Sunday, October 18, 2015

Last Leg

Canadians expect a few things from government: a strong economy, participation on the world stage, and a fair and just society at home. Over nine years Stephen Harper has proven unable to provide these things as Prime Minister.

Canada's international reputation is a tattered shell of what it was. Once rightly thought of as reasonable and progressive in global politics, we are now the country that reneges on international agreements like Kyoto, denies refugees, and no longer has any clout or respect at the United Nations. How far we have come from Lester Pearson getting the Nobel Peace Prize for using UN peacekeepers to resolve an international crisis. I wonder if Canadians still wear a maple leaf when backpacking across the world.

Canadians have always counted on our common values for our sense of identity. Being Canadian is less about where we came from or what our ancestors did, and more about who we are and what we are like. Our sense of fairness, openness, tolerance: universal health care, embracing multiple cultures. Our Charter of Rights and Freedoms is admired across the world. We are proud of being a decent people. Stephen Harper has eroded this pride like a cancer. His willingness to use racial tactics to divide us against ourselves in the niqab debate and the "barbaric cultural practices" hotline are only the most recent examples. Canada is a less tolerant and more hateful country after nine years of Harper.

Yet somehow Harper is seen as a sound economist. A spate of endorsements, all from Postmedia-controlled papers, were variations of how the Conservatives are the only party capable of managing the economy. (As in the spring Alberta election, all Postmedia papers were directed to endorse the conservative leader. These unsigned endorsements read like forced confessions and usually contradict the opinions of the local journalists.) The Globe and Mail endorsed the Conservatives based on their fiscal record, while hilariously calling on Harper to resign.

It's time to kick this last leg of the stool out from Stephen Harper and the Conservatives. They are not good at managing our money. They are not good at creating growth, or exports, or jobs. This article shows Harper's dismal record in all economic areas as compared to all other Canadian prime ministers over the past several decades. The full report that this article is based on also shows how Canada has lagged most other countries during Harper's tenure. He has mismanaged the economy while being credited for the opposite.

On this last day of a long and ugly campaign, media with a conservative agenda will continue to perpetuate the myth of Harper's able management of the economy. But the independent media and free thinking voters should be aware of the facts, not just the popular assumption. Harper has destroyed our reputation and identity as Canadians, and created a climate of fear and hatred. Without the false perception of his financial competence, he doesn't have a leg to stand on.

Monday, October 12, 2015

Easy as ABC

With one week to go until the federal election, the "Anyone but Conservative" vote is shaping up. In Canada's multi-party, first past the post system, talk of strategic voting always comes up. Until a better electoral system is implemented (such as the preferential ballot), voters will have to decide how to make their vote count best. Strategic voting means trying to prevent particular party or candidate from winning by voting for someone who may not be your first choice. A vote for someone polling a distant third place is better spent on a candidate in a winnable position.

Most Canadians (about 62%) are voting to get rid of Harper; who gets voted in matters less. There are differences between the Liberal and NDP platforms, but they are close enough to each other and are both starkly different from the Conservatives (I'm substituting the Harper government's actions as their platform instead of what they promise they will do, because they tend to lie a lot). So, if most non-Conservative votes are transferable between the other parties, strategic voters should be monitoring the polls to avoid wasting votes on 3rd-place candidates with virtually no chance of winning.

In the wake of recent political change at the provincial level (an election also about turfing an out of touch and corrupt conservative regime that overstayed its welcome) a few Liberal and NDP candidates have realistic chances of success across Alberta. My own riding, Edmonton Riverbend, has never once elected a Liberal or New Democrat, but this could change with strategic voting. A poll from mid-September has the Conservatives leading the 2nd place NDP 44 to 34 percent, with the Liberal candidate trailing at 18 percent. An unscientific tally of lawn signs confirms the NDP is way ahead of the Liberals. If that same 62% of ABC voters swings from supporting a distant third candidate to the non-Conservative with a realistic shot at winning, Edmonton Riverbend could elect its first progressive MP. Two other local ridings (Edmonton Centre and Edmonton Manning) have very similar breakdowns.

Ali Kashani did a great job of identifying sixteen ridings across Canada where NDP-Liberal vote-splitting threatens to give Conservatives victory. In addition, in all ridings - an even eight apiece for Liberals and NDP - the third place candidate is clearly behind the frontrunners. Dr. Kashani calls on the NDP and Liberal parties to cooperate for their own mutual benefit, by standing down in half these ridings in order to win the other eight. Despite the obvious strategic logic, it is unlikely either party would consider doing so. But individual voters certainly could affect the same result by voting strategically.

Canadians who want to heave Steve should not nitpick about minor differences between Liberals and New Democrats. Find a local poll, or simply count lawn signs, and figure out who the two top contenders are. Then vote for the one who isn't Conservative. It's that easy.

Monday, May 25, 2015

Cabin Life

We're preparing our cabin for sale. I was out there about a month ago to check things out and everything looked good. Then I went out last weekend and this had happened:

Probably due to the big snowfall we got the day after the election. That tree could not have fallen in a better direction.

I went out there yesterday to clean things up. Here's how things look after an afternoon with two chainsaws:

That wood should be ready to chop in two or three years. A present for the next owner.

Friday, May 1, 2015

Better Than Fear

It's crunch time in the 2015 Alberta election (#abvote for Twitter enthusiasts). Six surveys have reported over the past 24 hours (aggregated here), all with similar results: NDP hovering around 40% and flirting with a majority, Wildrose in second place in the mid-twenty percent range, and PC third in the low twenties (one poll did have PC edging out Wildrose). And yet there is skepticism about these numbers that goes beyond healthy. The lesson from 2012 was that polls are wrong and never count the PCs out.

Heading into the final weekend before Tuesday's vote, this is where the polls have finished, the fear is mongered, and the undecideds decide:
“When I was with Redford, we made the decision to portray Danielle Smith and Wildrose as extreme,” said Stephen Carter, who worked for the former premier as campaign manager and chief of staff. “People are motivated more by fear than opportunity. The hyper-engaged know how they’re going to vote. The less engaged make their decision in last 72 hours to 72 seconds before marking their ballot. It is those people who can decide an election.” (source)
I believe the polls in 2012 were mostly accurate, but did not capture this successful 72-hour campaign of fear. Here is a poll tracker for Edmonton right up to the April 23rd election: notice the change of direction at the last minute for the Conservatives at the expense of the Liberals:

And the same chart for Calgary. The trend here is even clearer over several days:

The only error from the days before the 2012 vote is the pollsters did not correctly extrapolate the trend, but called the election as if the final poll numbers would not keep changing. They did.

Now at the same point in 2015, the trend is defintely not the PC's friend:

All the momentum is with the NDP, and Wildrose is holding steady. In 2012 the trends continued, in 2015 they would have to reverse course for the PCs to have any chance at government.

The fact that this is a three-way race means trying to scare voters away from the NDP could drive them to Wildrose, and vice-versa. In 2012 the PCs had a fairly moderate and likeable leader in Alison Redford (as far as we knew - the Sky Palace and fake airplane manifests were yet to come), but today the party is led by an old-boy banker who comes across as an arrogant asshole. The PCs have had the puck in their own end this entire campaign.

But the biggest difference today, and why I think the NDP will form government, is that people are no longer voting out of fear. We did that last time and it didn't work out. Had the Conservative party actually governed responsibly and without scandal or corruption, many of the Liberal and Wildrose votes they scared loose last time might be available to them again. Instead, people are simply fed up, and the prevailing emotion is rage. The prospect of a bunch of commies or rednecks in charge isn't nearly as frightening as another few years of entitled, unaccountable, corrupt Progressive Conservative mismanagement. That's how bad things have become. These people need to be punished, not given yet another chance. We're voting a government out, not in. It's more about the crush than the orange.

Maybe next time we'll be able to vote out of hope for the future. But in 2015, and with apologies to Jack Layton, anger is better than fear.

Monday, April 20, 2015

Spring Cleaning

Rachel Notley did something very smart yesterday - she claimed the legacy of the patron saint of Alberta politics, Peter Lougheed. She praised Lougheed's ideas such as corporations paying their fair share of taxes, and acting like owners of our natural resources (and charging accordingly). Considered "extreme" by the current version of the Progressive Conservative party that Lougheed once led, these ideas now form part of the NDP platform while the PCs seem to have lost their vision.

In the 2012 election, the imminent threat of a Wildrose government forced a lot of progressive voters to support the PCs. Campaign Manager Stephen Carter recently admitted the PC strategy to scare moderate voters away from Danielle Smith in the last few days and hours before the vote, which somewhat explains the polls. What is different in 2015 is this is a three-horse race, and similar tactics to portray Wildrose as extremists may end up driving voters to the NDP instead. Also different in 2015 is three years of almost uninterrupted government scandal and incompetence, with a recent spate of undemocratic dealings in their own candidate nominations. The cherry on top was the budget which raised taxes, cut services and still managed to run a deficit, alienating everyone.

The status quo is not nearly as appealing as it was three years ago. The vibe is different now. People can nitpick the polling numbers and methodologies, but we're halfway through the campaign and the aura of inevitability, of invincibility, is gone from the PC party. Long-time party loyalists are quitting. Calgary newspapers are attacking the PCs like never before. Wildrose, having lost its photogenic leader and two-thirds of its members only a few months ago and now led by a virtual unknown, is in first place. Just how angry and disillusioned does a conservative voter have to be to choose that chaos over a traditional party?

The NDP are working hard to present themselves as a moderate option (which they are: a centrist party anywhere else in Canada is considered leftist here) and are the most organized of the non-dynasty parties. We saw what happened four years ago when a national party let go of its more extreme ideas, presented itself as a reasonable alternative, and chose a charismatic leader: Jack Layton tripled the NDP seat count in Ottawa. Voters in Edmonton and Calgary recently elected young, progressive mayors. An urban-led Alberta orange crush does not seem so unthinkable all of a sudden.

True progressive conservatives are likely saddened and disappointed by what their party has become lately under Redford and now Prentice. After four decades in power, it resembles an authoritarian monster captured by corporations and more interested in getting elected than actually governing well. Had they been faithful to Lougheed's vision, the province would be a much more prosperous, free and democratic place to live. (And much richer, too. Read this and weep, Albertans.) It seems that the party is beyond repair and won't be able to voluntarily fix itself, especially if dissenting voices continue to be silenced.

The federal conservatives rebuilt themselves after Kim Campbell's annihilation. The liberals tore everything down following Michael Ignatieff's catastrophic leadership and are on the road back to relevance. Perhaps an electoral obliteration under Prentice is the only way for the progressive conservative party to truly clean house and renew their ideas and culture. A new coat of paint probably won't do it - an extreme renovation is required. Somehow I think Peter Lougheed would agree.

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Dr. Strange Bedfellows or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Wildrose

The Progressive Conservative party's 43-year stranglehold in Alberta might actually be coming to an end. The March budget was supposed to be so radical that it would require a new mandate. Although the actual budget wasn't as bad as advertised, it still provided cover for Jim Prentice to call an election anyway (and sidestep his own party's fixed-date law in doing so). But it was clear that this was a naked political calculation trying to catch the opposition unprepared with an unnecessary snap election. As of February all opposition parties were in some state of disarray: NDP having recently transitioned leaders, the Liberals with nobody in charge and losing candidates, and the Wildrose decimated by the defection of their leader and a majority of their members.

The 2012 election was a very near miss for the Conservatives, where Wildrose were in first place right up until the weekend before the vote. The pollsters took a lot of blame, but I believe the polls were mostly accurate and did not capture a last-minute shift as progressive voters started to realize that four years of Premier Danielle Smith was about to actually happen. That option seemed worse than a pre-scandal Redford government.

The 2014 by-elections following Prentice's coronation signalled a shift may be coming. Even though the PCs won all four seats, only Prentice himself won easily. In Calgary-West the margin was a slim 315 votes, and a strong second-place finish by the Alberta Party split the vote in Calgary-Elbow. Also interesting was Edmonton-Whitemud, a conservative stronghold with a star candidate: Stephen Mandel won, but the PC vote share dropped from 60% in 2012 to 42% while the NDP more than doubled from 9% to 22%.

And then came Danielle Smith's own nomination battle just a couple of weeks ago, with a very unexpected result. Highwood PC members expressed their anger by voting Smith out as their candidate. The event had a different feel to it, as if going off-script. Perhaps in 2015 nothing is inevitable in Alberta politics.

The Progressive Conservatives have been in power unchallenged for far too long, and have become arrogant and unaccountable. The need to change governments has never been so obvious. In 2012, fear of the Wildrose won out over anger at the Tories, but in 2015 the desire for change might win the day. Currently the NDP look poised to win in Edmonton and a few other urban seats, Calgary is up in the air, and the Wildrose could take most of the rest. Today's numbers from show no party likely to win the 44 seats needed to form a majority (Wildrose 35 / PC 24 / NDP 23). Any two of these three could join forces to form a minority government. Given the bad blood I have a hard time picturing the Wildrose and PCs cooperating long enough to form a coalition, even though politically they are closer to each other than either is to the NDP.

But what about a Wildrose minority supported by the NDP?

Progressive Conservatives benefit from being positioned politically in the centre (for Alberta that is). Far right-wing voters fear the NDP, left-wing voters fear the Wildrose, and the thought of either being in power usually drives those votes to the PC devil they know. But a left-right minority government might balance the crazy just enough to allay fears for one election. The electorate would know that the Wildrose would not allow massive new taxes, and that the NDP would pull the plug before letting health care get slashed or any "lake of fire" social programs were passed. That might be enough yin-yang for Albertans to go all the way this time instead of getting cold feet at the last minute.

I will be voting NDP because in my riding that is the best chance to unseat the conservative incumbent, and I'm naturally on the left end of the spectrum anyway. But if the Wildrose candidate had the best shot at beating PC, that's where I would park my vote this election. For me personally, a change - any change - is the top priority this time around.

A Wildrose government? What the hell - bring it on.