Monday, August 22, 2011


Condolences to the family and friends of Jack Layton, who passed away earlier today.

Layton fought for many good causes (such as his fights against homelessness and domestic violence, amongst many others) in his time as a Toronto city councilor and later as a Member of Parliament. I'll admit to having questioned some of his political strategy in the last few years, but there was no question about the fact that his heart has always been in the right place.

It was shocking, even saddening, to see Layton frail and rasping in that press conference soon after his (and the NDP's) election success, but I never actually thought that he would lose to cancer... if only because he was always a tenacious, persistent, and determined fighter in his public life.

Farewell to a good man, a family man, a politician who fought for just causes, a leader under which the NDP flourished, and a fellow Trekkie.

Saturday, June 4, 2011

Thursday, May 5, 2011

Post-election quick thoughts

It's been a few days now, and I've been able to collect some of my thoughts now:

1) The elephant in the room is the fact that the Conservatives have increased their vote share in each of the three consecutive elections since their 2004 debut (29.6% in 2004, 36.3% in 2006, 37.7% in 2008, and 39.6% in 2011). Regardless of finger-pointing and blame being tossed about between NDP and Liberal supporters, Conservative support has been growing steadily (at least the eligible voters who actually take the effort to vote).

2) The NDP has also increased its vote share in every election since at least 2004, with this election being the most spectacular increase (30.6% now, up from 18.2% in 2008). This, in conjunction with increasing Conservative support, seems to be a clear sign that Canadian politics is becoming more polarized, with the overall "average" slowly shifting rightward.

3) First-past-the-post sucks, and strategic voting was the last best way to prevent vote splitting between left-of-Conservative candidates, especially with the advent of social media and online projects dedicated to strategic voting. Obviously, it didn't work.

4) Can the Liberal vote be considered left-of-centre? Previous Liberal governments have taken up progressive causes if they became politically expedient, but in recent years the Liberals have been slightly right-of-centre. How about the Green party, which aside from environmentalism seems more centre-right than centre-left? The positive spin is that 60% of Canadians didn't want a Conservative government. The negative spin is that over 60% of Canadians voted for parties that were right of centre (with the Conservatives being much further to the right than the Liberals or Greens, of course).

Do I realize that I sound negative? Absolutely. My politics fall left-of-centre, and I am thoroughly disappointed in the election result. I realize that there needs to be a re-thinking of strategy and find a more effective way to connect with voters.

At the same time, I suspect the answer to all of the frustration and brain-racking is simple: at the moment more and more Canadians simply don't have same values as myself or other left-of-centre individuals (of which there are clearly many... just not enough). That's alright (people are free to have their own beliefs), but nevertheless, I still wish the election had turned out differently.

Of course, things can and do change, so the work continues.

Peace and long life.

Monday, May 2, 2011

Canadian Election 2011 result: Conservative majority

I'm not entirely sure what to make of the overall result, but I have a few thoughts to jot down:

1) The total vote share of the Conservatives is 40% (giving them about 165 seats), which is up from last election, so this isn't just a matter of vote-splitting weirdness. For whatever reason that I don't really want to speculate about right now, more people voted for the Conservatives than before. Certainly, it's a disappointment to me that the Conservatives didn't lose any seats for their conduct but rather gained enough seats to form a majority government.

2) The NDP came in second, with a vote share of 31%, giving them about 105 seats. I had been hoping that the NDP could have lead a more effective opposition against a minority Conservative government, but it is all for naught. The opposition in a majority government situation is basically useless.

3) A key point to remember is that the NDP fed on other progressive incumbents for most of their seat gains.

Given that the shift in seats was mostly amongst opposition-held ridings (with many falling to the Conservatives), there needs to be a major re-think in political strategy and campaigning amongst all opposition parties (seeing that the Conservative majority government is unlikely to introduce proportional representation measures... just a guess).

I'm too tired to continue tonight... I'll continue later if I manage to think of anything.

Peace and long life.

Saturday, April 30, 2011

T minus 2.5 days, or so...

... the electorate's engagement in politics seems to have atrophied as a result of the generally high standard of living in Canada.
-Me, in my previous blog post

Well, I'll concede that I was wrong as the NDP continues to gain popular support according to polls. So while my foot is in my mouth, I have a few thoughts to note:

1) As I noted in my previous post, there is still an "indifference of the majority" at work here. Despite everything, it appears that the Conservatives will win the most seats because things continued smoothly over the last several years for a large number of people.

2) The NDP surge, even if the NDP comes in second, could be considered vindication for progressives everywhere in Canada. Progressives weren't just running around screaming that the sky was falling. For all the positive rhetoric by the Conservatives, a large number of Canadians are unhappy with the previous three years of government... to the point of increasing "polarization" (as if the modern NDP is anything other than a slightly-left-of-centre political party).

3) Assuming a second-place finish for the NDP, the likely Conservative minority government should not view a win as a mandate to do as they wish (but I suspect that they will). Many people were displeased with the previous government, and it's not a tyranny of the majority... it's a democracy.

4) With the demise of the federal Progressive Conservatives in the recent past, it was almost unfathomable to think that the federal Liberals (the oldest federally-registered party in Canada) could face the same fate in the near future... yet, it seems almost possible now.

5) Oddly, my toes taste differently from my fingers. Is that normal?

Peace and long life.

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Just for the record about coalition governments

In Canada, we live in a representative democracy. It's a bit messed up because of the first-past-the-post system, where seat distribution is not necessarily indicative of actual voting numbers, but that's not the point of today's post. For all its flaws, Canada is a representative democracy. In each constituency, constituents elect a Member of Parliament who is supposed to best represent their interests.

Why is there such fear about coalition governments? Today, Harper used the possibility of a coalition government for scaremongering. In response, Ignatieff vowed to never seek a coalition government to assuage potential (and, frankly, unfounded) fears amongst the electorate. Duceppe pointed out Harper's hypocrisy by waving a copy of a letter Harper wrote about a possible coalition during the waning days of Paul Martin's Liberal minority.

The likely outcome of the following election is the status quo: the Conservatives will likely win just under half of the seats in the House. In order for Parliament to function in this scenario, parties will have to work together regardless of circumstance. If there are some pressing issues that are shared amongst say the Liberals, NDP, and Bloc Quebecois and potential legislation can be worked out between the three parties on those few issues (e.g. limiting carbon emissions), consideration should be given to a coalition government. If nothing can be worked out between the three parties (again, assuming no one gets a majority), then the Conservatives would form a minority government.

All Members of Parliament are supposed to serve their constituents, regardless of arrangement of Parliament (majority, minority, coalition, whatever). It's not a "power grab" when these groups of MP's can work together as a government. It's a nonsensical argument: the Liberals in a coalition government would be just as dependent on the NDP and Bloc in a coalition government as a potential Conservative minority would be on the other parties. The NDP and Bloc are not going to mindlessly vote in lockstep with either the Liberals/Conservatives in a coalition/minority government scenario if a bill is disagreeable. MP's have to compromise with each other. That's life in a Parliament without a majority.

The likely sticking point (aside from who gets to introduce bills as a government) is the makeup of the executive. The executive branch has become increasingly (and disproportionately) powerful over the decades, and it is undoubtedly a coveted position. As it stands currently, a Prime Minister is not a dictator. Parliament is ultimately supreme (as it should be, as it is the only branch of government that is elected by the populace).

A problem seems to be a misinterpretation of our electoral system that the Conservatives are willing to play on: the Conservatives want to make it a question of who Canadians want as their leader. A much bigger problem is the apparent implicit acceptance of this "question" as being valid by other politicians and electorate in general.

Canadians don't elect leaders. We elect representatives, who answer to us. Canadians are supposed to be their own leaders.


As an aside, the electorate's engagement in politics seems to have atrophied as a result of the generally high standard of living in Canada. It's not really a tyranny of the majority as much as an indifference of the majority right now (see the unchanging support for all political parties as the Conservatives had to deal with one scandal after another). Complacency has replaced any sense of urgency in dealing with still-existing issues (e.g. climate change, gender inequality, discrimination based upon sexual orientation, etc.) as the government and media keep harping on how good it is in Canada for most of us. As the electorate disconnects with politics, politicians become more disconnected from the electorate.

Ultimately, any wounds on our democracy will be self-inflicted if we don't re-engage with politics.

Peace and long life.

EDIT: To be fair, I should note that Ignatieff did refer to coalition governments as constitutionally legitimate despite his decision to not enter a coalition. Unfortunately, he didn't go into further detail as to why coalitions are legitimate, so right now in the public eye it stands as his word against Harper's...

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

The language of politics

When I was much younger, I recall a librarian who mentioned that a careful selection of words can affect thought. The example he used was of referring to his significant other as his "love" rather than just his "wife" helped reinforce the actual feeling.

The rationale behind his explanation is somewhat vague, but the idea that thought is linked to language is not a new one. Words compartmentalize complex concepts and meanings, allowing even more complex ideas and thoughts to be generated from such words. The most well-known example of this concept is presented in George Orwell's classic fiction, Nineteen Eighty-Four, in which a totalitarian state's language is a greatly-reduced version of English known as "Newspeak". By destroying as many words as possible while allowing society to still function, the totalitarian Oceania had hoped to minimize independent thought and make it impossible to exchange new ideas that could be detrimental to the Party.

Extending the above concept, the use of different sets of words to discuss a particular topic can have an effect on the tone of the discussion. This is the case with politics, where the language used to discuss politics infiltrated by words that carry unsuitable connotations, both purposely and inadvertently.

Overtly violent rhetoric (particularly from the U.S. Tea Party's leadership) is under the microscope after the recent shooting of Congresswoman Giffords and 17 other people (leaving 5 dead) in Tuscon, Arizona. Although the shooter himself is likely non-partisan, he lived in a society inundated with violent imagery and terminology (not limited to just politics, either) and in a place where getting weaponry was easy.

Going beyond the violent rhetoric in the U.S. that (thankfully) has yet to become commonplace in Canada, one can still find plenty of problematic language used in politics. Politicians often launch attacks on each other with no regard for the degradation of political discourse. (Remember the accusation that an opposition MP was "in cahoots with the Taliban"? There is a reason why the opposition is formally known as "Her Majesty's Loyal Opposition": having differing opinions should not be interpreted as "disloyalty".)

Language used by the media is often problematic. There are "battles" in elections, and ground is "gained", "held", or "lost" as though territory is being fought over. The media chooses these words to make their narratives sound more exciting, and in a technical sense these words do describe what is going on. However, these words are more strongly associated with warfare between belligerents, and the choice of these words may subtly influence viewers/readers into taking more hardened positions. This effect may be stronger in down times such as the current economic recession, since the public tends to become polarized in bad times anyway.

Partisanship, likely a symptom of the innate human desire to be part of a larger group, is certainly exploited by language as well. It becomes similar to loyalty toward a sports team. One day, your team party will win the Stanley Cup election! Of course, language used in sports also borrows heavily from warfare ("battles", "gaining ground the zone", etc.), which makes the usage of such terms in politics even more seemingly-innocuous and subtly damaging at the same time.

Even more commonplace language not necessarily handpicked by the media taints political discourse. For example, apparently we elect "leaders", not representatives. People are elected to "power". We are encouraged in ads to make a difference by voting, but why are we not encouraged to talk with or write to our elected representatives? It distorts the spirit of democracy: the people govern themselves by selecting representatives who will do the necessary work of governing on the people's behalf. Voting is just the first step in participation in a democracy, but the implicit (and probably unintended) message underlying political discourse is that "people should vote for their desired ruler for the next few years and that's okay".

It likely even affects the motivations of people who run for office. I would suspect that those who run for office to serve the public would differ from those who run for office for "power".

Beyond just better education and trying to get people more involved in politics, I submit that the health of our democracy could benefit from changing people's attitudes through something as simple (?) as being observant about even seemingly-innocuous language being used in political discourse.

Peace and long life.