Seven Years

There’s this old tale that says that if you break a mirror, you’re in for seven years of bad luck. I don’t know how true that is. I remember breaking a mirror in 1989 when I was moving, and I can’t say I was particularly unlucky in the following seven years, but then, how could I compare?

Anyway, last night as I was working in my office, I heard this crash from the living room — a crash followed by the very distinct sound of glass breaking. I rushed over to the living room and, lo and behold, the mirror I had hanging at the entrance suddenly decided it had had enough of its long-distance relationship with the floor. Too weird! It’s as if it willed itself to commit suicide.

If the seven-year tale IS true, then I would tend to believe one has to have a hand in actually breaking the mirror. So since I did absolutely nothing and the mirror just came crashing down, I’m going to side with the idea that I don’t have seven years of bad luck ahead of me.

One Last Take

I know you want me to shut up already about the election, but I did a little bit of number crunching tonight and I find the results very interesting.

If in Canada we had proportional representation following Alternative A of a mixed-member parliament (MMP) as proposed by democraticSPACE‘s Greg Morrow, both the recently elected and previous governments would have been unusually weak. In other words, with the adjustments provided through a PR system, Martin’s Liberal government would only have been marginally stronger than Harper’s Conservative government. Under Morrow’s Alternative A, we would cast two ballots: one for the candidate in our riding, who would win the seat the old-fashioned way, and one for the party, to which would be attached a closed list of regional (provincial) candidates, in the order they would be selected (thus increasing the chances of sending more women and minorities to Parliament).

2004 Martin Liberal Government
LIB CPC NDP BQ GRN OTH
FPTP 135 99 19 54 0 1
MMP 117 96 50 36 12 1
2006 Harper Conservative Government
LIB CPC NDP BQ GRN OTH
FPTP 103 124 29 51 0 1
MMP 94 114 56 34 12 1

For those of you who would be tempted to say that an MMP electoral system would have us back at the polls every 18 months, think again. First, elections would be held on set dates (every three or four years). Second, the notion of confidence votes would be removed from money matters, and a government could only be brought down in extreme circumstances. And even if the government were to fall, the party with the second largest plurality of seats would be called upon to form a coalition government with one or more of the smaller parties. Hence, if the testimony and report from the Gomery Commission on the sponsorship scandal had done the ravage that it has, a mechanism to express a lack of confidence in the Liberals would have been available to the opposition parties. Then, the Governor General, most likely, would have had to intervene and tell the Conservatives, “Hey, you guys! Head the government!” Fortunately, MMP would be have built-in correctives to prevent an extremely regional party, like the Bloc Québécois, from being called upon. In fact, had we had MMP in 1993, Canada would not have been in the peculiar situation of having to call upon the sovereignist Bloc to form Her Majesty’s Loyal Official Opposition!

Some might also be tempted to say that legislation would be slower to pass with MMP because of the constant need for concessus. However, I find that constraint far preferable to having false majority governments under FPTP that end up giving the country de facto one-party rule, where the sentiments of the real majority as expressed through the popular vote — often as much as 60% — is essentially ignored. The reason why minority governments are painful under the current system is that parties are more inclined to bring down the government for purely opportunistic reasons, namely hoping to form the government or increase the party’s number of seats to better reflect their standing in the popular vote. People have become cynical about politics in large part because it has become more about improving one’s party than running the country.

Morrow does warn of shortfalls in the above calculations because they are derived from actual voting results under the old FPTP system, meaning, for instance, that a portion of the votes were probably cast strategically.

Naturally, it is difficult to accurately simulate the results of the 2004 election using a new system. Firstly, any change to the system (i.e. to ensure virtually all votes count towards forming Parliament) would certainly alter individual voting behavior. Certainly, strategic voting would be decreased significantly — people would be free to ‘vote their conscience.’ Secondly, under our current system, a vote for a particular candidate is not necessarily a vote for a particular party. In some cases, a person\’s affection for a local individual might cause him or her to overlook his or her party affiliation. So, it is not entirely accurate to count a vote for an individual Liberal in a riding as a vote for the Liberal party generally (and similarly for the other parties). Thus, tallying the party votes from 2004, is not an exact match with the expect results under a new system. However, we can show how the same votes would be re-allocated under a new electoral system.

If you’re interested in seeing my calculations in detail, I have saved my Excel spreadsheets in PDF format. The last page of each of these files provides a nationwide and province-by-province summary.

Also keep in mind that the electorate is not always as divided as it is right now, so the governing party under MMP wouldn’t always be as weak as those we’re seeing now. By the same token, however, it would be nice to have a system where a Toronto Conservative or an Edmonton Liberal would have an MP to turn to.

And by the way, it’s a mistake to consider Canada’s Liberals as progressive and therefore on the left. As a centre party, the Liberals have several right-leaning members who have more in common with the Conservatives, like they have several left-leaning members who have more in common with the NDP and the BQ. And the BQ, too, does have its right-leaning members. So when you see 114 Conservatives in the second table above, you shouldn’t assume there would be 194 lefties beating them up at every turn. Additionally, with more free votes in the House, which wouldn’t have the paralyzing effect they can have currently in a FPTP-elected parliament, there could be myriad combinations for 155 — the magic number for a majority to pass legislation. Towing the party line would become unnecessary, thus falling out of fashion, with citizens of the country being the winners because their MPs’ votes on issues would be more in keeping with their constituents’ desires.

Our Red/Blue Divide

Map Colours
Remember all those maps of America we saw after the 2004 U.S. election, showing the states in the northeast, northern Midwest and west coast in blue while all the rest of the map was red? Well, we have a similar divide here in Canada, except that here, blue is conservative and red is liberal (and orange is NDP and light blue is BQ). Much of the provinces west of Ontario are blue.

That’s not the divide all media has focussed on today, though. No, instead they’ve focussed on how there is no (Tory) blue in Canada’s three largest cities: Toronto, Montreal, and Vancouver. Toronto is red except for three splashes of orange; the island of Montreal is red in the west and north but (BQ) blue in the east, and Vancouver is red with one spot of orange. Even the Halifax area is either orange or red. That’s just one of the dilemmas Harper will have to deal with as he forms his cabinet.

Colouring Questions
Now 24 hours after the election, I can’t help thinking how it seems the Strategic Counsel polls were likely full of shit …or, at least, pro-Tory wishful thinking. I remember reading a forum a few weeks before the election, where someone pointed out the wording of some of their questions during the 2005 provincial campaign in British Columbia. The NDP got trounced in the previous election, and one of the questions went along the lines of “Is it too risky to have an NDP government?” A majority of respondents answered No, and apparently the result of that question wasn’t publicized. But the point is, the question was hardly unbiased.

Shades of Blue and Red in the Past
With 40.3% of the seats, the Conservative minority elected yesterday is “the weakest in Canadian history,” reports Gregory Morrow. Until yesterday, this record was held by the Trudeau Liberals, who won 41.3% of seats in 1972, and the record before that, with 42.3%, to the Diefenbaker Progressive Conservatives in 1957. Mind you, in 1958, Diefenbaker got the largest majority ever, with 78.5% of the seats. Mulroney’s PCs hold the record for the second largest majority in 1984 (74.8%), declining to the 17th largest in 1988 (57.3%) and total humiliation in 1993 with only 2 PC seats (against the Liberals’ 15th largest win of 60% of seats). In the case of both the weakest minorities, the party went on to win a majority in the following election.

Shades of Grey
Far be it from me to take away from the Conservatives’ euphoria of winning, but I can’t help but notice that, in another sense and excluding the BQ, they’ve won the least last night, especially in view of all expectations. The Liberals “only” lost 31 seats compared to the 2004 election, which is remarkable considering it looked at times they might only win 80ish. The NDP gained 11 and the Conservatives “only” 25. And in the strangest twist of this election, 10 of those gains were made in Québec, where they weren’t expected to get any at the onset of the election. “Harper will … have to ensure that his party’s comeback in Quebec does not turn out to be a stillbirth,” writes the Toronto Star‘s always perspicacious Chantal Hébert.

The Environics poll done over the weekend before the election suggests that considerably more people who voted Conservative did so “mainly because [it was] time for a change” as opposed to wanting a Conservative government. And two-thirds don’t want to see the same-sex marriage question brought back to Parliament. So Canadians changed, but they did so very cautiously by giving the Conservatives a very weak mandate. (By the way, in the full version of the survey result, 21% said they changed their mind on who they’d vote for during the campaign, and 6% of those because of polls showing the Conservatives in the lead.)

So, the Next Election Will Be…?
If the social conservative segment makes an ass of the Conservatives — and I’m not assuming they will, although Harper better have a good whip — and if the Liberals get themselves a good new leader by this fall, and if the Conservatives’ second budget to be tabled in early 2007 is contentious, I expect to be back at the voting booth in Spring 2007. But I admit: that’s a lot of “if”s. Harper might succeed in keeping the controversial social elements of his party in check, and if he does, Canadians in Toronto’s suburbs might stop being afraid of the Conservatives’ so-called “hidden agenda” and give them a healthy majority the next time, at which point those elements will be allowed to come out in the open. (I characterize this element as bad winners and bad losers, like this self-declared Ontario redneck blogger, who still revels in putting down Belinda Stronach, or the truly repugnant and often xenophobic commenters on Small Dead Animals, a blog by a woman I hope never to have the misfortune of meeting.) But if Harper fails to keep them in check and has only muted successes in fixing the fiscal imbalance with the provinces, and the Liberals find a good leader, a slim Liberal majority might follow. If a third consecutive minority follows, well …it won’t be the first time (PC 1962 and Lib 1963 and 1965). In fact, we’ve already seen four minorities in 11 years (1957 to 1968).

So, the next year-and-a-half will be pivotal on the Canadian political scene. If the Liberals renew themselves adequately and the Conservatives drop the ball too many times, the desire for change expressed in the Environics poll might be satisfied and the Liberals will be brought out of the repair shed. In other words, a replay of 1979-80. But if the opposite happens and the opposition parties misgauge the electorate, then we could see a replay of 1957-58. After witnessing such a volatile campaign, I think it’s way too soon to predict which it will be.

Paul, We Hardly Knew You

Martin concedesPrime Minister Martin surprised many last night when he announced during his concession speech that, while he will continue to represent the constituents of his Montreal riding of Lasalle-Émard, he would not lead the Liberals into the next election. Most political pundits agree that such a decision is usually announced in the days following an election defeat, but that he stepped down last night with grace and dignity, probably mindful that the infighting among Martin and Chrétien Liberals had greatly contributed to the party losing its grip on power.

I agree that Martin had no choice but to vacate the party’s leadership. However, I have to confess that, although I have never cast a ballot for the federal Liberals, I never disliked Martin as much as many on both the left and the right. Granted, I was annoyed by his hyper-cautiousness in taking a stand on sensitive issues before he became prime minister, for fear he would jeopardize his rise to the top job. However, I felt that when he finally made up his mind, I saw no reason to distrust him; he certainly seemed far more thoughtful and statesman-like than his predecessor. He did not lack passion and intellect. Unfortunately, as prime minister, he will probably be remembered as a man of many words and good intentions, but of indecisiveness and little action. His record as finance minister, however, will not be dismissed so easily. I don’t deny that the early austerity measures he took, which eventually led to eight consecutive surpluses, shifted the burden to the provinces and effectively created the so-called “fiscal imbalance” that was talked about so much during the election campaign. But the fact remains that Canada now has a promising economic future and it is possible again to continue building this country — prudently, within our means. (One quote from Harper today — “we start rebuilding this great country” — leaves me perplexed, because last I checked, no one has been saying that this country is in shambles.)

Was Martin the architech of his own demise? Yes, I think so. His appointment of Judge Gomery to look into the sponsorship scandal, coupled with his insistence that the Liberals under his tutelage were different Liberals, were gambles that didn’t pay off for him. He obviously knew that he had nothing to hide and, indeed, Gomery did exonerate him of all wrong-doings. But the message that his “team” was different didn’t stick, and all Liberals were demonized as corrupt during this campaign. Consequently, I believe an essentially honest man took the fall for a few bad apples within his party.

But while I’m willing to refer to Martin as an essentially honest man, I don’t mean to imply he was above partisan pettiness within his own party. He rewarded those who were loyal to him as he ascended to the PMship and unceremoniously ditched those whose only “crime” was that they had been loyal to Chrétien, or that they dared to contest his leadership. His rise to the PMO was anything but graceful and dignified.

In the end, Martin’s legacy might be more to his party than to the nation. The next leader of the Liberals will be able to claim that his or her predecessor, Martin, wasn’t linked to past Liberal scandals and whipped the country’s finances back into shape. “I will always be at the service of the party,” Martin said in his concession speech last night. So, by stepping aside as leader, his service to the party at this juncture was to allow it to renew itself and build some distance from the sponsorship scandal. That’s another big gamble, mind you. If the Liberal leadership race is messy, or if the Liberals choose an uninspiring leader, or if the Conservatives manage to keep their socially conservative backbenchers on their best behaviour (i.e., quiet) during this minority government, Canadians might just give the Conservatives a majority next time around. And if that happens, then this country will change fundamentally for the worse because all those social conservatives won’t stand for being restrained any longer.

Speaking of succession, I don’t get how Michael Ignatieff, of whom I think it’s safe to say most Canadians haven’t heard of, is being touted as a contender. Frank McKenna, on the other hand, ……

BeeGoddess Antics

The polls in the Atlantic region just closed and early numbers were starting to trickle in when the phone rang. It was BeeGoddessM.

— You won’t believe this, but I accidentally voted for the Conservative,” she said.
— What??!! You’re kiddin’, right?”
— No……

Just yesterday on the local CTV newscast, there was this report on how, in the New Brunswick riding of Fundy Royal, the Conservative and NDP candidates had similar names and, of course, candidates’ names are listed in alphabetical order. The former was Bob Moore while the latter was Bob Moir. Consequently, I immediately tried to recall the candidates’ names in our riding to see if such confusion could be had here. I couldn’t remember the minor parties’ candidates (i.e., the Green and whatever else there was), but then “House” came back to mind for the Conservative. Quite a difference from “McDonough” but…

— When I realized my mistake, I tried to get another ballot but they wouldn’t give it to me,” BeeGoddessM then says.
— No, they wouldn’t……”

That’s when I figured she simply had to be pulling my leg. I knew damn well she knew that and, moreover, wouldn’t dare to ask for another ballot.

— You ARE kiddin’, right?” I finally ask.
— Yesssss……” as she started to laugh. “But you really thought I did it, didn’t ya?”

No, not exactly. That’s when I told her about the Fundy Royal situation and tried to figure out if there could’ve been room for confusion here.

That said, I had an interesting moment at the polls. I know very well that it’s against the law to campaign on election day, including distributing pamphlets or having any campaign literature at the polls. Additionally, I know that all scruteneers, although they are volunteers from all the parties, are forbidden to have any sign indicating their political affiliation, which makes sense. However, for the last two weeks or so, I’ve had an “Alexa” button on each of my winter coats and I’ve come to not notice it anymore. So, voter’s card in hand, I just strode into the polling station and started looking for Poll 5, as indicated on my card, when the snotty little buddy at the traffic control table gives me a horrified look as I approach him and, pointing at my chest, finally barked, “You’re not allowed to wear that in here!”

There was probably a three-second silence before I realized he meant the Alexa button. But when I did figure it out, I didn’t think twice and immediately reached for my button to remove it. “Well, I knew none of you volunteers are allowed, but I didn’t realize that also applied to people just coming in and out to vote,” I said. “Besides, to tell you the truth, I forgot I was wearing it.”

He didn’t say anything. Shock was still registered on his face, as if I had done something extremely lewd in front of him. I mean, I didn’t offer any resistence, but I wasn’t absolutely sure he was right at the time. Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to find a definite answer to this question at the Elections Canada website, although, upon reflection, I suspect he was right. I think it’s just his overall reaction and the lack of the customary “I’m sorry, but…” that threw me. I mean, it was a simple and honest mistake on my part, because I freely admit I can be forgetful at times. Relax!