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Byelections are hard

My riding is one of two in the midst of a byelection for the Ontario legislature. And I am Undecided.

I have decided against the Progressive Conservatives (I know, you’re all shocked) and the six fringe candidates that are running. That leaves three options: Liberals, NDP, and Greens.

Recently I’ve just been voting for whoever appears to have the best chance of defeating the Conservative candidate, and in this riding, that’s normally Liberal.

But a byelection is not the same. For one thing, I do not have to fear the Conservatives in the same way, because even if they happen to win both seats up for grabs, they will still not form government.

For another, it’s not really so clear the Liberals are the next leading contenders. The NDP have a strong, well-known local candidate, and with voters not having to fear an NDP government resulting from her winning the seat, they might just vote for her. There’s no knowing for sure, but all indications are that this is a three-way race.

So, another strategy I sometimes take when struggling to decide is to just pick the best local candidate. In a byelection, this seems a particular sensible approach. Therefore, I watched the local debate, and came to the conclusion that… All the candidates I’m considering are quite good, really.

The Liberals Eric Davis and the NDP’s Catherine Fife both speak very well and knowledgeably. He’s a lawyer and she’s local schoolboard trustee, and they both already have the politician’s ability to seem like they’re answering a question when they haven’t, really. And it’s in this respect that the Green’s Stacey Danckert was quite refreshing, even though she was soft spoken and less assured. But she was also clearly very smart, informed, and sincere.

Plus, the Greens have some cool policies. Combine the Separate and public school boards? Yes, we can! (Wait, that’s someone else’s slogan.) Reduce income taxes and increase pollution taxes? Sounds good to me. Proportional representation? Bring it on.

But do the Greens have any shot at all in this thing? That is unlikely. Do I consider them anyway, for supporting the candidate and the policies? I’m undecided.

This byelection is also unusual in that actually could change the shape of the Legislature. If the Liberals happen to manage to win both byelection, they’d end up with a very slim majority. Do I want this? Majority governments—including this one—tend to be rather arrogant and undemocratic. But minority governments are all gamesmanship, with everyone threatening elections at every opportunity… All dreaming that majority they might win.

Basically, we have terrible political system, in which both majority and minority governments kind of suck. I can’t change that with my vote. (Ontarians could have changed that in a referendum a few years ago, but they didn’t. I may never forgive you for that, Ontarians. But I’m digressing.)

So… Not much point in voting strategically, no clear favorite amongst a set of good candidate, not really sure who I want to win the seat (except I’d prefer not Conservative or a fringe candidate).

Gosh, I may actually have to read the party platforms, or something.


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Evil robots and power-mad politicians

This electoral fraud (“robo-call”) story has been interesting to follow, and seemingly so well-covered by bloggers and the mainstream media that I’m not sure what I can add. But why not try, even if it’s mostly to provide links.

The Conservatives broke electoral law in the 2006 election. They’ve admitted it, pleaded guilty, paid the fines. It’s always irritated me, though, that it took so long to prosecute, and had no real effect.

What they did essentially launder money through local riding to be able to run more national ads than they were legally allowed to. I know those stupid Conservative ads influence voters, even only to stay home instead of vote. As one writer put it, negative political ads are a legal form of vote suppression. But they did an illegal amount of it, won the election, and have earned that “incumbency” vote ever since.

It was totally worth it for them to cheat on that election. Not so weird to think they might try it again, in a different way, with their well-stocked election coffers.

One of the weirder stories I’ve read goes back to the previous election, 2008, where in Saanich-Gulf Islands, thousands of NDP supporters received robocalls urging them to vote for the local NDP candidate–who had dropped out the race, but too late to remove his name from the ballot. The NDP pulled in more of the vote than polling had suggested they would, and the Conservative candidate narrowly won the seat.

For this election, people keep saying there’s no real proof, but isn’t the Thunder Bay situation kind of a smoking gun? A call center hired by the Conservatives that on the eve of the election, called a bunch of people and told them incorrectly that their polling station had changed?

And this Conservative defense of “honest mistake”— it’s not much of a defense. If you’re not absolutely sure the polling station has changed, don’t go telling people it has! It can’t be that hard to get the facts straight. Especially when you have very well-stocked election coffers.

And the Conservative claim that they do not engage in fraudulent calls is simply incorrect, as they did exactly that in Irwin Colter’s riding, defending it as “free speech”. The Speaker of the House called it “reprehensible”, and it is currently under investigation by the company’s professional association.

And the Conservatives trying to equate the VikiLeaks thing with this? One guy with a free Twitter account, posting publicly available facts? Not illegal. Not a big use of government resources. Not even all that terribly wrong, in my opinion. At worst, kind of tacky. (As is cheating on your wife with your babysitter, then disputing her claim for support. I’m just saying.)

The Conservatives are calling this a smear campaign, but they only have themselves to blame for how easily we can believe they would do anything to gain and keep power.

For an excellent list of the many “dirty tricks” the Conservatives have pulled, see Lawrence Martin’s Trouble in Toryland: their Dirty Tricks catalogue. Even I was shocked how long a list it was.

And for an extremely eloquent indictment, Daniel Veniez’ Tory Tactics and Our Rotten Political Climate.

The tragic thing is that our means of fighting this seem so toothless. What is Election Canada doing, exactly? We don’t really know. The RCMP? Bigger fish to fry, I guess. An inquiry? As if!

With all this attention, will this seriously be investigate, and will it actually mean something this time? I can only hope. But I’m not really hopeful.


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Ontario votes

My bold predication for the Ontario election: Elizabeth Witmer, MPP for Kitchener-Waterloo, will retain her seat.

When voters turned against the Mike Harris, when they ran from John Tory’s school funding proposal, Ms Witmer, Progressive Conservative, still handily won her seat. She’s been in there for something like 21 years. She certainly not going to lose now, when the PCs are riding a “we’re tired of the Liberals!” wave.

This means, under our most undemocratic of electoral systems, me voting is just a waste of time. I am not voting PC, but whether I vote Green, Liberal, NDP, or Marxist-Leninist, whether I spoil my ballot or just sit at home watching TV, the result will the same. Ms. Witmer’s most votes will give the whole seat, and the choice I made will make no difference at all in who runs Ontario.

I will say I don’t have any particular issues with Ms. Witmer. Generally, I think she has been a good representative. And if Ontarians had been smart enough to change their electoral system four years ago, when they had a chance, I might have even have considered voting for her as my MPP, while selecting another party with my second vote.

But, Ontarians didn’t want more democracy, so we have the system we have, and a vote for Ms. Witmer is a vote for Tim Hudak. And I can’t do that.

I’ll grant that my distaste for Mr. Hudak was perhaps not on the most solid basis, initially: The man is just horribly boring to listen to. All he does is repeat sound bites, that nearly always contain the word “tax”. Tax grab. Sneaky eco-tax. Taxman. Tax on home heating.

It’s the most excruciating thing to listen to. (I’ve heard that Queen’s Parks reporters routinely leave his press conferences early, since all he does is repeat his boring lines over and over.) Four years of that? Not sure I can handle it.

Since then, though, he’s given some reasons of more substance to not vote for his party.

The numbers don’t work

As pointed out by that paragon of lefty, socialist thinking, The Toronto Sun, the PC’s economic plan doesn’t add up. Tax reductions and no cuts to education and health sounds great, but how do you pay for it? Truth is that after education and health, there isn’t a whole lot left to cut. So what’s the plan, here? Letting the deficit rise exponentially? Praying for miraculous growth in Ontario’s economy?

(Yes, all the parties are being somewhat unrealistic in their fiscal promises. The PCs are just the most so.)

Update: A rather damning and very detailed examination of just how much the numbers don’t work, courtesy of the Centre for Policy Alternatives. Graphs in Conservative Changebook misleading: At least three of the graphs present data that is clearly false. All of the others contain major errors.

Taxes probably will go up under Hudak

I’m not saying he’ll raise provincial taxes or the HST. But as several have pointed, he will not say whether he will continue to take over the cost of certain municipal programs, as the Liberals plan to do. If he does not (and remember he does have to cut somewhere), it is likely our municipal taxes will increase. OK, they always increase. But they will increase more. And unlike with provincial and federal taxes, which give credits for things like RRSP and charitable donations, there’s nothing you can do to protect your income against those ones.

Addition: The anti-green energy stance

Mr. Hudak wants a better world for his daughter (which I believe), but he’d cancel every green energy project he could? While there do seem to be some flaws in the Liberals handling of the alternative energy file, from what I’ve read, I still applaud the general direction. I believe it’s one of the most progressive in North America. It’s even earned a rare, specific endorsement from David Suzuki!

Xenophobia

Why are politicians allowed to bald-faced lie during elections campaigns, again? In election ads, which can’t be dismissed as an unfortunate slip of the tongue?

Because nothing, nothing has been more appalling to me than this party’s response to the Liberals plans to give tax credits for immigrants who are having trouble finding jobs in their field.

Hudak calls them “foreign workers”. He says the funding will go “outside Ontario”. “Ontarians need not apply.”

But only Canadian citizens would qualify for this tax credit—being a landed immigrant would not be enough. And it’s only for jobs in Ontario.

Hudak is just lying, and in the most xenophobic, divisive, hateful way possible.

Now, I don’t know that the Liberal plan is that wonderful. That professionals who immigrate have trouble finding work in their field is a real problem; I’m not sure how much this would solve it. And I don’t think comparing the PCs to the Tea Party is all that helpful a response, either.

But I do know that all Canadians are equal, no matter how long they’ve been Canadian. And if one group is being particularly discriminated against, it is reasonable for the government to see if something can be done to rectify that.

I won’t vote a party that promotes near-racism.

Unfortunately, what I do won’t make a difference.

Rest of Ontario: Good luck to you. Sorry I can’t be more help.


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Election positivity

At times, this election campaign has made me really cranky. With politicians. With the media. With other Canadians.

But it hasn’t had all been bad. To my surprise, some things have actually been inspiring. Who would have expected that?

Votes mobs: The enthusiasm of youth

Inspired by a Rick Mercer rant, vote mobs are groups of young people who swarm political functions or other public spaces, encouraging people to vote.Will they actually turn around the typically dismal showing of voters under 25? I don’t know, especially that the timing couldn’t be worse for university and college students.

But regardless, they’ve left behind a nice YouTube legacy, like this one from McMaster:

Civil online debates: Yes, we can

The typical comments section on most political articles (or YouTube videos) tends to make you despair for humanity as a whole. But under this article in an American online publication (decent in itself) is a bunch of really well-informed, civil, intelligent comments from what seems to be across the political spectrum. (Until a spammer joins in at the end. Ah well, better that than a troll.)

And though I’m biased from knowing the blogger, the non-partisan Procedure and politics has been a nice oasis of rationality, showing that you can calmly dissect how politicians and the media sometimes get it wrong, all without calling anyone a “stupidhead”. (Also a great place to learn about Britain’s upcoming referendum, if you were wondering about that. Or maybe you didn’t even know they were having one?)

The return of oratory

I’m a sucker for a great orator. Tony Blair, Bill Clinton, Barack Obama, John Kennedy… I don’t know if these guys were great leaders. But they sure talked nice. I loved listening to all of them.

In Canada, we haven’t  had a great federal orator since… What… Pierre Trudeau, I think?

Or so I thought. Until I actually started listening to Michael Ignatieff speak. It started at their platform announcement, part of which I watched online. This was in the midst of all the commentary about Harper’s “bubble” — not taking questions, hiding from the public. So to see Ignatieff speaking so easily, so clearly, sans notes or teleprompters, answering questions from everyone, at such a strategic juncture—I was kind of impressed.

But it was only after coming back from vacation, having missed the debates (where, I hear, Ignatieff didn’t do that well), I found this YouTube video getting a lot of play:

That I became really really impressed. I liked what he said. And how he said it. And apparently, that wasn’t even him at his best.

I started to wonder if I was just in some weird Liberal spell here, when Rick Mercer (him again!) commented on a similar experience:

And then there was Prince Edward Island, where, in a curling club, Ignatieff showed off a set of skills I had no idea that he possessed. From a pure showbiz perspective he killed. Speaking without a teleprompter or notes he gave perhaps the best speech I have heard since watching Gen. Rick Hillier address the troops in Kandahar.

His speech also inspired this non-partisan song on voting for what you believe in–“Rise Up Canada!” (A song for Canada’s 2011 Federal Election):

Of course, people like Blair, Clinton, Obama, and Kennedy all had such personal charisma, their elocutionary skills were just icing on the cake. With Ignatieff, it’s the whole cake. In this day and age, that seems to not be enough. But damn, it’s nice to hear anyway.

Creative protest: Hanging with the cool kids

I like civil debate, and I like neutral calls to vote, but I have picked a side. So, I’ve also appreciated the many people, much more creative and eloquent than I, who have to the same conclusion about who they are voting for, and produced online materials as to why. There’s tons of it, but I’ll just mention a few. I’ve already tweeted about Shane Koycan’s powerful “Wasted Votes” video. (He’s the spoken-word poet who appeared at the Olympics by the way: the “We Are More” poem.) I also enjoyed Margaret Atwood’s comparison of the Conservatives to a vaccum salesman who insists you buy his product, but won’t tell you the cost.

And this mock ad—Too Smart for Canada—made me laugh out loud. So close to the actual ones, some people think it’s real.

The NDP surge

Of course, we don’t yet know if this will stick and have a real effect in the end. All we can know for sure, is that among those that were polled, there has been a shift. In Quebec, the NDP has risen considerably; that has been spreading to other regions. And why does this please me?

  • It’s thwarting the ambitions of both the Conservatives and the Bloc, my two least favourite parties. Although I don’t believe it will turn out that way, one poll actually had the NDP + Liberal seat count at greater than the Conservative–without the Bloc at all. That would be good for Canada.
  • It shows that many Canadians will respond to a positive message. (Even the NPD “attack” ads were kind of chirpy positive.)
  • It shows what a political leader can achieve when not hobbled by two years of personal political attack ads run by the party in power. (Why is it even legal to run election ads between elections, by way?)
  • They’re the only major party talking about electoral reform, one of my pet issues.

I’m not afraid of NDP policies or what them having more power might mean. All evidence shows that the NDP becomes very pragmatic once handed power. And if you look closely at what they’re proposing, it’s full of caveats that gives them plenty of wiggle room to ensure Canada does not become a deficit-ridden, high-tax, socialist mess.

But this is in no way changes how I plan to vote. The conditions, for me, remain the same. Local polls show no evidence of an NDP surge. Plus, my local NDP candidate is a 27-year-old with no political experience at all, whereas the Liberal one is a past MP with a record for actually going with his conscience against his own party, which is a rare thing indeed. And another thing I view positively.


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I wish my country were a little bit better

The Conservative’s attack ads against Michael Ignatieff (I refuse to link to them) have such a peculiar tone. Like our main worry about him should be that he used to work at Harvard. Or ending the one ad that seems to run particularly frequently with this “ominous” Ignatieff quote:

I wish my country were a little better.

Really?

Him wanting to improve Canada is supposed to make us not want to vote Liberal?

But clearly, the Conservatives think that’s bad. So the Conservative’s political goals, then, are to make Canada worse?

You know, that actually explains a lot…


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And I can’t even blame this one all on Stephen Harper

This kinds of pisses me off:

Federal parties agree to scrap bill correcting voting inequalities

The Harper government and the opposition parties have agreed to quietly sink legislation that would have given Ontario, British Columbia and Alberta more seats in the House of Commons. As a result, urban and visible-minority voters will continue to be discriminated against in Parliament.

Under the legislation, Ontario would have received 18 new seats, British Columbia seven, and Alberta five, bringing all three provinces up to the level of representation in the House warranted by their populations.

Though the above is denied by the government, the bill has been given one day of debate so far, so it’s not exactly speeding on its way to passage. The fear, apparently, is of angering Quebec and Maritime voters.

So fellow Ontarians, BCers, and Albertans, if you really want to have an impact on the next federal election, you’d best move to another province, where your vote will actually have weight.

Because in Canada, everyone is equal. Only, some of us are more equal than others.