Tuesday, May 28, 2019

Heartfelt and authentic Elton John biopic "Rocketman" soars in ways "Bohemian Rhapsody" disappointed

Taron Egerton as Elton John in Rocketman
I caught the new feature film Rocketman at the opening night of Toronto's Inside Out LGBT Film Festival last week and loved it.

As Elton John, actor Taron Egerton (previously most famous for the Kingsman spy thrillers) delivers the best performance I've ever seen him give, embodying the musical icon with such heart and authenticity, he rivals Rami Malek's performance as Freddie Mercury in 2018's Bohemian Rhapsody.  In fact, Egerton does his own amazing singing, which gives him one up on Malek (who lip synced), if you ask me.  Egerton is the best thing about this entertaining flick.

I quite agree with this Daily Beast piece: "Rocketman lends a dignity to John’s feelings about his sexuality where Rhapsody disgraces and even demonizes Mercury’s struggle. And while Rhapsody manipulated facts of Mercury’s sexuality and AIDS diagnosis to manufacture an emotional climax in the Live Aid finale, there’s no such bastardizing in Rocketman."

There are an awful lot of tears, but even more laughs in this flick as the emotional struggles of addiction take their toll on Elton John's life.  Most in the audience, straight or queer, will relate on some level.  You can do justice to a superstar's life without making stuff up, plus structure a good film and entertain an audience all at the same time, who would've thought?

Rocketman's strengths put the flaws of Bohemian Rhapsody into clearer focus for me.

I did enjoy much of Bohemian Rhapsody, please don't get me wrong.  Malek was brilliant, the scenes of Queen producing their music in studio were cool, and the final concert scene at Live Aid was rapturous.  (Rocketman's scenes depicting Elton John's spontaneous writing, especially crafting "Your Song" at the piano, also hit such awesomeness.)

But I quietly resented all the praise some straight people gave Bohemian Rhapsody because it was obvious many didn't really notice or even question how that film "treated (Mercury's) sexuality as a predatory gateway drug to a destructive lifestyle."  I had hoped to learn something awesome about Mercury we didn't already know - but instead it was just a story about how a sad and selfish gay man turns his back on his straight Queen band members and collapses into disaster and contracts AIDS because of it.  I also didn't appreciate the dozens of minutes spent watching Mercury flirt with his first wife in the first hour of the film, while the love of his life, the man who stood by him during his final years struggling with AIDS, was reduced to a final act footnote.  It was insulting. 

After experiencing that disappointment, Rocketman is such a satisfying experience. 

I'll be very curious if all the Queen fans who heaped such praise on Bohemian Rhapsody do the same thing for what I consider at least as good a film in Rocketman.  Many will.  All of them should.

It opens in theatres this weekend.  Please check it out. 

Monday, May 27, 2019

It's time to let all Ontario Liberal Party members vote on the final ballot for leader

The Ontario Liberal Party will hold its first Annual General Meeting since the 2018 election next week in Mississauga.  At that AGM, party members will be voting on a constitutional amendment to the party's bylaws that would allow a change in how the party elects leaders.

Currently, the OLP uses a delegated convention system to elect leaders, where members in ridings and other local associations vote for delegates to represent them at a leadership convention.  Those delegates - 16 from each riding association, and 8 from other local associations such as youth groups - are elected in proportion to the amount of support each leadership candidate receives from members at those local meetings.  Those meetings are held weeks in advance of the end of the leadership race, long before leadership candidates make their "final pitches".   Those delegates then go to the convention and are obliged, if they don't spoil their ballot, to vote for the leadership candidate on the first ballot they pledged to support at their local meetings.  But after the first ballot, they are free to change their vote or to not vote at all.  Furthermore, hundreds of unelected ex-officio delegates also attend the convention and water down the votes of those elected delegates.

It's not very inclusive and in 2013 only about 5% of party members participated in the final ballot that actually elected the leader.   No other parties in Canada still elect their leaders this way.  All others, even the Conservatives, have embraced systems that let all members participate in the final decision.  

The proposed constitutional amendment at the Ontario Liberal AGM would change the current system to One Member One Vote.   Under the proposed system, each riding would have 100 points, which would be awarded to leadership candidates in proportion to the amount of support they receive from members in the riding on voting day.  No one region would dominate the outcome as all ridings count equally.  If no leadership candidate wins over 50% of the points on the first ballot, subsequent choices are counted until a winner is elected.  This is identical to the system that elected Justin Trudeau as federal Liberal leader in 2013.   Supporters of the change launched their own website recently that hashes out the great arguments in favour of change.

I've been proud to support these efforts as I've advocated for this kind of change for years.  In 2013, I wrote about it in this opinion piece on Ontario Newswatch and on this blog. 

My main problem with the status quo: it's a system that's designed to maintain the control over the party and its leadership in the hands of backroom insiders, mainly the backroom types who run leadership campaigns as well as the losing candidates themselves.

If the leadership is decided at conventions between ballots, it gives losing candidates and powerful backroom types the time to forge secret deals, like promises of future cabinet positions or who knows what, in order to manipulate the outcome.  The pressure cooker of a convention, in which candidates falling off the ballot move across the floor to remaining candidates, creates artificial momentum in favour of those chosen candidates.  We've seen bad choices win this way (Stephane Dion in 2006), and we've seen good choices elected (Kathleen Wynne, Dalton McGuinty).  Obviously, it's subjective.  (Full disclosure: I was an elected delegate for Lyn McLeod in 1992, I supported Gerard Kennedy in 1996 but was not a delegate, same for Stephane Dion in 2006, and for Sandra Pupatello in 2013.)  

Good candidates will work within whatever leadership rules to win the prize.  That's politics.  This is a question about process.  And what values should underlie that process.

Do we want to be inclusive and allow as many people as possible to participate in the final decision for leader?  Or keep that final decision within the pressure cooker of a convention that only lets 5% of members take part?  

I've read all of the arguments being put forth by status quo supporters.  In my opinion, most of their arguments are smokescreens for their real reasons, which they aren't giving.

The main priority of status quo supporters seems to me to be simple: they want to maintain their power. 

They want to maintain their backroom control over the leadership of the party.  They simply don't trust individual members to make the final decision over who should be leader.  So poorly do they think of ordinary members that they're pleased to shut them out of the final, crucial decision.

Supporters of the status quo argue that weighted One Member One Vote could open the party up to a takeover of one-issue extremists.

Of course, the weighted points system of OMOV (100 points for every riding regardless of the number of votes) would make that very difficult.  In truth, one-issue extremists could take over the party now just as easily under the current delegated convention system.  Who can forget how anti-choice activists elected a massive number of delegates to the 1990 federal Liberal leadership convention? 

Another bogus argument: the current system allows for a minimum number of women and youth participation at conventions.  They, of course, forget that those quotas were put in place to address the fact that these groups were massively underrepresented in elected delegate spots in the past.  No doubt, if all members can vote under OMOV, the numbers of women or youth participating (which will be in the tens of thousands) will be much higher than the 25% of delegates (or around 500 lucky people in total) under the status quo. 

The most misleading argument of all put forth by supporters of the status quo?  "Every member of the Ontario Liberal Party has a direct vote for the leader under MDDV."  

In my opinion, that statement by status quo supporters is simply dishonest.  It reminds me of Doug Ford's attacks on the federal carbon levy without mentioning the rebates that all Ontarians are receiving because of it.  

Let's be clear.  As I explained above, party members currently only get a vote in local delegate selection meetings for leader held weeks before the end of the leadership race.  Those votes determine how many of that riding's 16 delegates - or that youth association's 8 delegates - get designated for each leadership candidate.   But not all of those votes count equally. 

For example, if 300 members vote in a riding meeting, and 9 of those members choose one leadership candidate, that translates into ZERO delegates because 9 votes only constitute 3% of the vote, not enough to elect anybody (0.48 out of 16 delegates would be rounded down to zero, after all).   So their votes don't count.  

Furthermore, all of those 300 votes only translate into 16 delegates per riding.  That's less powerful than the 100 points that will be awarded each riding under OMOV.  One member's vote has a bigger impact on the result under the new system.  

I also have to say that status quo supporters are being quite hypocritical when they argue that separate balloting at conventions is somehow better decision-making than voting all at once using a preferential ballot.   

The OLP, of course, uses the preferential ballot to elect all local riding candidates at nomination meetings.  If the OLP nomination rules for local candidates are valid, why can't we use the same system for leaders?  

Personally, I much prefer the sober vote of members listing out their choices in order in the privacy of their local ridings without the manipulations of a pressure cooker convention which, as I've already stated, are susceptible to backroom insider machinations.   

Status quo supporters say that conventions are "exciting" and give the party a boost in public support.  What superficial B.S.!  Kim Campbell got a nice boost after she won her delegated convention too.  So did Stephane Dion.  Enough said.  

The last argument being made by supporters of the status quo that really annoys me is that we should not change the rules of the leadership "in the middle of the race."  Most members will be surprised to hear that we are now "in the middle of the race."  Most would think the race really has barely begun.  

The leadership rules were last changed at the AGM in the spring of 1991, several months after the resignation announcement by David Peterson in September 1990 and while the party had an interim leader, as it does today.  They were changed less than a year before the eventual leadership convention took place in February 1992.  

The fact is that changing the leadership rules only really seems viable when the permanent leadership is otherwise vacant, as it is now.  The party has been reticent to revisit this topic when an incumbent leader, elected under the current system, remains in office. 

Thus, June's AGM represents a once-in-a-generation opportunity for the party to modernize itself. 

While the current system was innovative when it was adopted in 1991, it's now a bit archaic and looks elitist by today's standards.  

Voting to keep a delegated convention system, thus shutting out 95% of members from the final decision as to who should be leader, would send a grotesque signal to Ontarians that the Ontario Liberal Party isn't interested in modernizing.  

Let's pick someone strong who can appeal across the wide membership without the help of backroom deals at conventions.  Let's pick a strong new leader who can beat Doug Ford and Andrea Horwath.  Let's do it the right way.   

Monday, May 20, 2019

A new referendum strategy to challenge First-Past-The-Post in Canada...

Current average poll standings: CBC Poll Tracker
This year, our outdated Single Member Plurality voting system, also known as First-Past-The-Post, once again threatens Canada's progressive future, as well as the world's.

How?  The progressive left in this country is currently divided at the federal level between three parties: the governing Liberals, the NDP and the Green Party.  Together, in the latest polls, they hold well over 50% of Canadian support.

However, as all parties currently trail the regressive Conservatives of Andrew Scheer, who hold an overall average of 36% support, the losses that will be faced by progressive parties will be exacerbated by First-Past-The-Post. 

With that level of support, Scheer could emerge with a very strong minority government.  If Conservative support hits 38% or 39%, that could mean a majority government under our broken system.  Crucial progress on issues like economic growth for all, not just rich oil executives, as well as climate change, would be undermined.  No doubt, any kind of victory for a regressive social conservative like Scheer would bolster the despicable right-wing forces wrecking havoc already in this world.   

That this could happen despite a clear majority of Canadians voting in favour of parties supporting real climate change action and other progressive policies makes my blood boil.  

I've fought against First-Past-The-Post ever since it became very clear our system always distorts voters' intentions.   It's even handed power to the second-place party on occasion (as it did in New Brunswick in 2018 and in 2006, as well as Quebec in 1998, and B.C. in 1996), not unlike the winner-take-all broken Electoral College in the United States.

But efforts to change voting systems in Canada have had a difficult time.  Provincial referendums on the subject have been mostly negative experiences, with forms of Proportional Representation (or PR) losing to the status quo.

British Columbia's mail-in vote last fall produced a disheartening result with 61% again voting in favour of First-Past-The-Post (a similar percentage voted that way in that province's 2009 referendum too.)

But last month's vote in Prince Edward Island renewed some hope.  Held in conjunction with the provincial election, the Yes side in favour of proportional representation almost won with 49% of the vote, and victory in 15 out of 27 districts.   That was the highest vote yet for PR in Canada.  It was possible that the unique regional demographics of that island province made the notion of a mix of local and regional MLAs more enticing than it's been seen in British Columbia or Ontario (which only supported Mixed Member Proportional with 37% in its 2007 referendum.)  

Proportional systems always sound much more complicated than the status quo.  Opponents have been able to utilize any means of fear-mongering to raise doubts about PR, including the notion that fringe or racist elements could win a foothold in legislatures or even the balance of power under them.  Of course, as I've noted before, it's First-Past-The-Post which handed victory to Donald Trump and Doug Ford, so it's the current system that has the potential for doing great damage and empowering extremists.

Proportional Representation isn't the only alternative to First-Past-The-Post.  Preferential balloting, in which voters rank their favourite local candidates, would be a major improvement, but it's not one favoured by the Proportional Representation purists who don't want to have to compromise on their first choices.

Justin Trudeau clearly favoured Preferential Balloting in 2015 when he promised to make that election the last one fought under the current voting system.  But he was met with a wall of opposition for his preferred choice from all other parties and grassroots activists, so he abandoned electoral reform altogether.  He should've followed this proposal below.   

As we've seen, Proportional Representation can't seem to beat out First-Past-The-Post when it comes to referendums in Canada.  The public simply can't seem to embrace it, despite it being used in most democracies the world over.  

I think reformers have been going at it wrong.  We've been too nice, hoping that our strong, reasoned arguments would win out over the manipulations, distortions, and fear-mongering from the other side.

Instead of turning every debate over change into an agonizing defense of the confusing and unknown elements of one particular form of proportional representation, proponents should simply insist on a simpler strategy.

I write this as a prescription to achieve change in Ontario, which is more conservative a province than PEI.   If Ontario is to revisit the issue of voting systems again, it seems to me we ought to focus squarely on the flaws of First-Past-The-Post.  We also have to leave open the option for Preferential Balloting as an alternative and let the voters decide.

I would propose that in Ontario we hold the following referendum questions:


"Should Ontario continue to use the Single Member Plurality voting system, commonly known as First-Past-The-Post, for its provincial elections?" 

YES, Ontario should continue to use the Single Member Plurality voting system, commonly known as First-Past-The-Post, for its provincial elections.
NO, the Ontario government should set up a Citizens' Assembly made up of representatives from each of Ontario's ridings to design a new voting system, which the government will enact into law before the next provincial election."  


"If a majority of voters vote NO to Question One and the government sets up a Citizens' Assembly to design a new voting system for Ontario, what kind of voting system should the Citizens' Assembly design to replace the current system?"  

MAJORITARIAN system, in which all candidates - one per riding - are elected by receiving a majority of the votes in that riding, through either preferential balloting or run-off elections.  
PROPORTIONAL REPRESENTATION system, in which local and regional candidates are elected in proportion to the number of votes each political party receives across the province, as long as those political parties receive over 5% of the vote. 

A simple 50 per cent plus one vote across the entire province regardless of how many ridings vote one way or the other would be enough for victory.  It would be unconscionable for a majority to vote one way, but the result not to be honoured.  

This would take the complications of Proportional Representation out of the referendum question and focus the issue more squarely on whether or not voters even want change at all.

The choice for which kind of alternate system would be one of values - simple majority rule or proportional representation to replace our current plurality system. The choice in the second question would provide direct guidance from the people to the Citizens' Assembly as it embarks on designing the change. 

Ontario underwent a Citizens' Assembly process from 2006 to 2007 when the McGuinty government set it up to fulfill a 2003 election promise.   That Assembly, made up of ordinary Ontarians from all ridings, recommended a Mixed Member Proportional system for Ontario.

However, the subsequent referendum was rigged in favour of the status quo with zero public education about why the Assembly had recommended change away First-Past-The-Post.  The government set an impossibly high 60% support threshold for change. Opponents then tore the MMP proposal to pieces, nitpicking on the fine details and doing their best to confuse voters.  

Under my proposal, there would be no Citizens' Assembly until after voters vote against First-Past-The-Post.  Then with a mandate for change and clear direction on the type of system to replace the status quo, the Citizens' Assembly would get to work on a system that would meet the specifications of the choice in Question #2.

It would be best to provide some limitations on both types of systems, such as the five per cent threshold for representation under PR, as well as the specification that candidates would be "elected locally and regionally," to remove some unknowns from the question.  I believe these options would give maximum choice and minimal ambiguity for voters, while at the same time a great amount of guidance to any possible Citizens' Assembly.  

Of course, my proposal remains academic until a true leader steps forward in Ontario to champion it.  I outline them here as my contribution to this debate and a possible means for actually achieving change, something proponents have been unable to achieve up until now.  

Sadly, I doubt any of the Ontario Liberals who might run for leader want to revisit this issue.  I look forward to being pleasantly surprised on that front.   Even the NDP's Andrea Horwath barely mentioned electoral reform in the 2018 election (but she is more than welcome to steal my proposal if she wants.)  Only the Greens under Mike Schreiner clearly support change (he is more than welcome to steal this proposal too.)

Of course, if Andrew Scheer wins a "mandate" this year in Canada with just 35% of the vote and proceeds to force his regressive agenda down the throats of Canada's progressive majority, perhaps that will push this issue again to the forefront.