Sunday, July 08, 2007

Cherniak is Wrong

Cherniak, a right-leaning Liberal, posted “The NDP is Sick”. His post was short on verifiable facts, riddled with anecdotes, and unlikely to convince anyone other than a diehard anti-Dipper that the NDP is a “useless party”. Ironically, his intention was to convince “reasonable NDP voters” that their vote would be of greater value if spent on the Liberal Party.

Cherniak focused on the NDP’s “insignificance” in Parliament and “extremists” in the Party. Specifically, Cherniak complained about the NDP celebrating for winning less than 10% of the seats in the House of Commons. To that I respond that getting almost 10% of the seats in the House of Commons is cause for celebration, because it’s an improvement from last election and in a minority government almost 10% is influential. In the 38th Parliament, the NDP represented just over 6% of the House of Commons yet made the Liberals conceded to their budget demands.

The “extremists” Cherniak talks about probably include overzealous anti-Globalization protesters, particularly those protesting at the Quebec Summit of the Americas. Violent protesters were a minority and many activists raised legitimate concerns about Globalization as it is currently conducted.

Cherniak proceeds to claim that extremist NDP voters “…support some "right" of suicide bombers to kill innocent Israelis” without any reference. This is likely a strawman, Dippers and left-wing Canadians are concerned about human rights violations by Israel in the occupied territories and see where Palestinians are coming from. Nobody in the NDP that I’m aware of, however, supports terrorism as a means for Palestinians to gain independence or human rights and if Cherniak could provide a link or source that would be appreciated.

Cherniak is also up in arms about the NDP taking “…just enough anti-Conservative votes to ensure that the Conservatives would win in January.” It is interesting that Cherniak thinks of voters in terms of negatives (voting against someone) rather than positives (e.g. left-wing voters).

Cherniak should take a lesson from recent political history and realize that had the Liberals been reelected it would be little different. For 12 years the Liberals were in power and at an all-time high in terms of inactiveness. Aside from Paul Martin's budget cuts which went way beyond the amount necessary to balance the budget and led to the sorry state of healthcare this country is in. Heck, Stephen Harper hasn’t done nearly as bad as Jean Chrétien & infighting Co. This is because of a minority situation and strong left-wing opposition.

Cherniak did a follow-up to his first post, “The NDP is Sick - Part II” where he tries to give his previous rant an intellectual foundation. Cherniak begins his argument with the reasonable premise that politics is all about compromise. But he then presents a false dilemma, that the NDP voter must either be an uncompromising ideologue or hope that the party moves to the centre to replace the Liberal Party like the U.K. Labour Party did to the U.K. Liberal Party.

But Dippers don’t have to be Third-Way centrists. A New Democrat can support compromise up to a point, but not far beyond that point. In reality the New Democratic Party is the only vehicle to get left-wing policy implemented in Canada. The Liberals, if given a majority, are inactive or corrupt. In a minority they lean left or right depending on where the biggest threat is. It took a strong CCF opposition to pressure Mackenzie King into starting Canada’s social safety net, it took a strong CCF opposition to pressure the Liberals to introduce healthcare, and it took a strong NDP opposition to pressure Paul Martin into funding social programs with 2005 budget. Third-Way centrism, rightfully so, was abandoned when it lost the NDP seats.

Changing policy isn’t the only way the NDP can become mainstream. The political spectrum could shift by the mobilization of groups with previously low voter turnouts, such as the youth or the homeless. Electoral reform could also shift the political spectrum, by giving the nationally dispersed NDP vote more force.

Bev Desjarlais was voted out by the Churchill NDP riding association as the NDP candidate for Churchill and Buzz Hargrove had his NDP membership suspended for telling people to vote Liberal. This annoys Cherniak, who used the two events as example of rigidity in NDP ideology. But Bev Desjarlais voted against a core NDP policy and the riding members should be able to do as they see fit. Hargrove violated the NDP constitution knowingly and such acts shouldn’t go undisciplined.

From reading Cherniak’s two-part rant it’s clear he wants a two-party system in Canada. He tries to show that the futility of voting NDP but isn’t convincing. Underneath all his rationalizing “The NDP is Sick” parts I & II are nothing more than prejudiced rants.

Thursday, July 05, 2007

My thoughts on Pakistan

News about developing countries gives one appreciation for the stability exhibited in an industrialized liberal democracy like Canada. Take, for instance, Pakistan where students want to impose Sharia law on the rest of the country.

Unfortunately, the strongest opposition to Islamic fundamentalism in Pakistan is that of Musharraf’s illegitimate government, which refuses to resort back to liberal democracy.

I say “illegitimate” because Musharraf’s government power doesn’t derive from the people’s consent, i.e. democratic process. He came to power through a coup, a bloodless coup but an anti-constitutional act nonetheless.

One wonders if democratization would result in a secular and tolerant Pakistan, or would it just descend into a Islamist illiberal democracy. While Islamic fundamentalism dominates northern Pakistan, liberalization in the cities makes me optimistic enough to say Pakistan would head into a more liberal direction if the government was democratized.

On another note, flooding has left 1.3 million Pakistanis homeless. I suspect there will be some grievances over the little aid getting to those affected, though floods have hit Pakistan on a large scale before.

Those are my loosely connected thoughts on Pakistan.

Wednesday, July 04, 2007

Retroactively, Happy Canada Day

Yes, yes I’m late. I didn’t announce Happy Canada Day on July 1. I was out of town, away from my computer during Canada Day. Since I’m late I might as well add something of substance to this announcement.

Canada was founded 140 years ago. Immigration was encouraged and the underground railway had brought many seeking freedom to Canada. Canada was not, however, an equalitarian country.

Wealthy British men had the most rights and women couldn’t even vote. The government was officially racist and adopted a naively assimilationist attitude towards First Nations people.

Gradually, however, Canada became one of the most multicultural, tolerant, and progressive nations. This was a gradual, cumulative change, though the Canadian Multiculturalism Act accelerated this.

Multiculturalism is officially confined only by human rights in Canada, as it should be. There are still some grievances for past actions and the government needs to accommodate First Nations more for past injustices. There are also still some discriminatory ceremonial institutions, like the Monarchy.

The social safety net has expanded, not doubt in large part because of CCF/NDP efforts.
A lot has changed, for the better. There is still a lot to do. But Canada is better than it was before. It’s more tolerant, democratic, and pluralistic.

That is why I say Happy Canada Day and am proud to live within the borders of Canada.

The Struggle for Proportional Representation

Electing Members of Parliament in Canada is pretty simple. The country is divided into 308 districts. Political parties select candidates to run in each district or independents decided to run. Elections are held in each district and the candidate with the most votes, that is the candidate who surpasses the person with the second most votes, wins and becomes the Member of Parliament for that district. This fairly simple system is the first past the post system and it causes fear-based voting.

If you watch reruns of This Hour Has Twenty-Two Minutes you’ll notice jokes with the punch line “voting NDP is throwing your vote away”. Smaller parties, like the NDP, get the shaft under our system, where winners take all. The composition of the House of Commons does not represent the national support for the NDP. In the 39th Federal Canadian Election the NDP received 17.48 % of the overall national vote while getting only 9.42 % * of the seats in the House of Commons.

The regionally popular Bloc Quebecois, however, with 10.48% of the national vote received 16.56% of the seats. ** They have more seats than the nationally more popular NDP!

Our system doesn’t even ensure regional (district) views are properly represented. Just look at the Churchill district. The Liberal candidate, Tina Keeper, with a minority 40.68% of the district vote won. There were unique circumstances, for sure. The NDP Churchill Riding Association held an election, where Niki Ashton was voted in and Bev Desjarlais voted out. Desjarlais ran as an independent and split the traditional NDP vote. But MPs have been elected with 35% of the district vote, as in Welland.

Electors fear letting the worst candidate in, so they usually vote against rather than for someone. Fear of letting the Conservatives in is why so many electors vote for the Liberals instead of the NDP.

A popular set of alternatives is Proportional Representation and according to Fair Vote Canada:

“The core principle [of Proportional Representation] is to treat all voters equally – to make every vote count. When votes are treated equally, then election results are proportional. Parties get the seats they deserve – no more, no less.”

Understandably, the NDP is pushing for Proportional Representation. NDP Member of Parliament, Catherine Bell, introduced a motion which would get a committee to look into electoral reform. The committee would consider consulting the public on the matter. The motion didn’t include any specific alternative, but it laid out necessary groundwork for future reform. The motion did not pass.

Bell hasn’t given up. She’s now using a petition to get direct citizen support for electoral reform.

As demonstrated above, our system has flaws so reform is desirable. The system of Proportional Representation I’d most like to see here in Canada is the single transferable vote, because it allows for regional considerations but fairly represent parties in the House of Commons.

*The New Democratic Party filled 29 seats in the House of Commons. There are 308 seats in total. 29 divided by 308 equals 0.0942 (to the ten thousandth precision). 0.0942 multiplied by 100 equals the percentage of seats the NDP received, 9.42%.

**The Bloc Quebecois filled 51 seats in the House of Commons. 51 divided by 308 equals 0.1656 (to the ten thousandth precision). Multiplied by 100 this equals the percent of seats of the House of Commons they filled, which is 16.56%.

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