Friday, April 29, 2011

The necessity of strategic voting

If we had a better electoral system, then strategic voting would be less important.
But we don't. So if you're a New Democrat or Liberal in Saanich-Gulf Islands, and you don't want to be represented by Green candidate Elizabeth May, then you need to vote for Conservative Gary Lunn.
If you don't want a Conservative majority, then you need to vote for May.
The race is close enough that neither of the two are assured of victory. Liberals and New Democrats with a strong preference have to rethink their choice.
The same is true in Esquimalt-Juan de Fuca, although the choices are different. A poll on the Project Democracy website puts Conservative Troy DeSouza at 40 per cent support, New Democrat Randall Garrison at 35 per cent, Liberal Lillian Szpak at 15 per cent and Green Shaunna Salsman at 10 per cent.
So Green and Liberal voters who would prefer a Conservative MP over a New Democrat, or favour a Harper majority, should likely vote Conservative. Greens and Liberals who are worried about the possibility of an NDP-led official opposition should vote for for DeSouza.
It's a inexact business - who knows how accurate the projections are. But it's what we've got.

There's useful information on strategic voting, particularly in B.C., here.

What's the point of a legislature that doesn't sit?

MLAs found their way back to the legislature this week. It might have been tricky for some. There have only been four sitting days in the past 10 months.
And since the 2009 election - two years, in which most working British Columbians have put in 472 days on the job - the legislature has been in session for 90 days.
MLAs are still working when the legislature isn't sitting. They deal with constituents' issues and go to meetings. The caucuses talk about strategy and issues.
But is that a $100,000 a year job?
MLAs could also be working in legislative committees, examining important issues.
Except the committees don't meet. There's a legislative committee on health, for example. But the MLAs haven't met to do any work since 2006. I can think of about 20 issues the committee could have explored.
It's the same for the education committee, which also has been inactive for five years.
It's the premier's decision to sideline the committees. But MLAs take the insult.
MLAs used to send more time in the legislature - about 76 days a year through the 1990s, compared with 45 days in the last two years.
More sitting days isn't automatically a good thing, of course. There's no sense having MLAs fill time or pass unnecessary laws.
But real, important work has been neglected.
We're a month into the fiscal year, and the government has already spent some $3 billion. But the budget hasn't even been reviewed by MLAs. What's the point of budget debate after the money is spent?
And Clark is shutting down the legislature June 2, after just 20 sitting days.
That means MLAs will have 17 days for estimates debates - the formal review of the budgets and programs of every ministry and Crown corporation.
The debates are central to any attempt at accountable government - the one chance MLAs on both sides have to question spending plans, raise concerns and suggest alternatives. They should be a time for careful, detailed review and answers from ministers.
Instead, much of the budget will be passed with little or no discussion, because there won't be time. MLAs will be reviewing and approving $2.5 billion in spending plans per day.
There is no reason for the rush. MLAs could stay on the job through June. Last year, the spring session lasted 46 days - twice as long.
So either Clark doesn't like the idea of oversight by the people's elected representatives or she wants the budget passed quickly to clear the way for an early election.
The government's failure to let the legislature do its work has been damaging in other ways.
Liberal house leader Rich Coleman says the government doesn't have much of a legislative agenda anyway.
But important legislation has been stalled as the legislature sat empty over the past 10 months.
Take one example.
The government set up a task force to look at the serious problems in the rules governing municipal elections. There are, practically, none. Anyone with enough money could buy control of a council. The public doesn't know who funds candidates. The door is open to corruption and campaign abuses.
The task force made useful recommendations. And Ben Stewart, the minister responsible at the time, said all 31 recommendations would be implemented in time for this fall's municipal elections.
But last week, the Liberal government reneged. It was too late to make the changes, said Ida Chong, the minister responsible. They would be introduced in 2014.
That's inexcusable. The reforms are needed, as Stewart acknowledged. And a competent government - and a legislature sitting for more than four days - could easily have passed the laws early enough to allow candidates and municipalities to prepare.
Instead, voters will have another round of flawed municipal elections.
The government just isn't letting MLAs do their jobs.
And accountability to elected representatives - central to democracy - is being lost.
Footnote: Governments also don't like question period - the daily grilling of cabinet ministers by the opposition. Based on the first two days of this session, expect a lot of NDP attention to the HST referendum and amount of money the government will spend trying to get a yes vote.

Thursday, April 28, 2011

The cost of Christy Clark's transition

Over at, Sean Holman has the results of an FOI on severance payments to people fired by Christy Clark as part of the transition process. The tab - which is partial - is more than $2.4 million. Martyn Brown, Gordon Campbell's long-time deputy, left with $416,000. Lesley du Toit, the deputy minister in children and families, with $324,000.
OK, a new boss needs to make changes and getting rid of people without cause is expensive.
But $2.4 million is a lot of money for taxpayers to hand over to political appointees. It would be nice to be more confident that every option to keep them on the job in useful roles had been explored.
Holman's post is here.

Christy Clark's costly firings

Over at, Sean Holman has the details on $2.4 million in severance paid to 13 people sacked by Clark without cause.
Read it here.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Fear-mongering on refugees

Are they scoundrels or less than competent? That seems the choice when it comes to the Harper Conservatives' proposed legislation on human smuggling.
And the law is just a symptom of our bizarre approach to broader immigration issues.
Bill C-49, introduced after a boatload of Tamils arrived off Vancouver Island, is grandly called the Preventing Human Smugglers from Abusing Canada's Immigration System Act. (Which sounds like a Maoist slogan.)
All the opposition parties rejected the legislation, which died with the last government. Stephen Harper has pledged to pass it if he gets a majority.
It's a bad law. False refugee claimants are already deported. And human trafficking is already a serious Criminal Code offence.
What this bill does - besides political posturing - is to introduce penalties for legitimate refugees who arrive in a group.
Unlike other refugees, they would be barred from applying for permanent residence or reuniting with their family for five years even if their claims are accepted. They could also be detained for a year without any right to challenge their detention in court.
So a refugee, fearing death or persecution in his homeland, who cobbles together money for false documents and a plane ticket and makes it into Canada is treated one way.
His neighbour, with less money, who chooses a dangerous three-month journey on a ship is treated much more harshly.
It makes no sense. Either people are legitimate refugees or they aren't.
The law was rejected by a majority of MPs. It's unlikely to survive a constitutional challenge. And it won't accomplish anything.
The Conservatives either haven't thought this through or are attempting to use a bad law to win votes.
The sleazy election flyer I got from attacking Michael Ignatieff for being "weak on border security, dangerously soft on crime" suggests a cynical political ploy at the expense of refugees.
That would continue a pattern.
When the Sun Sea arrived in Canadian waters last summer with 492 Tamil passengers, the Harper government did much fear-mongering about terrorists on the ship.
So far, two people have been found to have ties to the Tamil Tigers, a group that used terror tactics against the Sri Lankan government. They have been deported. Another 30 are still being investigated.
The other 460 were deemed no threat and their refugee applications are being assessed.
Still, the Conservatives are warning about the dire threat posed by migrants and citing the danger posed by the Tamil Tigers.
But, at the same time, the party has nominated Tamil Ragavan Paranchothy as a candidate in a Toronto suburb. (Toronto has a community of some 200,000 Tamils.) Last November, Paranchothy hosted a TV special marking an annual commemoration of dead Tamil Tiger fighters. He described them as "strong and faithful people who stood guard for the Tamils, fought for freedom and peace."
And The Globe and Mail reported this week on consultants working in China who make illegal immigration to Canada possible for anyone with money. A federal program welcomes immigrants with $1.6 million in assets, skills and a clean record. The consultants fake the skills and records. The immigrants get a clean way Canada.
The government has yet to talk about bills to curb those abuses.
And, as the Conservative government frets about a few hundred men, women and children risking their lives for better futures, it brings in more and more people on temporary work permits to provide cheap labour.
Canada had 281,000 immigrants last year. But there were 283,000 people here on temporary permits, at the request of employers. The number has increased 76 per cent increase since 2006.
Our government will accept temporary foreign workers to clean our hotel rooms, but won't welcome refugees looking for a safe future.
That seems a bizarre attitude for an underpopulated, demographically challenged nation of immigrants.
Just as it seems bizarre to introduce bad laws to score political points.
Footnote: Immigration is a touchy election issue for the Conservatives. All parties attempt to woo "ethnic" voters, who tend to favour measures that increases immigration, particularly family reunification programs. The Harper party also stress their social conservativism, which aligns with the traditional values of many of the communities.
But at the same time, the Conservative rhetoric on refugees attempts to appeal to other voters nervous about new Canadians.

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Everyone is a suspect in Campbell River

When Stephen Harper comes to town, even the Conservative riding association president is a terror suspect, it seems.