Is This Progress? This Is Progress.

What Is Kaputall?

Oxford defines Kaput as "broken and useless; no longer working or effective" - similar to our unbalanced economic system. This is a page dedicated to the intersection of capitalism and social, political, and environmental problems.

Friday, 30 October 2015

Electoral Reform: It's Time

The election of the Liberals ten days ago should signify some changes to the way our electoral system works in Canada. In this post, I'm going to talk about the importance of democratic reform being a consultative decision, as well as what I believe to be the best solution - single transferable vote.

Having won roughly the same proportion of the popular vote as the Conservatives in 2011, the Liberals won a majority government with less than 40 per cent of Canadians' support. The Liberals, Greens, and NDP had all promised some form of electoral reform during the campaign, and now that we have a majority Liberal government, the pressure is on.

Trudeau recently mentioned that a solution will be created within eighteen months. It is my hope that the solution will be troven through thorough public consultation. I think it would be an excellent idea to form a commission, engaging civil society in order to establish what Canadians want.

However, my concern is less whether there will be reform; I'm truly concerned that, almost by default, electoral reform will consist of adopting proportional representation. Throughout the campaign, the visibility of proportional representation was very high, to the exclusion of alternatives.

To me the value of proportional representation is that for most voters it is the easiest to comprehend. It also ensures that no vote whatsoever is wasted and that results are parallel to the popular vote. However, I firmly believe that our system is based on value of local representation and this is why I am opposed to proportional representation. Members of Parliament are responsible to their constituents, not the electorate in general. Moreover, voters should be able to select who they are voting for directly, not selecting a party from the list having no idea for whom they are voting directly (this would be true both in closed party lists and open party lists).

This is why I believe that Canada should adopt single transferable vote. This system still uses ridings, albeit larger ones with a greater number of candidates. In this case you have a ballot where you can make a determinate amount of choices, ranked by number. A threshold is set whereby a certain number of candidates must meet this target to win. There will be multiple winners in a riding, reflecting the voting intention of the constituents.

A practical example of this would be looking at New Brunswick's results. The Liberals won all ten of the seats in the province. In this particular case, the Liberals won all these seats by taking at least 40 per cent of the vote. Despite having won more than 50 per cent of the vote on average in the province, they were awarded all the seats. In this particular setup, if we considered using all of New Brunswick as a riding and selecting ten winners, there is no way that the Liberals could have won all ten seats; they likely would have won six. This allows for other candidates to represent the 45 per cent of voters who didn't vote Liberal.

No system is going to be perfect, but I feel that single transferable vote best balances the need for local representation with the need for results that better fit with voter choices. The longer term implications for reform will mean that strategic voting will no longer be a looming problem. Voter intention and voter choice should theorectically be fully correlated. For more information view this explanation or this report.

Most importantly, there is a significant lack of awareness about single transferable vote in Canada. I propose the creation of a non-profit organisation to lobby for its adoption and to educate voters about its benefits. I hope to find other people who are equally interested in this particular reform.

Wednesday, 28 October 2015

Concert Diplomacy and the Conflict in Syria

I first wrote about the ongoing conflict in Syria in July 2013. The torrent has been raging now for nearly five years and shows little sign of slowing. In the time since writing, the context has changed - most notably with Western powers now coming to face the fact that Bashar Al-Assad will likely be part of the solution to the crisis, if only for the time being.

The news that the United States and Russia may work together to back the authoritarian regime has caused its share of controversy, but this concert diplomacy is taking place in the context of what has repeatedly been called the worst humanitarian crisis since the Second World War. As the sheer magnitude of the volume of refugees is becoming clearer, more and more in Europe are erecting baracades to keep assylum-seekers out. The question of how to deal with this influx was one of the major election issues during this fall's General Federal Election in Canada.

The political pressure of the refugee crisis is meeting up with the failure of the West to contain or eradicate ISIS. These two phenomena, though largely unrelated at the onset, have coalesced into a diplomatic nightmare that has required cooperation from the likes of France, the United States, Iran, and Russia. There has been much made of the United States working collaboratively with Russia in order to achieve peace in the region. Moreover, the idea of supporting a dictator who has been directly implicated in killing his own citizens has been viewed with, at the very least, scepticism.

Leaving aside the ethical questions of this quandry, it's worthwhile considering the practical consideration that the United States will be finding itself in another version of a situation from which it has failed to properly itself. The American withdrawl from Iraq is viewed as the principal cause for the rapid spread of ISIS - not to mention that Washington has redoubled its commitment in Afghanistan.

As someone who opposes foreign state intervention as a general rule (and as someone who believes in sovereignty), I view attempts to impose a solution with great disdain. However, as someone who also believes in the right to national self-determination, I have strong feelings that Assad is not a legitimate representation of power in Syria. The proposed solution, thus, fails both criteria: it imposes a decision from outside the country by backing a leader that does not represent Syrians. Even if the longer-term solution is to depose Assad, it's ethically flawed.

Unfortunately, there aren't many reasonable alternatives. Intervening unofficially by supporting various rebels has proven to only exacerbate tensions. Intermittent participation in the region is arbitrary and generates new power vacuums and radical political movements like ISIS. The development of a reasonable settlement will require various stakeholders to be able to negotiate together in good faith. However, as we've seen with other conflicts in the Middle East, this is not easily attainable. There are so many divergent groups - all with differing visions of a united Syria.

Instead of focusing on how to restructure Syria, we should be taking a harm reduction perspective, helping to resettle as many refugees as possible. If we are all truly moved by the image of the young Syrian boy who washed onto a beach in Turkey, we should be organising in a way that can make a serious difference. The international community does not have a legal obligation to fight Assad; it has a moral obligation to ease the suffering of ordinary Syrians, those who have uprooted themselves and made arduous journeys that meet never-ending obstacles. Making a difference is possible and actually quite feasible, but it's going to take a collective will to act.

Wednesday, 21 October 2015

Our Forty-Second Parliament

Most of you are probably aware of the degree to which I was surprised with the election results. I was stunned to see the electoral map painted red, particularly the early results in Atlantic Canada. So the story goes that people took strategic voting to the extreme, but I see many fundamental shifts that underlay the sweeping changes we saw on Monday. The next four years are going to be interesting, and we have to make sure that we navigate the fine line between holding the new government accountable and allowing them to establish themselves.

I'll start out by saying that I have very mixed feeling about the result. I'm so relieved that we are now living in a country where, not only is Harper not our prime minister, but where he has abdicated his role as the leader of a unified Conservative party. Conversely, the tide that elected a majority Liberal government is unsettling. I had been prepared for a minority government and spent the entirety of the 78-day campaign conceptualising this. A majority changes not only my expectations for the future, but also those of most in my social circles. Especially when this majority is a mirror of its predecessor, winning less than 40 per cent of the popular vote. This means that not only do the Liberals have complete control in the legislature; they will be directing us until the fall of 2019.

That said, I firmly believe that mixed feelings are probably a good thing. I'm trying to be open-minded. I've seen a fair amount of anger from supporters of everyone (including some Liberals) about the election result, and while I'm surprised, I'd prefer to consider myself cautiously optimistic about this government. My perspective at present is very much let's not judge until the government starts doing things. And I'm not saying this as a partisan.

However, the question of the NDP is one that will take some time to unravel. I've heard a lot about strategic voting as the cause for the collapse of the NDP. This is likely true in the sense that the NDP didn't make many gains, but it fails to explain why many veteran NDP members of parliament like Paul Dewar, Megan Leslie, and Andrew Cash were all defeated in rather impressive upsets.

Perhaps a better explanation lay in the fact that the NDP has changed direction significantly under Mulcair compared to under Layton. Layton's progressive vision of Canada was inspiring to Canadians and, in particular, Qu├ębec. Mulcair failed to build on this; instead focusing on jobs and the economy. I'd have to atribute this shift not only to ideological changes within party leadership, but to the fact that the NDP were leading in polls and were seeking to be viewed more seriously. It's no surprise to me that this led Trudeau to run on a platform of positivity this time around.

Having largely avoided taking policy positions, there are many pseudo-commitments made by the Liberals that I intend to watch carefully. Chief among these are the review of the Trans-Pacific Partnership and the omnibus Bill C-51. In both instances the Liberals failed to adopt real policy positions during the campaign, opting instead to review them after forming a government. Progressives hope that we see the Liberals undo the damage socially and economically that will be caused by these two pieces of legislation. More importantly, for the future of our democracy, I sincerely hope that the Liberals will in fact commit to reforms to our electoral system. The massive majority mandate that Trudeau received may allow him to escape dealing with this issue for the time being.

At any rate, I'm happy we have a more progressive parliament, one that better exemplifies the values of Canadians. I wish Trudeau luck.