Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Document Torture

The question of whether or not the Canadian military handed over prisoners to Afghan-run prisons when they had full knowledge or should have had full knowledge that those prisons engaged in torture is fundamentally not a political question. The whole thing stinks of a bureaucratic snafu not political interference. That's why, in my opinion, the issue has never moved the polls. After all, what exactly does the Harper government have to gain from torturing Afghan prisoners? This isn't the Bush justice department we're talking about. If Harper is covering something up, it is likely an unwillingness to expose the mission to criticism by talking about torture and therefore not changing the status quo. That's more politically motivated stupidity than actual malicious intent. However, for some unknown and unknowable reason Harper refuses to just let the documents be released.

That refusal has forced us to revisit via the right of parliament to sensitive information the issue of growing executive power. The privilege motion brought by Mr. Lee et al. is the sort of thing that Leader of the Opposition Stephen Harper would have championed. He'd be leading the fight on this today, if he didn't happen to be in power. Conversely, Michael Ignatieff, Jack Layton and Gilles Duceppe would likely be trying to cover their rear-ends if they were in power. Outside of the lunacy of Paul Martin's Gomery Inquiry, governments in this country have made a habit of avoiding giving parliament the information it wants. Even during Gomery, the government used the existence of the inquiry as an excuse to avoid answering tough sponsorship scandal questions. What's new here is that Harper failed to get this thing far enough away from parliament to avoid further questions. Apparently, his "prorogue and hope it disappears" strategy failed and the inquiry called as plan B wasn't broad enough in scope to deflect the questions. While it is satisfying to hear the Speaker remind us that the legislative branch of government still has some power, this may be a Pyrrhic victory for fans of parliamentary power. There's no convincing evidence that any political party is interested in unraveling the ever increasing power of the Canadian executive branch, certainly not once they gain power. Forcing the government to unredact some documents won't change the overall trend.

Nothing Like Winnipeg in the Summer

Great weather for a by-election... just ignore the mosquitoes. Yes, Judy Wasylycia-Leis is quitting as MP for Winnipeg North effective May 1st. If Harper decides not to play games with the timing, the by-election could happen as early as this summer. This should really be a walk-over for the NDP. My massively outdated latest projection (I'll get around to a new one at some point), shows the NDP winning Winnipeg North by a whopping 41.5 points. Still, if either the Grits or the Tories are going to make inroads in the riding, now is the time. Of course, I suppose this all could be rendered moot by the government falling over the whole document mess. It would be very Canadian for the government to fall on what is at root a point of procedure.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Speaker Tells Both Sides To Grow Up

Unsurprisingly, Peter Milliken has tried to avoid making a decision on the Afghan detainee document fiasco. Milliken has given the two sides two weeks to figure something that's agreeable to both sides before he rules the government in contempt of parliament. Two weeks for Harper, Ignatieff et al. to find a compromise. If they don't, Ottawa will go into overdrive. The question for Mr. Ignatieff is can a government be in contempt of parliament but still have the confidence of the house? How he answers that question will affect the negotiations in the next couple weeks and potentially the course of Canadian history if the negotiations fail.

Monday, April 26, 2010

Hungary Votes 2010

There are a ton of elections going on in the EU this year. Poland, the UK, Sweden and Hungary are among the countries holding elections this year. While most of the focus has been on the UK, Hungary has just elected a new government. The last government was pretty much doomed from day 1 after the Prime Minister was caught on tape saying he lied to the public about the state of the public purse to get elected. I happened to be in Budapest during the ensuing protests in the fall of 2006 and can't say I'm surprised that the ruling socialist party was reduced to 15% of the vote. Hungary is in dire straits and has been for a while. The country was bailed out by the IMF in 2008. That loan is technically due back in the fall. Greece's problems are probably a larger concern for Europe but the EU never really dealt with the collapses in Hungary and the Baltics in 2008. The amount of help being offered Greece undoubtedly receives a poor response in the streets of Budapest and Riga.

Perhaps most concerning about this election result is the significant showing by the far-right Jobbik party which earned 12% of the vote. That's good for 47 seats and third place in Hungary's parliament. It is chilling to see a party affiliated with racist thugs with that level of support in Europe. When Jobbik received similar support during EU parliamentary elections it was dismissed by some because it was an almost irrelevant election and they would form a tiny part of the parliament. This is harder to dismiss. The spectre of the far right in Europe is real and needs to be confronted.

Saturday, April 24, 2010

UK Votes 2010: The Lib-Dems Strike Back

The United Kingdom is less than two weeks away from a national election and there are strange things afoot in the motherland. The consensus going into this election is that David Cameron and the Conservatives were going to sweep Gordon Brown out of office. Then something strange happened: the Liberal Democrats under leader Nick Clegg started to gain momentum. The momentum has picked up in the wake of Clegg being declared the winner in the first two leadership debates. Now Clegg's party is sitting second in the BBC's poll of polls.

I tend to like Liberal-Democratic parties in Europe for a whole bunch of ideological similarity reasons. I do have one major beef with the Lib-Dems and that is their strong support for the EU. In the context of the crisis in Greece, it is surprising to me that the Lib-Dems pro-EU stance isn't coming under more scrutiny. My guess is the Lib-Dem support is as much a "none of the above" thing as anything else and therefore people don't care that he'd give all their tax dollars to the delinquents in Athens.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Hudak Attacks Harris Legacy

History can be really annoying in politics. Particularly, if you forget it exists. See, back when Mike Harris was the premier of Ontario, he introduced the entirely sensible idea of tying the size of the Ontario legislature to the size of Ontario's delegation in the House of Commons. Now, admittedly one of the reasons Harris did this to reduce the number of MPP's at Queen's Park. Another key reason was that it allowed Elections Ontario to avoid the time consuming and expensive work of drawing electoral boundaries that would end up being virtually identical to what Elections Canada had done. In other words, eliminate redundant government work. This was all part of the Common Sense Revolution Tim Hudak and the current crop of PC's at Queen's Park claim to love so much. Now the PC's are up in arms because McGuinty is talking about going back to the principle established by Harris and adding 18 new seats for the 2015 election to match the anticipated move in Ottawa. Damn that Mike Harris and his Liberal ways!

Side Note: The NDP probably haven't looked at population estimates lately or aren't very good at math. It is extraordinarily unlikely that any new seats would be added in Northern Ontario to "divide up some of the huge northern ridings in Ontario" as the article says.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Future Ridings by Party

As requested here is the party-by-party breakdown for the regions getting new seats under the Tory redistribution plan. What I've done is worked out what percentage of the extra voters in each region went to each party in the last election. This is different from the regional results as the smaller ridings have basically no impact. You only get credit for votes in ridings with over 108,000 residents because it is these people that will be moved into the new ridings. Elections Canada tends to prefer to keep existing ridings as is whenever possible. I will list the region following by the percentage of votes anticipated for each party in the new ridings, followed finally by my estimate of what those percentages mean in seats.


Calgary (2 seats): CPC 62.5%, LPC 15.7%, GPC 10.2%, NDP 8.3%
Edmonton (2 seats): CPC 58.9%, LPC 15.1%, NDP 15.1%, GPC 7.5%
Rural Alberta (1 seat): CPC 72.2%, NDP 12.7%, GPC 8.9%, LPC 5.1%

British Columbia:

Lower Mainland (2 seats): CPC 50.5%, NDP 22.3%, LPC 19.1%, GPC 6.9%
Vancouver (3 seats): CPC 39.5%, LPC 27.9%, NDP 21.9%, GPC 10%
Vancouver Island (2 seats): CPC 39.7%, NDP 31.8%, LPC 17.9%, GPC 9.9%


East (3 seats): CPC 49.2%, LPC 28.6,% NDP 13.1%, GPC 9.1%
905/Golden Horseshoe (10 seats): CPC 40.3%, LPC 37.6%, NDP 14.5%, GPC 6.5%
Southwest (3 seats): CPC 40%, LPC 26.1%, NDP 20.7%, GPC 9.1%
Toronto (2 seats): LPC 49.7%, CPC 29.3%, NDP 13.9, GPC 6.5

This gives us national increasese as follows based on the 2008 election:

CPC 17, LPC 10, NDP 3

Friday, April 09, 2010

Future Riding Breakdown

In order to understand what impact the proposed new ridings would have on the parliament of Canada, we need to know where the seats are going to be. A regional breakdown of where the seats are going helps. Thus, I've calculated out which regions (these are the regions that I've lifted for my projections) have earned new seats. First in Alberta which is expected to jump from 28 to 33:

Current: 8
Proposed: 10

Current: 8
Proposed: 10

Current: 12
Proposed: 13

British Columbia which is proposed to go from 36 to 43 seats breaks down as follows:

Current: 10
Proposed: 10

Lower Mainland:
Current: 7
Proposed: 9

Current: 13
Proposed: 16

Vancouver Island:
Current: 6
Proposed: 8

Ontario is much more complicated because of Northern Ontario. On a pure rep by pop basis Northern Ontario should lose about 3.5 of its current 11 seats (I include Parry Sound-Muskoka in the 11). Obviously, that's unlikely to happen as Northern Ontario has been consistently over represented for years. So if we take Northern Ontario at 11 seats we get the following breakdown for the new 124 seats:

Current: 15
Proposed: 18

Golden Horseshoe/905
Current: 34
Proposed: 44

Current: 11
Proposed: 11

Current: 24
Proposed: 27

Current: 22
Proposed: 24

If Northern Ontario were to lose 3 seats, the gainers would be the Golden Horseshoe/905 (2) and Southwestern (1).

Wednesday, April 07, 2010

The Role of Dr. House Will Be Played by Andrew Coyne

Andrew Coyne has a fascinating piece up at about the future of the Liberal Party. Coyne's diagnosis of the problems facing the LPC is pretty close to spot on, his prescription may kill the patient. Coyne makes a long list of suggestions about policy issues for the party to champion. As a member in good standing of the Liberal Party of Canada, I can't say I agree with most of Coyne's list. In fact, I'd be severely tempted to leave the party if it adopted this kind of agenda. Let's go down the list.
  • Democratic Reform: The biggest question on this one is of course, why? While there are certainly Liberal proponents of reform, the issue is not a vote-getter. Electoral reform is a terrible issue to try to run on if you are, as Mr. Coyne accurately points out, trying to differentiate yourself from the NDP and the Greens on the left. Senate reform is a bit of a political white whale in my mind. Finally, while leadership and nomination rules are important I don't believe in dictating to political parties how they run what are fundamentally internal matters.
  • Human Rights Commission and Hate Speech: This looks like it's straight out of the Tory playbook. To me the whole human rights commission controversy is all not-so-vaguely anti-Muslim. That's not a direction for any political party, particularly a party as committed to multiculturalism as the LPC. What's the tagline: If you like hate speech, Vote for Ezra Levant and the Liberal Party of Canada?
  • Agricultural Import Tariff Reduction: I'm actually all for this one philosophically. Tariffs on agriculture make food more expensive for Canadians and directly contribute to the starvation of the third world. Having said all that, a party without a whole bunch of rural seats outside of Atlantic Canada would be raked over the coals if it went after farmers. A Tory majority government is probably the only way this could even theoretically happen.
  • Flat Tax and Guaranteed Income: While this would be consistent with the LPC's history of being simultaneously right wing and left wing, I can't bring these two ideas together philosophically. More importantly, they're both bad ideas. In order to avoid bankrupting the government any flat tax would have to be imposed at a higher level than that of the lowest tax bracket. That means higher taxes for Canada's poor. Guaranteed income would help the poor but it is fundamentally inflationary and doesn't really encourage people to get a job.
  • CPP Privatization: Wait, so the LPC is supposed to take policy advice from George W. Bush? CPP is by all accounts in decent shape, especially relative to similar programs in other countries. If it ain't broke, don't fix it.
  • Carbon Tax: Um. NO! You can go through my archives and find my arguments about why I don't think it's great environmental policy. More importantly, if the point of all this is political revival, we know it's a dud politically.

Thursday, April 01, 2010

Tories Propose Major Government Expansion

Okay, so maybe that's a little unfair. Still, it's an interesting idea being proposed by the Minister of State for Democratic Reform. I criticized the Tories the last time they tried to change the way the house is distributed because they were essentially going to screw Ontario. They have seen the error of their ways with the new bill and Ontario will get a fair shake. However, the bill will see the House of Commons grow substantially with no end in sight. The major change here is switching out the old formula for determining how many seats a province gets with a new set maximum number of 108,000 people per riding. The difference is that by the time the new census is worked through (probably 2013) the house would add 23 seats more than it would have under the current system. The strange thing is that the arbitrary 108,000 number is significantly higher than the roughly 104,000 people per riding in Québec which was the benchmark of the old Tory bill.

It's still a lot of new seats and it does not bode particularly well for keeping the House in some sort of check going forward. To give you an idea, Ontario has grown at a rate of basically one whole seat per year over the past five years. If current growth rates hold, Québec may be entitled to 76 or 77 seats come the 2021 census. You could theoretically raise the 108,000 ceiling in the future to try to check the growth but that would in essence create the same problem that you had before whereby fast growing provinces are curbed while slower growing provinces hold on to their seats based on the constitutional provision that provinces aren't allowed to lose seats. It would be really nice if we could figure out a way to get rep by pop without having to constantly wedge seats into the House of Commons.
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