Polygonic

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

How to drop a ball

Oh dear… when I suggested this, I really wasn’t hoping for this. BC’s NDP have everything to gain right now, and are at real risk of blowing it in stupendous fashion if they don’t keep their eyes on the bigger prize.

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Filed under: Canada, Politics, , , ,

An earthquake in Esquimalt

The political ground is set to quiver in my old stomping grounds, as Liberal MP Keith Martin won’t be seeking re-election in Esquimalt-Juan de Fuca. Some will call this a blow to Michael Ignatieff, as Martin has been an enduring figure in the riding for 17 years. To lose a stalwart is, perhaps, exactly as bad as it seems. It’s not as though he’s announcing other plans except to say that there’s a need for “fresh blood.”

Esquimalt’s affection for Martin has carried him through his career, much more than any clear local partisan bias has. He was elected as a Reform MP, elected as an Alliance MP, and elected as a Liberal MP. In some recent contests, he snuck past a close Conservative second-place challenger, in others he snuck past a close second-place NDP challenger. The nature of the riding is typically British Columbian – a genuinely fickle three-party race in which personality and timing can matter as much as ideology.

Every party has swung wildly there (in more ways than one AHEM), and though 2008’s contest was extraordinarily close, with the Tories closing to within a percentage point and the NDP appearing to have hemmoraged a 6% swing to the Greens, Martin himself remained the X Factor embodied.

Without him contesting, there is absolutely no calling the next race. The Liberals lose out on his local staying power, but have the Cons squandered too much in recent months/years to make a strong showing again? Will the Greens usurp the NDP as the next biggest challenger, to third or even second, what with neighbouring Saanich-Gulf Islands to be such a high profile contest for the Greens with Elizabeth May? (who bets that she’s spending her evening swearing at herself, wishing she’d held off from declaring Saanich and swooping into Esquimalt instead?)

Yes to all of it. Esquimalt is quite a constituency. It’s home to Canada’s Pacific fleet and houses a high proportion of navy families (the first Tim Horton’s I ever knew of in the Victoria area was in Esquimalt, precisely to feed the Nova Scotian “ex-pats”). It has poorer quarters occupied by some of Victoria’s working-class “values conservatives” as well working families under NDP economic tutelage. There are plenty of students and young Victorians with a distinctly granola edge to them, but they have a predictably unpredictable turnout rate. The mixture hardly makes it a bellwether – but it does make it interesting.

Look for each party to put up the best names they can in 2011-12… the hunt, I imagine, begins now (Michaelle? Calling Michaelle?).

UPDATE: Have just read Red Tory Liberal’s take on Martin’s resignation – interestinger and interestinger. BC Liberals will doubtlessly be looking for an “outsider” without the nasty HST taint to fill Campbell’s boots, and that means a federal politician with the Blue Liberal credentials. Hum!

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

Huzzahs and challenges for the BC NDP

After offering her best wishes to the outgoing premier, Carole James was quick to adjust the narrative in the essential way:

“We must also remember that all B.C. Liberals played a part in the HST deception. All B.C. Liberals played a part in the slashing of public services, in the growth of social inequality we’ve seen in B.C. over the past decade,” she said.

Doesn’t seem like a huge adjustment, perhaps, but the BC NDP have, of late and necessarily, focussed their attention on the person of Gordon Campbell. It’s Campbell’s BC Rail deal, it’s Campbell’s HST, it’s Campbell’s cuts, arrogance and gall.

Without Campbell, there is an urgent need to apply the same criticisms to the BC Liberals en masse. British Columbians’ anger at the provincial government can no longer be effectively personified in the very person of Gordon Campbell.

British Columbians’ collective relief will inevitably prelude a Liberal bounce, which is the challenge to NDP unity. Carole James, and the whole of her caucus, need to be prepared to weather the honeymoon, and pre-empt it, despite the leadership turbulence she’s personally suffered recently. If the NDP falter on the rocks of self-doubt and nervousness in the next six months, they’ll have trouble recuping.

The timing is both a blessing and a curse. With years left before an election (unless the new premier calls an early election in early- to mid-2011, which is perfectly likely if they feel the honeymoon looks sustained and provides advantage), the Campbell rust could have well washed away from the BC Liberals by 2012 or 2013 (and more likely sooner), enabling them to resurge as a viably “change-focussed” force. Conversely, a couple of years is enough time for British Columbians to diagnose a terminal case of Campbellitis from root-to-tip in his party long after he’s gone. Unless the incoming premier makes some big and different moves – an HST reverse-course? Some amazing re-investment in health care? An apology over BC Rail? – the rust may come back despite the polish.

James has the task of diagnosing Campbellitis at every opportunity. And her caucus needs to hold their nerve during the inevitable Liberal honeymoon and continue to appear a cohesive and viable alternative. Rumblings otherwise could give Gordo the last laugh, whatever he does with himself now.

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

It’s sword-fall o’clock

Gordon Campbell’s about to make an important announcement of some kind, and one can safely bet he’s not about to confess a longstanding addiction to cigarettes, or Scrabble. No, he’ll be playing seppuku alright, but there shall be no triple word score for Mr. Campbell.

Nothing ultimately surprising for a premier with 9% approval ratings. I am, however, quietly (well, not anymore) devastated in a way that Campbell shall be forced out so long before a provincial election. Carole James will be crying the loudest tonight – BC Liberal fortunes can only rise from here. If the BC NDP can keep a strong “same old Liberals” message for the next couple of years, it might not hurt their prospects too badly. But it’s not going to help too much either.

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

Identity and patriotism

I was thinking something fun today about identity and patriotism, as the title suggests.

I’m a British Columbian who spent a good few years living in Quebec before moving to the UK for work at an international development agency (which shall remain undisclosed). We know what Stephen Harper (and, frankly, Stompin’ Tom Connors) thinks of dirty rotten expatriates, but of course I’ve never thought of myself as an expatriate. I avoid London’s Canadian ex-pats generally, considering they are, in the main, Leafs’ fans. In any case, as this blog maybe reflects, I still stay pretty engaged with what’s going on back home.

Thus the big question of home and identity. Do I call myself a British-Canadian? Or the inverse? I don’t like nationalising identity at the best of times, but these terms ring hollower than other hyphenated demonyms like “African-American.” That’s a term that links an ethnic identity and a civic identity, keeping each intact and enforcing two different concepts of identity. For me, though, I consider both Britishness and Canadianness alike to be civic identities. I have no time for ethnic identities, I’m afraid (and anyway, who wants to shoot the breeze with someone who fancies himself an Irish-Welsh-Anglo-Scots-Canadian-Brit?).

But sometimes these questions are thrust upon you. I remember at university in Montreal, talking to a Québécois friend about terms of origin. “Someone from Ontario is an Ontarian, someone from Alberta is an Albertan, and in English at least, someone from Quebec is a Quebecer,” I said, profoundly.

“Yes,” he agreed.

“What’s the term in French for a British Columbian? Is is Colombie-Brittaniquois? Colombien-Bretagne?”

He paused and smiled. He wasn’t sure.

It seemed a fascinating point to me because, I realised in my often-difficult battle to acquire the French language, I had no demonym for “who I was.” I could say where I was from – “je suis de Colombie-Brittanique.” But saying where you are from is quite different from saying who you are.

I realised that I didn’t mind, I was just curious. I wasn’t lost at sea without being able to incorporate my homeland into the very fabric of my being since, as is the case with all of us, our identities and our common communities are now as geographically dispersed and ethnically variant as to render point of origin quaint. When your parents have retired to another town besides the one you’re familiar with, when your old friends and exes live in different countries, when your favourite music, film, and literature is global in origin, the best you can say is that you retain a strong affection for where you’re from – not that it continues to ultimately shape you. Unless of course, you’re a total momma’s boy, or an ethnocentric nazi.

I’ve since learned that the term for British Columbian is Brittano-Colombien, which I admit I quite like. But again, it’s strange. What’s “British” (or “Britanno-“) about your average British Columbian? What association do they have with the Columbia River, or further back, with Christopher Columbus of boating fame? Is it implying that I’m a follower of Chris Columbus, and that I have predominantly British blood? And which part of Britain does the blood come from? Even in 2010, that’s still a ridiculously fraught question.

Michael Ignatieff would call people who ask these questions “cosmopolitans,” which seems to suggest I like drinking them, and only at very specific temperatures darling. I’d prefer to think that this supposed cosmopolitanism should be natural state of anyone in the 21st Century, and if only in selected places, then certainly in Canada. There has never been an “ethnic Canadian” (some might consider aboriginal peoples as ethnically Canadian, but they draw their ethnicity to something outside the nation-state of Canada in the first place, so I don’t think that applies). There’s always been a (kind of contradictory) pride in how little pride we brandish in front of others, and how much internal difference (and even discord) we celebrate. Almost as though Canadian citizenship were a generous licence to rights and freedoms, rather than a rigid code of conduct or legitimisation of a particular ancestry, or indeed, a recipe for identity.

That is the way I like it. I’m more of a Charter fan than I am a teary-eyed patriot. Nevertheless, it still makes for longer-than-necessary introductions when, instead of asserting a single demonym to people, I just list the places I’ve lived and loved.

Filed under: Canada, International, Travel, UK, Uncategorized, , , ,

Lipstick on the electoral pig

The Globe’s Jane Taber is weighing in on electoral boundary reform today, arguing that adding new seats to provinces with growing populations – Ontario, B.C. and Alberta – will be the only solution to escaping the minority government deadlock.

The only solution – I suppose it is, if you take it as gospel that our electoral system is the fairest we could possibly have. That’s where she’s, sadly, missed the boat.

Une excerpt:

The key impediment to a majority is the Bloc’s strength in Quebec. Gilles Duceppe just celebrated 20 years as an MP and, were an election held today, would likely lead his party to a majority of seats in the province for the seventh straight time.

Mr. Wright is awaiting a bill introduced in the Commons in April that would create 30 new ridings, giving 18 seats to Ontario, seven to British Columbia and five to Alberta. What makes the legislation controversial is that no new seats will go to Quebec, which already has 75 in the House.

Controversial, in the sense that Québec is not advantaging by something that other provinces are. That’s not the direction our federation is supposed to tilt, is it?

But there is a point in what makes this a controversy: for example, Prince Edward Island is guaranteed four electoral ridings in the Constitution, despite the fact that all four of them combined barely have the same number of voters as an urban Toronto or Vancouver riding. That makes the Islanders four times more powerful at election-time than me.

Equally, if one were a strict egalitarian about these things, the federal ridings of Nunavut and the Western Arctic could be merged into a single, massive bi-territorial riding – it would be fairer in terms of population, as each riding as it is is pretty sparsely populated.

So, the federation isn’t allergic to “special cases.” In creating electoral districts, there’s this tacit balance between 1) districts of equal population, and 2) allowing some remote or “special” areas to retain territorial integrity, rather than be lumped into adjacent ridings like add-ons. Of course in the UK right now, the Coalition is pursuing boundary reform, and equally, remote areas of Scotland will likely retain their district sizes, despite it meaning they’ll be even more greatly over-represented.

The question in Quebec is, how shall the balance tilt? Is population equity trumping cultural and territorial specialness, and should it? Shouldn’t Quebec votes count for more, the Bloquistes are likely to argue, because we’re really rather special?

This Quebec specialness, of course, already manifests itself in taking full advantage of the electoral system to give the BQ a huge overrepresentation in the House. The FPTP electoral system is what really generates unrepresentative Parliaments, much more than untweaked riding boundaries.

You could give B.C. 50 more seats if you wanted – it wouldn’t go anywhere towards representing the popular vote any better. The Green Party will still come in third or fourth in every riding, which will still mean the same millions of supporters, but will also still mean the same zero representation in the House of Commons.

The Bloc will continue to poll well below the NDP and Greens nationally, yet will still scoop an obscenely disproportionately high number of seats. Tilting the balance of ridings westwards may, in the end, benefit the Liberals or Conservatives in their seemingly endless quests for majority government – but it won’t make Parliament more representative. I think if you’re going to risk the wrath of the Bloquistes and other advocates of Quebec rights-supremacy, which this reform inevitably will, then there should be a greater return than just polishing up our discredited electoral system.

Filed under: Canada, Politics, , , , ,

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