Paul's Internet Landfill/ 2014/ More Provincial Pre-Blather

More Provincial Pre-Blather

Here comes another disjointed political entry. Worse, I am just repeating a lot of stuff I have written before.

  1. More Provincial Pre-Blather
    1. How to Vote
    2. Mandates and Storytelling
    3. Insane Liberal Initiatives
    4. Million Jobs Plan
    5. The Energy Chimera
    6. The Greens
    7. Minimum Wage
    8. Election Promises
    9. Minority Government
    10. Talking Points
    11. Kathleen Wynne
    12. What I Want
    13. Political Toxicity
  2. Sidebar!

How to Vote

I will reiterate what I wrote in a previous entry:

How should you vote? I don't know, but here are some suggestions: - If you like a candidate and think that candidate has a realistic chance of winning, vote for that candidate. - If you don't want to vote, show up and decline your ballot. - If you feel underinformed, show up and decline your ballot. - If you are sick of the system, show up and decline your ballot. - If you support a tiny party that has no chance of winning, you are probably better off declining your ballot (but I cannot advocate this wholeheartedly). - If you do not know whether to vote Liberal or NDP then maybe going NDP is the way to go, but I am not sure about this. There is a lot of anti-Liberal sentiment going around.

I think that my views on this are largely the same, with the following modifications:

Mandates and Storytelling

I continue to be irritated by the stories that pundits tell based on election outcomes. If there is a minority government elected on the 12th, then pundits and politicians will spin stories about voters "choosing" a minority government. This is nonsense. Under our voting system, there is no way for us to choose a minority government. Some of us hope that there might be a minority government, but we have no mechanism to state that preference in our ballot.

Similarly, if a party wins a majority then everybody will be talking about mandates, and the results will be seen as endorsements for the leaders, the parties, and/or the party platforms. I have said it before and I will say it again: this is not how first-past-the-post works (because widespread opposition to a party does not count if it is split thinly among ridings) and it is not how voting works in general (because we have many different motivations for casting our ballots in particular ways).

I am finding our voting system particularly frustrating this election because I find myself torn in many different directions, and there is no way for me to unambiguously express my preferences in this election:

So I am torn in four ways, and I have no good way to express this mix of motivations on my ballot. I will cast my ballot, and then it will be interpreted in whatever way supports the stories the pundits want to spin. If the vote is split in Kitchener-Waterloo and Weiler wins, then the story will be that the voters of Kitchener-Waterloo gave Weiler a strong mandate, and that the riding turned blue. This will be the story even if the race is close, and even if the combined votes for the NDP and Liberals outstrip the PC vote dramatically. That is incredibly irritating.

A mixed-member proportional voting system would not have solved this problem entirely, but it would have disambiguated a few things. Firstly, it would have allowed me to vote for the best local candidate independent of her party (sorry, James Schulz). Then I could have voted for the party I supported, which at least would have made my party preferences clear. There still would not be a way to indicate my preference for premier, and there would still be strategic voting involved with local candidate selection, but the situation would be much better.

Similarly, an STV (or even Alternative Ballot) system would solve the problem of vote splitting in the riding, since those of us who would prefer to elect either an NDP or Liberal candidate ahead of the PC one would be able to express that preference unambiguously, instead of playing this guessing game. I do not believe that gambling should be an appropriate metaphor for electing local representatives, but that is what we've got.

Insane Liberal Initiatives

Open Text Bribery

This is a relatively small budget item, but giving large sums of money to large companies to bribe them into creating jobs (aka the $250 million/year "Job Development Fund") is insane. First the Liberals bribed Cisco to create a few jobs in Ottawa, and then they bribed Open Text to create a few jobs in Toronto.

The Open Text bribery really gets my goat. Open Text is a fairly large company in Waterloo. I know a couple of people who work there, and I think they are intelligent people who are grateful for their jobs. But I do not believe that Open Text deserves Liberal handouts. They are not a very innovative company any more; from my understanding they grow primarily by eating up other companies, not by developing products of their own. They will be creating relatively few jobs, and I do not like the precedent of bribing these large companies so that they do not pull up stakes and move. What happens when the bribery period is over and there is some other jurisdiction that offers a larger bribe?

I know that smaller, more innovative businesses get handouts as well, so maybe I should not be so upset about this. But I am, because I think that Open Text in particular is not a worthy recipient for this money. Maybe my experience is coloured by the web design experience at the University of Waterloo. Open Text had a product that was in contention for the UW website redesign, and instead the university chose Drupal as their content management system. It is irrational to feel strongly about that example, but in my eyes it is evidence that people in the region are not as enthusiastic about the company as the Liberal government is.

When people think of innovative high-tech companies in Waterloo region, they mention Blackberry (and roll their eyes), but other companies like Christie Digital, Desire2Learn, or even Bluecoat and Sandvine come up. I do not think that Open Text comes up as a major employer or major innovator in the region that frequently. Maybe I am living in a bubble and do not realize just how much of a player they are on the world stage?


LHIN stands for "Local Health Integration Network". They were a layer of bureaucracy set up by the Liberals to split the province into regions, and then administrate healthcare within those regions. As such, the LHINs are the ones that hand out dollars to local programs. They are supposed to be integration networks, helping distribute health care dollars so that there is more home-based and community-based health care, which keeps people out of hospitals.

I do not have direct experience with the LHINs, but at work I have had some secondhand experience with them, and I have had to do some IT support in response to their rules and decisions. Based upon this limited experience I unambiguously claim that the LHINs (or at least our local Waterloo-Wellington LHIN) is broken, does not achieve its objectives in any sensible way, and should be disbanded.

Here is our local anecdote: the cult runs a few different programs that are funded by the local LHIN:

None of these are huge programs. My workplace is not primarily a health care provider; these programs are responses to needs that come out of other work that the Working Centre does (primarily St John's Kitchen, but other things as well).

The Waterloo-Wellington LHIN funds these programs. Great, right? As far as I can tell, interacting with the LHINs has been a nightmare:

I could probably go on, but I have bored you already. This sounds like nitpicky bureaucratic complaining, but there are some real lessons I draw from this:

There is a chance that I am misinterpreting all of this evidence, and that the LHINs are actually awesome. I have not seen evidence of this. I do not get the impression that other people who work with health care like the LHINs much more than I do.

In addition to LHINs the Liberals have created other health institutions to administer care: Community Care Access Centres and Community Health Centres. I do not know much about these other institutions, although apparently the CCACs are under some criticism as well. I strongly believe that keeping people out of hospitals is a worthy goal. I strongly believe that health care integration is a worthy goal. I strongly believe that we need to work on our health care system so that it does not bankrupt us. But I also strongly believe that our local LHIN has not done a good job of meeting these needs. Provided that whatever replaced the LHIN would understand the needs of smaller programs and would work towards responsive health care, I would shed zero tears if the LHINs were to be disbanded.

However, I do not think the Liberals have any plans to disband or reform the LHINs. If the Liberals were to win a majority, the LHINs will likely be entrenched as yet another unhelpful layer of bureaucracy.

Million Jobs Plan

Meanwhile, the Progressive Conservatives are promising to create a million jobs. They have received a lot of criticism from the left wing for this. The two snarky talking points that are floating around are that Hudak is planning to cut 100 000 jobs, and that the PCs miscalculated their math and are only going to create a million work-years over eight years, which corresponds to a million jobs divided by eight. There is even a snarky hashtag #HudakMath going around to poke further fun at the PCs.

I feel ambivalent about this plan. On the one hand, I get the sense that Hudak and the PCs will eagerly cut a hundred thousand jobs in the public sector. On the other hand, I question whether the PCs will actually create a million jobs.

I will give some credit to one PC talking point: the conservatives did put together a detailed plan. That means others can examine that plan and poke holes in the numbers. I fully endorse examining election plans carefully, and I think that parties should get credit for laying out their plans in detail. Instead, the PCs are taking a beating for their plan, while the more nebulous NDP and Liberal baskets of promises face far less criticism. This means that parties are rewarded for being vague, which is one reason I am sick of politics and sick of politicians.

And I do think that Ontario has a debt problem. Right now interest rates are low, so our debt is serviceable. But health care costs are soaring, and revenue is not. If interest rates go up or our credit rating goes down, then we will be hammered by debt service charges. None of the four major parties seem to have a clear handle on how to reduce the deficit (and ultimately the debt?) but at least the PCs are committed to making spending cuts in some way. I do not think that you can reduce the deficit without reducing funding in some way.

On the other hand, I do not endorse the principle of "cut everything" either. In particular, Toronto got itself into a lot of trouble when the Mike Harris government cancelled subway lines. Now the city is in gridlock. Sometimes you have to make investments for the future.

I am not convinced that green energy is one of these investments, but I actively dislike the way that the PCs have turned the Green Energy Act into a scapegoat during this election. Maybe it makes sense to reduce or end terms in the FIT and MicroFIT contracts, but I despise the way that Hudak and company blame green energy for all of our electricity woes. The Green Energy Act has some real problems, but I am sick and tired of governments getting hammered every single time they put forth environmentally-minded solutions to our long-term problems. I remember pundits mocking Stephane Dion for bringing up pine beetles as an election issue. I'll bet that foresters in Alberta and BC are not so snide now.

It seems pretty clear to me that Hudak is intent on destroying unions. He backed off his proposed union-busting right-to-work legislation that would have made union membership optional, but it is clearly an issue that is close to his party's heart. Locally, Kitchener-Conestoga MPP Michael Harris is pushing "fair tendering" legislation that would remove requirements for building companies to use unionized labour. As I have written before, I do not like unions that much. However, I do not like union strife much either, and we are headed straight for four years of labour strife under a Hudak government.

Cutting business taxes by 30% will be great for the PC party and its supporters (hello, "non-partisan" KW Chamber of Commerce!) but it is not at all clear to me that this will help create any jobs, especially if the real problem is (as the PCs claim) high electricity rates, high deficits, and bureaucratic red tape. Why not defer a tax cut until the deficit is reduced?

What surprises me about Hudak's approach is that he is proposing a plan very similar to that which Mike Harris campaigned on in the 1990s, but even though many of his "remedies" are similar. But Mike Harris was ridiculously popular, and Hudak is not. Unbelievably, there is a chance that he might lose the campaign. One big difference is that Mike Harris kept his reprehensible promises, and developed trust on that axis. Secondly, Harris -- unlike Hudak -- doggedly targeted the self-interest of suburban voters. Voters hate taxes, so Harris became the "Taxfighter", not mentioning that in order to cut taxes he would fire a bunch of people and download costs to strapped municipalities. Hudak talks about making Ontario healthy as a whole. He talks about laying off 100 000 workers. But he does not talk about Ontarians paying too much tax, and he does not pledge to reduce taxes. His arguments are more honest from an economic sense, but they are politically mediocre. Maybe Hudak is so afraid of being seen as "Harris Lite" that he does not want to follow in the footsteps of his predecessor. But why wouldn't he? Everybody thinks of him as Harris Lite anyways, nobody on the left is going to vote for him, and he has a lot to gain from suburban voters who have no ideological opposition to voting for the PCs.

The other strange aspect of Hudak's campaign is how faith-based his plan seems to be. Even the first paragraph of his Million Jobs Plan reflects this:

Here's what I believe: Government is not just about politics and policies; it's about people and their potential.

He is quoted using this kind of rhetoric a lot. He believes that his plan will make Ontario rich, but he does not show us that this is the case.

Even though I agree with some of the PC approach to Ontario's future, I worry about the consequences of giving them a majority. I suspect that I am not alone in this.

The Energy Chimera

Why is everybody insane when it comes to energy policy in this province? You have three parties who think that energy costs can be magically reduced, and at least two parties who believe that we can magically import cheap power from Quebec.

The PCs want to increase their usage of hydroelectric power and nuclear energy. That's fine, I guess, but it won't be cheap. Why do they believe that this will make energy cheaper in the short run?

Meanwhile, the Greens and PCs have bought into the Clean Air Alliance rhetoric, and both are promising to import cheap hydroelectric power from Quebec, when it appears that we do not have the transmission capacity to get electricity from Quebec (or Manitoba) to Ontario without building a large amount of infrastructure. How is this going to reduce our electricity costs?

The NDP thinks that capping CEO salaries and merging hydro companies will do the job. Maybe mergers will save money (although eliminating certain bureaucracies might save more), but I have a hard time believing that capping salaries is going to make much of a difference. But taking the HST off of hydro is going to make a difference -- in reducing government revenues.

The Greens think that conservation and renewables will do the trick. Have they not seen how much of our electricity is produced via nuclear power? Nuclear power is ridiculously expensive and it is unaesthetic, but it is an important part of our energy mix. Letting our nuclear plants decay away is not going to solve the problem. Ensuring that nuclear refurbishments do not go over budget (by having consequences when they do) makes much more sense, which is what I understand the Liberals want to do. I do not like the idea of storing nuclear waste for 10000 years any more than you do, but we are using nuclear now and it is not going away any time soon.

I hate the fact that wind energy has become a political football. Wind energy is clean and effective. I hate that people in rural areas have turned their backs on this technology because of the noise. If the Liberals had handled community buy-in better then I bet there would be a lot fewer rumours about the negative health effects of wind (which at this point I do not believe, but then again I do not live next to a wind farm, so I could be completely wrong).

I do not think anybody is being realistic about our energy future. Prices are going to go up. We need to invest in energy infrastructure in one way or another -- by increasing renewables in the system, or by refurbishing nuclear plants, or by building hydro lines to other provinces, or by building hydro projects here. Because of this I expect that energy costs will stay high.

Conservation is clearly part of the solution here, but it is not all of the solution. Yes, I believe that retrofits are an important piece of the puzzle, but they are not the entire solution.

We cannot even depend on cheap natural gas while it lasts, because the issue of gas plants have become political footballs too. We all want lots of abundant cheap energy, but nobody wants electricity production facilities in their backyards.

Everybody is insane. None of us are being realistic about our options.

The Greens

The Greens are pushing the idea of merging school boards pretty hard in this election. I do not really stand with them on this issue. Maybe merging school boards is a good idea, but it is not clear that a merger will save as much money as they claim, and it is clear that it would cost a lot of political capital.

I wish the Greens would not push this issue so hard. I wish they would promote other good ideas for the three major parties to steal.

Having the Green Party participate in debates is very important for their credibility. Having Mike Schreiner on The Agenda was a boost for his visibility, but more importantly having other competent Green Party candidates (such as Theresa Pun, who has been impressive) on the program has demonstrated that the Green Party is more than a single face (which is a problem the federal Greens face, with Elizabeth May being the main focus of the party).

I wish there was a way to force the (unelected, unaccountable) broadcast consortiums to allow Schreiner's presence at the debates. But nobody in the media wants the hassle of paying real attention to a fourth party, so I do not expect this situation will change.

As a small consolation, it has been good to see that the Greens have been invited (and are participating) in all-candidates meetings locally. Stacey Danckert has been conducting herself pretty well for the Kitchener-Waterloo riding.

Minimum Wage

The issue of minimum wages gets me irritated. The Liberals want to give Personal Support Workers $16/hour. The Liberals want to raise the general minimum wage to $11/hour, and the NDP want to beat them by giving people $12/hour (both indexed to inflation). Meanwhile, the Poverty Makes Us Sick folks want a minimum wage of $14, and if they get that then no doubt they will want a minimum wage of $20.

I guess that I am the only person from the left who thinks this is kind of insane. First of all, people use the argument that people are living in poverty as a reason to increase the minimum wage. But poverty is defined pretty arbitrarily. Secondly, increasing the minimum wage only does you any good if it increases your spending power. But if inflation (and higher rents) eat up that spending power, you are no better off than before. Thirdly, even when inflation goes up revenues for businesses don't go up, and it is getting harder and harder for businesses to afford minimum wage workers, so instead they turn to labour mechanisms that are even more exploitative, such as unpaid internships, migrant workers, and outsourcing. Fourthly, there seems to be no upper limit as to what the minimum wage should be. Why should we stop at $12/hour? Why not make the minimum wage $50/hour? Then nobody would live in poverty, right? The endless drive to raise the minimum wage smacks of Marxist class warfare (which is where the Poverty Makes Us Sick people come from, at least).

I am not happy that businesses will pay as little as they can get away with legally. But unless we have some perspective as to what wages are reasonable, I think that this push to increase wages higher and higher seems like a fools errand.

If I was in charge I would make everybody unhappy. I would reduce the minimum wage (perhaps to $9/hour) and then index it to inflation.

Election Promises

It is hard for me to remember this, but there is no obligation for political parties to keep their promises. Every so often somebody tries to sue the government over broken promises, and every time the plaintiffs lose.

For example, Hudak is promising to raise Ontario education scores for everyone. He knows full well that he will not keep this promise, because the teacher unions will go to war with him. Then he can point to those awful teacher unions and blame them for the poor performance of Ontario schoolchildren.

Similarly, election promises from the Greens are nonsensical, because they have no realistic chance of forming the government. Maybe the NDP could have a sudden surge and form government, but this seems pretty unlikely as well.

If we end up with a minority government, then all of these promises are out the window.

Minority Government

Man oh man. I completely do not want anybody to get a majority government. But a minority government looks like it will be a disaster. At this point it seems that nobody would be willing to cooperate with anybody else.

The other option is that one party will just keep the minority government in power by abstaining from votes, much like the federal NDP did when Stephen Harper had his minority government.

The right thing to do would be for two of the parties to sign a formal coalition agreement, which would keep the government running for some predetermined amount of time (say three years). Then members of both parties could be in cabinet, and they would rule together. In our first-past-the-post system this is not feasible, however (because the coalition partners don't want to seem weak), and besides the partisanship between the three parties seems too toxic for a real coalition to be possible.

Talking Points

I am pretty tired of the following talking points:

This is not a comprehensive list, of course.

Kathleen Wynne

Above I said that I preferred Wynne as party leader over Tim Hudak or Andrea Horwath. I think I may be getting snookered.

My positive attitude towards Wynne primarily comes through media coverage; in particular, interviews she has done on The Agenda. Wynne impressed me in the same way that Barack Obama impressed me way back in 2008: she is articulate and (at least back then) she directly addressed the questions and criticisms people had of her. She came across as being a conciliator: somebody who would work with others to get things done. She directly apologised for the gas plant scandals instead of dancing around the issues. She did not give as many politician talking points as I had expected.

During her acceptance speech at the Liberal convention, she also directly addressed the question of whether Ontario voters would elect a lesbian as premier. I think that took guts, and by bringing the issue out into the open I think she did herself a lot of favours.

I am still impressed by her media presence. Even when she was being interviewed by Business to Business on 570 News (hosted by the fairly pro-PC leaders of the KW and Cambridge Chambers of Commerce) she came across as being mostly straightforward even as she refused to acquiesce to the hosts' demands for fair tendering legislation.

I was also impressed that she took on the portfolio of Minister of Agricultural Affairs. This was a political move for sure, but it demonstrated that she was willing to reach out to rural voters in addition to her Toronto home base.

To me, Kathleen Wynne comes across as a genuine person who is willing and able to work with her political enemies. But maybe those are just appearances, and just as with Obama I am being snookered.

For one thing, despite her supposed openness and willingness to engage in "conversations", she did not make things work out with the NDP or PCs. She could not arrange power-sharing agreements with another party to keep her government running through its full term. Part of the fault for that lies with Tim Hudak and Andrea Horwath (and their political aspirations), but if we are headed for another minority government this issue will come up again.

On another front, she apparently cut off communications with Rob Ford for a while. I am not clear (and not really willing to research) whether this was before or after Toronto City Council demoted his powers, but it is not a good sign that she would unilaterally cut off contact even if the mayor made homophobic remarks and smoked crack.

Then there are her political policies. She had a hand in creating this budget, and although I am sure there are good things in the budget, I think that there is something seriously wrong with her political approach of spending a lot of money when we already have a huge deficit situation.

I had been hoping that she would elevate political discourse and not resort to cheap attacks. But the talking point that the NDP triggered this election and refused to agree to their budget is pretty firmly entrenched in Liberal discourse, so she had her hand in that.

My worry is that Wynne is just another politician who says nice things to our faces and betrays us behind our backs. I want more transparency in politics. I want more people who will tell us the complexities of our situations rather than hiding behind polarized talking points. And I want a government that is working to make concrete improvements for the future. I do not know how much of that we are getting with Kathleen Wynne.

What I Want

One of my problems is that I do not have any big-picture idea of what I want as a voter, never mind what future policy for Ontario should be. Even if I had an idea of the general directions Ontario should take, there are so many issues and facets to think about that I think it is hard for any voter to make a wholly informed decision.

At best I can offer vague ideas of my soapbox issues:

Political Toxicity

I have been spending way too much attention on this election. I try to justify it by saying that I just want to be an informed citizen, but I am not sure that is true.

I have noticed that I have become a much less tolerant and a much meaner person as a result of this election. I find myself swearing at my MP3 player with regularity, whether it is because politicians are spouting misdirections and talking points on The Agenda, or whether the people at Business to Business are stumping for the PCs.

I feel super-frustrated by all-candidates meetings. I feel super-frustrated by the prospect of splitting the vote in my riding. I am semi-frustrated by how little attention other people seem to be paying to this election, although I should be used to that by now.

One of the few positives in this election cycle is that I have inadvertently been exposed to views outside my bubble. I accidentally downloaded a podcast that was a week's worth of morning radio on 570 News (it was labelled as an interview with Stephen Harper, which I would still like to hear). I listened to almost all four hours of coverage in this podcast. Here were some of the topics:

The format of the programs was always the same: the host would introduce the topic, list a few facts/talking points which he would repeat several times, and then he would ask some leading question of the listeners, most of whom would repeat his talking points back to him. The respondents were almost uniformly white men (I remember one woman caller during the entire podcast, but there may have been a second).

I could barely tolerate the podcast (and I hope never to listen to the 570 News morning show ever again even though I should) but it was an educational experience. This is a voice of people who don't live in my bubble: people who own houses and worry about electricity rates and drive their cars where they need to go and pay close attention to sports. The frothy outrage the morning host drums up fuels discontent with the government and builds a conservative base of listeners. When Tim Hudak wins his majority government this Thursday, these are the people who will be cheering and jumping for joy. I rarely visit their bubble and they don't visit mine, and maybe that is a real problem.