options, including our current first-past-the-post (single member plurality) system, it determined that proportional representation would best address the needs presented to it in thousands of submissions from British Columbians.

Then, after evaluating various proportional representation systems, the members of the Citizens Assembly determined that the Single Transferable Vote delivered the optimum benefit and fairness to voters - which was precisely what the majority of presenters, those not speaking on behalf of political parties, had asked for.

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30 May 2010

Lessons on Framing - Majority Governments

Lorne Gunter writes in the Edmonton Sun today in general support of a Liberal-NDP coalition - provided the Bloc "doesn't hold the hammer."

I wish journalists and others would stop denigrating the Bloc. In doing so, they denigrate the people who vote for it. But that's not the point of this post. It's this:

What I would object to, strenuously, would be proportional representation foisted on the nation by such a coalition.

That would cement coalition in our future almost forever.... [M]ajority governments would be rare and coalition governments are compromise governments.

Oh, dear! To have coalition, compromise, the representation in government - not perpetually in opposition - of the majority of voters!

Get with the lingo: majority government should NOT be defined as 'government comprised of members of a single party' but 'government comprised of members that represent the majority of voters'.

Governments - minority or majority - should never be defined in terms of how many political parties they represent. To hell with parties! What about voters?!

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29 May 2010

Anti-HST Petition a Sign of New Populism in BC?

[Updated]

I've written before that I support the HST, so it should come as no surprise to anyone that I didn't sign the anti-HST petition.

I do NOT and have never supported the machinations by the BC Liberals to ram the HST down British Columbians' throats without ever uttering a word about it during the May 2009 election.

I've also written, extensively, about my support for democratic reform.

I am therefore heartened by the strength of the (pseudo*) populist anti-HST campaign, which has already reached the required number of signatures weeks ahead of the deadline. And I'm especially excited about this: if the conclusion is unsatisfactory (nothing binds the Liberal government to honour a referendum outcome or to introduce a bill to undo the HST), then the petitioners will begin the recall process for Liberal MLAs, one riding at a time.

I hope this augers well for future heightened voter attention to the goings-on in Victoria. It's long past time politicians thought twice about getting voters angry.

*The anti-HST petition received a lot of help from well-pocketed individuals and groups who've certain vested political interests.

ETA: If my MLA was a Liberal and despite my supporting the HST, I would sign a recall petition. Lying during an election and bringing in a policy scant weeks later - one known to press voter buttons and one that Campbell & Co. assured everyone wasn't even on the party's radar - deserves no less than firing the lot of them.

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23 May 2010

Stephen Harper Does a Mr. Dithers

According to Dimitri Soudas - now banned (as are all political staffers) by HarperCo from appearing before parliamentary committees -, one Stephen Harper has done a Mr. Dithers.

No, Soudas didn't put it quite that way. He put it this way:

"The Prime Minister is keen to see discussions [between the board of internal economy and the AG re MP expenses] continue. He's also keen to see this matter resolved with more transparency."

How it must hurt Harper to have mocked Iggy's backtracking - only to turn around and do it himself!

Meanwhile, Jack Layton, who heads the most progressive (?) of Canada's national parties, still cleaves to BOIE's original decision not to allow the AG to do an audit, period.

For those who like to keep score, this is how the leaders of the four parties in the House of Commons stack up on the issue:

First place, blue ribbon: Gilles Ducuppe, whose party always supported having the AG do an audit.
Second place, red ribbon: Ignatieff, who listened to his MPs and backtracked early.
Third place, white ribbon: Harper, who didn't backtrack until late in the game.
Fourth place, no ribbon: Layton, whose party continues to support the status quo.

All of which leads me to this:  

An audit by the AG is no longer good enough. Resistance by MPs has raised alarm bells. NOW I want all MPs (and senators) to post online their detailed expense reports and to back them up with links to the relevant invoices. Toronto city council is a good example of what SHOULD be done.

[H/t to @dominionpundit for reference to the TO info.]

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Parliamentarians Not Required to Testify at Committees

... unless required to do so by an Order of the House.

Parliamentarians cannot be compelled by committees alone, as can other witnesses. So says the esteemed Kady O'Malley in a recent Twitter conversation.

Therefore, with the Harper Government's latest salvo regarding the appearance of political staffers at parliamentary committees, Canadians face the same scenario as with the Afghan detainee documents issue:

- Committee X requires A
- HarperCo refuses A
- A member of the Opposition files a motion to compel A
- The House votes on the motion
- The motion passes
- HarperCo refuses A
- The opposition appeals to the Speaker of the House
- The Speaker takes time to consider
- The Speaker orders that HarperCo and members of the opposition negotiate a deal
- Time passes
- A deal is reached
- Committee X requires B....

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NOW what is our Ineffectual Opposition going to do?

The Harper Government - yes, let's call it what it is; over 60% of Canadians are unrepresented by this government - will make official on Tuesday that political staffers are now banned from testifying before parliamentary committees.

The purported reason, according to political staffer Dimitri Soudas: "Ministers are the ones who are accountable and answer to Parliament."

To Iggy & Layton, neither of whom "want an election" (the Canadians that I know DO): How are you going to work your next climb-down? Without enabling more damage to our democracy?

ETA: The manoeuvrings by Canada's political parties to avoid an election in order to ensure their own survival, actions that risk our country's democratic institutions, is why I dislike party politics and favour the Single Transferable Vote, a proportional representation electoral system. STV is not only the fairest system for voters; it also enables more independents to be elected.

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Federal Government Joins Online Communities

Well, sort of.

It's not like the feds have social engagement or true participation in mind. It's more infiltration.

At least that's what I glean from this: "[E]mployees in Foreign Affairs or the Department of Fisheries and Oceans ... have recently been trained in online posting."

Trained?

Translation: Told what to write, based on key phrases in target comments. In other words, how to propagandize.

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21 May 2010

Correction - Jean Crowder Expenses

I'd written previously that NDP MP Jean Crowder, who represents my constituency of Nanaimo-Cowichan, claimed $274,404 for 'Other' (2008-2009).

I was wrong. Crowder's expense record claims that amount under 'Staff and Other Expenses'. For Other, the record claims $16. This is better and I apologize for the error. (Reporter David Akin brought it to my attention in a tweet.)

The correction doesn't change my point, however. All MP's expenses should undergo the type of audit that Sheila Fraser does. In fact, I'd prefer that MP's detailed expenses be made public, that they be posted online somewhere.

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20 May 2010

Very Impressive

This is what a coalition agreement looks like - The Coalition: Our programme for government (PDF). BBC provides the summary here.

I am particularly impressed by this, from p27 of the agreement:

"We will whip both Parliamentary parties in both Houses to support a simple majority referendum on the Alternative Vote."

Canadian politics and the behaviour of Canada's politicians appear so petty and small in comparison.

My thanks to Doug Saunders, European Bureau Chief of the Globe and Mail, for tweeting the above links.

ETA: Some readers appear not to have noted the point of emphasis above. I support a referendum on electoral reform whose result is based on a simple majority, not the super majorities (60 percent) that Canadian provinces have imposed. I do not support the Alternative Vote, which is another winner-take-all system, not a proportional one.

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Iggy Blames Opponents for Dismal Polling Numbers

Michael Ignatieff says his political foes have "done a number on me," an observation he made before seeing the latest EKOS numbers which have the Liberal Party down to 25.1 percent.

Well, the Conservatives defined St├ęphane Dion before the Liberal Party got its act together too.

Who's fault, truly, was that?

Blaming one's opponents for one's own dismal showing and plummeting popularity does not demonstrate leadership.

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19 May 2010

Lessons on Framing - Coalition Governments

As important as the question regarding whether the Liberal Party and NDP would consider being part of a coalition government is whether the Conservative Party would.

Why are virtually all media, journalists, other writers and democratic reformers ignoring this?

Just because Canadians won't vote in enough MPs to give a single party a majority is no reason why Canada must be stuck with perpetual minorities.

Coalition governments are majority governments.

If the Liberals and Conservatives want a majority government all they need do is be honest with Canadians and negotiate with the third- and/or fourth-place parties after an election.

Unfortunately, given the political environment Canada's party leaders have created, in collusion with most media, honesty and negotiation are unlikely democratic tools to be removed from their toolboxes. Indeed, those tools must be rusty from disuse.

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18 May 2010

Second Exchange with MP's Office re Expenses

Hello Chrystal,

We comply with the rules laid out by the Board of Internal Economy. If you would like a certain audit from them, please contact the members on the Board. Here is the link to their website: http://www.parl.gc.ca/information/about/boie-e.htm.

Sincerely,

Alistair MacGregor │Community Development
Jean Crowder, MP Nanaimo-Cowichan


My reply:

Therein lies the rub. The rules as "laid out by the Board of Internal Economy" do not meet the demands of Canadians like myself.

I appreciate your quick responses. They've been informative.

Chrystal Ocean,
Duncan BC.

[See original letter and first exchange]

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Response to My Letter to MP re Expenses

Dear Chrystal,

Thank you for your email to Jean.

The House of Commons, through the Board of Internal Economy, has rigorous internal auditing, including the auditing of MPs’ expenses, and an external auditor is hired on a regular basis to conduct an external audit on the books. There are very strict rules for all expenses incurred by MPs’ offices and these are enforced by impartial House of Commons administration staff.

All of our expenses are public and available online. Below are three links to different expenses of MP offices:

1. Members Office and Travel Expenses

Below is the direct link to the PDF document for the most recent financial period.

Members Office and Travel Expenses 2008 - 2009

2. Disclosure Statement from the Office of the Conflict of Interest and Ethics Commissioner

A direct link to a specific MP’s disclosure statement can be obtained by entering the name of the MP on this page:

http://ciec-ccie.gc.ca/PublicSearchMembers.aspx

3. Candidate's Electoral Campaign Return

Find the information here by clicking "40th General Election" and then searching by candidate:

http://www.elections.ca/scripts/webpep/fin2/select_election.aspx?entity=1〈=e

I hope this addresses your concerns. Please contact me if you have any further questions.

Sincerely,

Alistair MacGregor │Community Development
Jean Crowder, MP Nanaimo-Cowichan


My reply:

The audits you mention ... are financial audits. They are not the performance audits as done by the Auditor General.

The links you provide do not show details of expenses, merely major category breakdowns.

Therefore, no, your response does not address my concerns.

Chrystal Ocean,
Duncan BC.

[My original letter and an update]

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Letter to My Member of Parliament re MP Expenses

Hello Jean [Crowder, NDP MP for Nanaimo-Cowichan]:

Given the public outcry - count me among the numbers - over the denial by the Board of Internal Economy to permit Canada's Auditor General to audit MP expenses, will you:

1. Make your expenses public?
2. Push your leader and fellow MPs to have MP expenses annually made public and/or to have MP expenses audited by Canada's Auditor General, whenever he/she requests it?

Chrystal Ocean,
Duncan BC.

[See two updates]

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Why Canadian Politicians won't Emulate Brits - UPDATE

Taylor Owen scores a hit regarding why Canadians are unlikely to see a coalition government anytime in the near future.

To summarize:

1. The NDP's joined-at-the-hip relationship with labour unions.
2. The Green Party's devotion to a poor election strategy.
3. Reform's influence on the Conservative Party.
4. The uncomfortable marriage of red and blue Liberals. We need the old Progressive Conservatives back or a new, similar party that will bring in like elements from the Greens, Liberals and Conservatives.
5. The immaturity of Canada's politicians, particularly that of the power brokers. Self-interest appears to be their goal, not service in a parliamentary democracy.

UPDATE: Oh, well done, guys! You continue to prove point 5.

ETA: First link in post has been corrected.

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16 May 2010

Canada, the Liberals and Iggy's (mis)Fortunes

"There is a magic number circulating among Liberals these days: 25 per cent. If their party sinks to this number in the polls, then all bets are off."

All those Liberals who decried the crowning of Michael Ignatieff just months ago; all those Liberals who pushed for one-member-one-vote ... and were denied it by the party's backroom boys and powerbrokers: You know what to do when next a pollster comes calling.

In the event that you don't, you might read this and this.

Your country needs you to do the right thing.

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15 May 2010

Oh, dear. Not a good response, Mr. Comartin

On the Auditor General's request for an invitation to audit MPs' expenses, NDP MP Joe Comartin responded with these two gems: i) "This type of examination should not be done by a public servant" and ii) "It's the electorate who makes those decisions as to whether we spend our money properly."

Comartin must have had tongue firmly in cheek when he said that. How else to explain the inconsistency of the two statements?

For members of the electorate to know whether MPs spend their money properly, MPs' expenses must be made, er, known to them.

Ergo, either MPs should make their expenses public for all to see or they should extend that invitation to Canada's Auditor General for her to have at 'em - not that lack of invitation will stop her.

Oh, and regarding MPs wanting expenses sealed to keep lawsuits quiet, per Liberal MP Paul Szabo, well I'd like an answer to this question:

Why should MPs be the only public employers to get off the hook?

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14 May 2010

On Leadership Popularity

... and party (mis)fortunes.

Despite issue after issue, which should have brought an end to his reign, Stephen Harper continues to lead in the popularity contest among leaders of the four major national parties. His party also leads the dismal pack.

That both leadership and Conservative party numbers are out front is not surprising. The two stats almost always go in tandem, in terms of place.

In leadership numbers, Michael Ignatieff has, more often than not, done worse than his party.

The same cannot be said of Harper.

You'd think the hapless Liberals would put two and two together.

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12 May 2010

UK Forms Coalition Government - UPDATE 3

Details are starting to emerge regarding the deal between the UK Conservatives and Liberal Democrats.

Of particular interest is an agreement to hold a referendum on the Alternative Vote. While AV is another flavour of winner-take-all and is not proportional, it does use the preferential ballot. Therefore, AV helps citizens become accustomed to voting by preferential order rather than by either/or.

The agreement also includes moving toward having an elected upper house and by means of a proportional system. (The House of Lords is equivalent in function to the Canadian Senate.)

Would that Canada emulated the UK's example!

Original post.

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11 May 2010

UK Forms Coalition Government - UPDATE

Confirmed, from the first speech by the new PM David Cameron. There WILL be a coalition government. Details to follow.

If the Brits can do it, why not Canada?

Why did Stephen Harper - and Paul Martin, and other leaders of parties that headed minority governments - never enter into a coalition with another party, in order to form MAJORITY governments?

Canada, and especially Canadian politicians, LEARN FROM THIS.

UPDATE: Nick Clegg, leader of the Liberal Democrats, is reported confirmed to be the new Deputy Prime Minister in the new Conservative-LibDem government. Also it's rumoured that the LibDems negotiated strongly and received many more concessions from the Conservatives than vice versa - unlike Canada's Ineffectual Opposition parties. In his speech, Cameron had spoken of a "full and proper" coalition. Looks like he meant it.

UPDATE 2: BBC reports (am watching the livestream) that aside from deputy PM, LibDems will get 20 posts in government (five ministers/15 secretaries).

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10 May 2010

DA SEPARATISTS! COALITION WITH DA SEPARATISTS!

From a tweet by Doug Saunders, European Bureau chief with the Globe and Mail, re the outcome of the UK election:

Just to be clear to Canadians: Gordon Brown today proposed a COALITION WITH SEPARATIST PARTIES!!!! And that aspect doesn't bug people here.

So Canadians wait with bated breath for the Brits to do what our politicians haven't the gonads to do: i) negotiate to form a majority coalition government and ii) include in those negotiations reform of the electoral system.

Only THEN might Canadians see such things happening here.

In the meantime, we have a government that is run by a party that garnered ONLY 23 PERCENT of the popular vote; and thanks to our Ineffectual Opposition we effectively have a Conservative majority government. 

The rest of us are not free of blame. A sufficient number of Canadians clearly don't give a damn.

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06 May 2010

How Harper Can Get His Majority

If Stephen Harper wants a majority government, there's a simple solution for getting one. All he need do is transform Canada's electoral system into one of proportional representation. And do it fast.

As shown consistently by polls, the Liberals as led by Michael Ignatieff continue to draw dismal public support. Meanwhile, the Conservatives hang onto their base. Any new election under our single member plurality system (or 'first-past-the-post') would therefore deliver yet another Conservative minority government.

True, the Ignatieff Liberals make for a piss-poor Official Opposition. As a result, Canada's minority Conservative governments since January 2006 have managed to rule almost as a majority, slowly achieving much of their agenda which includes the whittling away of women's rights.

But there are some things the Conservatives simply cannot do without a majority of votes in the House of Commons. They therefore use playground oneupmanship, sneak tactics and burying of the truth. Against our Ineffectual Opposition, it's no contest.

Still, Canadians have refused to be bullied into giving Harper the majority he craves. Ergo, my suggestion that he bring in proportional representation.

With proportional representation, every government is a majority government, usually a coalition of two or more parties. In Canada's current case, the Greens would likely get seats, enough to play kingmaker.

All Harper need do is woo the Greens over to his side. Given the man's thirst for power and tendency toward expediency, accomplishing this should be a walk in the park.

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