Monday, May 27, 2013

Rethinking the Senate

I've had to give this topic a lot of thought, given my past views favouring reform of the Senate over complete abolition. For the longest time, at least from my perspective, it had appeared that corrupt Senators was the abnormality in the Upper Chamber rather than the norm; of course, recent events have cast doubt on that assumption and suggest that the norm is indeed the perception of pigs at the trough. 

And while there remains a case for reform rather than abolition, but it seems as though no party is willing to approach reform from a meaningful perspective. As such, we find ourselves in a position of two options: reform that will please no one VS abolition which will please a few.

Conservatives want the Reform ideal of the Triple-E senate, which would address some issues but create other issues at the same time. The simplest argument against an elected Senate I heard from Brian Topp; electing the Senate legitimizes it to the same level as the House of Commons and will create the same kind of gridlock and partisan bickering that we've seen in the USA. 

No party has put forward a proportional representation plan for the Upper Chamber, which addresses some of the concerns put forward by Topp, but at the same time doesn't address the issue of the Senate becoming a ground of political patronage for the party faithful. 

And no party has dared opened the can of worm that is addressing the representation of each province in the Senate; though Justin Trudeau has touched on the issue by saying that the Senate gives Quebec an advantage due to its representation in the Upper Chamber (perhaps in an attempt to imply that any reforms, outside of abolition, will include redistributing the seats in the Senate).

As a person who once saw a purpose to some of the work done by the Senate, and as a check against a strong majority government, the recent events have really required one to stop and examine the way the Senate functions. And given the choice between meaningless change that will not ultimately change anything, or abolition it is a pretty easy choice to make.

Without the alternative of meaningful improvement, which is not bring proposed by either the Liberals or the Conservatives, one must side with the NDP position of abolition. If given the choice of only two options, one must go with the one that will actually achieve something. 

Effectively, unless someone brings forward a plan that will prevent political cronyism while also ensuring that the Senate does not become the ideological roadblock that we've seen in the US, the only solution is abolishing it.

Thursday, May 16, 2013

ND-phobia?

Well, the blog has been quiet for awhile; work tends to do that now and again. We have an endless myriad of topics to talk about, and while the Mike Duffy scandal is a tempting topic, we'll save that for a moment and talk about another interesting political story: The BC Election.

There has been a lot of political coverage on this issue, but I figured I may as well go ahead a throw my two cents in. As election night approached, even the casual viewer of politics seemed to understand that the election was more or less in the bag for the NDP. There was a question of whether they would form a minority or a majority government, as different polls showed different aspects of the race, but no one seemed to doubt that the NDP was in the lead.

And then election night came and by the end, everyone was scratching their heads and wondering just what happened. 

There's a number of theories, all of which have strengths, so let's look at a few of them.

The most prevalent theory: pollster error. Many people have pointed to the challenges that face pollsters in the modern era. From a population that is increasingly abandoning the home phone in favour of cell phones; which in turn limits pollsters abilities to contact people in great numbers. Add to that that many people use call display, and if they're like my parents, simply refuse to answer the phone to a number or area code that they don't recognize. 

As such, technology is posing a new problem for pollsters: whereas the phone used to make it easy to communicate surveys, new norms are having the opposite effect. 

So, this creates issues of sampling size. Add to this that people who answer polls are not guaranteed to go out and vote on Election Day, and given BC's turnout it would seem many people chose to stay at home. This is a two-fold problem, as it has the potential to leave many supporters of various parties shrugging their shoulders and staying home. The lead party, especially with the kind of polling lead the NDP had, may see supporters stay at home because they see the election as in the bag and their vote as unnecessary. Whereas trailing parties may also see their vote as futile in the face of an overwhelming leader.

Of course, when these polls are already facing accuracy problems this becomes a real problem for political parties. 

We also have issues with new technologies. Online surveys are often ignored as spam, or worse actively abused by political junkies. With the right technology, a person can "change" their IP address and access a survey multiple times, regardless of means of trying to prevent this. Effectively, the BC Election (when taken in turn with the last Alberta Election) should be a warning bell about the effectiveness of pollsters.

Speaking of the Alberta Election, that brings us to the next potential answer for what happened. In the Alberta Election, we saw people from across the political spectrum rush to the PC Party simply as a means of stopping the Wildrose Alliance from forming government. Some have suggested that a similar migration may have taken place in BC, with PCs and Greens jumping onto the Liberal brand to prevent an NDP government.

This is not a new trend. In fact, we saw this in the last federal election as well. The collapse of the Liberal vote was blamed on fear of a potential NDP Minority, with many in Ontario switching to the Conservatives as the only means of avoiding that scenario. It would seem that there is no party in Canada that is more politically reviled than the NDP. 

Whether is the somewhat idiotic cries of "they're a bunch of socialists" to "I remember what Bob Rae did to this province" or "The Romanow Government closed dozens of hospitals!" people always seem to have a reason to vote against the NDP. But if past performance by previous leaders was the only deciding factor in how people vote, I'd feel pretty confident saying the Conservatives are dead as a party once Harper vacates the political scene...

Effectively, it harkens back to the title of this post: ND-Phobia. Despite evidence from the treasury board that NDP Governments across the provinces have the best financial track record of all parties, people can't seem to shake the old ideas that the NDP somehow is too socialist to manage money. We are a country when there is a phrase that "Tory times are tough times", yet we seem to favour tough times over the NDP.

No party has remained static over the past decade; and while previous leaders may be revered by party members today, the parties have changed enough that many previous leaders may feel out of place in their parties today. This is a similar argument to what we see in the USA where many people point out that men like Nixon, Lincoln and Reagan would not have a place in the Republican Party of today.

But, for whatever reason, this fear of "The NDP" continues. Which brings us towards the next theory as to what happened in BC: the failure of positive politics. 

Adrian Dix ran a positive campaign, to which the Liberals responded by throwing as much mud as they could in the hopes of something sticking. There were numerous times when the Liberals were caught outright lying in their statements, but a tepid response by the NDP to quash such rumours didn't go far enough in addressing their accusations. 

And while many will say taking the high road was the wrong approach, I would venture to say it wasn't, HOWEVER the NDP took the high road in a poor way.

There are some who think that positive politics means you can't ever say an unkind word about the other political parties, even if it is the truth. This is the route the NDP took in BC, and they proved beyond a shadow of a doubt that this method does not work. It is okay to highlight the failures of the previous party's track record while in government. It is okay to point to the bad decisions made by the Premier, the Cabinet, and the party in power.

Pointing out flaws and mistakes is not negative politics, it's truth in marketing. If you don't remind people why there needs to be a change, they won't care to listen about the change you intend to bring.

The adage of not saying anything if you've got nothing nice to say does not apply in politics, especially during elections. But pointing out the FACTS does not make it negative politics. If you personally go after someone on their record, it's not negative. If you go after someone personally based on pedantic reasons, like hair colour or something like that, then you've gone negative and need to reexamine your campaign path.

We don't need "he's in over his head" mantras or "he's not here for you"; we need "3.1 billion in terrorism spending unaccounted for" or "scandal after scandal after scandal", the facts that show incompetence in government. Going after a record can still be positive, and that's what all progressives must understand heading forward. The other side will always sling mud when the facts are against then, the point is to completely out shout them with facts that the people can't ignore. 

In all likelihood, a combination of all of these theories played a roll in the NDP defeat in BC. What's important now is that politicians learn from the mistakes that were made and be sure to avoid repeating them in the future.