Tuesday, October 19, 2021

Ontario Liberal Leader Steven Del Duca's democratic reform proposals a nice counter to Doug Ford's anti-democratic nonsense...

Ontario Liberal Leader Steven Del Duca
One of the first actions taken by Premier Doug Ford after he won a majority government in 2018 with only 40% of the Ontario vote was to throw a wrench into the 2018 Toronto municipal election campaign that was already well underway.   

Local candidates had been campaigning for months in 47 local wards when Ford suddenly and unilaterally shrunk the locally-designed council to just 25 seats.  Sadly, that heavy-handed intervention was recently upheld by the Supreme Court, which narrowly sided with the province's inherent right to make stupid decisions in the municipal sphere despite the illogic of such a constitutional status quo.  Overall, Ford's move put more distance between Toronto citizens and their local government.

Furthermore, Ford has increased limits on how much individuals can donate to political parties, and has thrown extravagant fundraisers giving the wealthy a chance to buy his support.  Ford has doubled down on building the unnecessary Highway 413, which stands to profit his developer friends who own land along the proposed highway corridor.  

I write all this to emphasize that Ford is an enemy of democracy, and has been willing to take unilateral action to change our election laws to stack the decks in his party's favour.   

Under a ranked-ballot system, voters select candidates in order of preference.  Ballots are tallied by counting all the first choices.  If a candidate gets more than half the votes, they win.  But if no one has a majority, the candidate with fewest votes is eliminated and the second-choice votes on those ballots are tallied until there's an outright winner.  

I've long advocated for reforming the way we hold municipal, provincial, and federal elections.  Our current 'winner-take-all' / first past the post system has delivered too many lopsided results that distort the true intentions of the electorate.  Ford's majority win in 2018 with only 40% of the vote is testament to that. 

Advocates of proportional representation (PR) have long dominated the discussion on this important issue in Canada, insisting no other change will do.  And that's why zero progress has been made in Canada getting rid of our current system.   

Canadians have been asked repeatedly to choose between first past the post and some form of proportional representation.   In each of those referendums, PR has been defeated, usually by massive margins.  Even in Prince Edward Island in 2019, the one place in Canada where the notion of province-wide seats elected from lists might not offend local sensibilities too much, PR still lost.  Canadians clearly have major reservations about proportional representation and, given no alternative, they seem intent to keep the devil they know.  

The recent success of the odious People's Party of Canada capturing more than five per cent of the vote in several provinces in last month's federal election has weakened PR's appeal even further in my mind.  I would shudder to see a small bunch of those yahoos elected to Parliament thanks to proportional representation.  

I have come to the conclusion that PR is pretty much dead as an option in Canada.  The only realistic chance for change is something more modest, like ranked balloting.  

I agree with Del Duca that ranked balloting in provincial elections would take some of the toxicity out of politics.  It would force political parties and leaders to reach out and appeal to supporters of other parties in order to secure majority support in all ridings, not just a plurality of support as they do under the current system.

One of the ugliest trends in recent politics has been the tactic to divide-and-conquer the electorate, frequently undertaken by Conservatives but also other parties.  Parties currently micro-target their own potential voters using various tools including social media data to motivate them only in winnable, swing ridings to turn out and vote.  

For the most part, parties ignore all other voters outside of swing ridings.  If you're a Conservative in Spadina-Fort York, you'll probably never hear from the Conservatives.   If you're a Liberal in Bruce County, you'll probably never hear from the Liberals. 

Imagine a politics where parties can't just rely on turning out their own supporters in key ridings, but instead need to reach out to voters in most constituencies to ensure they win a majority of the vote in those ridings.  

Also imagine never having to "vote strategically" again.  How many times have NDP or Green supporters decided to cast their votes for the Liberals in order to possibly defeat the local Conservatives?  Under ranked balloting, you'd never have to do that again.

Under ranked balloting, parties might even make de facto or unofficial alliances before the election, perhaps come to agreement on important issues, and encourage their supporters to place their second or third preferences with other parties with which they agree.  This coalition-building - before the people vote - would be far better than any options under PR which force parties to negotiate in the backrooms to form governments long after election day.  

No longer would MPs or MPPs get elected with less than 50% support.  This is crucial as the current system is electing more and more representatives with pathetically low portions of the vote.

In the federal election last month, the NDP candidate won in Nanaimo-Ladysmith with only 29% of the vote, barely outpacing the Conservative at 27% and the Green incumbent who got 26%.  In Trois-Rivieres, the Bloc won with 30%, while the Conservatives and the Liberals both took 29% each.  There were similar ridings across the country where the winning percentage was painfully low.   That will only get worse the longer we keep first past the post.

Doug Ford's government also trashed ranked balloting as an option for municipal elections, despite it working well in London, Ontario.  This was shameful because other municipalities have expressed support for such a move.  Cambridge, Ontario municipal voters even voted for it in a plebiscite in 2018.  I'd say ranked balloting is even more important at the local level where splintered results can easily elect someone with a tiny percentage of the vote.  I recall one local councillor in Toronto winning in 2014 with only 17% of her ward's vote.   That nonsense needs to end.

I see ranked balloting as a step forward that will fix many of our problems with the current voting system.   I think it's time that reformers got real and embraced it.  The definition of insanity is trying the same thing over and over, and expecting a different result.  We're never going to get change if we continue to push for unpopular proportional representation options.

One last point, I might've in the past resisted Del Duca's policy of unilaterally implementing ranked balloting for Ontario elections, as he is promising.  But after what Doug Ford has pulled with his surprise election law changes, I have no issue with it.  Del Duca has made his democratic pledges clear and if he wins a majority government in 2022, he'll have a mandate and the moral authority to proceed with these changes.   

Would ranked balloting only help the Liberals?  I don't think so.  It would simply force parties to focus on winning the support from the majority of voters in each riding.  It would force them to forge alliances and reach out to more voters rather than just their narrow bases of support.  What could be more democratic than that?  

Friday, October 15, 2021

My film "The Big Snore" plays at Seattle Queer Film Festival this weekend...

Still from my short film 'The Big Snore'

I am thrilled to announce here that my short film, The Big Snore, is programmed to screen at the wonderful Seattle Queer Film Festival, which started yesterday with both in person and online screenings (for those within their geo-block area of Washington, Oregon, Idaho and Alaska states) and runs until October 24th.

The Big Snore plays in the festival's Boys Shorts program which happens in person tomorrow, October 16th, at noon Seattle time. Here's the link to that shorts program.

I hadn't expected any more festival screenings for my film, so this was supremely awesome news.

I want to extend a special thank you to the festival's Boys Shorts programmers, Telved Devlet and Ryan Crawford, who selected my flick. I joined them plus a handful of other filmmakers in the program for a virtual Q&A session that is now available on YouTube (video embedded below).

Friday, October 8, 2021

My take on "Unnecessary Election 2021": Why Trudeau won, why O'Toole and Singh lost, and why Paul did so badly...

Justin Trudeau with family on election night
Sept 20 20201 - Christinne Muschi/Reuters]
I'm late to the game with this analysis of the recently completed Canadian federal election, so my apologies.  My day job responsibilities demanded that I be somewhat apolitical while the election was going on, so I was quiet here.  Since the election, I've been so busy, this is the first chance I've had to put fingers to blog keyboard. 
Justin Trudeau now sits ready to form a new cabinet after calling what turned out to be one of the most unnecessary elections I can remember. On September 20th, he barely got more seats than he won in 2019, as unimpressed Canadians stuck with the devil they know.  The message from Canadians was clear: cut out the political nonsense and get to work governing!  

Since Covid started, governments that have dared to call elections in Canada have mostly been rewarded with majority power.  That trend ended in Nova Scotia in mid-August when the provincial Liberals were turfed from office, a few days after Trudeau called the federal election.  I was scared at first that the NS result portended a similar comeuppance for the federal Liberals for their similar arrogance calling a vote in the middle of a pandemic.  And for a couple of weeks, it seemed Canadians too were considering knocking Trudeau out of power.   

Conservative leader Erin O'Toole, who had several terrible months before the election call, first seemed dead on arrival when the vote was called.  But suddenly, he performed.  He made lots of noise about being a reasonable, centrist, even somewhat progressive Conservative leader.  His policies seemed moderate and sensical.  He also seemed likeable and decent, like a friendly uncle.  Canadians sick to death of Trudeau suddenly felt they had a decent alternative.  

But then Trudeau managed to plant enough seeds of doubt about O'Toole's alleged moderation.  It wasn't difficult.  

O'Toole's mishandling of his gun control policy, which changed by the day, horrified both sides of the debate.  

O'Toole's pledge to take serious action against climate change - even promising a pale pink imitation of Justin Trudeau's carbon levy - was undermined by his own party's convention earlier this year where 54% of delegates voted against a motion that declared that "climate change is real."  

The mistrust built up over the years thanks to Stephen Harper's style and government hadn't yet receded.  O'Toole was trying to put lipstick on a pig and it didn't work.  

I have no doubt that O'Toole genuinely is a moderate.  His main problem as leader is due to the fact that he veered so far to the right to win that leadership in 2020.  After claiming he would "take Canada back!" (from whom?), and throwing lots of red meat at the party's true blue, social conservative base, O'Toole bested Peter Mackay for the win.  In his leadership victory speech, O'Toole then claimed to be a moderate who would reach out to working families, even LGBTQ Canadians.  Social conservatives must've felt used.  They were.      

It's very difficult to be both a true blue Conservative, as well as a centrist moderate progressive Conservative at the same time.  O'Toole didn't quite hit the right notes to seem credible.  Even Stephen Harper was far more masterful at sounding reasonable and consistent.  O'Toole's message seemed more confusing.  Next to the clarity of Trudeau's message and brand, he paled. 

It may be that O'Toole will eventually find a credible, clear message and brand that can carry him over the top.  He probably deserves at least one more shot as Conservative leader in an election.  

While I don't exactly respect O'Toole's cynical hard right strategy to win his party's leadership - flirting with some awful people to win power - I will admit that O'Toole is likely the sort of reasonable conservative I'd be comfortable seeing in power, if we had to have a Conservative government.  I'd rather have O'Toole as Conservative leader than the odious Pierre Poilievre, for example.   

It's hilarious that some right-wing and social conservatives are wrongly blaming O'Toole's veering to the center as the cause for their party's failure last month.  In truth, it was O'Toole's attempts to placate the party's more conservative wing with positions on vaccination mandates, gun control and abortion that undermined its momentum when it mattered in early September. 

The NDP's Jagmeet Singh entered the election with some wind at his back, enjoying support levels above 20% on average, which had it held on election day would've been one of the federal NDP's best performances.  The NDP held that support as well for most of the campaign.   

I had my doubts that much NDP support would materialize on election day.  And by and large, it didn't.  Sure, many progressives flirted with the idea of voting NDP.  But the NDP option never quite felt serious.  Singh's candidates were, for the most part, the same sort of caliber the NDP always puts up.  It was hard to see this team forming a cabinet.  Plus, the NDP platform was even more pie in the sky than usual, certainly not a real, well-charted, overly specific plan for the future of the country.  It was not surprising to me to see the NDP fall back to 18% on election day and end up with almost the same number of seats as last time.   Their results in Ontario were particularly mediocre, even losing one of their six seats and making zero gains.   

Yes, Trudeau's strong performance during the pandemic, largely meeting the needs of an economy in crisis and taking strong stands in favour of public health and vaccine mandates, reassured Canadians.  

Love him or hate him, Trudeau is an effective politician with a clear brand.  Canadians are more than aware of his flaws, and have decided again to tolerate them until a better leader and team comes along.  That wasn't O'Toole this time.   

I have not been overly impressed with Trudeau as a leader.  He says the right things.  He often accurately and sometimes passionately reflects the progressive sentiments of the country.  But he's painfully shallow and frequently blind to his own ethical short-sightedness.  On so many issues that matter to progressives, his efforts in government have proven unsatisfying.   

Yet Trudeau and the Liberals remain the only credible progressive governing option at the federal level.  The NDP has a long way to go in terms of building support in every region of the country to adequately challenge them.  The Greens are again non-starters.  So it's true - under our first-past-the-post electoral system - progressives or centrists will continue to gravitate toward Liberals, especially in Ontario.   

Regardless of those systemic strengths for the Liberal Party, the fairly mediocre result last month - 32.6% support and another minority government with almost the same number of seats - should raise alarm bells.  Leaders and governments that hang around too long inevitably get long in the tooth and sloppy.   Heck, this government has been sloppy on many files since its first term.  Eventually, voters just get enough of you.   That time may come for Trudeau in a couple years.  It might be better for him instead to take a walk in the snow a couple years from now and retire before the next election.   But we'll see.  He's certainly bought himself another 2-4 years in power.   

The saddest story in this election is probably what happened to the Green Party's Annamie Paul.   

This Star article lays bare the various conflicts between Paul and party officials since she made history winning the party's leadership in 2020.

I related greatly to Paul during this campaign as she seemed to be a decent person with great experience and the right positions on the issues of our time.  She was undermined, however, by party brass unwilling to play seriously in the big leagues, and more interested in protecting their own tiny turf rather than work with Paul. Why do so many progressive or union activists play so nasty and fight to the death over crumbs?  

I was shocked the party gave Paul such a hard time.  I will also agree that Paul herself seemed quite ineffectual managing these conflicts.  Could she not meet with these folks and establish a truce, for the sake of the environment?  Apparently not.  Officials, including the tiny Green caucus, claimed Paul made few overtures to establish decent relations with them in the months after she won a narrow victory to become leader.  Paul also erred greatly by not clearly disassociating herself from her former advisor Noah Zatzman after his outrageous attack threatening elected Green MPs earlier this year.  Her answers to these questions always seemed too lawyerly and tone deaf.  

In the end, her ability to handle crises seemed weak.  The chaos that happens under your watch is your responsibility as leader.   Canadians wanted to hear Paul take accountability for what was going on in her party, but she never did.  She instead made excuses, pointed blame at nameless officials and complained about racism and sexism.  It impressed few.  I found it hard to believe the Green Party was a cesspool of anti-semitism, sexism and racism.  I found it more credible to believe that Paul simply didn't have or had yet to develop the people skills to manage the leadership she had chosen to take on.  

Her support collapsed in her Toronto Centre riding from 33% in the 2020 byelection to just 9% in the general election one year later.  The public have pronounced a big thumbs down on a Green Party more consumed with petty bickering than promoting a coherent and progressive plan for the future.  Now the party's very future is in doubt. 

That'll be good news for the Liberals and the NDP, and perhaps even the Conservatives in some parts.  

I feel sorry for Paul.  Her failure reminds me of the nasty, brutal ways of politics and how it can devour well-meaning people, even in the minor leagues of the Green Party.