Saturday, November 10, 2018

U.S. midterm results remind how amoral and immoral conservatives are ruining it for the rest of us

Meme of Maclean's cover this week
Like most liberals, I was hoping for a giant blue tsunami to wash over the United States in this week's midterm elections.  While the victory for the Democrats - taking a clear majority of seats in the House of Representatives - was strong, I wanted it to be bigger.  

I had hoped that the country would correct its horrific 2016 technical error - when its Electoral College handed victory to the Child currently occupying the White House - by sweeping the GOP aside everywhere it could this week.  But the enduring amorality/immorality of many conservatives got in the way of that.

I'm not saying that most conservatives are bigots.  It's just that most conservatives don't seem to mind bigotry much.  For them, a clearly bigoted candidate is not a deal breaker.

For them, tax cuts and deregulation of the economy are more important than basic human rights and true equality.  On tax cuts and managing the economy, I can't say I completely disagree with them.  Reasonable people can disagree on how high or low taxes should be, as they can also disagree on how much oversight private industries need in order for the public interest to be served.

But if a candidate is clearly a bigot living in a climate-change-denying dream world, reasonable conservatives should refuse to vote for them. 

You can't claim to oppose or be upset by the hate being spewed or the childish behaviour by your conservative candidate, yet vote for them anyway and not be considered at best amoral.

Talk is talk.  Action is action.

Republican elites in Florida and Georgia were clearly stacking the decks in their favour forcing unfair election ID laws and other nuisances that were designed to suppress ethnic minorities from voting.  It was clear that the GOP candidate for governor in Florida was quite comfortable flirting with racists and using racist terms to denigrate his African-American opponent.  I had hoped that this would mean defeat for these Republican sleazebags.   But in the face of these racist facts, most conservative voters just shrugged and voted Republican anyway.  

This amorality is not just limited to human rights issues.  

For most conservatives, it seems the short term profits of old-fashioned industries and a select rich few are way more important than the pending catastrophe of climate change.

Let me remind conservatives opposing any and all action to curb carbon emissions: you can't have an economy if you have no planet!

I can't for the life of me figure out how conservatives continue to refuse any action to effectively curb carbon emissions with the stakes so high.  It seems to go against what one might consider a fundamental conservative principle of preserving life.

For mindless ideologues like Doug Ford, this attitude is easy to understand.  Ford is an idiot.

But others like Andrew Scheer, Jason Kenney, and Ted Cruz are clearly not idiots.  Yet a sleazy combination of amorality, conservative ideology, and electoral opportunism seems to be getting the better of them.

And the rest of us on this planet will suffer greatly.

Let's also face it - part of the reason these conservatives aren't doing anything on climate change is they know that the vast majority of people whose lives and neighbourhoods will first be destroyed by it are poor, vulnerable, non-white people living in low-lying regions.  As water levels rise and flood communities and destroy economies, it won't be the base of most western conservative communities that'll suffer at first.  They're safely nestled within the rural boonies of our countries.  For them, it's, "I'm alright, Jack, what's the wrong with you?"

Of course, not all conservatives are amoral or immoral hypocrites or idiots.   We do have some moderate, reasonable conservatives - like perhaps Toronto mayor John Tory and others - who don't tolerate bigotry, are as inclusive as they can be, and don't ignore facts.

Even former Reform Party leader Preston Manning, now freed from the bullshit of electoral politics, is coming down on the right side of history when it comes to climate change. 

Yet those kinds of conservative leaders seem to have been abandoned by the conservative base, who, as evidenced through their votes, much prefer these days rabid bigotry and simplistic messaging focused on short-term, selfish gain. 

Such conservatives, thankfully, in Canada are outnumbered by a progressive majority.  Only our First-Past-The-Post voting system, which can hand conservatives full majority power with only 30-40% of the vote, allows such conservative idiocy to still find power in our country.

But conservative power in America persists for now.  While progressive America seems to be the slight majority (made clear by the Democratic vote pluralities in every presidential election minus one since 1992), the right continues to steal elections.  The Child did it in 2016 thanks to the Electoral College, as did George W. Bush in 2000. 

But not for long, I hope (hence why Republicans continue to still fight against immigration.)  Demographics are changing there, as is voter turnout.  Soon Democrat support will be so high even exclusionary voting rules or the Electoral College won't be able to contain it.  Democrat victories this week are merely a prelude to future elections, I think. 

One very reasonable and moderate conservative Andrew Coyne seems to concur:  "As the exit polls show, (GOP voters are) overwhelmingly white, in a society in which whites are a steadily declining share of the population; rural, in a society that continues to urbanize; less educated, in a society that is growing more educated; religious, in a society that is rapidly secularizing.  And it leans heavily on the personality cult surrounding a man who is 72 years old." 

Change is slowly coming.  Bigotry cannot win forever as those who support it or tolerate it are already outnumbered.  We'll never change their minds but we can at least beat them at the polls.  We'll continue to suffer short-term setbacks, but the trend is clear and I remain cautiously optimistic. 

Thursday, November 1, 2018

What's scarier? A tiny of rump of ignored extremists, or an extremist majority government? Canada needs Proportional Representation!



Last week, I expressed alarm about the fact that 25,000 people voted for a known white nationalist in the Toronto mayoral election, representing 3.4% of the overall Toronto vote.

If a no-hope fringe candidate with a bit of money and media savvy could win that much support in Toronto, it was conceivable that similar percentages of voters in Canada could support white nationalist or other extremist parties in provincial or federal elections as well. 

Under our current First-Past-the-Post voting system, 3.4% wouldn't likely translate into any seats.  But under proportional representation (PR), they conceivably could.

Suddenly the idea of white supremacists gaining a foothold in Canadian legislatures became real to me and it scared me.

I've since recovered. Let me explain.

First, it's unlikely any proportional representation system we'd adopt in Canada would have a threshold as low as three per cent for representation.  Currently, British Columbia residents are voting on some PR proposals that would set 5.0% as that minimum threshold for seats. 

My post last week inspired a spirited debate with a progressive acquaintance who supports the Green Party who took issue with many of my points.  He reminded me that, while extremists have been able to gain footholds in some European parliaments from time to time, they have not been able to win much if any influence.  The bigger, mainstream parties have tended to shun the extremists.   It's likely our mainstream parties in Canada would do the same and instead form coalitions with more moderate parties.  The backlash against any mainstream party for jumping in bed with bigots would be too damaging to be worth it, as it is now.

One could easily expect that, even if extremists won a foothold with 5% of the vote in one election, they could easily slip below that threshold in subsequent elections.

Could such a tiny foothold one day grow much bigger as a result?  It's possible. But under PR, they'd only ever win the representation their votes deserve. 

But under First-Past-The-Post, the rise of an extremist party could be far more horrifying. 

Today, an extremist party could jump into the teens or even 20 percentage point range under First-Past-The-Post and win a lot of seats, particularly if it were mostly located in one region. 

Even more horrifying to conceive, if an extremist party got into the 30% vote range, they'd be capable of winning a majority government under First-Past-The-Post.  

I've found most First-Past-The-Post apologists to be fairly smug and arrogant about how stable things are under it.

We just saw a conservative party in Quebec, with an anti-immigrant agenda, win a big majority with only 37% of the vote, after all.  There, the Liberals, Parti Quebecois and Quebec Solidaire, all more friendly to immigrants, took a combined 58% support from Quebecers.   Yet that translated into only 40% of the seats. 

While I am disgusted by the idea of extremists winning toeholds in our legislatures under PR, I am more disgusted by the constant reality of parties with only minority support winning majority governments under First-Past-The-Post.

What's more scary?  Small parties winning rumps in the corner of our legislatures, exposing their members to scrutiny and possible scandal, all the while the mainstream parties shun them?  Or a far-right mainstream party, like the one headed today by Doug Ford, taking full control of our province now with only 40% of the vote?

Today, we have an idiot drunk on conservative ideology in charge of Ontario, claiming he's got a mandate to stop carbon taxes despite winning only 40% of the vote. 

Today, 54% of Ontarians say they're in favour of Justin Trudeau's carbon tax plan.  Yet, Dougie remains convinced he's got Ontario's support as he tries to undermine the best way to combat climate change and transform our economy for the modern era.

First-Past-The-Post distorts the wishes of all voters every time.

PR reflects those wishes, warts and all.

I'm prepared to live with the occasional wart as long as the giant mess that is First-Past-the-Post goes away.

If one party wins 40% of the vote, it should not win 60% of the seats.  It shouldn't win 55% of the seats.  It should win 40% of the seats.

Any system that would hand Donald Trump the presidency with three million fewer votes than Hillary Clinton is broken.   And First-Past-The-Post / Winner-Take-All frequently hands power to the vote loser. 

We are a democracy.   It's time our voting system actually reflect that.

As I mentioned, B.C. is holding its own mail-in referendum this month.   First-Past-The-Post is once again up against Proportional Representation. Voters are also being asked to select which PR system they'd like to move to should PR be supported by over 50%.

On that front, I hope that Dual Member Proportional wins.  


Tuesday, October 23, 2018

The strongest argument against proportional representation I've ever seen: Faith Goldy's 3.4% vote for Toronto mayor

Toronto mayor final voting results

Yesterday, Torontonians voted in their municipal election and re-elected John Tory by a wide margin with 63.5% of the vote.  Second place finisher Jennifer Keesmaat finished way back but with the still substantial 23.6%.

But Faith Goldy, a far-right propagandist who works through a white supremacist lens and has talked about an upcoming racial civil war in North America, took a disturbing 25,667 votes across the city, or 3.4% of the vote.

Faith Goldy and supporters with Ford at Ford Fest last month
Goldy got a bit famous in neo-conservative circles thanks to her work for Ezra Levant's Rebel Media, a website on which many "mainstream" conservatives like Andrew Scheer have appeared in the past.  Her notoriety increased last year when she "reported" on the Charlottesville white supremacist riot and "appeared on a podcast affiliated with neo-Nazi website The Daily Stormer."

For that, she was fired from Rebel.  It's sad to realize that despite that at least one of her videos still appears on the Rebel's YouTube channel. 

Goldy recently made an appearance at Doug Ford's 2018 Ford Fest and got photographed with the premier.  When questioned about this, Doug Ford first found it difficult to disassociate himself from her. 

Goldy's mayoral candidacy got little mainstream media attention.  In the few mayoral debates that took place, she wasn't invited (although she did try to force herself into at least one of them.)  In fact, John Tory explicitly said he would not stand on the same debate platform with a white supremacist.

But Goldy's signs were all over the city and she had enough money to launch robo-calls and other outreach to voters.   And in the end, she garnered 3.4% or 25,667 votes.

This is the kind of thing that opponents of proportional representation have been warning us about and I must say today I am deeply alarmed.

Yes it was a mayoral race, but if this dubiously qualified candidate can win this much support in a mayoral race in Toronto, imagine what she or similar racists in a political party could win in a general election.

I've argued before that proportional representation is a better voting system than our current First-Past-The-Post system.

But today, I'm not so sure.  As we know, in the Ontario model of proportional representation that was defeated in 2007, three per cent of the vote province-wide was the threshold for winning seats in the House.  That party would then be able to use that representation to influence the larger parties.  Winning that toehold in one election would likely mean its support could grow as potential voters realize they're not wasting their votes on them.

Yet, our current system tends to shut out extremists like this.  It's not enough to win 3 or 5 per cent of the vote, one has to win a wider amount of support enough to carry the most votes in at least one seat to earn representation.

This reality has shut out extremists like Faith Goldy from gaining representation and more power in our legislatures with which they could do great harm.

Of course, First-Past-The-Post also has its many flaws.  It hands parties with a mere plurality of support majority power.   Sometimes it even hands the losing party the most seats, as it did recently in New Brunswick.

A friend of mine on social media recently commented in support of First-Past-The-Post, stating "there is no question that FPTP ensures that political parties are only successful if they avoid extremes and extremists."

In some ways, that's true.  Parties will usually aim toward the mainstream in order to win enough broad support to win seats and government.  Parties that only aim toward the tiny minority that are white supremacists and ignore the rest of us cannot usually win seats under FPTP.

In the United Kingdom, the xenophobic UK Independence Party won an incredible 12.6% support in the 2015 election, but that only translated into one single seat out of 650.  In the next election, its support fell way back to 1.8% and zero seats.

Yet extreme parties like that would win seats under proportional representation.  I'd personally favour a five percent cutoff for representation under PR, but even that total could be exceeded by some upstart white supremacist party, as Goldy's 3.4% total yesterday makes clear.

I equate white supremacists with homophobic bigots on the religious right.  And there's no doubt that the shrinking proportion of religious fundamentalists who would destroy the lives of all LGBTQ people have been frustrated of late as their influence also recedes in Canada.

They've responded to this reality by continuing to stay active in the Conservative parties across the country.  But even in those parties, their influence is diminishing.  The Conservatives no longer explicitly oppose same sex marriage, for example.

Yet, far right activists still have had some success in Conservative parties.  Loser candidates with almost zero qualifications for leadership - like 19-year-old home schooled Ontario MPP Sam Oosterhoff, or Saskatchewan MP Brad Trost - seem to regularly win big amounts of support in that party. 

Earlier this year, right wing extremist Tanya Granic Allen ran a one-note campaign in the Ontario PC leadership race against Ontario's inclusive school curriculum (brought in by Kathleen Wynne, it actually acknowledged the existence of LGBTQ kids in our schools.)  Granic Allen garnered an incredible 15% of the vote, almost as much as Caroline Mulroney.  In the end, that 15% of the vote was crucial to "electing" Doug Ford as PC leader, who's now gone on to become premier and cancel that inclusive curriculum (while still ditching the horrid Granic Allen from his candidate roster after some more homophobic comments of hers were revealed.)

So while no far right fringe party has representation in the Ontario legislature, its influence in determining the outcome of the Conservative leadership shows that the big tent parties under First-Past-The-Post are still vulnerable. 

Yet I have to say that I prefer the status quo over seeing a contingent of bigots winning representation under some possible proportional representation system.  While the influence of the far right on the Conservatives remains real but not overwhelming (and they have virtually no influence in the Liberal Party, the NDP or the Greens,) there's no doubt that influence would grow substantially were they to win a foothold of actual seats in our legislatures.

The far right extreme is not going away.  It's true that certain conservatives like Doug Ford or Donald Trump have been able to appeal to them in order to win power under Winner Take All or First Past the Post.   But those same conservatives under these voting systems must still appeal to the much bigger mainstream, and thus that influence is diminished, it seems.  I'd hate to see what a Conservative Party coalition with Faith Goldy's far right fringe party might accomplish under proportional representation.

Suddenly, I find myself questioning my whole support for PR.  Most PR proponents tend to be well-meaning left-wing activists or environmentalists.  But as they say, the road to hell is paved with good intentions.  Perhaps progressive folks like me who want to stop the flaws of First-Past-The-Post should look to other systems to fix it.

Perhaps ranked balloting - the kind that Justin Trudeau wanted to implement federally and which now exists municipally in London, Ontario - is the better alternative than a system that might give an amplified voice to the far right extremes of our society. 

*************

UPDATE: After some good debate and thought, I've re-thought this and still support Proportional Representation over our current broken First-Past-The-Post system.  Click here for my update. 

Monday, October 22, 2018

Big silver lining: goodbye to the buffoonish Giorgio Mammoliti

Goodbye, Mammoliti! :-)
Congrats to John Tory who won an overwhelming re-election tonight in Toronto.

The voters have spoken: the majority of them must be happy with his performance as mayor, as they are presumably happy with the cost of living in this city, the state of transit, road infrastructure, and housing.

Or perhaps they simply know him very well and Jennifer Keesmaat, who launched her campaign in late July, didn't have enough time to get her message out and her name out there.  The race was also hijacked by Doug Ford's ward-changing shenanigans, leaving only about one month for candidates to campaign without that major distraction.

It was too high a hill to climb in so short a time.  Regardless, I hope Keesmaat will stay involved in politics and continue to promote a better city.  And hopefully Tory will steal some of her great ideas for making the city better.  

Congrats as well to Kristyn Wong-Tam, an awesome queer woman of colour who won easy re-election in my ward of Toronto Centre.

Looking around the various ward elections, it's a mixed bag of results with some folks I don't respect much winning, while others I adore also winning. 

The stand-out silver lining tonight is the much-deserved defeat of the buffoonish, repulsive Giorgio Mammoliti, who has been a thorn in the side of all decent people in Toronto for too long.

This is a jerk who's made a career of attacking vulnerable people and spreading hate.  His contributions to public life are a joke, yet he continued to win because incumbents are damn hard to beat in municipal elections where name recognition means a lot.  
 
Thankfully, the voters of his Ward 7 in Humber River-Black Creek finally sent him packing, electing instead Anthony Perruzza, the other incumbent in the area.

In a funny way, this is solely because Doug Ford reduced the size of council from 47 to 25.  Had that not happened, I'm sure the horrid Mammolit would've won his smaller ward.  How ironic! 

Saturday, October 20, 2018

We get the mediocre city we deserve if we re-elect John Tory as Toronto mayor

I like Toronto mayor John Tory as a person.  He seems decent enough and hard-working.  He's come a long way since the nasty backrooms of the 1993 federal election and even his first run as a politician in 2003, when he placed a strong second to David Miller in the race for Toronto mayor.

He's learned a lot about how to play issues and sound intelligent and fair, even when he has no intention of being so when the cameras are turned off. 

When I hear Tory talk, I've often found myself unsure if I support or oppose what he's saying because his style is to be all over the map, vacillating around most issues, sometimes within the same sentence. 

Tory is often well-meaning, but he lacks follow through and the fortitude to implement a good policy in the face of irrational resistance.  As mayor, Tory has played it safe and often taken the easiest way out of a policy choice.

I was thankful to Tory for getting rid of the Fords from the mayor's office in 2014.  I voted strategically for him then.  But in 2018, Toronto needs better.

Our city's growth is out of control with not much of a plan I can see for making it sustainable and ensuring public services keep up with that growth. It is now common to see school board signs at new condo developments warning potential buyers their kids will likely have to be transported far away to attend a public school. 

Too many pedestrians and cyclists continue to die on our roads in a city filled with entitled, reckless motorists who still consider most downtown streets as their personal highways.  The city's Vision Zero plan has not been supported enough by John Tory, who instead prefers to side with regressive suburban councillors on most road issues.

I'll admit his support of the King Street Streetcar pilot was good, but it struck me as more calculated (to win downtown progressive votes in the face of a possible Doug Ford run for mayor earlier this year) than sincere.   

Tory's decision to champion spending an extra $500 million to rebuild the crumbling eastern Gardiner Expressway is the kind of foolish capitulation to suburban drivers that we've seen from many previous mediocre mayors like him.  When it comes to placating privileged motorists, no expense can be spared, it seems.  So much for fiscal conservatism. (Let's also not forget that Tory truly believed the Gardiner East should be torn down, but flip flopped as mayor when he had the chance to follow through.)
  
We desperately need a transit system that is comprehensive and serves all parts of the city well.  But there's little chance of that happening under John Tory who's more interested in salvaging whatever he can from his failed Smart Track proposal than building such a network. 

I've been impressed with Jennifer Keesmaat in this race and I've already voted for her in advance polls.  She is someone who knows city planning and city building in her bones and is a bold fighter.  I was thrilled that someone deeply credible got into the race to challenge Tory.  It says a lot that Toronto's city planner decided to run against her former boss.  

All of Keesmaat's proposals strike me as well-thought out and based on firm principles that will lead to a much better Toronto.  Plus she seems tougher than Tory and more capable of implementing her policies than he has ever been. 

But alas, if the polls are correct, Torontonians seem contented with the complacent, wishy washy style of John Tory in the mayor's chair.  

I hope that doesn't come to pass.

We get the leadership and government we deserve.

If John Tory wins Monday, I can only say this to those who support him: 

Over the next four years and beyond, when you're stuck in a massive traffic jam downtown because too many people still opt to drive cars as good transit alternatives don't exist, or when you're crammed into a bus or subway platform waiting, or dodging reckless taxi cars on your bike, or worse yet mourning the death of a loved one who was run down by a speeding motorist on a residential street, remember we brought this on ourselves.   

And sadly we all have to live with it.  

Friday, October 19, 2018

The point has been made. It's time to move beyond the ban on police in Pride

The Canadian Press/Michael Hudson
I supported the move two years ago by Toronto Pride to ban uniformed police officers from their annual parade and festivities.

Like many at the time, I'd become quite pissed at the police for various injustices and stupidities.

I'm generally torn in my feelings toward the police: while I respect professionals who aim to serve their communities with respect and fairness for all and I admire those among us who dutifully run towards danger in times of emergency, I still generally don't like or understand police officers much.

Altruism isn't what primarily inspires most careers in law enforcement; instead, it's usually more the desire to wield power over the rest of us.  I generally see the police as agents of the state who simply act to protect and fortify the establishment no matter how immoral or even evil it might be.  I'll never understand how anyone can unconditionally align themselves with the powers-that-be like that.

In recent years, it's my opinion that police forces in North America have become more brutish, not less.  The brutality thrust upon people of colour communities by police throughout history has been horrific and those horrors continue today. 

We in Toronto remember well the G20 police clashes with protesters in 2010 - when many undercover officers took advantage of the opportunity to flex their muscles and abuse the rights of innocent protesters - showed us what's in their hearts.  It wasn't pretty.

Police organizations across North America are turning themselves into highly weaponized armies and the demands for more budget funding seem endless.  Toronto's police force alone costs about $1 billion per year.  

For decades, the police were no friends of the LGBTQ community.  Back when homophobia ruled mainstream culture in North America, the police would routinely harass and make life hell for us.  And many believe the cops have yet to truly atone for those abuses - I'm one of them. 

In 2016, Black Lives Matter held up the Toronto Pride parade and demanded that the police be banned from future Prides.  Months later, mostly white members of Pride Toronto voted to support that ban.

There's no doubt the ban has divided the LGBTQ community.  Some passionately opposed it, saying it was wrong to ban an entire profession of people.  Others, like myself, accepted it.  But regardless, a message of defiance has been sent to the police and the establishment.  

Since then, the police have still provided needed security at Toronto Pride.  Some sponsorships and donations have been lost.  And there's no doubt the ban has strained relations between the LGBTQ community and the police. 

But as time goes on, an indefinite ban seems simply wrong.  I'd say our community has made its collective point.  The police aren't some monolithic force like the Borg.  They're made up of individual human beings, all of whom have the capacity to grow and learn from past mistakes.  They ought to be decent public servants.  Continuing to hold all police officers accountable for the acts of some seems unfair, especially from a community that has also felt the sting of prejudice.

We are never going to get anywhere if we continually dwell on the injustices of the past.

If the police still need to atone for past indignities and make peace with the LGBTQ community, how can banning them and shutting down discussion make that happen?   It can't. 

Regardless of the insider reasons that may have contributed to the decision, I think Pride Toronto made the right move announcing this week the ban is done.   

The reactions we're seeing now from some expressing venomous hatred for all police officers simply reinforces my own concerns about the initial sentiments that led to the ban in the first place.  Many ban proponents strike me as being perpetually locked into their ideology of distrust and opposition.  To them, the ban was a victory, an end in itself.  How long was it supposed to last?  Indefinitely, it seems.  

These harsh messages of punishing the police or exacting revenge upon them forever were never going to improve LGBTQ-police relations.  They weren't designed to. 

There will always be those who can't forgive, reinforced by their ideological prejudices.  Are all police bullies like the boy who used to abuse this writer?  Too many are, but not all.

A never-ending ban on police is no way forward, in my opinion.  I've gone along with it these past two years, but I say it's now time to move on.  I'm not interested in being a part of a never-ending ideological stand-off. 

We should be willing to forgive and to be the better human beings here, even if the police as an institution have yet to fully atone for their past transgressions against us. 

Sunday, September 30, 2018

New Brunswick and now Quebec elections once again expose major flaws with our voting systems...

CAQ's Fran├žois Legault could win majority with only 30% of votes
I've long advocated for proportional representation voting systems that would produce results that genuinely reflect the choices made by voters.

It's worth noting that in every emerging democracy in recent decades, proportional voting systems have been put in place in order to keep extremist minority impulses in check.

Yet here in Canada (as well as Britain and the United States), our archaic Winner-Take-All / First-Past-The-Post voting systems persist.  In Canada and the U.K., parties win seats by simply taking the most votes in the seat.  So one entire seat can be occupied by one party for an entire parliament simply because it won as little of 25% support in it, as long as all other candidates splintered the remaining 75%.  One party has regularly been able to win a majority of seats despite winning well under 40% of the overall vote in a province or country. 

Similarly in the U.S., as we know, the electoral college elected Donald Trump because he won achingly close victories in just the right number of key states, even though Hillary Clinton had overall won 2% or almost three million more votes across the entire country.  

As Andrew Coyne (long an advocate for proportional representation too) states here, Winner-Take-All / First-Past-The-Post tends to produce results wildly disproportionate from the actual voting when three or four major parties are competing.  

Clearly, electoral systems that distort voters' wishes should be replaced.  Yet those who control any processes for change of course have conflicts of interest as they won power because of the current system.

It was little surprise that Justin Trudeau turned his back on his electoral reform promise when it was clear the only change he wanted would be unacceptable to all other parties and most reform advocates.

Other referendums have been held in Canada, including in Ontario in 2007 when the McGuinty government also lost its zeal for change after winning a big majority under the current system in 2003.  In that 2007 referendum, the Grits determined that 60% support was needed for change (a similar and unfair high mark has been the norm in most Canadian referendums on this topic.)  The McGuinty Liberals also refused to fund education campaigns that might explain to voters the real weaknesses and strengths of both systems.  Into that void jumped the private sector media including the Toronto Star which was more than happy to misinform the public with scary stories about Italian pizza parliaments and chaos.  Thus, cautious Ontario voters had little information and overwhelmingly backed the status quo.  It's been that sense that Canada, as well as the U.S. and U.K. seem to be strong societies and economies (at least for the privileged and white majorities), so why do we need to fix something that may not be broken?  

Of course, I'd argue that any system that elects Donald Trump as president despite him winning 3 million fewer votes is broken, and the dire consequences are now obvious.  If our societies are strong, it's despite of our voting systems, not because of them.  

In New Brunswick last Monday, the governing Liberals took 38% of the vote, versus 32% for the Conservatives, as well as about 10% each for a new party called the People's Alliance (PA) and the Green Party.

But this translated under First-Past-The-Post into 22 seats for the Conservatives, 21 for the Liberals, 3 for the PA and 3 seats for the Greens.   The governing Liberals under Brian Gallant pledged to try to win the confidence of the House at their first opportunity, as would be customary after a result like this.  Yet that didn't stop New Brunswick Conservative Leader Blaine Higgs from claiming a "mandate to govern" which actually doesn't exist.  The fact that his party shrunk in voter support from the previous election and now lagged behind the Liberals by 6 points meant nothing to him.  

Tomorrow is voting day in Quebec's provincial election as well, and there too it seems that First-Past-the-Post will distort voters' intentions.  Polls show the moderately conservative party Coalition Avenir Quebec (or CAQ) slightly ahead of the governing Liberals, with both hovering around 30%.  The separatist Parti Quebecois seems to be on the ropes now well back at 20%, and the upstart far-left Quebec Solidaire just behind them.   

Because of this four-party splintering, it makes it hard to predict.  However, the CAQ has a clear lead among francophone voters who make up the vast majority in 100 of the province's 125 ridings, while the Liberals have weak francophone support (but still have overwhelming support from anglophones and allophones who live mostly in Montreal.)  So analysts predict this will lead to a bounty of seats for the CAQ, perhaps even enough to win a majority of seats in the province.   Thus we could end up seeing a majority government with only 30% voter support.  That's repulsive. 

Is there hope for change?  One better hope for a CAQ minority government with the Quebec Solidaire and the PQ holding the balance of power, I say, as all three of those parties have pledged they will move toward a proportional voting system after this election.  A minority government would keep the CAQ government's feet to the fire, perhaps forcing change.  A majority CAQ government would likely abandon changing a system that gave it all the power, I predict.

Even in Alberta, where the NDP finds itself in power for the first time ever, you'd think that Premier Rachel Notley would seize this opportunity and bring in proportional voting.  I'm shocked that she hasn't, frankly, as her party has long been shut out of any decision-making prior to 2015 because of the current system.  It now looks likely that the united Conservatives there will romp back into power in 2019 and leave the NDP back in the wilderness for decades.  That's a shame.  (Remember that every time a sanctimonious New Democrat chastises the Trudeau Liberals for not implementing electoral reform - ask them why Notley's NDP in Alberta didn't bother when they had the chance.) 

There is one major glimmer of hope on this issue in British Columbia, where the minority NDP government was able to take power with the support of three Green Party MLAs, ousting the conservative Liberals last year.  The Greens made the NDP agree to hold another referendum on changing the voting system, which will happen this fall.  This time, the rules are fair with 50% needed for victory.   Polls there show PR slightly ahead of First-Past-The-Post, with almost as many undecided.  

If British Columbians can finally embrace a fair voting system, it will give the push for change a huge amount of momentum across the country.  If Quebec also moves to proportional voting, it will help even more.  Suddenly the cynic in me could be replaced by an optimist on this issue again.  

But I'm not naive about any of this.  For various reasons, this issue does not seem to inspire much interest in most voters (which is another reason change has been so difficult to achieve.)  When I write about it on this blog, I find that I get the least number of reads.  I predict this post will be no exception (so if you read this far, I personally owe you a drink - private message me to arrange ;-))

Saturday, September 29, 2018

Here's to the women who can teach all men about dignity in a dangerous world...

Like many people, I've been watching this week's events in the U.S. closely as Brett Kavanaugh fights for a lifetime seat on the highest court amid very credible allegations he raped women earlier in his life.

The white patriarchy as represented by the Republican Party has been hard at work defending him, pointing as ever to the notion that everyone should be considered innocent until proven guilty in a court of law.  Of course, they only truly mean that for white heterosexual men like them, preferably from good stock and wealth.

I've always deeply admired the women in my life, and most women everywhere, who've persisted and frequently succeeded despite systemic sexism.   I've often wondered how many could maintain such dignity and calm amid these conditions, as I am someone whose passionate views sometimes push me into anger even though I've only suffered discrimination based on my sexual orientation (but have benefited from white and male privilege.)  So those examples of dignity and calm have meant so much to me as I've tried to emulate them and keep my own anger in check.  For as we know, a loud angry voice can easily be dismissed by the powers-that-be.

As Mahershala Ali says in the first trailer for the new film Green Book (which I can't wait to see): “You never win with violence, you only win when you maintain your dignity.”

By Bruce MacKinnon, Chronicle Herald in Halifax.
But of course, the testimony this week from Professor Christine Blasey Ford was very dignified.  Her words rang true and triggered many awful memories for too many women who have survived sexual assault.  Sadly, the response of Kavanaugh was typical of those who've enjoyed and taken advantage of their immense privilege all their lives, and see no reason to stop now.

I find it hard to believe Ford is not being completely honest.  I also find it hard to believe the likes of Kavanaugh.  Despite what may end up being a token week-long FBI investigation, it's likely the powerful white men who dominate the U.S. Senate will push his nomination through despite these revelations, because the Republican Party, like all conservative parties, is really about maintaining and strengthening the patriarchy against everything else. 

But hopefully more women will continue to fight and turn their backs on the men who don't seem to care about them much.  That means never voting for political parties or candidates who don't support them including their right to live free from male violence.  

The #MeToo movement is happening at a crucial time.  This is yet another step in the way of progress.  It will be a constant battle and it's unclear how we will resolve these issues. 

The current system of justice is not working for women on this issue.  The burdens of proof needed to convict the guilty are often too high as most cases tend to be one woman's word against one man's word.  In those instances, the lying man goes free.  Because of this, few survivors come forward. 

Perhaps the answer is a society where surveillance of all human behaviour is the norm, so proof of wrongdoing is instantly caught on camera.   China is already heading in that direction.  Western cultures have been much friendlier to men who would do great wrong, knowing they'd never be caught.  Who knows?  If China does become the dominant world power this century (which seems likely thanks to America's continued collapse under the Republicans), maybe that's where we're headed.  Sure you can be considered innocent until the surveillance video from that party proves you guilty.

Of course, I'm not being entirely serious with that last paragraph, but perhaps it's a good point to think about.  Women, people of colour and many others already maintain such dignity and calm amid hostile conditions - a move to that kind of state wouldn't be much different than what they're experiencing right now. 

Of course, most of the white cisgendered heterosexual males who've never had to live under such circumstances would think differently.  They like things the way they are just fine.  The meme of Brett Kavanaugh on the right sums up these sentiments perfectly.

Fighting against and dismantling these systems of oppression takes decades, if not centuries.  Immoral people with power will never give it up easily.   Those who have been on the outside fighting know this too well.  I stand next to them and pledge to continue the fight for justice.  

Sunday, September 23, 2018

High school students fight back against backwards Ford government

As a gay man who married another man yesterday, I’m overjoyed.


Same sex marriage has now been erased from any mention in the outdated 1998 curriculum reinstated this year by Ford.  The Ontario Conservatives are taking advantage of the political fatigue that elected them to now placate the anti-gay bigots in their fringe base.  Their mandate was not to do this as most people didn’t vote on this issue.  Yet Ford, unconcerned about any political realities that might get in the way of his base instincts, has bulldozed ahead.  

The modernized 2015 curriculum was very good, both inclusive and responsible in ways never seen before in Ontario.  It was designed like all previous updates with much consultation with parents and educators.   Its implementation was delayed in 2010 due to political cowardice from Dalton McGuinty, who, like Ford, wanted even more consultation.  But finally it was approved by Kathleen Wynne in 2015, one of her great decisions.

My high school experience in the late 80s and early 90s was marked by widespread homophobia and the constant threat of violence and hostility from peers.  My understanding was things hadn’t improved much in the two decades since.  I always thought the education system had a moral obligation to make schools safer for LGBTQ kids and that included promoting respect and teaching about our lives.  The 2015 curriculum finally did that.

Ford turning back the clock this year to placate bigots who will never accept LGBTQ people no matter how much more they are “consulted” is more proof of how terrible he is. 

Ford’s pledge to consult every riding is bullshit as Ford clearly cares nothing about consultation which his forced reduction of Toronto city council, against the wishes of a majority of Toronto residents, has shown. 

At best, this is a mirage that will only produce a curriculum identical to the last one after more delay and a fake consultation.  At worst, we could see important gains like inclusion and the teaching of consent, lost if Ford truly turns back the clock. 

Either way, shame.

Monday, September 10, 2018

Monstrous Doug Ford proves just how dangerous and hypocritical he truly is...

I was delighted this morning to hear the news that democratic rights including the right to effective representation, as well as freedom of expression, should mean something in Ontario.  Justice Belobaba's ruling was a fantastic read, laying out clearly how the Ford government overstepped its bounds and violated those Charter of Rights and Freedoms when it hastily passed Bill 5 this summer, slashing Toronto's wards from 47 to 25 mid-campaign.  The original 47-ward map would be returned for the Oct 22 election, the judge ruled.

Sadly, by this afternoon, those sacred Charter Rights seemed to vanish as Ontario Dictator Doug Ford announced he was going to trounce those basic human rights using the Charter's notwithstanding clause for the first time ever in Ontario history simply because he's an asshole and doesn't like it when anybody tries to limit his power, which clearly he assumes is absolute. 

Now it's clear: if the democratic and freedom of expression rights of all Torontonians can be swept away by a dictator like Ford, none of our rights are safe (at least while Ford and others like him are in power.)

When asked today if he'd use the notwithstanding clause to destroy other peoples' Charter rights too, Ford responded, “I won’t be shy.”

In addition to being a dangerous violator of human rights, Ford's also a hypocrite.  

In previous weeks, Doug Ford has threatened to cut funding to any post-secondary institutions that don't "respect freedom of expression".   Today, he is now promising to run roughshod over those very same freedoms and use the notwithstanding clause to do it.

If universities can be de-funded because they don't respect freedom of expression, does this mean that Doug Ford will also de-fund his own government?  That would be a worthwhile cost-saving measure!

The facts are clear: Ford's willing to go to bat for the rights of far-right radicals intent on promoting hate speech on university campuses.

But ordinary citizens who are participating in our local democracy?  Ford doesn't give a shit about them and he's willing to go to unprecedented lengths to undermine their freedom of expression, as well as the democratic rights of all Ontarians. 

Ford is a monster who must be stopped.   

Wednesday, August 29, 2018

Democratic rights in Canada at stake in court fight against Ford's attack on local Toronto elections...

Dictator Ford (photographed by Justin Tang of the Cdn Press)
I'll give Doug Ford one thing: like his late brother, he is an expert on swindling the public with his oft-repeated messaging.  Like Trump in the U.S., it doesn't seem to matter if those talking points bear no resemblance to reality; as long as he keeps repeating them, his uncritical and gullible political base tends to believe them. 

Ford has been pushing one such simplistic message lately that his heavy-handed slashing of Toronto City Council seats from 47 to 25 is about shrinking government and saving "millions."

This reminds me of one of the most poisonous legacies of former PC Premier Mike Harris, who forced an amalgamation on the former six cities of Toronto, North York, York, Etobicoke, East York and Scarborough, along with their regional government, into one giant megacity in 1996.  It was ostensibly done to save money and reduce duplication.  Instead, 20 years later, the overall costs of government in Toronto have gone substantially up.  The same is true in the hundreds of other municipalities that were forced to merge in the 1990s, as a 2015 report from the conservative-minded Fraser Institute revealed.

“There were huge increases in costs — it really wasn’t well thought out,” said co-author Lydia Miljan, a University of Windsor political scientist.

“If the government of the day was truly interested in finding efficiencies at the local level, it might have been better off to pursue policies such as shared service agreements rather than municipal restructuring,” said Miljan.

Who would've thought that a simplistic plan based solely on the ideological assumption that less politicians means less spending would've actually produced the opposite?   Um, every intelligent, progressive critic at the time the conservative government chose to ignore.

And now in 2018 it's happening again.

Ford's change this year in Toronto will also prove more expensive for taxpayers as it will reduce by half the numbers of elected people scrutinizing the megacity's budget, thus freeing up bureaucrats, as well as the police and other municipal agencies from having to face tough questions from political leaders with the time and resources to keep an eye on them.  The $25 million Ford claims his cut will save over four years is already partially wasted due to the multiple millions that changing the 2018 election halfway through has cost, let alone the ongoing court battle to defend it.

If the council cut does proceed, it will also mean that citizens are even more removed from their local government and will have to struggle to get the ear of their local councillors, now representing over 100,000 people each.

To many non-Canadians, this turn of events is shocking as most can't believe that a provincial government could do such a thing to a local government.  It doesn't happen like this in other parts of the civilized world where most major cities do have some constitutional standing, not to mention due process.  However, as we know in Canada, municipalities were originally conceived as mere "creatures" of the provinces.  The provinces received full constitutional control over municipalities at the time of Confederation in 1867.

But still the desire to fight back against a hostile provincial government that seems to enjoy picking on Toronto is palpable.

When Toronto mayoral candidate Jennifer Keesmaat launched her campaign the day after Ford's plan to cut council was announced, she tweeted the simple word, "Secession."  That defiance struck a chord with me.  She has since clarified that comment, saying she was merely trying to express the frustration many Torontonians were feeling after learning their local affairs were again going to be undermined by a numbskull conservative government that just wanted to wreak havoc to settle political scores. 

Keesmaat's instincts to stand up and forcefully defend Toronto's interests in the face of the tinpot dictator at Queen's Park has earned her my vote.  She's certainly better than incumbent John Tory in that regard, whose wishy washy platitudes are getting us nowhere.  (I'll have much more to write about that race later.)

I agree that Toronto seceding from Ontario isn't necessarily the answer we need right now.  Instead, the answer we need is much stronger powers for Toronto and other municipalities across Canada.  Those powers ought to be recognized in the Constitution so that they can't be stripped away by a reckless and thoughtless premier on a whim. 

I can't agree more with this column by Shawn Micallef that was published last week.  As he writes:

"While provincial sovereignty was paramount at Confederation...democracy has become the organizing principle of constitutional interpretation and that local democracy and municipalities have evolved to become incredibly important institutions.

"This is what makes the court challenge Toronto city council agreed to undertake...so interesting, as the Constitution is...a living document and interpretation of it evolves."

I have to hope so.

In 2018, the election race in Toronto's 47 council wards was already well underway by the time Ford announced his plans to interfere in late July.   Local candidates had spent weeks campaigning in wards that had been designed through a careful and thoughtful local process, which included massive consultations with citizens.  Those candidates had raised money, and local citizens had donated that time and money to participate in our democracy.   Now all of that has been thrown in the dustbin.

Democratic rights ought to be protected in Canadian law.  The ability of citizens to take part in that democracy should not be undermined by a reckless government rushing through changes to the rules halfway through the game and without consultation. 

If the judge rules after this Friday's hearing that Ford's actions are justified and the 25-ward election can proceed, it will mean that our democratic rights as Canadians are weak in the face of government power, that those democratic rights can be manipulated and undermined at will, without notice or consultation, simply to please the petty grudges of leaders who won a plurality of votes in a first-past-the-post provincial election.

I truly hope the judge does the right thing here and puts a much-needed check on the bullish and terrible instincts of Dictator Ford.  Otherwise, Toronto won't be the last city to have its local elections turned upside down for no good reason.  

Monday, July 2, 2018

Doug Ford appoints far-right, homeschooled, 20-year-old ideologue as "Parliamentary Assistant" to Minister of Education

Undeniably handsome but dangerous Tory Sam Oosterhoff.
Doug Ford is showing his hand, offering a little gift to the far-right zealots that make up at least 15% of his party and were instrumental in electing him leader.

As his party took office Friday in Ontario, little attention was given to the appointment of parliamentary assistants who also get cabinet ministry offices, a salary top-up and generally help out the full-time ministers with their duties.  Sometimes, that means the P.A.s will be given specific policy areas in which to do work, complementing the minister's overall agenda.

But in that Friday announcement was the fact that 20-year-old homeschooled, far-right ideologue Sam Oosterhoff is now Ontario's "Parliamentary Assistant to the Minister of Education." 

This is someone who bypassed our public education system in his just-finished teenage years, seemingly because his parents thought something was wrong with it (you know, public schools have to let everyone in including sinners.)

This is the same young man who at age 19, despite few qualifications, managed to sign up enough of his church to steal the local PC nomination in the conservative stronghold of Niagara West in 2016, thus paving the way for his election to Queen's Park.

This is the same inexperienced ideologue who is on record cynically calling homosexuality a "sin" somehow worse than other "sins."  He also has voiced support for a literal interpretation of the bible and spoken out against Christians who “have no problem with homosexual behaviour and see it as a healthy form of human sexuality.”

He even went out of his way to endorse the horrid Tanya Granic Allen, whose anti-gay views were so bad that even Doug Ford had to fire her as a Tory candidate. 

Oosterhoff's world clearly doesn't include LGBT people.

And now he gets to stand next to Education Minister Lisa Thompson from Huron-Bruce as the Tories implement their education agenda including revisiting the public school curriculum, which finally currently acknowledges the existence of LGBT people in our society, promotes respect for all and tries to teach the importance of consent.   Far-right bigots who don't want their kids to know homosexuality exists, and seemingly don't have a problem if their kids only learn about sex on the internet, don't much like the modernized curriculum and Doug Ford and other Tories were more than happy to use that ignorance to win votes. 

This appointment of a homeschooled ideologue is a slap in the face to every parent who sends their kids to the public education system.   It's also a vicious slap in the face to every LGBT youth struggling to survive that system.  Once the Tories have their way with the curriculum, we'll probably see similar attacks on Gay-Straight Alliances in our schools. 

The last Tory government under Mike Harris was also hostile to public education as they declared war on all teachers and starved the system of needed funds while implementing tax credits for rich parents who sent their kids to private schools.   The vast majority of Ontario parents who can't afford that will soon feel similar stings, I'm sure, as Ford forces new unnecessary labour disruptions and cutbacks.

No doubt his promise not to lay off anyone will soon go the way of all Ford promises: into the waste basket.  

My condolences to parents who will suffer as folks who don't believe in public education are tasked with managing it.  And I promise to stand beside all LGBTQ youth as they face new attacks from a hostile government happy to play footsie with bigots. 

Who wants to bet we'll see our first strikes or lock-outs of teachers in 2019?