Thursday, October 31, 2019

Western Alien Nation

While researchers noticed the trends relating to greenhouses and the possible impacts on climate in the 1970's, it wasn't until the 1990's that computer modelling allowed a consensus position to form:  greenhouse gases were deeply involved in most climate changes and human-caused emissions were bringing discernible global warming.

It was in the 1990's that I took notice, and recognized that artificially cheap energy was always going to be far more costly than the promoters advertised.  This is the case for fossil fuel based energy, as well as nuclear.  The only viable future was one in which the full costs of energy was paid by the consumer, preferably with costs included directly by the producer with minimal or no exceptions.  The goal is energy efficiency, and not continuously switching between false claims of "too cheap to meter".

Due to the undue influence of the energy sector on the federal government, there has been considerable delay in doing anything.  It has been painful to watch decade after decade of politicians pretending there was no problem.

The best time to have started diversifying the western economy was in the 1990's, but successive provincial and federal governments did nothing.  This was especially true of self-called "conservative" governments who stuck their head in the (tar)sand and pretended that there was no problem.

I find it sad that the same "conservative" politicians are now talking about #Wexit, a western exit from the Canadian federation, largely due to their own failure to act on well established science.  It is understood that the Canadian economy as a whole will be impacted by a decline in one region, but angry talk of separation seems only to be dishonest politicians trying to deflect from decades of their own ineptitude.

If we want nation-building projects, it should be in the form of national publicly managed high-speed rail and (structurally separated) high-speed communications.  Increasing pipeline capacity for export markets only delays the inevitable downturn as ongoing fossil fuel (ab)use as an energy source is no longer tolerated.  The longer the delay, the higher the costs to Canadians.

Saturday, October 12, 2019

Federal Election 2019: Left-wing parties and leadership

I've commented on the political right and center, and will offer some personal comments on the federal Canadian left.

As I mentioned with the first posting, I don't vote along party lines.  My vote for a candidate nominated by a party, or even a financial contribution to a candidate, is not in any way an endorsement of the party.  I believe nearly every party has great candidates (some of which I hope become or remain MPs), and they also have horrible candidates (who I hope don't get re-elected or elected).  Party affiliation alone doesn't mean anything to me.

New Democratic Party

I have donated hundreds of dollars to NDP nominated candidates because I wanted them to continue to sit in parliament, and I have donated to the campaign of an NDP nominated candidate who was the most likely candidate to oust a bad candidate (who happened to be nominated by the Liberals).

Of the parties long-term parties that nominate candidates where I live (PC which morphed into Conservative, Liberal, NDP, Green), the party I felt least likely to have an affinity with is the NDP. I have my own beliefs, and don't want to feel judged as being either "with us" or "against us" as I've often felt when discussing politics with lifelong NDP supporters. It has always felt I needed to agree with them on every policy in order to work with them on any, and there were so many policy ideas they expressed which I believed were simply unworkable even when I thought their goals were in line with my own.

There is a video called "Lefty Boot Camp" made by Australian ABC Comedy that sums up the feeling I've all too often had when getting into political discussions with strong NDP supporters.

When Jack Layton became leader in 2003 he helped reshape the party to give it focus on areas of policy that more Canadians could join with. Under his direction and leadership we saw a historic high in the May 2011 election with the "Orange crush" that was partly due to huge support in Quebec. The "Orange Crush" was largely mirrored by a collapse in support for the Bloc Québécois in Quebec, clearly suggesting that the NDP and the Bloc were competing for many of the same voters.

After Jack Layton's death, the leadership moved to Thomas Mulcair. Many suggest the loss of seats in Quebec, and much of the gains the NDP had under Layton, was due to Mulcair's views on the niqab. Quebec started its movement towards a stronger separation of church and state, and Quebeckers were getting increasingly frustrated by the angry slurs being thrown at them from outside. As suggested in the video above, calling someone a "racist" who don't think they are racist (and there is no evidence they are racist) isn't going to change their mind, but it is going to make them dismiss or otherwise distrust you.

The party membership gave Mulcair a non-confidence vote for a variety of possible reasons: low seat turnout (which was largely due to opposing Quebeckers on secularism), opposing Alberta's oil industry (apparently the NDP brand matters more than anything else, and the fact Alberta had an NDP provincial government was supposed to flip the entire country), and a promise to balance the budget (which is one of the things which made the party seem more legitimate in the 2015 election).

The election of a leader who wears an opposition to Quebec's secularism on his head, and the fact that NDP devotees will shout "racist" any time someone brings up the entirely separate issue of religion, has put the NDP back into their pre-Layton position. I fully expect the continued fall of the NDP in Quebec will be seen in the form of a rise of the Bloc in Quebec.


I believe in a strong separation of church and state (See: Freethought), and believe we need less religion in politics rather than more.

Due to my adoptive ties to India (see photograph of my wife and I ), I am very concerned about influence of religion on politics, with partition being one historical result.  Ongoing Hindu and Sikh nationalism (and the related battles, including terrorism - Air India Flight 182 comes to mind from a Canadian perspective) continuing to have harmful impacts.

I disagree with the suggestion that to be inclusive of religious views we need to bring religion beyond a persons private life and community, and bring religion into government.  I consider it insensitive of people with strong religious views to have them seek assistance from a theoretically secular government, and be confronted with a person prominently displaying symbols from a differing religion that has historically (or currently) been at war with the citizen's own religious community.

I consider religion to be a foreign political influence, and the display of religious symbols seems to put that government representative in a visible conflict of interest with the secular government they should be representing.

While I believe there is some hypocrisy in Quebec on religious symbols within government, given the ongoing Christian religious symbols even within their flag, I believe that they are headed in a more progressive direction.  There is no attempt to ban any religious beliefs, but there is a ban on promoting that religion through prominent religions symbols while that person should be clearly representing the secular government.  I wish there was as forceful removal of ostentatious Christian symbols from Quebec government, but what they are doing is better than what many other Canadian political leaders are suggesting.

I believe that to have a more healthy and inclusive society that is not constantly at war with itself we need less religion in politics, not more.

It should be obvious that the NDP membership, with their current leader as visible spokesperson, disagree with my views on secularism.

Democratic Deficit

I believe in participatory democracy, which is why I've considered it my duty to participate as a citizen including by being a witness at parliamentary committees (and an observer of easily hundreds of hours of parliamentary work).   Things work well when parliamentarians leave their "team jerseys" (party affiliation) at the door and work together as people.  The best committees can be observed when this happens, and the worst can be seen when hyper-partisan MPs repeat party talking points at each other.

My experience with many NDP MPs and supporters is that they are hyper-partisan.  I've heard many suggest that an MP that had been nominated by the NDP should be barred from crossing the floor.  This suggests that these elected members are expected to put party first, and the interests of the citizens in their constituencies later (if at all).  They see the party and the interests of the party as their constituency, not the people in the ridings.  This could be seen at the convention that ousted Tom Mulcair, where the fact that there was a NDP branded government in Alberta made party brand more important than policies that NDP candidates and supporters had been fighting for for years.

In any discussion on electoral reform the NDP pushed forward party lists, believing that all that mattered was that an interchangeable NDP nominated candidate won.  I have a hard time seeing this desire to draw a circle around every NDP supporter in Canada, regardless of where they live, to be any more than gerrymandering on steroids. I consider this attitude to be one that can only increase the democracy deficit, with more MPs having a stronger allegiances to their party brand than any policy or democratic principles.

I have many more things I've felt over the years about the NDP and its leadership, but they become examples of the same themes that could be seen on secularism and democracy.  The attack-pamphlets I've seen from the NDP aimed at the Greens, deliberately misrepresenting the Green's support for participatory democracy, shows how little the NDP is interested in working together with anyone not part of their party after an election.

Bloc Québécois

The Bloc has felt similar to the NDP in many ways, except in their case it is their belief that their interpretation of what Quebeckers wants that is their focus rather than the NDP with their party brand focus.

I understand why the Bloc exist, and consider it very unfortunate.  What unites the provinces has never been as simple as the more top-down federal parties have tried to suggest.  I don't believe it is helpful when "federal" leadership (often representing views of a minority of Canadians, focused inward on their parties) attacks Quebeckers for their beliefs.  The more some suggest that Quebeckers are somehow less Canadian because they have different beliefs, the more the Bloc will continue to exist.

I find it disturbing how much the other party leaders have been campaigning for the Bloc in this election, by constantly bringing up Bill 21.  I don't see how this is helpful to the unity of Canada to be so actively promoting the idea that a majority of Quebeckers don't fit into some other Canadian's idea of what it is to be Canadian.  I also suspect that if asked without the uncalled for angry name-calling, a majority of other Canadians would support the idea of moving forward with Canadian federal secularism.

Thursday, October 10, 2019

Federal Election 2019: politically center parties and leadership

I posted earlier on the right-wing parties and leadership, and will continue my thoughts on the central parties and leadership.

Justin Trudeau, and the Liberal party of Canada

Rina Sen, Russell McOrmond, and Justin Trudeau (July 18, 2010)

I met Justin Trudeau in 2010 at his constituency office, before he became leader of the Liberal party.  I felt quite optimistic from that meeting, and at the time thought his stance on bringing young people into politics would be positive.

When he became Prime Minister after the 2015 election, he likely came in with the most optimistic feelings about him, and the most political capital of any Canadian Prime Minister.

He and his closest advisors then burned through that political capital as if it was worthless, and the Liberal party is back in a campaign where the best they have to offer is that they aren't the Conservatives.

I have come to think that Justin Trudeau took his self-granted "Minister of Youth" title more seriously than the "Prime Minister of Canada" title he was granted by being the leader of the party that won the most seats.  There were so many decisions he made that seemed to exhibit the naivety of someone with no political experience, rather than the son of a past Prime Minister who was given a privileged position for learning how real national and international politics works.

A few top-of-mind examples of Justin's personal or government mistakes:

Brown Face

For reasons that might be obvious from the photograph above that included my wife Rina, I have had the opportunity to speak to many people with darker skin about their feelings on "brown face".  They do not see it at all like Blackface which has a long history of non-black performers presenting a caricature of a black person that was insulting.  Context matters, and the same context simply doesn't exist with cosplay that includes other skin colors (that exist with humans or purely fictional).

Justin, as he embraced some of the youth and social media culture, seemed to be a willing participant in call-out culture (also known as outrage culture) that pretends that reality is so black-and-white, that context never matters, and often that facts don't matter.   While I don't think it is appropriate to be considering Justin to be racist because he cosplayed characters that happened to be non-white, I don't feel bad that the Minister of Youth is being attacked by a social-media style call-out youth culture.


Context matters.  While there was generally support during consultations towards the creation of a deferred prosecution agreement (DPA) in Canada, it was very inappropriate to bury the policy in a budget bill and then use it in the context of company that seemed to be strategically important for the Liberal Party.  Every time Justin said, "I'm not going to apologize for standing up for Canadian jobs", he is admitting wrongdoing as protecting jobs is not a legitimate justification for use of a DPA.

While this wrongdoing seems to play well in Quebec, it plays poorly in the rest of the country.  Like the Conservative party's focus on Alberta energy sector jobs at the expense of the rest of Canada and Canada's global reputation, this is an inability to see the bigger picture and Canada's best interests rather than narrow provincial or riding-specific interests.

Climate Crisis Policy

In Justin's attempt to be all things to everyone, he is failing everyone.

I see no future where Canada isn't failing in its international obligations on the climate crisis that involves continuing to subsidize and privilege the energy sector. While there can be some debate about what percentage of climate change is man-made, there can be no debate that the economy is 100% man-made. This imagining of an economy built on top of artificially "cheap" energy has always been in conflict with the natural sciences, even if some people have kept their eyes closed most of their lives.

If the purpose of purchasing the pipeline is to nationalize this distribution system, then that might make sense. Having inter-provincial and cross-state distribution of energy treated as if it is only the jurisdiction of a single province or the private sector never made sense. I have, however, seen no signs that this is the intention. In fact, it is hard to determine what the intentions are as there has been no clarity.

The same inexperience was exhibited with the carbon tax. The only way a carbon tax policy works is if it is a revenue neutral shift away from personal income tax, allowing citizens to make more efficient choices with their money. It is the policy that must be revenue neutral, in that any carbon tax collected must be transferred 100% to reducing personal income tax. 

Typical of what I've seen with Justin, he included a series of tax expenditures which meant that the policy was not revenue neutral.  Personal income taxpayers are effectively funding the separate (and in many ways incompatible) government programs embedded in the tax expenditures. By including separate government programs it also gave legitimacy to the claims from the Conservatives that this was an increase in taxes, even though it is clearly false to claim that a carbon tax is a tax on everything when compared to personal income taxes.

Electoral Reform

This was so badly botched, and so widely misunderstood, that I posting a separate article.

Elizabeth May, and the Green Party of Canada

The Global Greens is the partnership of the world's environmental movements, Green Parties, NGOs, Foundations, Think Tanks, Institutes and Individuals working cooperatively to implement the Global Greens Charter.  The Green Party of Canada has adopted that charter as core to its values, and includes Participatory Democracy, Nonviolence, Social justice, Sustainability, Respect for Diversity, and Ecological Wisdom.

Participatory Democracy, and the role of leader

Consistent with the principle of Participatory Democracy, the leader of the Green Party is "the public face and principal spokesperson of the Party".  The leader is not the CEO of a corporation that is able to dictate to MPs or candidates as if they are employees, as is all too commonly done in other parties. The federal leader also has no influence over provincial green parties, and should never try to speak on their behalf.

Helping Canadians to understand these core values seems like it would be a primary job of "the public face and principal spokesperson of the Party".  For better or for worse, however, most of Elizabeth May's political experience has been outside of the party.  This has meant that she is able to speak to the mainstream (largely national) media which wants to talk as if Canada is having a presidential election, even though the leader is intended to be one candidate among many, one MP among many.

This has allowed confusion to be spread by some of the more authoritarian parties like the NDP whose leader is claiming that the Greens would open debates on abortion and national-unity, simply because the Global Greens believe in participatory democracy which would discourage (some suggest outright prohibit) whipping elected members of parliament.

Lacking evidence based decision making in technology law

All too consistent with other parties, the platform includes bold statements which should be matters of debate within a parliament with adequate time to study.  I can point to technology law issues such as the so-called "right to be forgotten" which is alleged to be a matter of privacy, when it is more about protecting people from uncomfortable legally published facts.  I'm as uncomfortable with the "right to be forgotten" as book burning because what the books says are uncomfortable to an individual, group or government.

Questions around 5G should be a matter of spectrum policy, and whether private corporations should be granted exclusivity with digital technology, and if we need structural separation for wireless and wired digital communication.  There are vague references in the platform about weather forecasting and security, which suggest a reaction to foreign media reports.  What questions a committee is asked to study is important, as poor questions will often get poor answers.

The platform also suggests "Netflix and other foreign internet broadcasters are subject to Canadian Content (CanCon)", even though Netflix and similar digital native content distribution services are not broadcast.  When discussing the post digital conversion world, it is broadcasters like CBC/etc who are "foreign", and yet the Greens want to increase subsidies to this analog-era entity rather than shift funding to Canadian creators.

Analog-era media companies have spun a narrative that digital native companies are evil, and should somehow be crippled through analog-era regulation.  The effect being to ensure that Canada never successfully gains any benefits from the digital transition (with OSI model layered structural separation leading to greater competition and innovation being one).  This includes the "scary Google search and Microsoft Bing" attitude that is behind the "right to be forgotten".

Technology policy could have a positive impact on climate change, such as moving compute intensive activities north where cooling the computers wouldn't be as energy intensive.  Extremely cheap communications networks to bring the results quickly back to users on energy efficient displays from is critical to this efficiency.  Allowing analog-era vertically integrated media companies like Bell, Telus and Rogers to run the lower level communications infrastructure is a major barrier to this energy efficiency, so analog-era regulation of digital-era communications technology is even harmful to the climate. Computing as an industry is currently in the same order-of-magnitude as the airline industry.

Elizabeth May wishes people to focus on the science and not blindly block change when looking for solutions to climate change and other environmental issues, but appears to not be following her own advise when it comes to how to regulate modern information and communications technology.

Electoral reform

The policy which I find in most conflict with the Global Greens charter is the support for party lists  for electoral reform,. Party lists put the focus on the party bureaucracy and away from participatory democracy.  I suspect I know where this is rooted as many Canadian greens learned from the German Greens, which due to a specific problem in German history adopted an electoral system (mixed member proportional) to solve a specific problem.  I had hoped that the Canadian federal and provincial parties would learn to understand the inconsistency between support for party lists and participatory democracy, but was very disappointed by Elizabeth May's performance in the electoral reform committee.    If she had brought the Global Greens values into that committee, the compromise between the groups that want electoral reform (Some who want party lists, and some who reject party lists) might have become more obvious.  Unfortunately this is not what happened.

What did Justin Trudeau and the 2015 Liberal platform team do wrong on electoral reform

While partisans from opposition parties and supportive multi-partisan interest groups have their own take on what went wrong with electoral reform after the 2015 election, I'll offer a non-partisan take on what Justin Trudeau did wrong.

Platforms are increasingly decided by an inner-circle within the bureaucracy of a political party, in close consultation with the party leader and executive. They increasingly even ignore or contradict party policy voted on by members. It is therefore appropriate to focus blame for failures on those few individuals, rather than all candidates or elected members with that party affiliation.

We should start with a reminder of what was included in the 2015 Liberal platform

We will make every vote count.
We are committed to ensuring that 2015 will be the last federal election conducted under the first-past-the-post voting system. 
We will convene an all-party Parliamentary committee to review a wide variety of reforms, such as ranked ballots, proportional representation, mandatory voting, and online voting. 
This committee will deliver its recommendations to Parliament. Within 18 months of forming government, we will introduce legislation to enact electoral reform.

Lets parse what Justin Trudeau and his platform team did wrong with each component:

We will make every vote count.

This is a loaded term that means different, and often incompatible, things to different people.  The platform team were either unaware of the complexities of electoral reform, or were trying to deceive people into believing that it was their meaning that the platform was using.

We are committed to ensuring that 2015 will be the last federal election conducted under the first-past-the-post voting system. 

If this commitment was strong, then other steps would not have been carried out in a way that would have predictably lead to failure.

We will convene an all-party Parliamentary committee to review a wide variety of reforms, such as ranked ballots, proportional representation, mandatory voting, and online voting.

If the commitment was to have 2015 be the last federal election under FPTP, then why convene a committee that is constituted differently than any other parliamentary committee?  Convening a committee to study a variety of reforms, including a variety of things that a proportional system can be proportional to, should not start by forming a committee that is proportional to alleged support for political parties.

The idea that elections and parliament should be focused only on political parties, with no consideration for any other demographic trait of potential representatives, is itself controversial.  Misunderstandings and misrepresentations about these very different criteria for success is behind why reform is so hard in Canada.

An unbiased study would have found that the three most common things different people are focused on when voting in parliamentary elections are:

  1. Those whose focus is on what party forms government. For them the choice is between the top two parties representing two visions, with there being little or no interest in other parties or the individual people who are candidates in the election.
  2. Those whose focus is on what parties have seats in parliament. For them the choice is between the likely less than 10 parties who have sufficient support to gain seats, and they also have little or no interest in the specific individuals who are candidates in the election.
  3. Those who want the people with the most voter support to act as representatives. For them party affiliation is one demographic trait among many, and want to be able to include other criteria in their decision of which people (plural) they believe could represent them.

Each group has different features of systems they believe is ideal
  1. For this group, First Past The Post is the ideal system, as the single vote plurality encourages people to vote for one of the top two parties - otherwise the vote will split or be quickly exhausted.
  2. For this group party lists are seen as ideal (some claim necessary), as the single party vote requires people to vote narrowly along party lines and thus makes any vote for a party count equally.
  3. For this group any ballot that forces people to vote narrowly along party lines via party lists, or gives certain voters an unequal vote because they vote along party lines, moves us further away from making every vote count.  This group will reject any system which includes party lists or groups different candidates together along party lines.  They don't want their vote for one person to transfer to another person they didn't vote for. They might feel being forced to make a single choice among 10 options country-wide isn't much different than a choice between 2. This group also doesn't believe that there is only "one right answer" to a question with more than two options, so will want to either rank their choices or mark multiple choices they approve of. They will want their ballot to not be exhausted quickly and have no influence, so will want their ballot to be able to transfer beyond a small number of candidates (for instance via multi-member districts or similar).

This committee will deliver its recommendations to Parliament.

Between June 21, 2016 and November 28, 2016 the Special Committee on Electoral Reform carried out the study.  This was 6 months of study, with a final report being tabled in December which is 13 months after the government was formed.

A proper study would have determined the complexities of the different positions, recognized there was no consensus, and suggested a way to move forward that had a majority of support. Unfortunately by putting the focus on parties this biased the study towards parties and their interests, as can be seen by a number of the recommendations.

  • The NDP and Elizabeth May were in group 2, and forced a criteria for success (a low Gallagher index) that group 2 wants, but that group 1 and group 3 both reject as being invalid (or even counterproductive, as it seeks to optimize for what some in group 3 consider harmful hyper-partisanship)
  • The Conservative members wanted to embarrass the Liberals at any cost, and ensure that the Liberals couldn't fulfill their campaign promise.  As the opposition was granted a majority of the members on committee, it was trivial to orchestrate this by requiring a referendum.  Any time Canadians have been given a referendum on the Gallagher index it has failed, so these two criteria together guaranteed failure.
  • The Liberals on the committee presented a Supplemental Report of the Liberal Members of the Special Committee on Electoral Reform which confirmed the complexity of reform and the invalidity of the Gallagher index as a criteria for success.  In doing so they essentially contradicted the authors of the 2015 Liberal platform as the platform suggested the issue could have a satisfactory resolution before the next election.  The Liberal caucus members admitting in their minority report that the platform team was wrong was the most surprising aspect of the report.

It was not surprising that the government response rejected recommendations 1, 2 and 12 relating to the Gallagher index (noting that testimony did not lead to that recommendation) with 12 also including the referendum.

Within 18 months of forming government, we will introduce legislation to enact electoral reform.

I will repeat where I started: "The platform team were either unaware of the complexities of electoral reform, or were trying to deceive people into believing that it was their meaning that the platform was using."

The ERRE committee work happened at a predictable pace, and left only 5 months to introduce and pass legislation.

As the 10 independent Electoral Boundaries Commissions could not complete a process to change boundaries within 5 months, or even necessarily before the next election, the quickly introduced legislation would need to work with the existing boundaries.   While that would satisfy the first and third group as they don't want districts redrawn, this would have been rejected by the group who want party lists or other systems which propose redrawing electoral boundaries.

As the second group often believe that systems based on ranked ballots in multi-member districts (STV) are "proportional" a compromise was possible. Unfortunately that was never offered by the opposition.  In fact the opposition and interest groups from group 2 continued to promote the idea that ranked ballot systems could be "improved" in the future by adding "top-up" party lists to better meet their Gallagher index criteria for success, making it impossible to have a reasonable discussion about any compromise.

With no compromise offered, and confusion continually generated by one of the groups ignoring the interests of other voters, reform was impossible in such a short time-frame.

The complexity of moving forward with reform should have been understood, and any promise of enacting legislation in a short time period should have started with stating the criteria for success and not falsely claiming that legislation would easily follow from some non-existent consensus on success criteria.