Archive for the 'Canada' Category

Autocratic Leaders With Good and Bad Intentions

January 8, 2010

You may think Federal politics pales in comparison to the endless scandale-factory that is AMS politics, but Ottawa is giving the AMS a run for their money.  Its not like Harper sent off a letter to the UN without authorization of parliament.  He’d never do that, he doesn’t really believe in the UN anyways.  And why ask parliament for permission when you can just cancel parliament altogether?  Harper and Blake have their hearts and intentions in very different places.  One dismisses global warming and all progressive advancements except for an obsession with Senate Reform.  The other is so impatient to make progressive change that he is willing to ignore the rules of his elected office to take them.  The only commonality between them is a disrespect for the institutions in which they participate.  The assumption that a Prime Minsiter, or President, is their legislative body, that they are the one who makes the rules when in fact they are merely head facilitator of a collection of elected officials.

On a somewhat related topic, here is  a repost from my PopTheStack blog on some reforms being discussed to avoid some of these issues arising again in the future [in Ottawa, I’m not sure if anything can save the AMS from future scandals 🙂 ]

Reposted from

A great article on the Globe and Mail about Harper’s Senate reform plans. As always, Senate reform is a more complex issue than it first appears. Harper likely knows this and knows that his overly simple solution will never be implemented anyways because as the author points out, there are a lot of drawbacks to the West of taking the first small step to reform and going no further.

But perhaps the best part of this article is a comment by one Jim Q which I am repost below in its entirety, he proposes a PR solution to give the senate legitimacy without any consitutional changes, and I must say, its so crazy it might just work.

Here’s Jim Q’s proposal. (Jim if you’re out there and take issue with my reposting please let me know)

Oh my dear Lord.

Meaningful Senate reform without constitutional change is the easiest thing in the g-d world, if Harper were actually serious about it (as it happens, his hair-brained doomed-to-fail approach demonstrates his lookiing for a wedge issue more than anything…)

Here’s the formula:

1.) Keep current distributions.
2.) Make the elections nationally Proportional Representation.
3.) Have the HoC leaders/party leaders submit lists of prospective Senators before an election.
4.) Empty Senate seats are filled round-robin based on the proportional vote.
5.) Put a low-cap minimum PR vote at 7-10% to keep out the crazies.

This way, the lesser-populated regions STILL have the protection of extra representation,

BUT every voter has an equal voice in the election. There may be more seats in NFLD, but they’re being elected with Quebec and Alberta votes as much as Atlantic.

Finally, this would ensure that the Senate is not just a byzantine added layer of useless politicos. In Harper’s plan, the Senate is essentially a redundant extra HoC, whose only purpose will be to suck up time and money with no added benefit.

His a national PR Senate, there’s a real difference in the type of input given.

There could and would be Liberal Senators from Alberta, Conservative Senators from NFLD and a Green from somewhere (at 13.4%, they deserve ONE person, at least.)

This means a different perspective on local problems, and a voice for people who right now voted for the government (or major opposition party) but have no representation in them.

No province would ever again be entirely left out of cabinet.

Best of all, because there’s no FORMAL change to the system (we’d just be changing the convention on advice to the GG on appointments) everyone could take their demands for a constitutional reform and shove them.

But, again, this assumes one actually wants an elected Senate. With Harper, I’ll believe it when I see it.

Me too Jim. I’m not a huge proponent of Senate reform because I worry about the deadlock that plagues the American system. But this is the kind of reform I could get behind. It would introduce PR on the national stage, it would reduce the democratic deficit felt by also-ran parties across the country, it would add a check to the unbalanced power of a majority parliament (if we ever get one again) and if done right it should heal some of the East vs. West wounds by adding something to the fabric of our nation that the West is so passionate about.

Along these lines I have another proposal that wouldn’t require constitutional changes but would remove the reckless power of the PM to prorogue parliament whenever he feels uncomfortable.  Hold a national election to select the next Governor General.  We could use the same process as we do now with a committee to generate a list of nominees and there would be no changes required since the PM would still be appointing the GG.  The only change would be that there would be a law that says the PM must adhere to the advice of the electorate when choosing the GG.  This could be a single nation-wide vote, no ridings, no electoral colleges, just plain and simple vote counting.  The Governor General would retain the same rights that they do now except now they would be able to actually make a decision if needed.

In the recent request of the PM to prorogue parliament for the second year in a row in the middle of a contentious opposition investigation, the GG could honestly look at the situation and decide if proroguement were appropriate.  They could refuse the PM what now is an implicite right and force him to face the opposition in an open vote in parliament, possibly handing control of parliament to another party or coalition of parties who can command the confidence of the House.  This is how our democracy works, and it should work this way except that the anachronism of an appointment head of state makes it impossible for that head of state to really take legitimate action.  A simple election would solve that and avoid all the constitutional hand wringing about becoming a republic or abandoning the monarchy.

Wouldn’t it be refreshing if one of our opposition parties actually proposed something constructive such as the above proposals? Maybe then Canadians would get interested in politics, would pay attention to the possibility of a real change in how our government functions and represents us.


Getting out of that funk.

November 3, 2009

Reposting from my blog about UBC Professor Michael Byers’ proposal for how to the NDP and Liberals could get our democracy out of the funk it’s in with a little creative thinking.

What Next for Electoral Reform in BC? They need to hear from you!

June 9, 2009

From the people at Fair Vote BC:

Thank you for your support of BC-STV and electoral reform in the referendum last month. We are all disappointed that we did not win. However, as reform is still essential, we are picking ourselves up, dusting ourselves off, and moving on.

We want your ideas at the June Conference Read the rest of this entry »

Referendum on Electoral Reform – A Citizens’ Assembly Member’s Perspective

May 11, 2009

Below is an email about the BC-STV referendum by Craig Henschel, a Citizens’ Assembly Alumnus that I have worked with and think very highly of.

Also, here is an absolutely excellent 6.5min video by Christie Clark about why she supports STV now that she is no longer a politician.


Apologies for the spamishness of this e-mail.  Please pass this on to your address book by Bcc.


As you know, there will be a Provincial Referendum on Tuesday May 12th to determine which electoral system we will use in future provincial elections, First-Past-the-Post (FPTP) or the Single Transferable Vote (BC-STV) as recommended by the BC Citizens’ Assembly on Electoral Reform.

You may recall that I was a member of the Citizens’ Assembly.  I’m sending you this e-mail so that you will make a more informed choice on May 12th.  I’m also hoping that you might forward this e-mail on to your friends. Read the rest of this entry »

Don’t let them out of downtown without thinking about BC-STV

May 11, 2009

Hey there.  One more day to go.  Tomorrow is the big vote and we’ll see if the forces of reason win out over the forces of fear and lack of information (its a weak force 🙂 )

Take  a look at the events map, there are some people planning to cover skytrains in vancouver and maybe bridges too so that no one can get home tonight without having to think about BC-STV again, at least for a second.

If you haven’t already, take a look at this video from Christy Clark, former Deputy Premier of BC and current host on CKNW.  Be sure to rate it with five stars and leave a comment. This has drawn some attention and some people think it may be turning the tide in our favour.  We’ll see tomorrow night.

Long List of Official Endorsements of BC-STV released

May 8, 2009

This is a great list of famous people, smart people and fantastic community people who support BC-STV. Take a look!  My favourite part is this subset of the list of Canadians outside BC:

  • Maude Barlow, National Chairperson, Council of Canadians
  • Andrew Coyne, journalist, Macleans, National Post columnist
  • Bruce Cox, Executive Director, Greenpeace Canada
  • Kim Elliott, Publisher,
  • Andrea Horwath, Leader, Ontario NDP
  • Tom Kent, former chief advisor to Liberal Prime Minister Lester Pearson
  • Naomi Klein, author
  • Preston Manning, former Reform Party leader
  • Elizabeth May, leader Green Party of Canada
  • Farley Mowat, author
  • Walter Pitman, former NDP MP, former President, Canadian Civil Liberties Assoc.
  • Hugh Segal, Senator, Conservative Party, former PC leadership candidate
  • Lois Wilson, former President, World Council of Churches, former Senator
  • (US) Krist Novoselic, musician, formerly of Nirvana, currently Chair, Fair Vote (US)

Never thought I’d see Naomi Klein, Preston Manning, Elizabeth May and Farley Mowat together in any list of any kind.

Go BC-STV!….and go Canucks!

Cyberspace is ours, now BC-STV must conquer meatspace.

May 7, 2009

I think the online buzz and opinion making for BC-STV is pretty solid at this point.  Letters are flooding onto websites of newspapers and blogs and twitter is all, well, a-twitter about the benefits of BC-STV.  Of course, the internet doesn’t get a vote and you can’t send in your ballot via twitter (yet) and there are some people out there not buzzing around online talking about the election.  Actually, most people aren’t.  This weekend most people will be shopping, attending conventions, street festivals and hockey games.

So we need to be there.

We need to get out of cyberspace and get into meatspace and talk to people using modulated soundwaves in the air.  We need to ask them to consider this important choice, offer them pamphlets to read more, tell them about the website to find videos and just plain-old answer their questions and assuage their fears, because there is nothing to be scared of except staying with FPTP forever.

So this is a call to everyone online, to go offline at some point in the next 4 days and connect with some real, physical people.  If everyone one of us online can convince 10 people and raise awareness of 100 people we might be able to actually do this thing.  Of course, we’ll use the internet to organize that 😉

Flyers : Here are some great flyers to print out about BC-STV. Print 100 and give them out this weekend.

Map : Here’s a map with the locations of some of BC-STV events that need volunteers or where people plan to be talking to pedestrians.  It will grow in the next few days, so far its just vancouver, but anyone in BC can use it.  If you have a gmail account you can edit it yourself and add your plans.  Maybe people will show up to help.

Pass the link on to your friends and add stuff to the map, then get out there and talk to people, the link is

Star Trek: STV – Where no referendum has gone before #startrekstv

May 6, 2009

First of all a confession, without any shame, I am a Star Trek geek.  I don’t dress up as a Klingon or anything, but I like it a lot.  So in the next week there are two exciting things going on: 1) the biggest election of my lifetime (so far) with a real chance to begin the process of electoral reform in Canada on May 12 and 2) the Star Trek prequel movie is coming out which could lead to the rebirth of a healthy Star Trek storyline.

Are these two passions related in any way?  Not really, but that won’t stop me! Because it occurred to me the other day that the electoral system that a society chooses to use says a lot about what they value in democracy and it influences the way their society grows by giving different incentives to leaders.  So, the thought experiment for Star Trek fans is, which electoral systems would the civilizations in the Star Trek universe use?

I’m going to tell you what I think but first we need a few ground rules.  Lets assume every Star Trek civilization has some form of representative democracy that involve an election system of some kind.  We’ll try to limit ourselves to existing electoral systems in use around the world or plausible ones that could be created.  Here is a map of electoral systems in use around the world right now and the wikipedia page on electoral systems to give you an idea of what they are.

I’ll update the page as I think of more and you should feel free to add comments here on what I got wrong or right or what the races I missed would use.  You can also join the discussion on twitter with #startrekstv.

Note: to star trek pedants, I realize star trek STV sounds like I may be talking about the “movie” Star Trek V: the Final Frontier, but since I have decided to ignore the entire existence of that horrible film and there is no reason to talk about said film I didn’t think it would be too confusing.

The Electoral Systems of the Races of Star Trek

Klingons – FPTP – Clearly the Klingons would use a single member plurality system, or First-Past-The-Post (FPTP), which is used currently in Canada, US, Britain, India and a few other places.  FPTP is winner take all, you don’t need consensus, or a majority you just need to be the strongest one in the room and the last one standing.  Is it an honourable system?  Its simple and I suppose it seems honourable if honour is equivalent to strength for you rather than wisdom or fairness.  In addition to FPTP used on Earth of course, the Klingons would not just throw away all the votes for the losing candidates, they’d have the losing candidates killed, fair’s fair.

Romulans – Closed List MMP – The Romulans are a logical bunch, a trait they got from their Vulcan ancestors, and they actually do have a democracy in Star Trek with a Roman style senate.  However, they don’t seem too interested in grass roots movements or losing control of the central levers of power. So it seems like the Romulans would use a robust proportional system that placates the people but then rig it so that they have as much control over who wins as possible.  One way to do that is to use a list proportional system like Mixed Member Proportional but instead of openly published lists, which is what we normally do on Earth and is  a good idea, the Romulans would have closed, secret lists chosen by the party.  Of course, in addition to that, the ‘parties’ in the Romulan Senate are probably just fronts that pretend to hate each other to convince the electorate there is competition.

Vulcans – ??? – I’m still undecided on what the  Vulcans would use. Vulcans are very logical so perhaps they’d use the most reasonable and logical system, STV.  But they probably aren’t actually interested in fairness as much as balance so they may aim for something that is less combatative than a standard electoral system, something that requires a great deal of consensus or even a unanimous vote.  One idea is that they would use an electoral college system that always requires unanimous votes.  Once a local representative is chosen they go to the central legislature and analyse policies until unanimity is reached.  One thing I’m sure of is they would not allow campaign advertising which tends to play on emotions or a long campaign period.  The various candidates would list their policies in detail.  Then all citizens would have a week to study them and then choose, without discussion, the most logical candidates.

Ferengi – Pure Capitrocracy – The Ferengi are definetly not interested in fairness, voter choice or even the most logical choice.  They want to be lead by those with the best business acumen who can increase the profits of the empire the most.  So, every four years the government would be replaced by the CEOs of the most profitable corporations of the previous four years. Ministerial jobs such as Environment would be selected based on the leading corporations from different industries such as resources and mining.

Borg – Continuous, Online Forced Consensus Voting – Ok, the Borg are a little different, they really do vote I’m sure. Its a plurality system, sort of.  Once more than half the collective decides, “one drone one vote”, then all other drones who disagreed are reprogrammed to agree with the decision. So after the fact it is always a completely unanimous democracy, ‘perfect’ as the Borg would say.

Humans/Federation – STV – The Federation of United Planets is primarily interested in fairness, equality and hearing all voices.  Despite accusations of being a ‘Homo Sapiens only club’ they would want broad representation of the many varied viewpoints on each planet and across the federation.  So clearly they would want a largely proportional system that also has local representation.  Each planet would need to send multiple representatives so that they are not viewed through a single, oversimplying stereotype.  Decisions in the government would be made using a parliamentary system where a majority rules but the majority would need to be formed through consensus and coalitions between individual representatives from different worlds or multi-world parties if these formed.

Now, what do you think?  I left out a lot of civilizations and I’m sure you disagree with something in my analysis, let me know.

Our second — and last — chance for change

May 5, 2009

A few must reads:

Oh ya, STV, that’s gonna pass this time right? #stvrocks

May 2, 2009

I get this a lot.  There are a lot of people who know about BC-STV, think its a great idea, an obviously great idea and assume its going to pass this time around.  That really gives me hope, I hope they’re right, I really do.  But some polls indicate that a lot of people, half the province or more, don’t even know about the referendum.  So I don’t know what to think except, lets not count our eggs until they’re hatched.  There is only a week and a bit to go, so lets just pretend for the next week that we’re not sure and make sure we do everything we can to make people aware of the importance of this referendum. Read the rest of this entry »