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.

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