Thursday, May 12, 2011

Geert Wilders

So, a lot of fawning over Geert since he arrived in Canada. The common refrain is that he's a hero being persecuted for simply speaking out. Yeah, no. So, read this article from a year ago. It's a fairly straightforward and informative article with regards to Geert's political outlook.

Do I want Geert banned? No, just the opposite. I want Geert to speak.  I would like it if Geert was challenged, face to face.  The opportunity has come and gone. He's a folk hero, of sorts. The only question I would have for him is this: how can you reconcile your vocal support of classical liberal (if you prefer, Western) values with a direct assault on religious freedom?

Not only does Geert have to reconcile the two ideas in a rational manner, but so do those that support him. To me, lowering our society to the standards of Saudi Arabia or Iran in order to marginalize people who risked everything to escape oppression is simply wrong. Using the power of government to squeeze out an already misunderstood group of people should be the antithesis of conservatism.

In the end, Geert is neither good or bad. He's more of a sideshow, unnoticed by the apolitical. The problem, however, is twofold. the lack of scrutiny he's getting is one. Tacit support from openly bigoted groups like the BNP is the other. The guy has tapped into a really ugly zeitgeist. It really doesn't take much to blame the mysterious other for the problems facing the world.

Monday, May 09, 2011

CBC, DTV and Canada

I'm not going to get into a large technical discussion, because all the details can be found at the OTA Digital Forums on Digital Home. ca. I'm also not going to get deep into perceived political biases of the CBC.  This rather short post will  focus more on CBC's intentional failure to meet their mandate on Sept 1, 2011.

For a quick overview, on September 1st, horrible analog TV effectively dies in Canada and will be replaced by super awesome over the air high definition digital television. Some of you lucky people already have access to uncompressed HDTV, free of charge. Newer TV's are already set up for it, older TV's need a converter box. I think the only major centre without at least one over the air digital TV channel is Regina.

There are two things to take note of with the CBC, one is their mandate and the other is their plan for transition.

Mandate first, because the parts we are interested in are fairly self explanatory:

The Broadcasting Act (1991) states that the Canadian broadcasting system constitutes a single system and that the objectives of the broadcasting policy set out in subsection (1) can best be achieved by providing for the regulation and supervision of the Canadian broadcasting system by a single independent public authority.
The Act provides a mandate for all broadcasters, including CBC/Radio-Canada. It declares in Section 3:

(a) the Canadian broadcasting system shall be effectively owned and controlled by Canadians;

(d) the Canadian broadcasting system should:
     (iv) be readily adaptable to scientific and technological change;
(k) a range of broadcasting services in English and in French shall be extended to all Canadians as resources become available;
(m) the programming provided by the Corporation should
    (vii) be made available throughout Canada by the most appropriate and efficient means and as resources become available for the purpose, and
What this says is that if you are Canadian, the CBC is mandated to provide their signal to you. You already own it, so you don't have to pay for it.  However, the mandated transition to digital TV will leave many Canadians without over the air access to CBC. The following cities aren't going to have CBC, but those residents will be paying for it, nonetheless.

  • Lethbridge
  • Saskatoon
  • London
  • Kitchener
  • Moncton
  • St. John

It's almost easier to say that CBC is keeping 3 stations in Quebec: Rimouski, Quebec City and Montreal. The rest are either being shut down or being left in the hands of those that operate CBC affiliates.

All of those cities and the surrounding areas will no longer have OTA CBC, even though they pay for it.  The CBC solution to this is to have people get cable or watch online.  That's unacceptable. What isn't understood is that right now, CBC literally covers the entire country with their analog setup.  So, because the CBC isn't mandated to do anything but change out mandatory markets, all those areas served by the repeater stations will not be converted.

One of the arguments being put forward in their plan in that 93% of Canadians get their TV from some kind of provider, so they won't be affected. That's not really the point, because it is a violation of their mandate to not provide service.  The number of people who use over the air exclusively is closer to 10%. The number who supplement their cable with OTA is probably closer to 20%, based on some preliminary numbers found at the first link.

Now, compare that with the private broadcasters. It is mandatory that they are digital by September 1st. It is also mandatory that they convert their transmitters to digital by 2016/ The national public broadcaster doesn't feel the need to service all Canadians. The private broadcasters have no option.  Doesn't that seem backwards?

Friday, May 06, 2011

Proportional Representaion (Updated)

Remember, back when the NDP had a huge increase in popular support in the 1980's but it didn't translate into seats? They called for PR so things would be fair. Of course, if I recall correctly, that was the year the Mulroney Tories gained a huge majority in the House and took over half the vote, rendering such arguments moot.

There were even some rumblings about PR by the NDP prior to this election. One wonders where they stand on that now, with 77% of the Quebec seats taken with less than half the popular vote.  I'm going out on a limb and saying that PR isn't so important to the NDP knowing that they don't need to turn too many more voters in their direction to gain minority or possibly majority government status.

The one thing that won't change is that someone will call for PR to make things fair for the people.  Naturally, I mean the Green party. They are the ones making the most noise about it, so you would think they would have the best plan. It's not spelled out in the comprehensive platform. I really would hope that for all the talk, they would put a proposal out there. If they aren't going to spell out the glory of it, then I will spell out the pitfalls.

No Local MP

You will be voting for a party and your MP may well not be local. Heck, you won't really have an MP. You will be voting to fill a chair. Remember, it doesn't matter if your ersatz riding votes 50%+1 in favour of a specific party because all the votes go into a giant bin. Your "Chosen" representative might very well be someone who does not reflect the values of your neighbourhood.

I don't know, but someone who is picked for me as opposed to someone who was picked by me seems the antithesis of democracy. I'm going to assume that this is going to be the way of things because no concrete suggestions have come forward from the pro-PR crowd.

Who Gets A Seat?

There are 308 seats now, and that's probably going to increase after the census. That's a whole bunch of seats to fill. We already know that the Tories, under PR would get 40%, the NDP would get 30% and the Liberals would get 20%, leaving 10% of the seats. We'll just say that 31 seats are remaining. 6% of the vote went to the Bloc, So 18 seats gone. 13 seats left. That must mean the Greens get official party status HUZZAH!

Sounds fine, for now. Everyone gets a seat and representation. Keep in mind that all of the bigger parties, are big tent parties. The Bloc, in its prime, was a HUGE tent with a single issue and it attracted all manner of loons. The NDP is now a big tent. The CPC is an amalgam of competing ideals as to what conservative even means. The Liberals draw from a pretty diverse group who like them for social values and fiscal policies.

Under Proportional Representation (once again, I'm guessing on this) anyone who can snag 4% of the vote gets official party status. How long until fringe parties, truly fringe parties, begin to make inroads? One election cycle. There's no need for national media campaigns. You just need 400,000 to vote for a Western Separatist or Marxist party.  How hard would that be? Not very if you decide to implement a system that normalizes the fringe.

What these people who call for Proportional Representation don't understand is why our system is the way it is and how it supposed to work. They have also given no thoughts to the unintended consequences. That's really about right, though. Calls for PR are made by self serving people who are unable to succeed according to the rules.

I'm not opposed to electioral reform. I'm opposed to reforms designed to normalize the fringe. If there was a call for runoff elections for anyone not getting over 50% of the vote, then fine. Triple E Senate or elected GG would be fine by me. You can leave the current system for MP's alone. I like knowing who my guy is and how he got there.

Pure Democracy has been described as Mob Rule. And that's a pretty apt description. Our system is designed so that a plurality of votes can comfortably govern. If your party cannot get the required amount of votes per riding, you don't get seats. It says that if your party can't do that, it doesn't represent those ~100,000 people.

If members of certain parties are annoyed that they can't break through then it might just be that the system is working properly. Perhaps they should consider why they are failing to connect. The system worked for all kinds of upstart parties in the past; Why not yours?


 Sandy at Crux of the Matter has some interesting analysis on the UK rejection of PR that dovetails well with this.

Thursday, May 05, 2011

Your Daily Chuckle

The Ottawa Citizen has a favourable editorial with regards to Elizabeth May. If ever the need for a copy editor was needed, that's for sure.  Allow me.

Elizabeth May, the Green party leader, will be an asset to the House of Commons. She worked very hard to win in Saanich-Gulf Islands, and deserves a shot to prove herself on a new stage.

An asset in what way? She will get very little time to speak during Question Period and probably won't be on any committees.

It won't be easy. As the lone representative of her party in the House, she'll be an independent for all intents and purposes, which means she won't have much power -especially since the size of the Conservative majority means she won't often be courted for her vote. But her high profile, her passion and her eloquence will ensure that she has a disproportionate influence on public opinion, and perhaps also on her fellow MPs.
 No, she won't be courted for her vote, ever. She'll be an independent because that's how Parliament works when your party doesn't have 12 seats. Her high profile lost half the Green vote. Is the author claiming that May is going to tamper with the members of other parties?  What influence can she wield when the opposition parties don't need her vote and they aren't going to give up scarce committee seats? 

This goes on and on in a similar vein. I suggest that anyone interested in seeing how spin is done poorly, read the whole thing. Greens inability to connect with the electorate in spite of May getting piles of face time speaks not to her strengths as a leader or the growth of the Greens as a party, but the opposite.

What do think will happen when it becomes clear to her constituents that they didn't elect a national party leader, but an independent MP? What happens when the vote subsidy is gone and Greens have to rely on their base for funding? These are the questions that have to be asked of the Greens in general and May in particular.

The Bar Is Set Pretty Low

I noticed something when people of Saskatchewan elected the SaskParty for the first time: nothing the left said came remotely close to true. The tactic was to smear the party and the leader with all manner of unfounded accusations to get people to vote out of fear, Sounds familiar, I know. It's been going on since 1993 on a federal level.

All that has to happen at this point is decent stewardship of the economy and not putting troops in the streets.  That's barely an exaggeration. Remember, that the tactic since 2004 was "if there's a CPC government, all manner of calamity will befall Canada!"  So, there were two minority governments, starting in 2006,  and Canada wasn't swallowed up by Cthulhu. Things actually went pretty well.

Now, the opposition has to judge Harper and the Conservatives on what they do, not what they want people to think they might do. Some of the over-the-top analysis makes it look as though they haven't figured it out quite yet.  The more insane the hyperbole is, the more such things will get shut out.

One thing we can be forever thankful for is that the Left just doesn't ever take a second to reflect or strategize.They've already started running against Harper before this session even begins.  Have they taken a second to wonder why it failed the last 3 times they tried it? Of course not.

We are looking at 4 1/2 years of what is akin to the homeless guy wearing a "The End Is Near": sandwich board and gibbering incoherently. It will be sad at first, and then it will be annoying. At some point, there might be an attempt at an intervention, but you know that isn't going to work. Can't muzzle the truth, you see.

Needless to say, I'm looking forward to it.

Wednesday, May 04, 2011

This 40% Nonsense

There's a meme sweeping the Left these days.  Naturally, it's one that is designed to de-legitimize the duly elected Conservative party.  Yes, they only got 40% of the vote, that means 60% of the people didn't vote for them. Apparently, it's not the party that managed to gain a plurality of the votes and a majority of the seats that should govern.

Now, it seems to me that if we were to use this model, then 70% rejected the NDP, 80% rejected the Liberals and 97% rejected the Greens.  The underlying message, though, is that if there were a completely new system, then there wouldn't be a CPC majority government. You know, because over half said "no".

Return to me, if you will, to the days after the collapse of the PC party and the rise of Reform. Jean Chretien's Liberals never once got close to 50%. Now, I don't recall too many demanding that he step aside or to gut the system.  No, what I remember, on a personal level, was being really annoyed that the PC party kept splitting the vote in the East.

The solution to that was a merge and and eventual majority government.  How long did it take? 18 years to rebuild the right to the point where enough people would be able to confer trust. It was like swimming upstream tied to a brick.

For about a century, the Liberals gamed the system they now decry. It's a bit late for that.  The NDP, once champions of proportional representation, will become strangely mute about it.  The demand we go to proportional representation comes from third parties and failed movements.

Tuesday, May 03, 2011


Well, it's over. Good guys win. But what does it mean? Let's start with the Green party.

The first thing it means for the Greens is that the whole lot of them had better read up on the rules of the House. The most important thing, I think, would be how one gets time to talk in Question Period. Official parties get it. Parties with less than 12 members do not.  They have to ask the other opposition parties to give up some of their time.

So, all those issues the Greens feel are important are going to be afterthoughts. They can't move forward without the perks official party status conveys. They'll push proportional representation when they have the chance.  In the end, May won't be effective and won't get much help. 

The Bloc isn't finished, at least not yet. Quebec politics is a strange animal. Most of the population has no desire to leave confederation, but they keep electing Separatists. This time, they overwhelmingly elected Federalists.  Over the next year or so, we'll see if they'll even bother. That depends on how well the NDP represent their new powerbase.

Did the NDP win or did the Bloc lose? That's really what has to be asked. One thing that casual observers and hardcore pundits could agree on revolves around how poorly Duceppe performed in the debates. So, a tired party with nowhere to go was decimated. 4 years from now will tell the real story. In the House, they will be about as relevant as the Greens for the same reasons.

I don't know about anyone else, but I did not see the Liberal meltdown coming.  Certainly, the second largest story of this election was how it wasn't vote splitting that led to the CPC majority, but traditional Liberals abandoning their party in droves. How badly broken is that party?  Certainly not as bad as the Progressive Conservatives in 1993, but this defeat is historic.

When the next session begins, the Liberals will enter leaderless and directionless. A stable government is the best thing for them at this time.  Do they merge, change focus or blow the whole thing up? The old guard is gone. This provides an historic opportunity for the Natural Governing Party to learn why they failed.  The long time strategy of "Screw the West, we'll take the rest" no longer works.

The NDP did what now? I'm at a loss. I may be ideologically opposed to the NDP but their elevation to Official Opposition with the support of Quebec hopefully means that Quebec is "in". Federalism, hopefully, is alive and well.

Maintaining this historical level of support with people who were, to the best of my knowledge, placeholders for federal subsidies, will make for some entertaining shenanigans. All in all, I wish the NDP success simply because it can open dialogue with Quebec. Jack is in an interesting position reconciling what he said in Quebec and what he didn't say outside Quebec.

When you are leader of the Official Opposition, it's an interview to be the next PM. Now, there is pressure to perform on a different level.  Jack and company must move towards the centre. That kind of started during the campaign when the platform was examined. Reassurances were given that they weren't going to kill the recovery via crippling taxes. Our system of government naturally moderates, so don't expect too many crazy private members bills sponsored by the NDP.

Their next step should be planning for Sussex or at least solidifying gains. That's the rub. They appeal to a wide swath of the left.  That's not enough to win. That's what I'll be watching for. You can't appeal to the oil patch with a desire to cripple that industry. You can't run around in Quebec talking about re-opening the Constitution and not make an effort to do so. That's a hornet's nest in every other region.

What all this really means, though, is that the Conservative Party of Canada has returned to power. So, that means the Omnibus crime bill is getting passed. That means the budget is going through. That means, hopefully, that a serious look at how the Senate functions can finally begin. The per vote subsidy is going away.

We are looking at something different. I'm interested in seeing what happens now, because I've seen what happens when right wing parties gain majorities. It doesn't turn out well. So, I'll be keeping my eye on it.  There is an opportunity to consolidate power, but only if this power of majority is wielded with a steady hand.

I'll have a more personal reaction to this in the days to come, but for now it's fair to say that everything has changed. I hope it's for the better. Preliminary signs point to yes.

Sunday, May 01, 2011

RIck Mercer Wants You To Vote, Just Not Conservative

How does one describe Rick Mercer?  I could go with pundit, comedian and patriot. I wouldn't go with objective. It shouldn't come as a surprise that Rick Mercer is rabidly anti-Harper. His rants would confirm that very thing. It would almost be a conflict of interest to use your bully pulpit as election advertising. You would need to circumvent election law to make it legitimate.

That's the glory of this "Vote Mob" thing. The highly polished veneer reflects the notion that this is all about just getting kids to vote form whomever they want (wink). However, scratch that just a bit and you can see that what lies underneath, and it's simply a movement to vote out the CPC. Which is fine, just call it what it is. Which he can't do.

What should be concerning to people is it seems that what Rick Mercer says is being taken as gospel. Rick Mercer says something on one of his Rants, and it goes viral. Is it fact checked by anyone? Not as far as I can tell.  That's the problem. Seeing as how there numerous Facebook groups called "Rick Mercer for PM" it stands to reason that his audience isn't really sure how this whole democracy thing works in Canada.

There is a push to legitimize a Coalition, and he's one of those leading the charge. That's fine. I don't think anyone has a problem with two or more parties coming together in coalition to run the country. It's happened before on a provincial level. The NDP and Liberals in my province got together and formed a fairly successful one. The NDP and Liberals got together in Ontario and crippled their economy.  So, they are legal and they are cool and whatever. That's not really the argument against the one that was proposed.

What is constantly overlooked, and I think for good reason, is that to control confidence of the House, you need more than half of the members to vote your way.  So, do the math.  If the end result is a rerun of the 40th Parliament, then the NDP and the Liberals as a coalition will not control more than half the seats. That's just math, and no Rick Mercer Rant can change that.

So, how do two parties with less than half the seats in the House of Commons manage to retain the confidence of the members? A third party has to vote with them on financial matters. You can't really alter that with a handheld video shot in B&W.

So, now we are the meat of this whole thing and why an unreasonable and irrational dislike of a political figure does not end well for anyone. In order for this "ABC" thing to actually work, you have to enlist the Bloc Quebecois. They aren't just some political party with differing outlooks, they are a party dedicated to the dissolution of confederation. I wonder how you stay in power if you don't financially compensate the Bloc?  Rick Mercer doesn't tell the kids that such things are even an issue.

He gives these kids the most basic understanding of how the Westminster system works and hopes that armed with this, they will simply vote for the MP they like the best who isn't a member of the CPC. That's not quite how it works. That's the theory of it, and in a few rare cases, it works (Ralph Goodale). The reality of it is that you are voting for a party, not an individual, based on the platform.  You aren't voting because the candidate is someone you want to have a beer with.

I expect that his desire to use Canada's young people to forward his agenda will fail. Turnout will go up across the board, but the overall percentage of young people voting will be about the same. Hopefully, the youth will vote based on something outside of what Mercer says within his 1:30 snapshot of Parliamentary procedures.