Don asked me to comment on the federal electoral redistricting that will take the House of Commons to 338 seats. I don’t have anything specific to say about the new boundaries, so I’m going to complain about how districting is done in general in Canada:
Baring all other considerations (of which there are many), boundary commissions see this as an optimal districting for a city:
This usually reflects how cities have grown historically so it makes power brokers happy. For example, Esquimalt started out as a port town that gradually grew toward Victoria and until the Songhees First Nation was uprooted there was a political barrier between their developments. It means that every district can have political offices in the commercial area that the majority of residents access.
I think that it would be better to group similar density regions together into nested districts:
I believe that two people in suburbs on opposite sides of a city have more in common than a person in a West-side condo and a person in a West-side farm. In order to have a representative democracy, similar voters should be grouped.
Federal electoral districts are so big that this is less of a problem than with provincial districts. Some of the most dysfunctional districts:
- Esquimalt—Juan de Fuca stretches from Vic West to Port Renfrew, which will likely elect someone with urban environmental preservation concerns rather than someone to champion rural resource development
- Prince George is cut in half into Prince George—Peace River and Cariboo—Prince George, where the semi-urban concerns of Prince George will be drowned out by the hinterlands (I suspect this cut is entirely to avoid the inconvenience of a district with no popular center, like the provincial district Bulkley Valley-Stikine)
- Saanich—Gulf Islands will continue their battle between Victoria government workers (NDP), Saanich peninsula retirees (Conservative) and Gulf Island hippies (Green)
I don’t know enough about Vancouver to know whether concentric districts would make a difference. Wouldn’t it be interesting if Fort St John, BC and Grand Prairie, Alberta could be in a district together?
“You can’t manage a leadership election but you claim you can run the country?!” – Bill Sandiford
I voted online in the NDP’s leadership election. As the media has reported, the election server(s) were the target of a distributed denial of service (DDoS) attack and it took a lot of effort to get though to vote in later rounds. The NDP contracted the Internet voting to the Spanish company Scytl, which has also been selected as one of two preferred suppliers for the US Military and Overseas Voter Empowerment Act.
Obviously they should have run the election on cloud servers, such as Amazon’s or Google’s. Voting needs a high capacity for a single day and cloud servers are resistant to DDoS attacks. But there are other issues with the election web app that made it more vulnerable to DDoS:
Scytl’s voting app was not integrated into the NDP’s site. The voting web app used an HTTP session that frequently timed out. HTTPS has authentication sessions built into the protocol so I can’t imagine why they’d build an HTTP session on top of that for such a simple web app. Not using a session would have made the site more resistant to DDoS attacks.
Voting was authenticated by both a randomly-assigned ID and password. Since I was trying to vote on a smartphone (which was promoted in the voting material), I had to flip back & forth twice to copy & paste those strings – there’s no added security from having two secrets. The app stepped through logging in, receiving the options and then confirming your choice. A single-page form with input for password and ballot choice would have been more usable on a smartphone and resistant to DDoS attacks.
After each vote I was given a hash of my vote and a cryptographic “control code” (I’m guessing this is the hash signed by Scytl’s public key) so that I can verify that my vote was counted, but I can’t find the vote list now that the election is complete.
My conclusion is that Scytl is not competent enough to run an election, and if they’re one of the most competent online voting providers then the world isn’t ready for online voting.
I was waiting for Bernard von Schulmann to explain why his party, Open Victoria, lost. But apparently this is all he’s going to say, so here’s my analysis:
In 2008 there was no incumbent mayor and it was a pretty close race between NDP-affiliated Dean Fortin and business candidate Rob Reid. In 2011, Fortin had an overwhelming victory over business candidate Paul Brown. I think most of this can be attributed to the incumbency advantage for a mayor, who is in the media much more than an incumbent councilor. Brown was a weaker candidate than Reid and I guess people weren’t as disappointed in Fortin’s first term as I was. Filipovic picked up votes as the stricter nomination requirements kept the mostly left-wing crackpots out of the race.
There were fewer council candidates so votes were more concentrated (meaning you needed more to win). Notably, John Luton lost even though he increased his vote percentage. Geoff Young obviously did so well due to his opposition to the Johnson Street Bridge process, but given the mayor’s high votes I’m not convinced that his slate did poorly because of their performance. Although the incumbency advantage should never be discounted, the pattern is too random to read a strong voice into the electorate. I think I might have to concede that Ben Isitt, Lisa Helps and Shellie Gudeon simply ran better campaigns, as lame of an explanation as that is. It’s hard to understand Philippe Lucas’ fall in particular: I assume most voters knew that he was a vocal representative of the left, even if he usually ended up voting with the center.
I’m hoping that Isitt will pick up blogging about council now that Luton is gone.
I’ve already endorsed incumbents John Luton and Geoff Young. I will be voting for Steve Filipovic to send Dean Fortin a message (I would vote for Fortin if I thought Paul Brown had a chance of winning). Here are my top picks for councillors:
Having a member of the street community on council (rather than just councillors who don’t hate homeless people, like we’ve had in the past) is a risk worth taking. There’s a potential that she could provide radical solutions to a lot of Victoria’s most pressing problems.
She was the vice-chair of Fernwood’s Cornerstone project. She runs a community microlending organization. And she’s working on a PhD in the History of Homelessness in Victoria! Unlike just about everyone else in this race, she has specific, measurable, good platform ideas.
He’s young and progressive but also definitely qualified. He ran for mayor in the past and came off as a punk, but he’s realized that he should spend some time in council and he’s been doing his time in the community the last three years. I’d like to give him a chance to show us what he can do.
I like her pragmatism. In particular, her reluctance to jump into light rail seems prudent. She seems like a good voice for small business on council.
No one else has captured my attention. I might vote for Marianne Alto just because she hasn’t really had a chance, and an open data motion isn’t the worst way to leave your mark. I might vote for Philippe Lucas, because he seems like one of the more effective progressive incumbents, even if that’s not saying much. Or I might save my votes: the less you vote, the more your votes are worth in this screwed-up electoral system.
Open Victoria is a “slate”, which is kind of like the municipal equivalent of a political party except it is a much looser organization. They’ve “endorsed” Paul Brown for mayor, and Linda Lisa McGrew, Aaron Hall and Sukhi Lalli for council. Ross Crockford, one of the main forces behind saving the Johnson Street Bridge, is their communications advisor (it was widely speculated that he would run for mayor if the borrowing referendum failed). Bernard von Schulmann, who writes the Victoria Vision blog, is Paul Brown’s campaign manager.
As a slate, the candidates can have whatever policies they want, but they’ve decided to emphasize the theme of open government. I’m a big supporter of open government. But it appears that these four candidates, and therefore the slate, is right wing:
- Paul Brown is obviously the right-wing candidate for mayor. He’s an accountant and his main messaging is about cutting expenses.
- Although I love to read Bernard von Schulmann’s blog, his posts show an obvious right-wing bias.
- All three candidates for council are small business owners, which tend to only run for council when they think things have gone too far left (otherwise they’re busy running their businesses).
- Linda Lisa McGrew appears to be one of those financially-conservative Greens.
It appears that their idea of open government is opening up the budget so they can find all that waste. Just like Rob Ford in Toronto. I won’t be voting for any of them.
In my mind, the two most significant things Victoria Council has done in the last three years are:
- React to the court ruling that homeless people are allowed to camp in parks if there are insufficient shelter beds
- Secure funding to replace the Johnson Street Bridge
Having tent cities in parks would spur people to action about homelessness. Council couldn’t have that, so they appealed the ruling and passed a law requiring tents to be removed during the day. Because council votes are secret, it’s hard to tell whether everyone voted for it, but Philippe Lucas, the most left-wing councillor, is on record in support of the bylaw.
I want radical solutions to homelessness, not just buying a motel to house a handful of Victoria’s hundreds of homeless. So I won’t be voting for any incumbents based on their advocacy for the homeless.
Replacing the bridge was a good decision, but Council’s gross disregard for civic engagement or even basic public relations will cost the City millions of dollars due to the borrowing referendum. Council themselves have not yet been punished and I don’t see any evidence that they’ve learned a lesson. Geoff Young was the sole opponent on Council to the bridge process. Although I don’t agree with Young on many issues, I respect his courage to go against the groupthink and value his role as a dissenter so he has my vote.
I will vote for John Luton because his blog is the only way I get any idea what’s going on in the extremely secretive Council. I also like have an anti-car advocate on Council, although it’s hard to tell how effective he is at this role. Plus he always shows up at downtown events.
My impression is that no one else on Council has done much of anything, so I’m going to vote for non-incumbents in the hopes that they’ll do something.
Once the Canadian left stopped rejoicing about the NDP in official opposition, they started gnashing their teeth about the Conservative majority. They point out that the Conservatives got less than 40% of the popular vote, so they don’t have a true mandate. Then they either start whining about proportional representation (which would lead to coalition governments) or uniting the left. I argue that they’re basically the same thing.
Many political parties in Canada are described as “big tents” or even “coalitions”. The Liberals in BC and Social Credit before them are the “free market coalition”. The BC NDP balances environmentalism to keep the Greens at bay and resource exploitation by unionized labour. The Mulroney Progressive Conservatives were a coalition that broke apart in 1993 into the Bloc and Reform Parties.
You can create a coalition right now just by joining whatever government-ready political party is closest to your views and working within to shift them in that direction. People want proportional representation because they think coalitions will be built in the open – but collective platforms will be negotiated in the back rooms and your pet issues might not make the cut.
The way parties work is very opaque to your average Canadian. For example, my friend Adam said that I should have got involved with the leadership campaign instead of whining about robocalls – but the only volunteering opportunity I was aware of was making those very calls! The Conservation Voters had the right idea to try to influence the BC Liberal Leadership race, they were just a dollar short and a day late. Everyone calling for proportional representation needs to join a government-ready party and figure the system out if they really want change.
Almost 40% of Canadians abstained in the election. Philosopher Jason Brennan’s book The Ethics of Voting (summarized in this paper) applauds their decision.
His argument is that although everyone has a political right to vote, they have a moral obligation not to vote badly. A bad vote is one that is not rationally justified. Votes based on emotion (eg: fear), immoral beliefs (eg: racism) and random selection are bad. Because bad votes cancel out good votes, they are harmful to society.
Brennan puts forward a number of metaphors:
- Voting is like surgery: surgeons have a moral obligation to be well-trained and to do their best, but we don’t hold it against them when they make honest mistakes.
- Bad voting is like pollution: although a single car does not have a big impact, we have an obligation to reduce emissions because of their collective harm.
- Voting is like friends choosing a restaurant: if one of them knows more about local restaurants, the others should abstain from offering unfounded opinions.
So if you’re in favour of universal voting, it is not enough to argue that people have a moral obligation to vote, they must also have a moral obligation to be rational and informed, which has a much higher opportunity cost: “there are myriad worthwhile life goals, which, due to time scarcity, are incompatible with becoming a levelheaded amateur social scientist”.
Brennan argues, “what contemporary democracies need most to preserve equality and liberty is not full, informed participation, but an electorate that retains a constitutional culture and remains vigilant enough that it will rise against any leader that tries to abuse their liberties.” The rest of the time, you should leave voting to the experts. Those 40% of voters said “I don’t see the difference between these parties, so I’ll let the rest of you decide on nuance”.
The NDP is currently polling very well in Quebec – all my Dipper friends are crowing about the numbers on Facebook. Of course as the NDP knows, popular vote doesn’t translate directly into seats, so we must turn to models. There are a number of blogs aggregating the polls and building projections on a nearly daily basis. Three-hundred Eight seems to have the best reputation. I’ve been enjoying Canadian Election Watch and Too Close to Call because they apply their models to speculative scenarios (both are currently giving the NDP a maximum of 64 seats). I haven’t read them carefully enough to have any comments on their methodology.
90+ days ago, I joined the BC NDP to vote in the leadership race. Since then I have received scores of robocalls from each candidate, major endorsers, Jack Layton and the official party (reminding me to vote, I’m guessing), and human calls from volunteers working for each candidate. In the past week alone, I count 14 calls. Many of them leave voicemail.
I haven’t listened to a single robocall message or voicemail. Once I realized that I was on the list, I started screening my calls. I’m conscientious enough that I listen to the first second of voicemails before deleting them. This has really underscored my need for visual voicemail.
Robocalls and voicemails often don’t even get to who they’re supporting in the first second, so calls placed to me have been worth nothing to their campaigns. Despite the fact that Obama overwhelmingly demonstrated the value of text messages in his 2008 campaign, I have not received a single text. Texts are cheaper to send than robocalls (and much cheaper than volunteer calls) and they can’t be ignored without delivering their payload.
I have not been invited to Like anyone on Facebook or Follow anyone on Twitter. In the past week I’ve received 16 emails from candidates, about half of which follow guidelines for email newsletter metadata. Because I didn’t opt-in to any of these, I have been marking them all as spam and haven’t opened any of them.
I can only assume that the barrage of phone calls and emails is effective for some voters, or else the campaign directors just don’t know what else to try. But I hope the NDP don’t expect this incompetence to win them the next provincial election. It’s embarrassing that Canadian parties still haven’t learned from the lessons of America in 2008.