Saturday, September 29, 2007

Did you hear we're having a referendum?

Ontarians are going to the polls on October 10th and only about half of us know that we are going to be asked to also vote in a referendum on electoral reform. There’s some blame to go around here. Whoever it was that decided that the education campaign about the proposed new system – Mixed Member Proportional – would begin at the same time as the election campaign began is an idiot. People need time to understand the change and also decide whether or not it is a change that they favour. Then there is the fact that the media is barely talking about it. Sure, most of the big papers have small sections explaining the changes, but it is most definitely not being treated as a big deal. This is way more important than who becomes premier. The Liberal and Conservative platforms are basically interchangeable. But the group most responsible for our lack of knowledge about the referendum issue is the voting public. Seriously people, inform yourselves! Now, if you’re not planning on voting then don’t bother. That's your business. However, for those who are actually going to turn up at the polling station on October 10 and put your X in a box (or whatever they’re having us do this time around… do we have stickers yet?), find out what you’re voting about! (You can read about it here). It matters. Voting alone does not fulfill you civic responsibility, you’re actually required to know what you're voting for.

I have long been a fan of the proportional representation. I think ideas matter more than neighbourhoods and would much rather have my vote count than be able to call my MPP to help me get a job or whatever they supposedly do at the local level. The fact of the matter is that I live in a community whose politics don’t match mine. If I called my MP to say that I’d like her to make sure that not a penny of the federal surplus goes to city coffers because it is the taxes of the Canadian people, not city council, I don’t think she’d heed my concerns. And, at the end of the day, in our province and country, our politicians belong to parties, and these parties pretty strictly control how they behave, so the idea that you get representation from your MPP is pretty laughable. As Bitter Lime likes to point out, the parties could send Muppets to Queen’s Park and it wouldn’t make a difference. But, you crazy kids seem to like having an MPP you can call your own. And that’s what is on offer, a mixed system that will let you keep your MPP while also giving you an extra vote on the ballot: for the party. New "list" MPPs will make sure that the number of seats a party holds in the legislature will roughly equal the amount of support it received throughout the province.

I’ve now been to two debates on this issue and I’ve heard the arguments. I went into the first relatively convinced that I was going to support MMP, but with an open mind that I might not have heard all the facts. I went into the second convinced that I wanted to hear Andrew Coyne and Marilyn Churley-NDP debate on the same side of an issue (a recap of that debate can be read here).

The arguments that I have heard to support First Past the Post (FPTP, our current system) are as follows:

It’s much simpler. Let’s recap our current system: The province is divided arbitrarily into “ridings”; each riding has a campaign to elect an MPP who represents a party. At the same time there is a province-wide campaign for premier that most people will pay more attention to. You have no power to elect your premier unless he is also running as the MPP for your riding. People go into the polling station and either vote for the candidate who has appealed to them the most, the candidate that belongs to a party that has appealed to them the most, the candidate that has the best chance of defeating the candidate that they hate the most, or the candidate whose name they recognize. Then we tally up the votes for that riding and whoever has the most votes -- probably not a majority -- gets to go to Queen’s Park. The party that has the most people sent to Queen’s Park forms the government and their leader gets to be the premier. In the case that the party leader did not win his seat, another MPP will probably give up his seat and allow the party leader to run in his riding so that he can be premier. If the winning party has more than half the MPPs, they now get all the power. If you voted for your MPP because you thought they were a swell guy or gal it doesn’t matter because they now have to go along with the party on pretty much everything. Now is that really simple, or is it just what you know? There is a difference. You know what is really simple? Dictatorship. Do we have supporters for that system as well?

All politics is local. I’ve heard this a number of times and I have yet to hear a defense of why it is true. Is tax policy local? Are environmental issues local? Is the math curriculum local? Sure, there are regional issues that matter, but I remain unconvinced that they are more important than all the other issues. And if your riding ends up being represented by someone in the opposition in a majority government, how well are your regional concerns being heard?

The parties will become too powerful. Sure, this is a concern. The parties will be responsible for drawing up the lists, and there are no rules about how this will be done apart from the fact that they have to present the list before the election. But under the current system the parties are really powerful, and there are a million examples of star candidates running in ridings where the party is strong rather than their own neighbourhood so that they can be elected. So I don’t really understand how it will be a big shift. Yes, parties could put party hacks on the list but ultimately that will affect the amount of support they get, so it might not be very smart.

It would lead to minority governments and they are unstable. Do we live in Iraq? I think I can handle the threat of a little instability in my government if it better reflects the views of Ontarians. But ultimately, I don’t think the argument is true. It is based on the premise that a minority government under MMP would be the same as a minority government under FPTP. What we know of minority governments is that they can’t ever accomplish anything because the Liberals are trying to force the Tories out or the Tories are trying to force the Liberals out and no governing gets done. But if minority governments become the norm, how acceptable will it be to Ontarians that the parties spend all of their time trying to bring down the government? It doesn’t seem like a good plan to get you reelected. Rather, governments will form coalitions around issues and make policy. And, as Andrew Coyne pointed out last night, in our current system a slight shift in the vote from one election to the next results in a radically different government, which isn’t particularly stable. Again it is just what we happen to know.

There will be too many parties. The only people who seem to make this argument are Liberals or Conservatives who fear that they will lose support. I care about democracy, not big parties, so I am completely unsympathetic to this argument. Claims that we will have radical religious parties, or far right or far left parties doesn’t seem to match up with the Ontario I live in. The Greens will probably get some MPPs, which seems acceptable given the amount of support they get each election. Over time new parties will probably develop as well. But given that they need to get at least 3% of the support to win even one seat, it is not likely that these people will be on the radical fringe. And if they are, so be it. They will still be very weak and if they are that radical it would be political death to align with them. The fact remains that, even if a particular party is distasteful to you, if they represent the beliefs of a significant number of Ontarians, who are you to say they don’t deserve a seat? The Liberals are distasteful to me and nobody seems to want to strip them of their right to run for office.

So that’s my case on the case against MMP. Stay tuned for the next edition of referendum blogging: the case for MMP.

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Good on ya!

Two Saudi women pepper sprayed and "verbally abused" members of the Commission for the Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice when they were told that they were inappropriately dressed.

Considering these men make it their business to follow women around and comment on their appearance, I'd say they got off pretty light.

Maybe all that is needed to start a revolution in Saudi Arabia is to arm all the women with pepper spray. Or better yet, teeny tiny guillotines.

(Link via FP Passport)

Monday, September 24, 2007

Whereas dads will be voting for John Tory because he'll let them walk down to the corner store for a beer

Why do these articles about women who have children pop up every election season? The point being, while you might expect mothers to vote en masse based on narrow self interest, some of them actually seem to have political opinions of their own. And after only about 90 years of enfranchisement. Good on ya gals! Next stop: the work force!

Not Bad

John Tory has said he will consider allowing convenience stores to sell beer and wine if he becomes premier.

Of course, this being Ontario he has to wrap it up in supporting local industry rather than saying government monopolies are bad. But hey, you take what you can get. More personal responsibility and less public religious education and I could get behind a Tory government.

They can't tell journalists not to smoke, how could they ever stop a genocide?

A sign in the U.N. Press Room

(via FP Passport)

Friday, September 21, 2007

D) None of the Above

Didn't last night's debate make you excited about the future of our province?!

For a start Dalton McGuinty looks vaguely non-human. Could be an alien, could be a cyborg, but definitely not human. Plus there's his record. My favourite moment during the debate was when he said John Tory had been going around the province accusing him of being a liar in everything but name. I'm not sure what his point was there other than that John Tory has shown remarkable restraint.

As for John Tory, I'm sure he's a very good person. He does seem like he really cares. I think he would have been a good mayor for Toronto. Unfortunately, he's basically running on a Liberal platform. I mean, I assume there'd be less cricket grants in a Tory government, but Dalton's attempts to paint him as a right wing ideologue or compare him with Mike Harris are hilarious.

And then there's Howard Hampton. Can someone please explain Howard Hampton? I don't have any deep thoughts on the matter, we differ so much ideologically that I don't think it's worth putting too much energy into getting to know his platform. But how does a party lose official status (however briefly) and not get themselves a new leader?

I'll probably end up voting for the Freedom Party. It doesn't really matter anyway, since nobody but Rosario has a chance of winning in Trinity-Spadina (it's those eyes!). But, ya know, vote or die!

Oh well, at least there's the referendum (about which more later).

Thursday, September 20, 2007

Damned If You Do, Damned If You Don't

This is the best response I've read so far to the whole HPV "controversy".

The Macleans article was a disgrace and a complete disservice to young women whose parents may have been swayed by an irresponsible writer who mixed arguments about the evils of capitalism, the effectiveness of the drug, typical fears about vaccines and then added in overblown claims about the side effects of Gardasil for good measure. A piece of advice Macleans readers: if your author is citing trial lawyers rather than doctors or scientists on medical issues, you should be suspicious. Another piece of advice: stop reading Macleans.

A cynical person might think it was just a political stunt

The mayor is now saying that Toronto's community centres will be opened up again on Mondays. So basically, he thought he could force council to support him by pissing off Torontonians. His little tantrum hasn't worked and now he's backing down because he hates being unpopular. Now that's leadership!

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

The website didn't work... he should have tried a facebook group instead

Broom boy isn't going to get his special meeting. The mayor couldn't get two thirds of city councillors to support a meeting to raise our taxes.

His supporters aren't pleased: '"It is shameful and very disappointing that people are using their own personal power to advance their own personal political agendas," [Glenn] De Baeremaeker said Tuesday.' According to the new City of TorontoAct, using power to advance a personal agenda is a special privilege granted to the mayor.

Jesus Thinks Your Slutty Daughter Deserves to Die

To prove that we should be dismantling rather than extending public religious education in this province, school board trustees in Catholic boards are debating whether or not girls in their schools should receive the HPV vaccine.

The Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops had the following to say: "Infection with HPV or other sexually transmitted diseases can occur only through sexual activity, which carries with it profound risks to a young person's spiritual, emotional, moral and physical health". This is particularly true if the young person happens to get cancer and die. (And not that I think people deserve to get sick for having sex, but what if it wasn't consensual? Surely these men are familiar with the concept of rape... I seem to recall the issue has come up in the church quite a bit lately... )

The province should refuse funding to any board that makes this decision on religious grounds. This is the 21st century and a bunch of hypocritical superstitious freaks should not have this kind of power. If you want state funds to support your religion, move to Saudi Arabia and get the hell out of my country.

C'est Formidable!

The Liberals didn't win any of the three Quebec by-elections yesterday. I take it all back, I love St├ęphane Dion!

Monday, September 17, 2007

Oh, there's a website?!

So I sent the mayor's office a message to tell them that I opposed his tax plan and thought that the website was undemocratic. The response I received from someone in his office...

"Mayor Miller believes that a land transfer tax and vehicle registration tax will provide the resources necessary to continue to provide the public service that Torontonians demand and deserve. Read more on line at"

I understand the generic e-mail response, I don't really think that someone in the Mayor's office carefully crafts a reply to every inquiry, nor do I think they should. But read the text of the message, see what it is about and then respond. Don't just cut and paste the generic tax message. I don't know how much this woman earns, but I think I've just found the way for the city to save some cash.

Is This Even Legal?

David Miller has mounted a website encouraging you to support his plan to raise taxes so that he can hire consultants to solve the global warming crisis (and perhaps bring back that lustrous sheen back to his hair).

Included on the site is all sorts of propaganda for Miller's proposal and provides the option to send the following message to your councillor:

"Dear Toronto City Council,

I support a fair tax plan for Toronto — one that will provide the funds we need to build our great city. On October 22, please vote in favour of the new taxes."

Why is this sort of thing allowed? The mayor is using city resources to not only get his political message across but also to make it easier for those who support his particular agenda to get in touch with their councillors. How democratic! The only good thing is that the site is so obviously one sided (despite the "Don't Take Our Word For It" section) that I imagine only those people who are already fully dedicated to the Miller message would participate.

I'll be contacting my city councillor to tell him I oppose it. But my city councillor is Kyle Rae so I'm sure my e-mail will go unread.

Sunday, September 16, 2007

It's not election season in Canada without a Liberal leader lying straight to your face

So Dalton's campaign has begun. What the hell is with the ads saying that regardless of what our "creed" is, our kids should all go to the same schools? I actually agree with this statement, but he doesn't. His kids go to Catholic school where they learn that Jesus is magic.

I think John Tory's idea of creating public religious schools for everyone is completely stupid, but only a Liberal would have the gall to claim that Catholics are deserving of special treatment because they were here before the Muslims, Jews or Scientologists and then say that "We're all in this together". The Premier is Catholic and he's defending a Catholic school system over any other. That is so progressive!

Thursday, September 13, 2007

Maybe this time he could stitch the promise on a sampler

Dalton says he won't raise your taxes. No really.

Wednesday, September 05, 2007

Mayor Miller Knows What You Want

More taxes, right?

Why do I get the sense Mrs. Miller gets appliances as birthday presents?

Tuesday, September 04, 2007

Liberals to Cancel August long weekend

The Ontario Liberals are promising that if they are re-elected, they will give Ontarians an extra holiday "Family Day" (I just threw up a little bit in my mouth) in February. With their track record on campaign promises, I can only imagine that they will review the situation and determine that Ontario families aren't working hard enough and will cancel the August long weekend instead.

Given the available options, my vote is for sale this time around. But a promise of future time off isn't going to cut it. I'm going to need hard currency. Unmarked bills delivered to the voting booth with an instruction as to where to put my mark will do just fine.