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.