Federal Election 2015 – Part 3

This is a continuation of Part 1 and Part 2.  After discussing the conservative record in part 1 and the opposition platforms in part 2, I’d like to share what conclusions I’ve reached

My first comment is the source of hope and consolation; after reviewing the Liberal, NDP and Green positions, I found that I’m pleased with the majority of all three platforms.  Should we end up with Liberal or NPD government (or, I suppose, in theory a Green government), I’ll be content with the election.  That said, even though there are major overlaps, I do believe there are real differentiators between the three opposition parties.

The differentiator for the Liberals, as far as I can see, is that they are the only opposition party with a comfortable, cooperative relationship with corporate Canada.  Their trade policy, which focuses on continued liberalization of trade through agreements, is a stark contract with the NDP/Green skepticism towards such agreements.  I’m of the opinion that the natural stance of a government should be in opposition to corporate interests, purely from a perspective of power: corporations have substantial power and the best interest of the public is served by an attitude of opposition (though not necessarily antagonism).  I feel the Liberals are the least likely (of the opposition parties) to take this stance. I do not expect the Liberals  to make major changes to the oil sands or pipeline projects, even with their fairly strong focus on environmentalism.  I also feel their environmentalism is the most technocratic of the three opposition parties, a position that I’m very skeptical about.   To their possible benefit, the Liberals seem like the most pragmatic and least ideological party.  This is unsurprising, since they’ve tried to embody that central, large-tent pragmatism frequently in their political history.

The differentiator for the NDP is their ideological commitment to labour and social democratic principles.  While I can’t always  point it out directly, I sensed this ideological bent all through their lengthy policy document.  I’m mostly happy about this, since I tend to philosophically agree with many planks of such an ideology.  Keeping with my comments in the previous paragraph, a reasonable part of an attitude of opposition to corporate power involve the support of labour.  I’m not at all certain what labour movements should realistically look like in the 21st century, but I would be happy to have a government with more sympathies towards such movements.  I do worry that the NDP’s ideological commitments make it a less flexible governing party, particularly when there are strong reasons with good evidence to act counter to that ideological tradition.  Choices in energy and industrial development, for example, need to be motivated by good science and economic analysis as well as the interests of generally (small-c) conservative labour movements.

The differentiator for the Greens is their audacity.  Whether consciously or subconsciously, I think an effect of their status as a somewhat fringe party is that they are much less afraid of presenting the more extreme version of a political position.  In the news today, for example, Green positions were announced in support of completely removing tuition from public universities and cancelling vast portions of existing student debt.  Their economic and environmental policies are similar to the NPD (and, to a lesser extent, to the Liberals), but more extreme; the GLI (Guaranteed Livable Income) is an stronger version of the social welfare position of the NDP.  In general, I’m happy that they exist to voice these ideas.  I think we desperately need parties with more ambitious vision — hopefully, the better and more feasible of their ideas percolate into the political mainstream.  However, I’m not sure it makes them a good choice for actually forming a government.

All that said, my inclination is to vote NDP.  I admit, it’s not a particularly strong preference over the other two opposition parties.  It’s also somewhat informed by the electoral reality of my riding, which nicely leads into a discussion of strategic voting.

I’m in favour of strategic voting, but always with great dismay that is it necessary in our political system.  My riding, in particular, is a riding where historically Liberals, NDP and Conservatives have all had significant support.  If the goal of defeating the conservatives is stronger than my preference between the Liberals and the NDP, then it behooves me to vote strategically.  The NDP came second in the previous election (the Conservatives won the seat) and the provincial election likely indicates some increased willingness to support the NDP, so that seems like the strategic vote.  As it happens, this coincides with my likely choice, as stated above; if I’d decided that I had a small preference for the Greens or the Liberals, I likely would still be voting NDP for strategic reasons.

Some other random comments on the election and the campaign:

First, something positive.  At least in the cross-section I made, this campaign is a huge improvement over the two previous in terms of vision.  In the 2008 and 2011 elections, I felt that almost no party was presenting any kind of holistic vision for what kind of country we want Canada to be; instead, the campaign was a serious of unrelated special-interest announcements.  While the news does seem to still be driven by such announcements, I was able to find a much stronger sense of purpose behind the opposition campaigns.  My guess is that this is partly driven by reaction to the conservative record, which has been very minimal on vision.  In particular, the indifference and/or hostility of the conservative government towards the workings of democracy (prorogation, omnibus bills, dominance of the PM’s office, onerous voting legislation) seems to have inspired the opposition parties to sound the call for democracy.  This is a positive development.   Similarly, I expected to be more frustrated about a tax code/tax cuts focused campaign, as I was in 2011.  I was pleasantly surprised to find relatively little in the way of tax code campaigning in my search through websites and platform.

In contrast, something negative.  At all the party websites (though only marginally at the Green’s), I was shocked by how much the election is driven by the identity politics of the leaders.  Vast portions of the websites are devoted to bios of the leaders and even the policy is introduced as “Tom’s plan” or “Justin’s vision”.   Throughout these three parts, I’ve intentionally referred to the parties instead of metonymically using the leader’s names.  I really don’t want my election to be about the personality of the next PM — I want it to be about the style of government and legislative agenda of the next governing party.

The websites also seem very focused on social media.  Aside from this blog (and I really have no idea how much readership it has), I don’t participate in much social interaction on the internet.  I’m curious how important social media is to the campaign.  I wouldn’t be the least bit surprised if it is the most important avenue of communication (which which explain the website focus).

I find the length of the campaign entirely unnecessary.  I’m not sure what the strategic reasoning was behind the timing of the call; perhaps it was just the conservatives hoping to outspend the opposition over 11 weeks.  In any case, as with most people I’ve talked to, I don’t feel the length of the campaign serves the interests of citizens at all.  I intentionally ignored the campaign as much as I could during August and have only returned to it in order to write these posts.

I’m trying not to follow polls, for two reasons.  First, I don’t want to obsess for weeks and weeks about the polling trends.  I don’t feel such an attitude towards the campaign is particularly healthy for me — I would much rather simply read the platforms, write these posts, rethink my positions in response to feedback from my friends, and make a voting decision.  Second, I don’t trust the polls at all.  In particular, I’m very curious how pollsters are collecting their data.  I’m not sure how available cell-phone lists are to phone pollsters.  (I haven’t received a single polling call to my cell, for example).  If phone polls are still limited to land-lines, that is a ridiculous sampling bias.  Even if polls are using cell-phone data and/or social media, I have great doubts about their ability to consistently find reasonable cross-sectional samples.

Lastly, I’m pleased about the likely prospect of a minority government of some kind.  Given that I see a lot of overlap between the Liberal and NDP positions, I’m very hopeful that a minority parliament would lead to development of these overlap priorities, most of which meet with my approval.  I also like the style of minority parliaments, even with the risk of collapse and earlier elections.  Should any kind of proportional representation legislation be tabled and pass, I imagine that minority parliaments might become the norm; I would be quite content with that reality.

Federal Election 2015 – Part 1

I’m going to use the next three post for work through my thoughts on the federal election.  Be aware — this will be a lengthy read.  It will be split into three posts.

I’m going to try to limit by desire to preface, but I will make one important point: the federal government has a much smaller effect on the economic strength/weakness of the country than any campaign rhetoric would seem to imply.  Government economic policy is about positioning.  The major causes of economic change are corporate and international, from resource pricing to international stock market health to international warfare.  Our federal government has the responsibility of finding the best position for us to weather the inevitable economic storm which comes our way.  As such, they deserve neither full blame nor full credit for the state of the Canadian economy at any given time.  This is not to say that economic policy decisions are unimportant; they are perhaps the most important actions of the government.  This is just to say I assign limited blame and credit for failure or success, economically.

The Conservative Record:

Since we have a decade of rule, including a majority term, evaluation of the Conservative Party comes down to their record.  Regardless of how they campaign and what they promise, we have a good idea of how they govern.  The first question of the election is: do they deserve to continue?

Points in Favour:

  1. Management through the 2008 Recession.  I’m no economist and, really, have no idea what’s the best policy for managing the effect of a global recession.  As best as I can tell, the Conservative record is mixed here.  I do, however, want to give them credit for choosing to support infrastructure spending during the recession; I could easily have imagined that an ideologically commitment to balanced budgeting could have preventing them from pursuing this program.  In addition, by some economic metrics, we weather this 2008-2011 storm better than most.  As in the preamble, blame and credit for economic performance is tricky at best.
  2. Tax Free Savings Account.  Regardless of the current debate about size and limits of TFSAs, these seem like a good vehicle for promoting savings.  In the interests of full disclosure, part of my approval of TSFAs is surely based on their usefulness to our particular financial situation.  I directly benefit from their existence.  Personal advantage aside, they seem like a good tax policy decision.

I don’t really have much more in this section.  I’m sure there are many relatively small and specific actions, such as increasing the protected area included in Nahanni National Park, which would meet with my approval.  However, I’m trying to stick to broader and more substantial policy decisions in this post.  I’m willing to hear from those more positive on the Conservative record: what has been praiseworthy about their government?

Points Against:

  1. Management through the 2008 Recession.  I feel justified putting this in both sections.  The focus on traditional resource industries, particularly oil, mostly like contributed to our current and future vulnerability.  An ideological commitment to banking deregulation, particularly after the US causes of the 2008 recession, seems very foolish.
  2. Attitude towards parliament.  The use of procedure, particularly the ability to prorogue to avoid undesired motions and debate, is undemocratic and shows a contempt for the parliamentary system.  Having the technical authority to close down parliament doesn’t give ethical justification for doing so.
  3. Commitment to warfare in Afghanistan.  While our involvement in the Afghanistan conflict was due to actions of Paul Martin’s Liberal government, the Conservatives repeatedly recommitted to a deeply problematic military campaign.
  4. Census reform.  I can think of three possible justifications for simplifying the census, as was accomplished in the summer of 2010: cost, privacy, or fear of information.  On cost, I feel the importance of census data justifies the cost.  On privacy, again, I feel the importance of census data justifies the imposition and gathering of private data (with appropriate measure of security and guarantees of anonymity).  On fear of information, which many have claimed is the real unspoken motivation, I am, of course, desperate disappointed in any government which seeks to suppress information.
  5. Attitude towards science and silencing of government run scientific inquiry.  On the same theme of suppressing information which is inconvenient to their agenda or ideology, I am deeply disappointed with the Conservative record towards science in general and its own scientists in particular.  In particular, weakening of environmental regulations, prohibiting publication of scientific research done by governmental scientists and cutting funding to various public interest research departments are all strikes against the Conservative record.
  6. Policy on Crime.  I’m strongly opposed to the entire Tough-On-Crime agenda.  in addition to the policy decisions, an environment of antagonism and cruelty has been fostered in the entire criminal justice system.  This gets in the way of attitude and programs that help actually rehabilitate criminal and reduce recidivism.  As far as I can tell, the whole program both dehumanizes criminals and makes the rest of us less safe.
  7. Rhetoric on terrorism.  The Conservative government has adopted, wholeheartedly, the very problematic us-vs.-them rhetoric of terrorism.  This language is actively harmful to our society: it justifies racism, breeds contempt for religious minorities, argues for disastrous international military actions, and undermines civil rights.  The ideological decision to envision Omar Khadr as a terrorists instead of a child soldier and the ensuing harm (and wasted resources) is the most clear exemplar.
  8. Human rights, in particular, bill C-51.  Coming out of the rhetoric mentioned in the previous point, this is a deeply problematic bill.  While it remains to be seen how it plays out in functional jurisprudence, the bill has the potential remove important rights of communication, free speech, protest and association.  It’s attitude towards information and privacy is also deeply troubling.  Bill C-24 is equally troubling in how it authorized the government to deny citizenship rights, particularly towards ethnic and religious minorities targeted by the rhetoric of terrorism.
  9. Drug policy.  I’m strongly in favour of the broad suggestions of the 2011 Global Commission on Drug Policy: treat drug problems as a public health concern instead of a criminal justice concern.  The Conservative record on this has been the exact opposite.  In addition to the problematic criminal justice policy, there are two other notable examples where I am deeply disappointed in the Conservative policy.  The first is their obstruction of the now-legal use of medical marijuana.  The second is their opposition and legal action against Insite Drug Injection Site and similar programs, programs which are easily justified in terms of decrease criminal activity, increased health for the users and increased safety for the community.
  10. International policy.  I object to the general militarization of our foreign policy and participation in bombing missions.  I’m also deeply disappointed in the rhetoric, for example, in the oversimplified pro-Israel stance or the skepticism about the US-Iran nuclear agreement.
  11. Market driven policy.  I’m nervous about the simplistically pro-market ideology of the Conservative government, as evidenced in their opposition to the Wheat board and other purchasing cooperatives or their blanket enthusiasm for international free trade agreements.  I don’t always know what the best decisions are on such complicated economic issues.  However, my judgement is that this government is driven by corporate interests and ideology of market freedom instead of carefully considered evidence-based reasoning issue by issue.  As such, I don’t trust them with the very important economic decisions such as negotiating free trade agreements or managing agricultural and resource economies reasonable.
  12. Focus on tax deductions as major policy and campaign priorities.  This government has made it clear that it feels the best method for interacting with citizens is through the tax code.  I object to this focus, first because it adds to the complication of the tax code.  Second, because it is done as an alternative to actually government programming.  For example, I would be much more in favour of a system to fund, develop and support child-care facilities as opposed to simply assigning a greater tax deduction targeted at child-care.
  13. Simplistic support for the oil industry.  I realize that the oil industry is not going away.  However, I’m disappointed by unconsidered and supportive the approach of the conservatives towards oil extraction.  In particular, the willingness to ignore the environmental costs of to the Athabasca watershed, including its social implications for the inhabitants of Northern Alberta, is very troubling.

Points where I lack information:

  1. Environmental record.  I’ve heard many vague criticism of the Conservatives environmental record and I’m skeptical, given their ideological commitment to business, about their ability to prioritize environmental impact.  That said, I’ve not done the research into the specific environmental decisions of the Conservative government.
  2. Regulatory record.  As with the environmental record, I’ve heard many criticisms and I have ideologically driven skepticism, but I haven’t gone through the specifics.
  3. Aboriginal issues. Again, I haven’t done my research here.  For the most part, though, I trust the voices of those affected and will listen to them for support and/or criticism of the Conservative government.

Unsurprisingly, my answer to the question is: no, they don’t deserve to continue governing.  What, then, are the other options?  I’ll be back with two more parts.  In part 2, I’ll discuss my opinions and impressions of the oppositions parties platforms and in part 3, I’ll share my conclusions, voting decision, and miscellaneous thoughts.