Sunday, August 17, 2014

Back on the Horse

It has been awhile.

The blog is still active, despite the appearance to the contrary. Yet another time period of feeling a bit uninspired struck, though it does seem to be on the way out. There is definitely no shortage of things to talk about, given the state of the world and our country, and we will get to them in due course.

For now, just know that I'll eventually have something up here in the coming weeks.

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Continuing the Thought

In the last blog post, I talked a bit about how the financial system in our democracy is ultimately harming our ability to vote effectively. If you didn't read it, the long and short of it is we need publicly funded elections in order to really hand power back to the electors of this country.

However, smaller details were also starting to nag at me a little. After all, once I stopped to think about it, its not just big money that is ruining the ability of electors to make an informed choice when they vote: It's also political parties in general.

Gather round children, cause it's story time with Uncle Scott.

I've worked on a number of political campaigns in my lifetime. I've gotten a few good funny stories about of a couple of them, but I've gotten a lot more frustrations and complaints. During the 2011 Provincial Election, I was something of an 'provincial helper person' for the NDP. I travelled a lot throughout the province and had a chance to spend a week or two on a couple different campaigns. It was pretty good experience to see how different, but similar, campaigns were run throughout the province.

It was in my last posting, which for the sake of being diplomatic I will not name, where I saw the bulk of the things that frustrated me with our political system.

The first was the common occurrence of damaged lawn signs. A good amount of time in our campaign was spent going around and repairing signs that had 'magically' fallen down. Nevermind the fact that the metal frame that held them in the ground was clearly bent in cases; or that in the case of larger signs, the wooden beams were clearly kicked to the point of snapping. Nope, no one was responsible for that.

Of course, I know the common answer here: It was just stupid teenagers out for a laugh. It's the common answer that is usually given whenever a sign disappears or is left behind but clearly damaged. Even with the benefit of the doubt, the amount of signs we ended up replacing over the course of a just a week suggests that there was a little more to it than just 'boys being boys'.

Even if a few of the signs were just mischievous kids; the regular occurrence, coupled with it often being in high traffic locations, suggest just the tiniest possibility of foul play.

And that brings me to the second common occurrence: The magically disappearing campaign literature.

Now, as I learned as a young campaign worker: It's basically mail fraud if you remove campaign literature from a mailbox or a person's home after it has been delivered. As such, since you're more or less committing a felony it's a good idea not to do it. However, our campaign at the time experienced a lot of oddities when it came to dropping our flyers.

A fellow campaign worker and I were out dropping flyers in a neighbourhood, and after awhile we started to notice that the flyers we had tucked into mailboxes (hanging so that they were visible, but secure from the wind) couldn't be seen. It was the middle of the day, on a weekday, so it seemed unlikely that all of them were already pulled in by the home owners.

Cue a rival team of canvassers.

Now, were they taking our flyers? I can't say 100% for sure, since I never physically saw it. But after we saw them, finished what we could, we went back to headquarters and asked what we should do. Our campaign manager suggested a simple approach: Go to a block of houses we know we went to, door knock and ask if they received the campaign literature.

So, we did. And low and behold, not a single house had seen the flyer.

Finally, and this is the one that annoyed me the most because it exists in a so-called 'gray area'.

Elections Canada, and Elections Saskatchewan for that matter, have clear rules about what is and is not appropriate on Elections Day. One of those rules regards the placement of campaign signs near the polling station.

Elections Saskatchewan states that campaigning cannot take place within 50 feet of a polling station. So, no signs, no posters, no meet-and-greets, etc, etc, etc. So, you can imagine how upset our entire campaign was when our opponent had a giant sign, in the back of truck, parked right across the street from the polling station.

Here's the caveat, the truck was parked in the private driveway of a campaign volunteer. So, while we did ask the Chief Electoral Officer for a ruling or some kind of guidance, we were more or less told that the private property fact meant we couldn't do anything.

After all, every Canadian citizen has the right to put up an election sign. So, we ran into an issue of a campaign clearly using this other rule to supercede another. As such, there was nothing we could do. Despite this clear attempt at what's known as 'electioneering', we couldn't do anything about.

Now, you may be asking yourselves: Why am I mentioning all of this?

Part of it is to serve as an counterpoint to the electoral stories we've heard from Brad Butt, Laurie Hawn, and Paul Calandra. But the bulk of it is to prove a point: As I said in the last post, every party has skirted the rules on financial matters. Just as every party, whether condoned by the party or not, has campaign workers who don't always follow the rules either.

Can I prove that any of the examples above were authorized by the party, or by the candidate themselves? Nope.

Can I prove that any of it was more than just a few overzealous campaign volunteers, especially with regards to the destruction of signs and removal of campaign literature?
Nope.

The sign across the polling place, while certainly seeming organized or at least done with the candidate in the know, is also something that I don't have proof for.

But, what it does provide is a narrative that we need to keep in mind. An election, in the minds of many political parties, is nothing more than a battle of opposing sides. And above all else, you want your side to win. It doesn't matter how you win, so long as you win.

And that is the mentality that has been creeping into our political system. Hell, the entire democratic process is practically based on this mentality right from the moment we allowed people to cast a ballot. Parties want to win, sometimes more than they want to govern. (See: Stephen Harper and his neverending career dream of destroying the Liberal Party.)

And much like 'floppers' in soccer, occasionally the teams use some pretty dodgy tactics to give themselves an unfair advantage.

Almost all of the political parties in today's system seem to be more concerned with winning an election than with improving our country. It's the reason why in every leadership race, almost every candidate is always introduced as the "Next Prime Minister/Premier/whatever." Yes, if you win you get to implement your policies. But at the same time, for many, it seems like winning is enough.

And when we become so focused on just winning for the sake of winning, or worse winning for the sake of making sure the other team doesn't, we put our blinders on. We can see this in the culture of corruption that has basically claimed the backrooms of the Conservative Party. From robocalls from the CIMS database, to robocalls about Irwin Cotler, to robocalls in Saskatchewan, to Eve Adams using her position to campaign for a nomination in a new riding; we see people making dodgy, and in many cases illegal, decisions for the sake of winning.

If we want to tackle election fraud and fair elections, the first place to look isn't to the voter: It's to the parties. We need to ensure that parties are following the laws that are written down for them; and that even a single rogue campaign worker is punished for daring to step outside those bounds. We need to stop letting parties find 'gray zones' in the laws, and instead insist that all parties remain on the fair footing that we're supposed to offer.

Who cares if it's not technically illegal or only against the spirit, but not the word, of the law? Parties, it seems, will take the shortcuts and moral lowroad to achieve the victory of winning it would seem. Democracy is supposed to foster policy discussion and alternative visions for our country; that is not what we've been getting.

We've been getting petty squabbles, bruised egos, and the spewing of vitriol on such a level that you'd think every single political opponent of everyone else is the Antichrist come to Earth. This is what happens when parties focus on winning for the sake of winning, rather than winning for the sake of improving your country. And frankly, it's time that we as electors demanded better.

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Hey, Must Be the Money

So, a lot has happened. Two Premiers down, a Federal Finance Minister out, and numerous other political developments. As interesting as some of those would be to talk about, it's also a tad old news at this point. Besides, there's not much that hasn't been said and that I feel I need to contribute to that conversation.

Where I do want to contribute, so a degree, is to talk about the Fair Elections Act. The bill that no one seems to like, but that we're likely going to have to live with. I don't think a single professional, by which I mean an academic not hired by the government, has spoken in favour of this bill. In fact, it has gained national and even some international scorn over the potential it has for vote suppressing.

As a contributor to the Canadian Politics sub-reddit pointed out in a brilliantly simple argument, and I'm paraphrasing: "The Fair Elections Act wants to remove vouching, a process which allowed legal voters to legally cast their ballots. No evidence has come forward of voting fraud through vouching, so this bill wants to prevent previously legal electors from being able to vote."

Despite Conservatives coming forward, like Brad Butt or Laurie Hawn, to talk about the misuse of voter ID cards that they had personally witnessed. (Butt, for the record, recanted his tale and found protection in his caucus from being found in contempt of Parliament for lying in the house; while Hawn has had his claim refuted by former Elections Canada Chief Jean-Pierre Kingsley, who notes that voter cards were not able to be used as a substitution for ID in the 2006 election).

One can't help but draw some parallels to one of the more recent tactics used by the Conservatives against Thomas Mulcair. Conservatives, Paul Calandra in particular, were fond of asking why it took Mulcair years to come forward about an attempted bribe he was offered while he was a MNA; since Mulcair only provided his account once the Charbonneau Commission had started.

Well, chalk this one up to the pot and the kettle. Since now, Conservatives are doing the exact same thing. If they saw voter fraud, they didn't report it. They can hem and haw, as Hawn has done about maybe doing it differently and reporting the fellow back when he had the chance, but it's more or less the same thing. At the very least, it should put an end to the attack against Mulcair lest the NDP respond with questions about Conservatives not reporting voter fraud.

Which brings me to what I wanted to talk about with this post. The universal consensus, unless you're a Conservative caucus member, is that this bill is just bad policy. It doesn't give Elections Canada teeth, and in effect does more to neuter the organization instead. Both Kingsley and current EC Chief Marc Mayrand have called for more provisions to ensure that the Fair Elections Act lives up to its name.

Yet there is one solution that would ultimately ensure that Fair Elections were exactly that: 100% public funded elections.

Democracy is a nice idea in theory, a sentiment that is usually applied to communism, but in practice it doesn't always work. This is especially true when you consider the big money that goes into politics.

Take, for example, the latest statistic that shows a little over half of US Congresspeople are millionaires. To get elected, you need money. To get money, you have two options:

First, you can stump like hell and make a mountain out of  mole hill; by which I mean, you have a massive donor base that contributes small amounts.

Second, you can get support at massive levels from fewer donors. Canada's laws are a bit better than America's on this front, at least in restricting who can and cannot donate to a party, but they aren't perfect.

Let's be perfectly honest. Every party, EVERY PARTY, skirts the rules as best they can when it comes to election financing. After all, there's tons of ways to do it. That plane I used for the campaign? That was a gift, not an expense. That donation of the maximum allowed amount from the wealthy couple, who only has one working spouse? Well, it may be the one spouse's money, but it's listed under both their names...and don't look too closely at our adult children's donations either.

And those are just the outrageous examples.

I guarantee that every party has outdone themselves in small funds fundraising. It's not often you go to a constituency meeting, a nomination meeting, or any kind of party event where the old kitty isn't passed around and you're free to throw in $10 or $20. Even if you've already contributed the maximum amount allowed under Canadian law, these smaller donations are not well tracked (if tracked at all) which allows anyone to continue to contribute in small amounts and go unnoticed.

The basic fact to take away from this is: our election financing rules are broken, and they will remain broken as long as private money is allowed to enter into the political system.

A US Congressman fell into hot water when he suggested that a millionaire should be entitled to 'a million votes' based on their wealth; and while we all balked at the suggestion, the truth is our system is almost at that point already. While they may not physically get a million votes, they do get things that the rest of us electors do not...Just look to the Senate if you want to see what happens to people who either raise or donate a lot of money to their party.

Democracy cannot work when money plays a more important role than the actual voice of the people. That is not a democracy, it is an oligarchy.

Which is why if we ever want a fair election, we must support 100% public funded elections.

There is a question as to whether or not we should even allow parties to raise money at all; though, I do realize that parties do rely on paid employees as well as volunteers. It's a tricky balance, but not impossible to achieve. So, while I'm not saying we should completely stop parties from fundraising, we should explore avenues to restrict what they can use raised funds for. Office and staff expenses, yes. Running a multi-million dollar ad campaign, no.

Public funded elections, I think, would also help us end a bit of the negativity we've seen develop in Canadian politics since 2004.

Imagine that each party is only given X amount of dollars for the entire campaign (or perhaps each riding association is given X amount, rather than any grand schemes allowed by the federal party mechanisms). With a set budget that can't be replenished, you would weigh your options pretty carefully on what you spend money on.

Do we take out a negative ad? Or do we run that ad that highlights our policies?

It restricts the ability of parties to spend frivolously, which I would think would stop negative ads (at least to a degree) because parties need to focus more on their message. Granted, I imagine at least one camp would run negative ads in spite of limited resources, but I think overtime the system would reach a point where parties would place more value on ensuring their policies and ideas were heard over their vitriol.

Granted, there are a lot of questions to be answered.

How do we determine which parties receive funding? Do we do this at a complete payout to the federal party and allow them to trickle money down, or do we directly fund riding associations of eligible parties?

That is a topic for another day, and quite frankly perhaps a better mind than my own. But the common truth of this remains clear: Privately funded elections do not empower citizens. If anything, they actually decrease the power we hold as electors. All parties, regardless of their political stripes, bend the rules when it comes to fundraising and financing. After all, if one party is doing it, then the others have to follow suit lest they fall behind.

Open single-sourced funding is the only way to ensure Canada actually has fair elections and ensure that it's the will of the people that is followed before and after an election, not the will of the almighty dollar.

Saturday, March 1, 2014

Quebec as Scorched Earth

The devil is in the details. For the longest time, the Conservatives have identified a resurgent Liberals as their go-to target. Pollsters confirm that the Liberals have indeed enjoyed a bump in their support thanks to the new Trudeau Era. Even the media has placed greater emphasis on the Liberals, over the NDP as official opposition.

As such, many have concluded that this is a two horse race; and the Cons will focus their ammunition on the Liberals and forego the NDP. But a recent development suggests that may not be entirely accurate. 

I have held a long standing view that the Conservatives are not serious about winning in Quebec. They can make a show of it, and Harper can learn French, but ultimately I don't think their goal is to win seats as a sweep in the province. Rather, the party has focused on maximizing the odds of anyone but the Liberals winning.

It seems the Conservatives, since taking power have done everything they could to prop up the Bloc Québécois. Not actively, but indirectly by pursuing policy that Québécois would object to. Even their move to recognize Quebec as a nation, as part of a united Canada, has smacks of nationalism ideals that serve to embolden the Bloc and the Parti Quebecois. 

Now, with the Canada Jobs Grant going ahead without Quebec on board, they have created another issue. Opposition Leader Tom Mulcair warned that this could have an impact on the likely coming provincial election; and that it will give the PQ fodder to use during the campaign. 

Mulcair is quite right, but I don't know if he's seen the gears turning behind the scenes. The BQ is an organized shambles, but a PQ majority or enhanced minority will embolden the separatist movement in Quebec. And I think, that's precisely what the Conservatives are hoping to achieve.

By surging the Bloc forward, they hope to cut into NDP gains in the province and at the very least try to ensure any change overs avoid going Liberal. The Liberals lack the support base the Conservatives currently have, and no doubt preventing gains for them in Quebec is a major part of the strategy for the next Conservative victory plan.

It also has the double effect of neutralizing the NDP, by forcing them to focus resources on holding their Quebec gains against an emboldened Bloc Québécois. 

Of course, this is all speculation and conjecture on my part. But I've seen this same kind of push from the Conservatives for "scorched earth" in Quebec before. It seems to me they are more than happy to push voters away from themselves, provided it also pushes them away from the Liberals in the process. 

Perhaps I'm being overly suspicious, but it certainly seems like there is extra motivation beyond just getting the Jobs Grant program up and running. Mulcair is right that this will be an issue in a future provincial campaign; I just hope his team is preparing for the impact it may have federally. 

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Same As The Old Boss

I know, the blog has been dark for quite awhile. Call it a lack of inspiration, or perhaps a small amount of callousness over world events at moment, but either way here I am...Once more onto the breach, and all.

And despite some interesting events to talk about, we're going to open with an abstract post for the New Year.

This is a subject that I've been giving a lot of thought to lately, and it was further pushed to the forefront of my mind due to a Christmas gifting of The Nightly News by Jonathan Hickman. For a brief synopsis, it's a graphic novel revolving around a group of individuals who target media 'talking heads'. In it was a graph, showing media consolidation over the last 50 years, and it was this graph that brought me back to the subject at hand.

Since the end of the Cold War, and even during it, we have admonished those 'godless socialists'. The people who have bemoaned the North American consumerist society, and balked at their ideas of equality and lack of 'freedom' or 'choice'.

These people rejected the notions of Adam Smith and the freedom of the marketplace. They called for government intervention, for the establishment of state corporations or workplaces controlled directly by the people, and they demanded a social welfare state. The nerve!

Who were they to reject the wonderful freedoms of unbridled capitalism? Who were they to disallow the market to offer choice and competition, which always benefits the consumer,  in favour of a centralized economy?

Of course, in the end, the 'good guys' won. Freedom prevailed, and we were all free to choose between different products in the glorious free marketplace.

The problem is, we actually weren't.

I've never really used too many graphics before on the blog, but there's a first time for everything.

Companies Map
*map from http://convergencealimentaire.info; used without permission.

This is the first problem, the second we'll come to shortly enough with another graph.

When philosophers/economists, like Adam Smith, first defended the idea of the free market this was not what they had in mind. In fact, I'd say anyone who wrote anything about economic philosopher prior to the 1920s didn't have this in mind.

Free market philosophies called upon the market to regulate itself. Something either succeeded or failed; it was embraced by consumers or it was rejected. This was how business models were set up, a simple notion of pass/fail.

But as companies began to succeed on unprecedented levels, accumulating vast amounts of wealth, a strange thing happened. Rather than reinvest the funds into the company, and improve their own products, companies began to buy smaller successful companies. And this trend has only continued, and in some cases, led to the creation of 'corporate raiders'.

If you're unfamiliar with the term, and after Mitt Romney and stories of Bain Capital perhaps you've just blocked it from memory, a 'corporate raider' is a company that exists solely to buy other companies and rip profit from them. In many cases, the smaller company is completely dissolved by the end of the process, while the corporate raider sees an increase in their own capital.

Free market economies were not designed with the idea of corporations existing to buy other corporations. Free markets were designed based on the creation of a physical, material good that could be purchased by a consumer. Whether that was a new throw rug for the living room or a meal from a fast food restaurant, free market policies wanted consumers to have choice in rugs and meals.

As the chart above shows: KFC, Taco Bell, and Pizza Hut all answer to the same corporate master. So, while they offer different meals to consumers (fried chicken, tex-mex, pizza) their revenues are all handed up to the same corporate giant. And, perhaps, in the case of 'food stuffs' there's an argument to be made for this being not so bad.

After all, consumers are still given choice in a different variety of foods.

But there's times when this is far from true. And the best definition we have for this, sans the chart, is the Canadian Wireless market.

We should all be familiar with the term 'The Big Three'. Referring to Bell, Rogers, and Telus. These three own a fair chunk of Canada's wireless spectrum; and have a virtual monopoly afforded to them by protections put into place by the CRTC.

And when people tire of being jerked around by these three, they look to a smaller provider to save them. The problem is, unless you have a Crown Corporation (like SaskTel), you aren't getting away that easily.

After the Big Three, you have Koodo, Virgin Mobile, and Fido. That's odd, you might say, another three alternatives to the big three...What a coincidence! Except it's not, since Rogers owns Virgin; Telus owns Koodo, and Bell owns Fido.

So, it looks like the option of choice, when in reality you still only have three choices. Furthermore, thanks to the CRTC, the three have a monopoly. Take for example, Wind Mobile. It was an upstart, and many people complained about the Conservatives allowing it into Canada after it failed to meet foreign ownership rules. Nevertheless, it was allowed into the marketplace.

Flash forward about a year, and the CEO of Wind Mobile, Naguib Sawiris, announced 'regret over coming to Canada.' And then on the cusp of 2014, Wind Mobile announced it would not be bidding for the upcoming wireless frequency auction.

Sawiris correctly points to the fact that the Big Three have near identical revenue-per-user statistics; and this advertising campaign from the Three's subsidiary companies (Fido, Virgin, Koodo) really illustrate quite well how the Three have been keeping equal footing on pricing.

So, explain to me again how 'competition' is supposed to drive down prices for consumers?

Effectively, what we've seen over the last few years, is the erosion of the free market by the consolidation of ownership across a smaller number of corporations. With the wireless network in Canada, that has been helped considerably by the CRTC and government policy towards foreign investment.

And while I'm not always accused of being a free market endorser, when it comes to Canadian wireless infrastructure, we do need increased competition. After all, the CEO of Netflix compared internet access in Canada (and the price we pay for it) as  'third world access'.

The truth of the matter is that the big three have squandered their ability to invest in infrastructure, while at the same time raising rates for Canadians. In effect, we're getting zero benefit from the money we pump into these wireless companies. Saskatchewan is a great example of this.

We're fortunate enough to have SaskTel; which put up most of the towers that competitors like Telus use to provide cell phone service. The big three would have never bothered to put up towers that allowed province wide cellular service in Saskatchewan; yet they reap benefits from using the towers that exist here no thanks to them.

SaskTel is also rolling out its InfiNet service over the coming years; a high speed, fiber optic network. Obviously, this is costing SaskTel a lot of money to implement. And there are questions as to whether secondary broadband providers, like Shaw or Access, will be allowed to route their customers through this network.

What we're seeing, is vast investment by the government through Crown Corporations when it comes to infrastructure. And little to nothing coming from the companies who have a responsibility to upgrade the service they provide to consumers.

To a degree, the Harper Government is actually raising the issue. You may have seen the ads taken out about our wireless rates, and the need for increased competition. At the same time, the big three have also put out ads to counter this argument. Whether or not any actual policy comes out of it remains to be seen, but if it does, then hopefully it spurs on some actual competition.

Which brings me to the next point, and our next graph. You'd think that in a democracy that values education and informing the electorate, that we would hear more often about how our choices are being taken away from us. How more and more consolidation is occurring, and we are slowly moving away from a free market to an oligarchy controlled marketplace.

The problem is that the people we rely on to provide this information are caught in the problem. For example, CTV. CTV is owned by, surprise surprise, Bell Media. The same Bell Media who provides you your Bell or Fido cellphone. In fact, Bell owns most of the channels Canadians have in their homes. Not to mention, a ton of radio stations across the nation.


Then you have Shaw Media, owners of Global. In addition to their news, they offer home internet service, home phone, and television packs.

Things get even worse when you look to the US.

*image from Frugal Dad, used without permission.

Given Canada's limited marketplace, especially in news media, the US provides a much better example of mass consolidation.

The first fact is particularly shocking, and the one we really want to focus on: In 1983, 90% of American Media was owned by 90 companies. In 2011, 90% of media was controlled by just 6 companies.

What that really means is that 90% of the information flowing into households as 'news', was controlled by 6 corporations. As such, when debating an issue like campaign finance reform we are only hearing the views of those 6 corporations; despite whether we watch it on MSNBC or Fox News or the CBS Nightly News.

An educated electorate means providing as many sources and opinions and views on an issue as possible. The Socratic Method is based on the open conversation and free flowing of ideas, and is a method that is still pretty widely endorsed as a good means of education. But when we only allow 6 voices in the conversation, we limit what we can learn.

After all, these 6 corporations are on the hook to their stakeholders more than they are to the general public.

To make matters even worse, many of these corporations also own or are owned by those who manufacture our goods. For example, General Electric, used to own NBC (it sold it to Comcast). So, one has to wonder if there was a sudden recall or health hazard posed by an MRI Machine made by GE, would NBC report on it?

Would any news channel report on an issue that their parent company was having that presented it in a negative light?

Not if they could help it, seems to be the general answer.

Effectively, the main reason we aren't being told that our so called free market is becoming increasingly less free and consolidated is because the media we entrust to inform us is active in the buying and selling of other corporations. Media is a thing that can be bought, and it can be sold, and as such it is becoming increasingly useless as an effective tool in creating an informed and educated electorate.

The free market is dead, and competition is a lie. When competition actually does manage to push through, it's only a matter of time until the competition is bought up by the people they were competing against. The free market ideology was not designed for this mass consolidation of wealth and power; the idea of the free market should have evolved, but it didn't.

Consumers have lost more and more power, even through the fabled 'buying authority', because if we shun an item produced by one of these mega-conglomerates we can't affect their bottom line. In the last financial crisis, banks cried that they were too big to fail. In today's market economy, the true is same of these large companies.

They are too big to fail, and they are too big to ignore. The consumer has no purchasing power, and the free market cannot simply decide that these subsidiaries or these companies will disappear. All the while, the illusion of competition continues while more and more consolidation takes place.

I'm not sure where we go from here, to be honest. It will take a smarter, or at least a more visionary, person than myself to come up with the alternative. And more importantly, the steps we can take to reach that alternative.

But what I will finish on is this, and it's a point I've made many times before on the blog: We cannot expect anyone else to educate us. We are responsible for educating ourselves, and our children if we have them. We cannot assume that everything presented to us is true, or that everything presented to us is a lie. We have to assemble facts for ourselves and make our own judgement.

Only then, will we have a truly informed and educated electorate.

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Why Reform Will Fail

Source: CBC News: Conservative MP Michael Chong Makes Bid to Fix Parliament

Even with Perrin's e-mails being found amongst the clutter, and some shake ups in the Senate, let's take a bit of a break and look at a 'non-releated-but-totally-releated' consequence of the Senate Scandal fallout.

Ontario Conservative MP Michael Chong is bringing forward a bill to redistribute some of the power of the Prime Minister, and all party leaders. It would take the leadership establishment out of the nomination process, and even establish a method by which the party caucus could remove a leader from power.

The biggest change here, obviously, is going to be felt in Electoral District Associations; but not in all of them.

All parties are scrambling to say that their party doesn't have a top down leadership structure when it comes to nominating candidates. I can speak to my experience as a NDP candidate, and there certainly wasn't any top down control there. The only real outsider presence felt was the need to undergo a criminal background check, as part of the nomination package. Other than that, I never needed a 'green light' from Jack Layton to seek the nomination.

So, from my own experience, the NDP is already pretty good at letting EDAs run the show in their own ridings.

However, Liberals and Conservatives don't have the same legacy.

Liberals, dating back ages, have been accused of (and caught) parachuting in candidates to ridings. There was complaints in 2008 from Saskatchewan politician David Orchard that he was being squeezed out of running in Desnethe-Missinippi-Churchill River, after then leader Stephane Dion appointed Joan Beatty rather than have a nomination.

The Conservatives suffer from the same perception. As seen in the nomination battle for Brandon-Souris, which saw two candidates disqualified for 'late paperwork' which led to the party's preferred candidate being acclaimed as the candidate in that riding.

So, when it comes to finding candidates, the record for the NDP looks best when compared to the rest.

However, I suppose there is an argument being made that this will have the largest impact on incumbent candidates. After all, the argument seems to be that current MPs need their leader to sign off on their nomination papers for the next election; which, not being an MP, I couldn't speak to a record for any party on this issue.

By removing this check, and putting into the hands of the EDAs, makes for an interesting dynamic. After all, it would give MPs a bit more liberty in what they say and do in Parliament as they are beholden to their EDAs over their leader. Of course, this could also lead to an increase in problematic issues being brought forward and debated. (Such as the number of Tories chomping at the bit to reopen the abortion or same-sex marriage debates.)

Handing over nomination signing to the EDAs, however, isn't a sure fire fix.

If a MP runs afoul of their party/leader, I'd imagine we see an increase in contested nominations in incumbent ridings. After all, the party could likely find a replacement who is a better fit for the party and work towards getting them nominated over the incumbent. And while this doesn't spell the death knell for all incumbents, since many will likely continue to enjoy the support of their constituents, it would be a new hurdle for incumbents prior to the election.

But, the main thing I want to discuss is the leadership review being proposed.

Conservatives already seem like they're getting ready to defeat this bill; as Minister for Democratic Reform Pierre Poiliever has already spoken out against the bill. And while it may look like bad optics for the Cons to vote down a bill on democratic reform in a time when many Canadians are looking at the abuses of consolidated power; I would suggest they will go a different tact.

The leadership threshold is 15% of caucus members. This is a number that I imagine the Conservative leadership will see as far too low. I'd imagine a 'Rathegabering' of this bill is going to happen; with the threshold being lifted to 50% or higher in the aim of 'protecting stable government'. Which in turn, I imagine, would lead to the willing members of the opposition to condemn the bill; which the government will then use as sound clips for them being anti-democratic.

It's the most likely scenario I can see from this.

The Conservative majority will not allow this bill to pass as it stands; the statements and reactions from the front bench members of caucus highlight this. So, it will either be killed outright or neutered of any real power through amendments. It's also looking like the NDP and Liberals will allow a free vote for their members on this issue, while the Conservatives have stayed silent.

In the end, it's a good attempt at reform and of returning a modicum of power to the electorate; but in its current form, it won't survive. And if it does, I imagine it will be amended beyond recognition and usefulness.


Wednesday, November 20, 2013

With Freedom and Liberty for Some, Sometimes.

I know, I know, the senate scandal had some interesting things happen this afternoon. But, as I started this post prior to those revelations, we'll talk about this first and senate tomorrow or so. 

Somehow, I have ended up on the mailing list for Conservative MP Joy Smith; I would assume this blog has something to do with it, but who can say for sure. As such, I was treated to today's media release on her inviting a known "pornographic expert" to Canada to speak on the perils of internet pornography.

Smith made some news earlier in the year, as one of the MPs in Canada that lauded the UK's "opt-in" requirement for citizens to be able to access internet pornography. In a nutshell, the UK plans to put an automatic block on access to XXX rated websites; in order to view them, a person would have to call their internet provider and opt in.

Naturally, this has raised a great deal of privacy concerns; with some people going as far as to suggest that a list of "opted in" citizens could be used for nefarious means. (Say in an election campaign; or even perhaps to deny someone a job because they are known to be on the list.)

While those are extreme examples, I would point out that our health records (especially in Saskatchewan) continuously are found in dumpsters, alleyways, street corners, etc; and the concept of such a list falling into public knowledge does exist. Heck, there's even just the occasional 'office snoop', as we've seen with celebrity health records in the US, who is just curious to see what's there.

It also doesn't begin to scratch the surface of the real problem, in that an opt in list is about as effective as a magic rock for keeping away tigers. Opt in lists sounds good to people who don't know the first thing about technology; it's something that sounds effective and foolproof, but is far from.

An opt in list would work likely based on the user's IP address, the means that is used by your service provider to identify your computer. But there are dozens of free, online proxy services at reroute your traffic under a different IP address. These services can be both through your web client, or through a standalone program, and would most likely circumvent the opt in ban.

After all, a proxy can be used to set your traffic as coming from another country ( in the way some enterprising Canadians do to allow themselves access to American Netflix movies and services such as Hulu), so your IP could appear from a country that has no such opt in requirement.

These services are not hard to find, nor do they need a computer science degree to understand. And much like when I was in school, there will be the one kid who knows how to do these things and passes that information along to other students. This is part of the real problem, in that parents are not staying up to date with technological advances.

I self taught myself a computer at 12, with a bit of help from school computer courses that used Macs instead of my home PC; and a lot of trial and error gave me a pretty decent understanding of how to use a computer.

The next generation is even better at it than I was at that age; and I would expect this trend to keep continuing. 

Parents have at home options, such as 'nanny blocker' software that blocks keywords and access to certain sites. Again, for a technologically savvy kid, it won't stop them. Neither will an opt in ban, for the reasons we already discussed.

Older generations, like Joy Smith, see this as a solution to a problem they don't fully understand. While neglecting the fact that those who do understand it, already have seven ways and then some around their solution. 

There is one thing that actually does work, that no tech savvy kid can get around: parental supervision. Keeping computers out of bedrooms, and in public rooms of the house, for example. While that may not stop kids from accessing pornography completely, it's the only real solution, and it requires an effort by parents.

It's also never been fully enforced. That lesson has been around since the advent of home computers, yet I've very rarely seen a computer in an open space for parents to keep watch. Ultimately, it is only the parents who can enforce this kind of rule in their own homes; as legislation will only prove costly and ineffective. 

Or to borrow a phrase from the Conservatives around the gun registry; it criminalizes legal users, and doesn't prevent any crime.

Which brings me to the level of cognitive dissonance that continues to exist in Conservative caucus members and their supporters. The right has always demanded that the government stay out of their lives and bemoaned the creation of the nanny state. 

Yet, conservatives are quick to call for stricter measures and tighter bureaucracy then "left wing"counterparts. You cannot be the party that calls for social libertarianism and decreased government, while also being the party that wants to increase bureaucratic regulation or restrict the free action of others.

As stated, this is the kind of monitoring that does not work well against the tech savvy; of which, children are amongst (especially when compared to parents and grandparents). Direct parental monitoring is cheaper, and far more effective. 

If the conservatives want to protect children from the horrors they might find online, they should give parents the means and the know how to do so. Let's increase tech literacy for adults; let's encourage computers in open rooms, not bedrooms. 

Harper said at the Conservative Convention that they put money and decision making into the hands of real child experts "mom & dad", in reference to the child tax credit; well the same is true on this issue. It's time to let mom and dad watch their children, and expect mom and dad to stay up to date on technology and how their children use it. It will be far more cost effective, and far more effective in general in the long run.