Monthly Archives: August 2015

The 2015 General Election Will Be Decided by Game Theory

This is the most bizarre federal election in the history of Canada. Anyone who wants to accuse me of hyperbole should look at the polls showing the NDP leading in the polls first. It isn’t just that the NDP are transforming from their traditional role as perennial third place protest party, it’s that all of the parties seem to have drifted off from their traditional roles.

The NDP, the erstwhile political wing of public sector unions, is promising to balance the budget. The Liberals, who strung together the longest string of balanced budgets in living memory during their most recent stint in power, are now promising to run big deficits and are criticizing the NDP for promising austerity. That’s right, the party that hacked billions out of provincial health and education transfers to balance the budget during a recession is now criticizing the NDP for promoting austerity. Amongst all this, the Liberals put Paul Martin at a podium to tout the Liberals credentials for prudent fiscal management. So what if Justin Trudeau is advocating diametrically opposed fiscal policies than Paul Martin? As for the Conservatives, both other parties have been attacking them for running deficits. The Conservatives have responded by avoiding interviews and promising a tax credit for service club memberships.

I am someone who Conservatives would consider a target voter. I’m married, have two young children, I’ve worked in the private sector my entire life, and I was at one point in my life a member of the federal Progressive Conservative Party and the Conservative Party after that. I voted for Scott Brison in the PC leadership campaign and then voted for Stephen Harper in Conservative election when he ran against Belinda Stronach and Tony Clement. I still think he deserved to win that election, yet I won’t be voting for the Conservatives in the election.

That primary reason why I don’t plan on voting Conservative is that with the latest round of redistricting I am now in the district of Avalon, where the Conservatives are not even bothering to field a candidate after rejecting Ches Crosbie. That’s a pretty good reason not to vote Conservative. But even if there were a Conservative candidate to vote for, I would have a hard time voting for them after running all those deficits, the refusal to answer questions, and all the petty, cynical politics that were blatantly obvious even before the Duffy trial took a magnifying glass to it.

So if, like me, you are right leaning in your economic and fiscal views, what do you do? The Liberals did balance the books the last time they were in power, and Ralph Goodale, who was a key member of the those governments, would almost certainly be the finance minister should the Liberals form government, yet their leader is advocating the least fiscally conservative policies of all the candidates. I am asking myself if he is lying with all the talk of radically increased spending. Strangely, the more confident I am that he is lying, the more likely I will be to vote for him.

For the purposes of full disclosure, I have voted NDP in the past, not in the last election, but the one previous (I was out of the country during the last election and had not cast an advance ballot), but that was more a vote for local candidate, Jack Harris, than for the party. Jack Harris is as solid and centrist a candidate as you will find in the NDP, and at the time I knew there was no risk of my vote actually leading to an NDP government. With the recent redistricting, the NDP candidate is some person I have never heard of, and there is a chance that if I vote for the NDP that my vote could actually result in an NDP government.

Up until now, I would have never have considered voting for the NDP if I thought they could win, but I’ve recently read some stories about how Thomas Mulcair may not be as left wing as everyone thinks. I read one article about how he praised Margaret Thatcher, was in favour of privatization while in the Quebec government, and even that he considered joining the Conservatives before joining the NDP. These stories were all ostensibly critical of Mr. Mulcair, but it actually made me more likely to vote for his party.

I’ve always hated when politicians are blatantly lying to the electorate. It has always made me feel like they are insulting my intelligence. As much as that bothers me, I find myself in the strange position of trying to figure out who is the biggest liar so I can then vote for that person. Luckily I also have an independent candidate in my district, albeit one who was kicked out of his party after allegations of sexual harassment. If I am unable to determine who the least honest candidate is between now and October, I may end up just voting independent. I actually think we need more independent candidates, so even though the independent candidate has virtually no chance of winning, a stronger than expected showing may encourage independent candidates to run in the future. My head hurts just thinking about this election and there is still almost two months to go.

Paul Calandra is Not the Problem

A few days ago, comedian, turned online columnist, Mark Critch got into a Twitter been with MP Paul Calandra. Mr. Critch called Mr. Calandra a slippery tool, was blocked by the MP, then told his followers he would donate a dollar to charity for every person who tweeted at Mr. Calandra to call him a tool, and then got into follow-up beef with Ezra Levant about whether he was being too partisan. It was odd to see someone as unwaveringly good natured as Mark Critch suddenly resort to seeking the public’s help in essentially cyberbullying an elected official, but Mr. Calandra seems to bring out the worst in people.

Few politicians have been as infuriating to so many as Mr. Calandra, who made a name for himself by so blatantly avoiding questions in parliament that he ended up making a tearful apology in the House of Commons for his behaviour. Rather than retiring to the sidelines, he has only become more prominent since that incident, and while he is not so blatant as to talk about Israel when asked about Iraq, he remains one of the most dogged repeater of party talking points that you will ever see in any party. It is perhaps because of his ability to stick to a message that he has become the de facto Conservative Party spokesperson who appears on political affairs shows like Power and Politics, which was where his tiff with Mark Critch began.

Power and Politics’ host, Rosie Barton, repeatedly corrected Mr. Calandra when he was a guest of the program for various comments that were not entirely accurate. Afterwards, Mr. Critch complimented her for how she handled the exchange and called the Conservative MP a “slippery tool”. Mr. Calandra, who apparently does not like Mr. Critch and/or being called a “slippery tool” on social media, then blocked him on Twitter.

I have been a fan of Mark Critch since I first saw him performing as a member of Cat Fud over twenty years ago at the Holy Heart auditorium in St. John’s, and I have disliked Paul Calandra ever since I first saw him on television, but I feel that it is the comedian, and not the MP, that is more in the wrong in this case. The attack on Mr. Calandra was both disproportionately mean-spirited and misguided.

The relentless and mindless repeating of talking points is one of the most annoying aspects of modern politics, and I applaud anyone who calls out this practice, I believe it is misguided to focus on the messenger instead of the one who is sending the message. Paul Calandra no doubt believes that the Conservative Party with Stephen Harper as its leader is the best option for Canada, and so he has chosen to be a loyal foot soldier. When he repeats talking points in Parliament or on political affairs programs, he is only dutifully carrying out orders. If the PMO asked him to pour soup for the homeless, he would no doubt put as much effort into it as he does in repeating talking points. I have no idea if Mr. Calandra is a good guy, a bad guy, or like most people, somewhere in between. If what he says makes you angry, don’t direct your anger at him, direct at the person who is telling him what to say. Every political party has loyal foot soldiers, and any anger directed at them only serves as a distraction from the people at the top giving the orders.

It is also important to not let exceedingly infuriating politicians anger you to the point where you start hurling insults in frustration, as this only serves to make your target a more sympathetic figure. I get every bit as infuriated as Mark Critch does watching Paul Calandra evade questions on television, but I could not help feel sympathy at the thought of hundreds of people tweeting at him to call him a tool. The problem with politicians like Paul Calandra is that they lower the quality of public debate on important issues. Bombarding them with insults doesn’t help fix the problem; it actually makes it worse.

Can We Stop With the Political Appointments?

This week premier Paul Davis appointed John Ottenheimer, his former leadership rival, as the CEO of Newfoundland and Labrador Housing. Mr. Ottenheimer’s predecessor, was a former leader of the Progressive Conservative Party. I have been friends with several politicians and relatives of politicians, and I often hear such people lament how the general public often looks at politicians as solely interested in lining their pockets and those of their cronies. I understand that frustration. Most politicians across all parties work very hard and are never off duty, as they are always being approached by constituents with various issues. But if politicians want to change their public perception, the first thing they should do is put an end to political appointments.

The thought of a Premier appointing a fellow member of his party to a six figure salary job just reinforces every negative stereotype of politicians in the minds of the average voter. It doesn’t matter that the person may be highly qualified for the job; the fact that is that everyone believes that the qualifications are secondary to that person’s service to the governing party.

The ironic thing about John Ottenheimer is that he will likely make make a great CEO of Newfoundland and Labrador Housing. He is well educated, served in several cabinet positions in government, and is unusually non-partisan for such a prominent politician. During his campaign for the PC leadership, he was refreshingly candid about some of the Party’s recent shortcomings. Yet his appointment will nevertheless perpetuate the public perception of politicians looking after their own.

Liberal leader Dwight Ball has criticized the appointment and said that he would create an independent commission that would be in charge of appointing the heads of crown corporations and government controlled boards. Call me a cynic, but I will believe that when I see it. Having made the promise, he may feel compelled to create this commission, but I wouldn’t be shocked if the commission will be made up of 6 former Liberal fundraisers or cabinet ministers who will be paid a six figure salary.

Ending political appointments may not have any immediate impact on the finances or the performance of government, but they would reduce the public’s cynicism towards it. When cynicism towards government is allowed to grow over time, it eventually leads to the lowering of expectations, and inevitably, poorer performance on the part of our political leaders. I would be delighted if Mr. Ball were to surprise me and keep his promise should he become Premier Ball.