Polygonic

That weren't no DJ, that was hazy cosmic jive

Oops, they did it again

Is there any surprise that the Globe and Mail has endorsed the Conservatives?

In small ways, yes. I had expected at least a modicum of restraint on their behalf, and was prepared to bet serious money that they’d declare for a Conservative minority, and against a majority, given, well, everything we’ve seen for five years. The deficit, the dishonesty, the cronyism, criminality, and corruption – and pure, unalloyed contempt, in every sense of the word.

But, nooooo, the Globe maintains its tragic, eternal love for the ethereal, departed ghost of Progressive Conservatism. Pitiably, rather than mourn its demise, the Globe falsely recognises its reincarnation in the Party of Harperland. It’s like seeing Madonna in your toast – stare long enough, and you’ll see what you long for. Sadly, it is only a miserable mirage, though no one will ever convince them of it.

Where is the objective assessment of where the country’s being taken, from the perspective of a newspaper that advocates for fiscal conservatism? Harper’s team may be called the Conservative Party, but these are no Tories. The U.S. Republican populism they employ betrays the “fiscal prudence” mantra time and time again. No intelligent being (and I include dolphins, puppies and bonobo chimps) can honestly consider Stephen Harper a sober steward of the Canadian economy. The historic deficit proves it wrong, and the simultaneous drunken sailor spending, with its “state secret” price tags to-boot, only underline it. Even the long-feared New Democrats would treat tax dollars with greater seriousness, and Canadians in unprecedented numbers are coming round to that, despite the inertial forces holding much of our media back.

The Globe has resisted the centre and the left for nigh on thirty years now, and there’s no reason to have expected they’d make an exception now. What is perhaps surprising is that so many Canadians continue to depend on the newspaper, despite disagreeing so fundamentally and so consistently with its position.

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Filed under: Canada, Politics, , , , ,

NDP rising, but whither the seats?

The NDP is closing to within six points of the Tories, according to the latest Nanos. This potential political upheaval generates huge excitement, but it also provokes a big question: will the House of Commons reflect the popular vote at all?

There are obvious problems with making predictions based on uniform swing, but as an experiment, we can nevertheless get a picture of what the post-May 2 universe might look like – and, more importantly, we get a clear picture how First Past the Post distorts electoral results to favour region-dense parties over parties with broad, national appeal.

I’m using the Hill & Knowlton Predictor (since I’m finding it fun at the moment) and, to illustrate the point, I entered a prediction that shows the CPC and the NDP each receiving 34.0% of the popular vote. An exact tie. (I gave the LPC a dismal, but not unlikely, 21% of the vote. Greens get 5%, and Bloc holds onto 6%)

The predicted seat count would be a travesty. Despite a national tie in popular vote, the Conservatives would emerge with +/- 135 seats, while the NDP would capture +/- 87. That’s the seat count we might get with an exact tie in the popular vote. I mean, wow.

On the one hand, all us Orange Wave Surfers would probably be mostly exhilarated at the prospect of 87 New Democrat seats. But that exhilaration collapses when comparing the relative successes. A party like the Cons, with its depth in the West, would massively outgain the NDP, which draws support relatively evenly from coast to coast to coast.

This isn’t about splitting the leftist vote – it’s about an electoral system that does not remotely account for the popular will.

There is every reason to expect a result like this on Monday. New Democrats nationwide, assuming they can get out the vote in an effective way, are on track for record gains. But placing a very close second in a hundred ridings, or two hundred ridings, won’t mean a single new MP. Tens of thousands of Canadians’ votes, even hundreds of thousands of them, might have zero impact on the composition of the 41st Parliament.

Outrageous, no? But why isn’t electoral reform on the radar this election?

Partly because it’s still seen as a bit wonkish. Political nerds get excited by electoral reform discussions, and no one else. Partly, too, because anytime a politician proposes changing the system, voters smell a rat. What’ve you got up your sleeve, then? Add that to the prospect of renewed constitutional wrangling, and fine, no one dares go there.

But all that caution and disinterest could vanish if we get an abysmal result like the one predicted above. Electoral reform could work its way into the heart of how we work towards renewing our democracy.

The Brits will soon be heading to the polls, on 5 May, to vote in a referendum on abandoning First Past the Post, and adopting Alternative Vote, or Automatic Runoff. It’s seen as a small change, and not really full proportional representation. It does, though, strike a balance between keeping a House of Commons comprised of constituent MPs while also ensuring that no MP shows up to work without being secure in the knowledge that 50% of the constituency has offered an endorsement.

(As an aside – for now! – the British public is torn on the question – some polls indicate that voters will reject the change, but other polls have also had the yes and no camps tied in recent weeks.)

As regards the NDP’s chances on Monday, I am steeling myself for what I consider to be the worst likely scenario – huge NDP gains in the popular vote, but absolute robbery of the seats they deserve through a crude electoral system designed for the bipartisan Britain of yestercentury. Should we witness such a crime, here’s hoping it might at least provoke the requisite national outrage to create the conditions for a change.

Filed under: Canada, Politics, , , , , , ,

Behold, the CDN Fed-Elxn Predictometer 3000

O.K., it’s not got quite as fun a name as that, to its shame. Nonetheless, Hill and Knowlton have launched their 2011 Canadian federal election interactive swing-o-meter map predictor thingy! If you find yourself with some time this morning, it turns out that playing god is surprisingly fun.

I’ve run through a prediction, based in part on some of the more inspiring poll results we’ve seen of late, and based also on my optimistic take of voter turnout. You have to be optimistic to see the new NDP support in Québec moving from soft sympathy to a hard black X on the ballot… but optimistic I am. I’ve given the NDP a hearty but reasonable swing, most from LPC, but from BQ and Greens in a big way too, and some CPC for the heck of it.

The Predictor employs uniform swing, unfortunately, which is kind of half-meaningless (I lie – it does appear to allow you to make provincial and regional predictions and variations in swing and split, but it’s unclear to me how you can assemble these into the national picture).

Despite all the flaws of prediction through uniform swing, I was nevertheless intrigued by the result I got. Indeed, within reason and considering my full respect for the laws of reality, you could say I love the result. CPC on 137 seats, LPC on 72 seats, NDP on 68 seats, BQ on 30 seats, and Greens on 0. It allows for LPC/NDP overruling the diminished Reformer minority, while also avoiding allegations of consorting with hellspawned Bloquistes to do it.

Applying my swings to the Predictor, I’ve turned more of the Prairies orange than I expected to, as well as more of Québec (on current figures, they’re lined up for six seats), but British Columbia has only turned a bit more orange than before. The Liberals are the West Coast losers extraordinaire, capturing Vancouver Quadra, and nothing else.

Give it a go yourself. Any thoughts on utility, fun-factor, improvements to be made?

Filed under: Canada, Politics, , , , , , , , ,

How’s your democracy?

Apologies for an absence from the blog – euphoria at the NDP surge, and of course the impending Royal Wedding, has left me somewhat dumbfounded (as if I needed to find any new dumbness).

It’s ironic to have been kept from writing here during a federal election campaign – now, more than ever, the bumps and twists of political life are more than simple Sunday afternoon amusements. As three out of four federal parties assert, nothing less than the viability of Canadian democracy itself is at stake here!

What hyperbole, right? The health of our democracy is not exactly under threat just because we have a government that bends some of the more obscure rules of parliamentary procedure. Just because they’ve fudged a number or two. Just because they might favour some of their friends with budget goodies. Nothing new with any of that, is there?

Such tepid shruggery at Conservative abuses is itself the clearest signal that Canada’s democracy is not healthy. It isn’t just the abuses, the cronyism, the criminality, and the corruption at the level of government – it’s the public apathy that, in too great a measure, forgives it. Too easily, we’ve been sucked into the pageant politics of our telegenic neighbours to the south. Harper might have his faults, but Ignatieff’s smile is just too weird – it’s a logic that flows from a collective political mind that’s easily twisted in the dark mechanics of spin and populism, and twisted away from healthy debates about fact and vision.

I compare Canada to the UK, and I see more reasons to feel all woe-be-gone. In Britain, there is absolutely no way that a character like Stephen Harper, or his manner of politics, would survive a single Westminster afternoon. Politics in Britain is obviously just as brutal a game as it is in Canada, but its players do not tolerate bullshit. The press are told they must sit 40 feet away from the PM, and can ask a maximum of five questions? The UK press would eat him alive. Deficit has spiralled into historic proportions while the details of actual expenditures are treated as state secrets? Watchdogs would bark throughout the night, and the taxpaying public would absolutely roar against such patronising diffidence. Conservative candidates don’t show up for constituency debates? A national outrage. Parliament is told that the Opposition isn’t just an Opposition, but it is actually a functioning socialist/separatist coalition? Please! British opposition parties would have dealt such an incisive retaliatory hammerblow, Harper would be left eating his words through a straw.

But all is not lost in dear old Canadia. The thriving heartbeat of our democracy can be heard, if nowhere else, than in the surging fortunes of the NDP. True! What else explains their newfound competitiveness, but the fact that Canadians do retain their critical faculties?

Anti-incumbency is a healthy thing. People sometimes point out that Rob Ford’s success in T.O. indicates Canada’s growing conservatism, while omitting the fact that Naheed Nenshi won the mayor’s seat in Calgary at the same time. Neither of these electoral results owe very much to the appeal of straightforward left or right wing dogmas. They were about voters dealing black eyes to the status quo. A “turf ’em out” disenchantment with established systems. An active, engaged mass protest against being taken for granted.

The counterargument is that, well, if Canada was in such anti-incumbency mood, then Harper would be in serious trouble. I’ve hoped the same, as have most of us. The problem lies in the fact that the Liberals don’t appear to have renewed themselves enough to benefit from anti-incumbency. They still smell, to a lot of people, like a kind of silent incumbent. Out of power they may be, but too recently, and they are nevertheless an establishment. This perceived lack of good, new options has turned people off, but it hasn’t made them care less, nor has it made them more conservative.

Ignatieff, in Chretien’s words, has done “not bad” in the past few weeks – especially in the campaign’s early days. But the LPC don’t seem to be the bright sparks Canadians are looking for right now, not yet. And what Canada wants is something new they can have confidence in.

I feel for the Liberals. They’ve run about as good a campaign as they can, while Harper’s run one of his worst. But the NDP numbers suggest that it will be they who capture the vote of the disenchanted.

I wouldn’t predict that NDP fortunes will necessarily hold. Even if they do, they always suffer terribly from an electoral system that punishes parties with broad-based support: their popular support will certainly outstrip the seats they can capture.

All the same, to see Canadians warming to the hitherto “alternative” option shows they aren’t just swallowing conventional wisdom in the way a truly apathetic body politic would. There’s a restlessness which is, in and of itself, a good sign.

Filed under: Politics, , , ,

Julian Fantino’s surprising day

Conservative heavyweight superstar Julian Fantino today expresses his surprise and offense at the fact the Bloc Québécois don’t sing O Canada in the House of Commons.

I sympathize with Fantino. I do. Why, just the other day I started my new job at a supermarket. I was very surprised to see they sell *meat* in the supermarket. Meat! I was frankly offended and surprised. I wish I’d been in a supermarket at some point in my life before – I might have expected it. At least someone might have warned me what supermarkets were like before I got the job there. I’m not used to knowing about what’s in supermarkets. It was very surprising.

Filed under: Canada, Politics, , , ,

The little blue fortress

It’s a funny way to run a campaign. Stephen Harper is talking up the need for his coveted majority, but his campaign approach – banning, and forcibly kicking out, undecided voters and non-partisan onlookers from his Conservative rallies – seems very strange. What are rallies for, if not to generate new party enthusiasm? And what use is any such enthusiasm if it doesn’t reach contagion in the wider world? Hard-core CPC cheerleaders won’t get to vote twice – how much more excitable do they need to be?

It seems like a dumb approach, but it’s of course a tactical decision. Harper wants his majority, not through bringing new votes onside, but through simply getting his entire existing base out to vote on 2 May. He wants to whip up all the sworn-allies into such a state of anti-Ignatieff frenzy that they’ll simply out-participate the majority of Canadians – you know, non-Conservatives – on election day.

Canny, if only the Canadian arithmetic worked in his favour. Regardless of whether 100% of Harper’s hard-base come to vote, it’s probably not enough. In Facebook speak, Stephen Harper simply doesn’t have enough friends.

This is not, of course, a new thing for the Cons – it’s at the heart of how they communicate and conduct themselves. Last summer, in effort to be a little better informed (about communication styles, if not about actual policy!) I thought I’d subscribe to all the federal parties’ online newsletters (except, to my shame, the Greens. Sorry Elizabeth!).

It’s a simple process – you visit the party website, you register the email address to which you prefer receiving what I call “useful spam,” and rub your eager hands in anticipation of lots of new political bumpf to fill your inbox.

And so it is that I get lots of emails from Michael Ignatieff and team – today, he says:

How Stephen Harper’s Conservatives decide to do a Facebook background check on everyone at their rallies, while ignoring the criminal past of a senior advisor like Bruce Carson is a mystery to me.

But I’ll tell you what. We’ve had thousands and thousands of Canadians show up at Liberal rallies from Vancouver to St. John’s. And all they hear at the door is “Come on in to the Big Red Tent.”

I also get messages from Jack Layton and team. Tons, in fact. Today, he says:

For years, your priorities have been pushed aside in Ottawa.

Your life is getting more expensive. Your health care services are being ignored. And the Liberal-style scandals are pushing your family’s priorities aside.

Ottawa is broken – and it’s time to fix it.

I have a team that’s ready to fight for you.

And yes, I get messages from Gilles Duceppe and company. The Bloc is apparently so excited to communicate with a voter registered at a B.C. postal code, that today, they even bothered to email me about their new campaign theme song:

Le Bloc Québécois a récemment dévoilé la ritournelle de sa campagne électorale. Écrite et interprétée par Jason Hudon, les arrangements musicaux sont l’œuvre de Mike Sawatzky, le guitariste principal du légendaire groupe québécois Les Colocs.

Anyone want to wager a guess how many messages I’ve received from Team Harper?

*crickets* *sagebrush drifting over the arid valley bed*

I always found this odd. Here I am, a Canadian voter, signing up to their website, asking them to spam me with all manner of propaganda, and they never so much as said hello. The only reason I could deduce, given that they cannot be accused of being relaxed and disorganised on the PR front, is that they inferred through running my email address against Facebook and what have you, that I was not a serious Conservative voter. I was an imposter. I might use their newsletters in dark socialist rituals of some kind. In short, they wrote me off.

In a manner, they were right. I am more likely to grow bat wings out of my shoulder blades than support a CPC candidate in the year 2011. But the fact they simply do not give a rat’s ass about seducing new, moderate, curious Canadians into their fold, speaks to me of a single-minded (and, frankly deluded) get-out-the-base strategy, and nothing more.

Have at it, I say. But, as David McGuinty told them so recently: too bad, so sad – you don’t got the numbers.

Filed under: Canada, Politics, , , , , , , , , ,

Recently, for breakfast…

It’s dangerous work taking photographs of hot food with a mobile phone. You never know whether or not evaporating oils are going to cake onto the little lens, or whether a sudden text message might startle the thing out of my hand, and into the saucy repast.

But I’m a risk taker. That means I dive headfirst into risky business.

Doubly-risky this weekend, I decided to snap a shot of breakfast, instead of the usual dinner. Morning is not when I’m at my steadiest. But, what choice did I have? We’re talking about eggs, hash browns, baked beans (with a bit of balsamic vinegar and Worcestershire sauce: a totally bean-changing experience) and my favourite thing to cook in the world – mushrooms in garlic, spinach and a bit of tomato juice, and almost every spice I have at my disposal. Cumin, sesames, paprika, jollof, oregano, coriander, and black pepper for sure. They appear disturbingly blackish and sausage-like in the photo, but blame the funky poloroidish effect of the picture-taking machine. I assure you, it’s mushrooms.

It was just too yummers.

image

p.s. – thanks for the traffic, friends – this breakfast photograph is brought to you (belatedly) by the blog’s 6,000th hit. Keep on chewin’!

Filed under: Uncategorized, , ,

Battle Royale, Twitter style

I smile when people call this the Twitter Election. It has the air of revolution about it, doesn’t it? As though the normal political condition of the Canadian citizen is ashen-minded apathy – but now, with Twitter, we will magically become transformed into eager and fearless critics of an oppressive double-helix state-media establishment! Just like in Egypt!

Perhaps a blogger should watch his trap when it comes to balking at citizen-generated comment. But, at least for me, it seems difficult to use 140 characters to say anything more useful than “Here’s a link to something much longer and more interesting.”

I can’t guarantee this is more interesting, but it certainly is longer. I’ve decided to draw up a second instalment of an experiment last week, with 140-word reviews of each party’s performance to date. It’s like Twitter, but Mega.

Conservatives: I honestly wonder how often senior Conservatives look each other in the eye, shrug, laugh, and admit: “I have absolutely no idea how we’re staying ahead.” Indeed, enjoying a 14% lead, according to Nanos? It absolutely beggars belief. Harper does himself no favours. Antagonising the press with “five-questions-a-day” is needless and feeds into the control-freak narrative. Criminals in the employ of the PMO should be a scandal: that Harper shrugs it off is just a scandal further. They’ve been reactive and uninspired, trotting out old chestnuts on gun freedom, and dispensing with billions in dubious spending promises. Ontarians seem especially enthusiastic, which may be a consequence of the departure of Day and Strahl, and the pronounced Mike-Harrisification of Harper’s senior team? I’d like to threaten to leave the country if Harper wins a majority, but, dang it, I’m already gone.

Bloc: Duceppe’s biggest problem (if there is such a thing as a problem for the Bloc, who certainly enjoy milking our broken electoral system for every last drop) is deciding how to define the threshold of his outrage. He can turn red and scream bloody murder about Lower Churchill. He can rage that Ottawa is an anti-Quebec, imperialist, nefarious hell-spawned engine of neverending betrayal that shackles the potential of all Quebeckers. But he can not go so far as to get deep into sovereignty talk anymore. That just alienates his soft base. How do you escalate the outrage far enough to suck in wavering federalists, without scaring off wavering nationalists? He doesn’t really know. And maybe he doesn’t care. He could spend the whole campaign peeing in the road and shoplifting from corner shops, and still vacuum up 50-odd seats. Sigh.

Liberals: Still super impressed with the performance, but slightly anxious they’ve peaked too soon. Releasing the platform early is good, but it kind of gets lost in the noise of the fact they had a surprisingly solid week previous, and had introduced the heaviest-hitting policy points already. I’m sensing one of two things: either Canada is drunk, or pollsters are drunk. Why aren’t the Liberals winning? The LPC have reached dizzying highs of 32% but, as a natural consequence of their left-leaning strategy, none of this has hurt the Conservatives. There isn’t much more of the soft-left vote for them to poach, which is where LPC emphasising ethical scandal is important. They need to say “Fraud and contempt are not conservative values. Conservative voters, like all Canadians, need to punish Harper for abusing our trust and taking the country for granted.”

Greens: The biggest coverage the Greens have had so far has been through the Debate Debate, which, however bad the news is for them, it’s been an opportunity for them to feature in a fair amount of press. It’s a great shame that they’re excluded, and also that a broadcast consortium has such power to determine the format of the debate (not that any of the HoC leaders protested very hard). It’s an arbitrary logic – the GPC have no seats in the HoC, but then, the Bloc don’t have any candidates anywhere in the RoC, and have zero capacity to produce a new Prime Minister. The Greens have an opportunity to use this to their advantage. Turn the campaign into one of “the status quo,” implicating every other party as complicit in an Establishment Massive, versus the suppressed, undervalued, solitary change-makers.

NDP: I’m feeling for the NDP. Their policy points have underwhelmed, and it seems the Liberals’ collective verve has taken wind out of their sails. Jack Layton has responded as well as he could to a range of questions, but he’s stuck watching the perennial NDP nightmare unfold – Liberals campaigning like the NDP, but with the added barb of “No one can stop Conservatives but Liberals.” It happens every election, but as Harper is a particularly nasty form of Conservative, perhaps the ABC vote is a bigger factor than normal – and, in more cases, it’s gravitating to the Liberals. Ridings where NDP have been second to CPC, Layton’s employing Liberal approaches: “Only NDP can beat Harper here.” O.K. But it muddles their overall message of “strategic voting is for dupes. Vote with your heart for the Canada you want.” Oh dear.

Filed under: Canada, Politics, , , , , , , , , , ,

Québec ain’t that dumb

Just a query here: I missed Jeffrey Simpson’s online Q&A about Québec separatism, but I read some of his thoughts. One of his key hypothetical ways for a federalist party to eat into Bloc support seems to be to adopt a Québécois/e as its leader. Because they like that.

[A] federalist party needs to have a Quebec leader, since throughout the province’s entire history, francophones have never failed to vote for one of their own as leader when confronted with a choice of that person and a leader from elsewhere.

What’s this about? Stephen Harper’s CPC only came within two points of Stéphane Dion’s Liberals in Québec in 2008. An Albertan leading the Cons to their best Québec result since the rise of the Bloc doesn’t read to me like “Québec-nepotism-trumping-all-logic.”

There’s a nationalist logic in Québec, but it is hardly embodied in every native son who steps on the federal stage. Both Dion and Chrétien had huge problems in the province due to the “sell-out” albatross that neither could effectively shake.

We don’t have to like or “forgive” Québec nationalism, but countering it is not as simple as francofying federal leadership contests. Quebecers, like the rest of us, can rage at their political progeny as well as the rest of us.

Filed under: Canada, Politics, , ,

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