Monthly Archives: October, 2015

The major flaw in the Vote Together approach – can you trust the polls?

For LeadNow, the organization behind the Vote Together initiative operating in swing ridings across the country, the decision of who to vote for is straightforward: if you want to stop Stephen Harper from being reelected, vote for the local candidate with the best chance of beating the Conservatives.

To that end, they’ve mobilized a small army of volunteers, and nearly ninety thousand people in key ridings have pledged to vote according to their recommendations on Election Day.

Now, regular readers of The Alfalfafield will know that I have my issues with “strategic” voting – its inherently centrist bias is well-known, and it’s a woefully inadequate solution to the systemic problems with our political system. But today, I’d like to put forth a purely procedural criticism of LeadNow’s effort, which is surely the most well-organized strategic voting initiative in Canada’s history.

It’s a simple question: why should we trust their recommendations?

In order to ascertain which ridings are the closest and which candidates have the greatest prospects for defeating the Conservative Party, LeadNow has commissioned a series of riding-level polls. On the basis of these polls, they’ve issued recommendations so far for sixteen key ridings, with more recommendations to come in the final week of the campaign. So, for example, in the neighbouring Vancouver Island ridings of Nanaimo-Ladysmith and Cowichan-Malahat-Langford, LeadNow recommends that strategic voters vote for the NDP, on the basis of local polling which shows that party’s candidates in the best position to win.

Except that there’s a small problem with LeadNow’s numbers – they aren’t accurate. Continue Reading

This week in Electionland: TPP fails to make an impact, is still important anyway

Last week I typed my weekly summary of the election news amid the ongoing TPP negotiations, and rumours were flying that a deal was imminently going to be announced, or, alternatively, that talks were irrevocably breaking down.

As it turned out, neither rumour was true. It wasn’t until mid-morning the next day that exhausted negotiators and trade ministers trumpeted the successful conclusion of the secretive deal.

The focus of my piece last week was the parties’ and media’s divided focus between issues of substance, like the TPP, and race-baiting sideshows like the niqab debate. It’s unfortunate but true that race-baiting sells more newspapers, drives more traffic, and quite likely mobilizes more voters than does in-depth discussions of trade policy, and so it was no surprise to see the initial fanfare surrounding the TPP’s completion quickly give way to yet more discussion of the niqab, with the Prime Minister telling the CBC’s Rosemary Barton that the Conservative Party is looking into proposing a ban on public servants wearing niqabs. The statement came in an interview which purportedly focussed on the economy and the TPP’s passage, and yet Harper’s off-hand comment dominated a few news cycles and provoked even more hysteria and outrage.

And so while Thomas Mulcair still insistently points out his party’s nominal opposition to the deal (about which more later), and while Harper frequently mentions it as a major accomplishment, the TPP’s impact on the campaign so far seems to have been negligible. It’s been largely absent from the leading headlines of the day, and if its passage impacted anybody’s poll numbers, it did so in such a minor way as to be unnoticeable.

Since then, we’ve learned relatively little about the actual terms of the agreement – but the little we’ve learned has been dispiriting. Wikileaks managed to get its hands on what appears to be the final version of the chapter on intellectual property, which is every bit as horrendous as critics had feared. OpenMedia described it in almost apocalyptic terms:

Internet freedom group OpenMedia warns that the leak confirms Internet advocates greatest fears, including: new provisions that would induce Internet Service Providers to block websites without a court ruling, 20-year copyright term extensions, and new criminal penalties for the circumvention of digital locks. Reacting to the leak, OpenMedia’s Digital Rights Specialist Meghan Sali had this to say:

“Canadians are going to see their democratically-created laws over-written in favour of laws that benefit giant, U.S. media conglomerates and censor the Internet,” Sali said. “And while the government has been busy trying to convince Canadians of the so-called benefits of this pact, they’ve silently traded away our digital future behind closed doors.”

Meanwhile, the costs to Canadian businesses embedded in the deal are still shrouded in mystery, although a couple of preemptive bailouts of major industries don’t bode particularly well for the country’s economic prospects under this new economic order. Prime Minister Harper promised an unconditional bailout of the dairy industry in a shameless attempt to buy the votes of farmers; they’re guaranteed to be compensated for losses of any kind, not just losses resulting from the implementation of this sick excuse for a trade deal. This bailout is certain to be embraced by many dairy farmers, given the massive collapse in Canadians’ consumption of milk over the past two decades. What Harper’s dairy bailout accomplishes, aside from political damage control, is essentially a massive subsidization of an increasingly unpopular industry – one which has a surprising amount of political clout, as animal rights activist and farmer Yan Roberts points out: Continue Reading

Whistleblowers under attack – RCMP launches investigation into Dept. of Citizenship leaks

In the past few weeks, there have been a handful of high-profile scandals based on leaks from within the Department of Citizenship and Immigration which have reflected poorly upon the Conservative Party. Yesterday, we found out that the RCMP has launched a criminal investigation into the leaks.

Before I dig into how profoundly frightening that is, let’s take a look at the leaks in question.

Although it’s unclear which stories precisely the investigation is focussing on, two major investigative reports are likely candidates.

The first is a CBC story from September 23 which revealed that a new passport design system had led to at least 1,500 flawed passports being issued, and that political pressure led to that system’s implementation ahead of schedule:

Internal records from Citizenship and Immigration Canada reveal the processing program was rushed into operation on May 9, 2015, despite dire warnings from senior officials that it was not ready and could present new security risks.

One government source told CBC/Radio-Canada there are concerns that passports produced under the new system could wind up in the wrong hands.

The report was a major downer for the Conservatives, who have made making Canadians more safe a centrepiece of their campaign. They spent the day in damage-control mode. Immigration Minister Chris Alexander, still reeling from his early-September embarrassment at the hands of Rosie Barton on Power and Politics, hid behind his spokesperson, who issued a vaguely worded statement insistently saying nothing much in particular. (‘”The Canadian passport is, and will remain, one of the most secure travel documents in the world,” said Nancy Caron in an emailed response. “CIC has been moving towards an increasingly integrated, modernized and centralized working environment across many of its business lines, including the passport program.”‘) Foreign Affairs Minister Rob Nicholson was also deployed to make reassuring noises without specifically commenting on the allegations. After weeks of being relentlessly attacked over their handling of the refugee crisis, the Conservative Party was no doubt frustrated to have to respond to yet another scandal on the immigration file.

Their frustration must have been compounded earlier this week when the refugee issue returned to the forefront of campaign coverage on the strength of a Globe and Mail article detailing interference by the Prime Minister’s Office into the refugee application process: Continue Reading

The inadequacy of “strategic” voting

It’s one of the most unpredictable aspects of this election, something which may confound all the pollsters and deliver a grossly counterintuitive result come October 20th. The intense and well-deserved animus that people of most political persuasions feel towards Stephen Harper has led to the most massive strategic voting campaign in Canadian history, with multiple organizations working with tens of thousands of people at the riding level to try to tweak the results and deny the Conservative Party victory in close races.

Although the concept of an “Anybody but Conservative” campaign is nothing new – IIRC, we had one of them last year right here in Ontario – the dynamic of this year’s organized Vote-Against effort is complicated by the unique balance of power between the federal parties.

In the past, these strategic voting campaigns have been quite straightforward: Conservative Leader Richie Q. McUnionbuster, known for his outrageously anti-poor, anti-woman, anti-minority, etc., views, produced intense repulsion and loathing amongst comparatively decent folks, who then rallied behind Liberal Leader Quentin “Smiley” Goodenoff, known for his moderately anti-poor, anti-woman, anti-minority, etc., views, on the grounds that he was the Only Way To Stop The Conservatives. Anybody who desired a more progressive government was told to Fall In Line, and Not This Time, because we Have To Stop The Conservatives.

This time around, of course, the NDP are serious contenders – though not so much as they were just a few weeks ago – the whole situation is all of a sudden much more complicated. Behind whom should relatively decent anti-Harper voters rally? The situation was somewhat more straightforward in the spring and early summer, with the NDP riding high in the polls and the Liberals lingering in a distant third place. Many political commentators – myself included – assumed that the NDP would simply take the place of the Liberals in the equation, right down to the strained middle-of-the-road something-for-everybody policies that have characterized past Liberal campaigns. But with all three parties within striking distance of each other, there is no one single standard-bearer for the ABC crowd.

And not coming to some kind of decision is potentially dicey. Canadian political history is positively littered with examples of elections in which the Liberals and NDP split the vote and allowed the Conservatives to win – the most notorious (and relevant) example of which is likely the 1988 election, fought principally over the issue of free trade. Both the Liberals and the NDP were vociferously opposed to the recently negotiated Free Trade Agreement between Canada and the United States, with Liberal John Turner vowing to literally rip the agreement to pieces if elected. And Canadian voters broadly endorsed their anti-free trade agenda – the two parties combined netted around 55% of the popular vote. However, our retrograde British parliamentary system being what it is, Brian Mulroney’s Conservatives won a commanding majority and went ahead with the FTA, which later evolved into NAFTA, and which, if Harper is reelected, will quite likely be replaced by the TPP.

More recently, of course, we have the example of the 2011 election, in which the Harper Conservatives won a majority government by the slimmest of margins. If a mere six thousand people had voted differently in a few dozen ridings, the balance of power would have lain with the opposition, but instead we’ve all stuck been on the Omnibus to Ruin for the past four years. Continue Reading

Strategic voting and how it helps the capitalists win

Hello friends and patient readers!

I’m still away on vacation today – I’m setting this post up on Sunday evening – so this is another rerun of a post from several months ago on the subject of strategic voting, which I feel is important to reiterate as we get closer to Election Day.

I’ll be back to my regular schedule later on this week, and if this week has been like every other week of this interminable election campaign, I’ll have a lot to catch up on.

Thanks for reading, and enjoy! Continue Reading

Getting “left behind” on the TPP is fine by me – we shouldn’t buy into this race to the bottom

Hello friends and patient readers!

I’m on vacation with my partner for the next few days. Much as I’d love to be reacting to the latest news on the TPP, you (and I) are gonna have to wait until later in the week.

In the meanwhile, I thought I’d re-run this post from July which explores the deal in broad outlines – feel free to share it widely on social media as a primer for folks who are new to this issue!

In terms of more up-to-date commentary on this Frankenstein deal, I’m gonna pass the mic to Joseph Stiglitz, who’s been a vocal critic of the new trade regime, analyzing just how the Investor-State Dispute Settlement (ISDS) mechanism could wind up biting TPP member nations in the ass:

International corporate interests tout ISDS as necessary to protect property rights where the rule of law and credible courts are lacking. But that argument is nonsense. The US is seeking the same mechanism in a similar mega-deal with the European Union, the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership, even though there is little question about the quality of Europe’s legal and judicial systems.

To be sure, investors – wherever they call home – deserve protection from expropriation or discriminatory regulations. But ISDS goes much further: The obligation to compensate investors for losses of expected profits can and has been applied even where rules are nondiscriminatory and profits are made from causing public harm.

Philip Morris International is currently prosecuting such cases against Australia and Uruguay (not a TPP partner) for requiring cigarettes to carry warning labels. Canada, under threat of a similar suit, backed down from introducing a similarly effective warning label a few years back.

Given the veil of secrecy surrounding the TPP negotiations, it is not clear whether tobacco will be excluded from some aspects of ISDS. Either way, the broader issue remains: Such provisions make it hard for governments to conduct their basic functions – protecting their citizens’ health and safety, ensuring economic stability, and safeguarding the environment.

Imagine what would have happened if these provisions had been in place when the lethal effects of asbestos were discovered. Rather than shutting down manufacturers and forcing them to compensate those who had been harmed, under ISDS, governments would have had to pay the manufacturers not to kill their citizens. Taxpayers would have been hit twice – first to pay for the health damage caused by asbestos, and then to compensate manufacturers for their lost profits when the government stepped in to regulate a dangerous product.

Here’s the main post; thanks for reading and check back later this week for more up-to-date reactions! Continue Reading

This week in Electionland: The TPP and the niqab fight for centre stage

As we enter the final two weeks of the longest election campaign in living memory, it’s worth taking a moment to reflect on a stunning contrast.

For the past four days, negotiators from the twelve nations participating in the super-secretive Trans Pacific Partnership have been feverishly bargaining in Atlanta, Georgia, straining to get a deal done. As The Alfalfafield goes to the presses for the day, the rumours are that a deal is close, but we’ve heard these rumours before many times. (For those readers who aren’t up to speed on the TPP, here’s my summary from back in July, as well as more coverage from The Alfalfafield on the subject.)

The plain truth of the matter is that until every detail is worked out, everything could fall apart – and that’s my abiding hope. However, the steady drumbeat of upbeat rumours and selective leaks from insiders suggests that the principal negotiators want to at least create the impression of progress. The Japanese trade minister has apparently made it clear that he’s leaving Atlanta tonight for a long-scheduled meeting in Turkey tomorrow, so there’s a sense of now-or-never-ness to the whole affair. It’s preposterous that trade ministers who have in many cases gone several nights without sleep are being pressured to make concessions that will affect the lives of hundreds of millions of people and swell the profits of major international corporations on the basis of a man’s need to catch his flight on time, but such is the reality of the TPP. When you take a step back and look at it, the whole process is damned illogical.

After months of being a softly-simmering back burner story, over the past few weeks the TPP has stepped into the spotlight of Canadian news. But as I wrote earlier this week, the media’s focus has been narrowly focussed on the two under-negotiation issues of changes to Canada’s system of supply management in dairy farming and restrictions on the sourcing of auto parts, with precious little mention of the deeply problematic aspects of the agreement which have been public knowledge for quite some time: Continue Reading

Jacob Kearey-Moreland on food justice, party politics, and strategic voting

Regular readers of The Alfalfafield will know that I’ve been pretty disenchanted with the level of discourse spouted by most candidates in the ongoing federal election.

There’s an artificiality to the talking points and carefully calibrated messages rolled out by each of the major parties which is positively grating, regardless of how much I may agree or disagree with the policies that are being advocated.

And far too often, I’m left wondering why we’re spending so much time talking about such narrow issues that matter to so few people.

Which is why I’ve taken so much enjoyment in keeping tabs on the campaign of Jacob Kearey-Moreland, an unlikely Independent candidate in Simcoe North.

I first met Jacob at Occupy Toronto in 2011. (I can’t bring myself to follow the journalistic convention and refer to Jacob by his last name – he’s very much a first-name kind of guy. Even his election lawn signs say “Vote Jacob”!) I remember hearing him strumming his ukulele and singing a song about gardens, and going on to talk about his plans to create an organization called Occupy Gardens, which would take public gardens and use them to grow free food for their communities, and I remember being skeptical.

But sure enough, Occupy Gardens was a big success in the growing season of 2012. In 2013, I sat on the organizing committee for Toronto’s May Day rally, and so did Jacob, on behalf of Occupy Gardens. They were planning their most ambitious planting to date: a People’s Garden on the north lawn of Queen’s Park, just outside of the Ontario legislative building. It was, for me at least, the high point of that year’s May Day festivities. The planting was a rousing success; a large section of the lawn was dug up and several kinds of seeds were sowed. Jacob led everybody in a song with his then-omnipresent ukulele.

(For those curious about the fate of the project: The organization carefully tended the garden over the summer and fall. Then, just days before a long-planned and well-publicized harvest party, Parliamentary officers destroyed the garden and threw away the entire crop. It was hard to see their actions as anything but deliberately spiteful.)

Since I first met Jacob, he’s become a regular columnist for the Orillia Packet and Times, his hometown newspaper, on issues related to food justice and activism. Though our paths don’t often cross, I’ve found his online commentary on issues to be insightful and on-point.

I caught up with Jacob over the phone earlier this week to talk about his candidacy, and he did a lot to reinforce my positive perceptions of his candidacy when he started out our conversations by saying, “There’s a number of issues that aren’t really being talked about because these issues affect people who are unlikely to vote.” Continue Reading

“#PeopleLikeNenshi”, “old stock Canadians”, and plausibly deniable racism

In 1963, George Wallace, Governor of Alabama and dark-horse Presidential candidate, made his position on one of the major political issues of the day crystal-clear, saying, “I draw the line in the dust and toss the gauntlet before the feet of tyranny, and I say segregation now, segregation tomorrow, segregation forever!”

You could get away with that kind of thing back then – equating integration with tyranny and explicitly embracing a violently racist policy.

These days, a politician who openly expressed this kind of view would be unable to command much mainstream support. Even Wallace was unable to ever expand his political base out of the American South. But racist politicians haven’t disappeared; they’ve just learned how to make plausibly-deniable racist statements.

The Harper Conservatives’ 2015 campaign has been a master-class in subtly coded racism. And though we who follow these stories closely may think their sneakily derogatory statements aren’t gaining traction, it’s easy to be in a bit of a social media bubble on this issue. If you’re reading this, you’re probably relatively young, and you’re probably living in a city, and you’re therefore probably not considered a likely Conservative voter. When Conservative candidates say these are-they-or-aren’t-they-being-racist kind of things, they’re not talking to you.

To take the most recent example, currently trending on Twitter: Earlier this week, Calgary Mayor Naheed Nenshi did an interview with the slimy Evan Solomon on the ongoing niqab furor. (ICYMI, here’s my post from last week on the issue.) Nenshi, in typically blunt fashion, didn’t hold back on the question of Conservative dog-whistle statements. On the question of the niqab, he said, “This is unbelievably dangerous stuff. It’s not fun anymore. And you know, I spoke with a group of – I spoke with a group of mayors and councillors from all over Alberta last week, and in my speech, with all these people from small-town Alberta, I stood up and I said this is disgusting and it’s time for us to say stop it. It’s time for us to say this is enough.”

He also spoke of the danger of trying to politicize the niqab, saying that the message that it sends to Muslim youth is that they will never be truly accepted as Canadians, at exactly the same time that they are being targeted by “deradicalization” campaigns that aim to convince them of the exact opposite. And speaking on the tenuous nature of multiculturalism, he even got kinda poetic: Continue Reading

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