Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Is Bill C-12 About To Die of Old Age?

While the house is still on vacation, it is not, for once, prorogued. That means there are still bills waiting for them when they get back. One of those bills is Bill C-12 which the Tories are calling the Democratic Representation Act. This is the one that would give increased representation in the house to large provinces like Ontario, Alberta and BC which have seen large population increases. Interestingly, the language of the bill if not amended could make the bill completely ineffective for 10 years if not passed soon.

The readjustment of the seats in the House of Commons happens after each decennial census (the ones ending in 1). That's not new. However, the Democratic Representation Act is only to take effect following the first decennial census completed AFTER its passage. In other words, if parliament doesn't pass the bill soon, it would only be effective after 2021 census. Of course, the Tories could amend the bill to fix this problem, but don't bet on it. More likely, they'll use the excuse to shelve the bill and come back with an even less effective plan that appease Qu├ębec more.

Friday, January 14, 2011

Strange Weekend News

Quick run down of things catching my eye this weekend:
  • Revolution in an Arab North African country... this could be really good or well, awful
  • On a lighter note, archaeologists appear to have found Noah's stash. No I don't think this is actually a biblical cave but it is eerily close to Mount Ararat.
  • John Stewart's pick for the RNC Chair has won election. Frankly, this may be a poisoned chalice. The RNC hasn't been able to fundraise effectively for about five years. The GOP's inability to get cash may be the most under-reported political news story out there.
  • I didn't know it was possible to not be able to sell real estate in Vancouver.
  • Is it me or is Rob Ford starting to like the taste of gravy, or at least the sound of trains?
  • With the French Socialist party a fading force and Sarkozy increasingly unpopular, this is scary.
  • Andrew Coyne wants the government to track your every movement. Apparently, Big Brother is way better than a little bit of traffic.
  • When you cry wolf too often, you tend to lose some sheep. I'm increasing convinced that the World Health Organization may be a detriment to humanity.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Walks Like A Duck, Talks Like A Duck, Statistically: Chicken

I turned on The Agenda on TVO last night and saw U of T prof David Hulchanski talking about his much publicized report on what he perceives as a growing income disparity in Toronto. It reminded me personally of why I never pursued post-graduate work and also how much I disagree with his report. Dr. Hulchanski received a mandate from a poverty-activist type place to do a report on income disparity in Toronto. Shockingly, the report says there is a problem and its getting worse! AHHHH! Sound the alarms! Lou Dobbs was right! The middle class is dying... sorry... I forgot to disable the panic button.

The problem with Dr. Hulchanski's report is that the numbers are rigged in his favour. Every elementary school child is taught the difference between a median and a mean. That child could tell the Dr. Hulchanski that a bunch of very big numbers in a group can really throw off a mean. That's essentially what has happened in Toronto. It's not really that there are a whole host of poorer Torontonians, in fact if you ran the numbers a different way you might even say people are generally a lot more comfortable than they were forty years ago. No, the biggest difference is how much money is being at the made at the top. According to the report, the top 20% earned about 55k per capita in the 1970's and 104k per capita in the 2000's. That growth in the earnings of the top percentages of Canadians is not exactly news to anyone. It completely distorts the numbers on the rest of the report. For his 70's baseline, the top group, those earning more than 40% above mean wages, was about 13% of the total pie. For his sky is falling modern numbers, the same group represents 36% of the total pie. The number of people represented in this group has gone from 7% to 13%. In other words, this group has about a 50% larger disproportionate effect on the mean today vs the baseline.

If you look at the report, the middle class has primarily eroded into the group 20 to 40% below the mean. That group in 1970 when, remember, there was likely only one person working in the household, was $22,300 per person. The so called middle class number was $29,800. Now, when there are likely two people working in a household, the number is $28,000. The question is as a household, would you rather have 30k a year in 1970 or 55k a year in 2005? While the 30k forty years ago is probably preferable, it isn't as much as a slam dunk as the authors of the report would like you to think.

Taking percentages off a mean can do really strange things. For the final graphs, the ones plastered all over the newspapers, they took three groups: people within 20% of the mean, people 20% or more above the mean and people 20% or more below the mean. So what does that actually equate to in dollar-terms? Your average middle class household straddle the narrow band between $32,500 and $48,840. Anyone making more than 49k is sent into the upper class and anyone making less than $32,500 is all of a sudden a pauper. Remember: this is per capita. So, if you are a successful professional making $150,000/annum and you support a spouse and three children alone on that income: your household is in the dreaded "third city" because per capita your household only makes 30k. By the same count a single TTC driver making 50K is in the first city. When your statistics are yielding that kind of crazy result, it's time to consider changing your methodology. Maybe household income would have been a better measuring stick? Maybe a median would have proved more accurate? I am generally pretty down on modern academia and this report only emphasizes the problem. Any system where this kind of statistical manipulation can not only pass as legitimate but be promoted and celebrated is fundamentally broken.

Saturday, January 01, 2011

10 Events to Watch in 2011

Not sure what 2011 holds in store for political geeks? Here's a quick rundown:

10. Prairie Punch-ups: Manitoba and Saskatchewan will both go to the polls this fall. Premier Brad Wall will face the voters in November trying to win re-election for the Saskatchewan Party. Wall's popularity and power seem to be at all time highs making an NDP win here highly unlikely. Over in Manitoba, Greg Selinger, who may be the least known premier in the country, will try to win his first election after taking over for now Ambassador Gary Doer. The NDP may have a tougher test on their hands this time around as early polling shows the PC's under Hugh McFadyen ahead. There is a long list of first ministers who have taken over while their party was in power and have subsequently lost their first election. Selinger's name might get added to the list in October.

9. The King is Dead, Long Live the Queen?: Danny Williams made a national name for himself as premier, his successor has big shoes to fill. They won't have a long time to work out the blisters as Newfoundland and Labrador head to the polls on October 11th. With Kathy Dunderdale seeking the PC leadership, there is a possibility of having an election where the leaders of all three major parties are led by a woman. If it happens, Chantal Hebert will probably complain that Newfies rejected two female leaders.

8. Rand Paul Turns Into a Pumpkin at Midnight: The Tea Party will have its biggest test early this year as Tea Party sweethearts like Ricky Rubio and Rand Paul will have the opportunity to literally stop the US government from taking on more debt. The Congress actually has to pass a law in order to raise the debt ceiling. A filibuster from Paul or Rubio could theoretically derail the US government and much of the world's economy. Governing can do some strange things to principles and this vote will put it to the test.

7. Endless Federal Election Speculation: You can make an excellent case that now is as good a time as any to hold a federal election. You can also make an excellent case that there's absolutely no point in holding a federal election right now. Which one of these arguments holds currency with Jack Layton and Michael Ignatieff this year will determine whether or not we have an election. With four provincial and two territorial elections scheduled for the fall, expect the spring budget debates to be the focal point of the speculation.

6. Can a Sudanese House Divided, Stand? Southern Sudan will hold a referendum in 2011 to decide whether or not to become independent of Khartoum. The answer is widely expected to be yes. The bigger question is would such a result be accepted peacefully by the government in Khartoum. If the answer to that question is no, the dormant civil war may erupt anew. Why should you care? Well, the price of gas will likely rise if the people in the south vote yes.

5. AKP, 1,2,3?: June 12, 2011 is the date that Turkey will elect a new government. More realistically, they will re-elect the current AKP government led by Prime Minister Erdogan to a third consecutive term. Turkey's new natural governing party looks to be finally free of any constitutional opposition to it governing. The AKP or Justice and Development Party is on the one hand in favour of a more public place for Islam in Turkish society and on the other hand a major proponent of accession into the EU. Expect the future of both those burning issues to be discussed at length in the run-up to this vote.

4. 1 and 2 and 3 Canadians: Yes, 2011 is a census year. That means the first ever voluntary long form census. Oh the statisticians are going to be angry. Perhaps, more consequentially the clock is officially ticking on the Tories plan to get the House of Commons to look more like Canada. Elections Canada is going to start redrawing electoral boundaries once they have the 2011 census numbers. The process of getting the data and then turning it into electoral districts usually takes a couple of years. Presumably the Tories have until the census data is tabulated to get the house in order.

3. The Politically Windy City: Why is a mayor's race in Chicago so interesting? Well, first of all nobody named Daley is running. Second of all, former White House chief of staff Rahm Emanuel is running in his old boss' adopted hometown. Finally, competitive elections in Chicago always bring out the worst in politics. This should be a bloodbath.

2. Dalton's Swansong: The obituaries are already being written for the Liberal government of Dalton McGuinty. However, the voters don't get a chance to officially kill the government until October. Tim Hudak certainly has to be the favourite at this early point but campaigns do usually matter. Just ask John Tory. Hudak is playing his cards close to the vest at this point. It will be interesting if he is ever forced to show just how right wing a hand he really has. Expect a lot of Mike Harris references from the Grits.

1. Sarah Palin's Iowa: Yes, technically the Iowa Caucuses are in 2012 but most of the campaigning will take place this year. Sarah Palin will likely be involved which will ramp up the media coverage to an unprecedented level. To my mind, Iowa is a must-win for the former Alaska governor as she may end up an afterthought in New Hampshire. There are other potential candidates beyond Palin, lots of them. How many of them can find any oxygen with media darling Palin in the race, is anyone's guess. Haley Barbour, Mitt Romney, Mike Huckabee, Tim Pawlenty, Rick Santorum, Newt Gingrich, Bobby Jindal, John Kyl and even Ricky Rubio are on the long list of presidential hopefuls. CNN may need to build a bigger stage for the early debates.
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