Sunday, October 18, 2015

Do You Oppose Bill C-51 or the Trans Pacific Partnership? Vote for Your Values On Election Day

NDP leader Tom Mulcair at rally
Two of big three parties support a bad bill and massive, secretive trade deal. One doesn't.

Bill Tieleman's 24 Hours Vancouver / The Tyee column

Tuesday October 13, 2015

By Bill Tieleman

Politics are about people, elections are about choices."

Elections are indeed about choices, deciding between political parties with different policies and track records as well as leaders.

Elections determine who forms government, and your vote should be based on your values and important issues.

Most Canadians want change -- to remove the Stephen Harper Conservative government -- and for good reason.

From showing contempt for Parliament, scientists, labour, the environment and First Nations, to shamefully exploiting racial stereotypes in this election, Harper must be defeated.

The Green party simply can't win many seats.

That leaves the New Democratic Party Official Opposition and the Liberals.

And on critical issues, they have dramatically different positions.
Liberal leader Justin Trudeau admitted the Conservatives' repressive and widely condemned Bill C-51 security legislation was wrong.

But then Trudeau and his Liberal MPs voted for it. The NDP opposed C-51 and voted against the Conservatives and Liberals.

Now Harper has signed a secret trade deal called the Trans-Pacific Partnership -- with 11 other countries, including Japan, Mexico and the United States.

NDP leader Tom Mulcair opposes the TPP as damaging details from Wikileaks and others indicate the harm it would cause Canada's auto, dairy and medicine sectors and to intellectual property, privacy, and internet access.

The NDP "will not be bound by Harper's secret deals," Mulcair said Sunday on Vancouver Island. "Harper won't release the full details of it, and if he's so proud of it, why won't he show it to Canadians?"

'Written by corporations'

U.S. Democratic presidential candidates Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders are both against TPP, as are many unions, farmers, internet advocates like Open Media and others.

Nobel Prize-winning economist Joseph Stiglitz, a former World Bank chief economist, warns about the TPP.

"The real concern is that the whole thing is being written by corporations behind closed doors, with very little public input... The consumers, who are not at the table, get screwed."

Stiglitz and economist Adam Hersh say the TPP is not about free trade -- it's about corporate interests.

"You will hear much about the importance of the TPP for 'free trade.' The reality is that this is an agreement to manage its members' trade and investment relations -- and to do so on behalf of each country's most powerful business lobbies," Stiglitz and Hersh wrote last week.

"Make no mistake: It is evident from the main outstanding issues, over which negotiators are still haggling, that the TPP is not about 'free' trade," they conclude.

Former U.S. labour secretary Robert Reich is equally critical.

"If the TPP is enacted, big corporations, Wall Street and their top executives and shareholders will make out like bandits. Who will the bandits be stealing from? The rest of us," said Reich, who served under U.S. President Bill Clinton.

Even some Liberal candidates are worried about the TPP's impact on Canada.

"We celebrate what is happening at Ford and then our prime minister is negotiating an agreement that would put those jobs at risk, put the manufacturers at risk and put our community at risk," said Liberal candidate, Pam Damoff in the auto industry riding of Oakville North-Burlington on Oct. 2.

Damoff added that it was "appalling" that Canada was negotiating the TPP during the election.

Trust Harper?

But Trudeau is clearly neither appalled nor opposed, saying Liberals generally support the TPP and free trade.

"The Trans-Pacific Partnership stands to remove trade barriers, widely expand free trade for Canada, and increase opportunities for our middle class and those working hard to join it," Trudeau said in an Oct. 5 statement on the party website.

"The Liberal Party of Canada strongly supports free trade, as this is how we open markets to Canadian goods and services, grow Canadian businesses, create good-paying jobs, and provide choice and lower prices to Canadian consumers."

Trudeau criticizes Conservatives for failing "to be transparent" during negotiations, but merely promises if in power to "hold a full and open public debate in Parliament to ensure Canadians are consulted on this historic trade agreement."

So on the TPP, Harper says "trust me" while Trudeau says "trust Harper" and trust free trade.

Trusting Trudeau on C-51 didn't work -- neither will it on the TPP.

Standing on principle

How else can voters decide if politicians are sincere? Check their record.

When the Conservatives shamefully made the inconsequential wearing of the Muslim niqab by a handful of women seeking citizenship an election issue, Mulcair spoke out unequivocally against forcing women to dress according to how the government wants. 

He took this position despite holding the overwhelming majority of seats in Quebec, where many voters -- regrettably -- initially agreed with Harper.

Mulcair is standing on principle when it counts and is politically damaging, and that's leadership.

The NDP was following in the party's past tradition of doing what was right despite negative public opinion, like when it opposed Liberal prime minister Pierre Trudeau's imposition of the draconian War Measures Act and detention without bail of nearly 500 people in Quebec in the 1970 FLQ crisis.

History shows the NDP takes the right position, despite initial public criticism.

If fundamental issues like C-51 and the TPP are important to you, vote for your values -- vote for the party that shares your view, not one that will say anything simply to get into power.


Sunday, October 11, 2015

How 'Get Out the Vote' Wins Elections With Under 50% Support - the GOTV Surprise

From successful Barack Obama/Joe Biden campaign of 2008
Surprise! Parties use GOTV electoral weapon to confound polls and strategic voters

Bill Tieleman’s 24 Hours Vancouver / The Tyee column

Tuesday October 6, 2015

By Bill Tieleman

"GOTV is a crucial part of winning close campaigns, and some campaigns do it better than others."

- Aaron Strauss, U.S. political analyst

Forget the polls. And ignore the noise on "strategic voting" -- which rarely has any impact on election results.

How do New Democrats, Conservatives and Liberals actually win ridings when they usually take under 50 per cent of the votes?

With a little-understood electoral weapon called GOTV: get out the vote.

First, you need to know that we don't have one election -- we have 338 separate elections to select the Member of Parliament in each riding.

The party that wins the most seats in an election forms the government -- so it's the MPs elected to Parliament that actually count, not national polls that don't reflect local reality.

That's why throughout this endless 11-week election, political parties have been canvassing at the door, by telephone, online and direct mail with two goals: persuade voters to support their party and track those results.

On election day -- and during advance polls -- that data goes to work. Each party has teams of supporters and paid staff all struggling to get out the vote.

Each party has its "marks" -- a numbers rating system on each voter contacted, indicating if they support their candidate and how strongly.

And that's why even a significant five per cent or more lead in the polls can mean nothing on E-day.

E-day surprise

Here's an example of how in a close race, any party with serious support can win the seat with a "GOTV surprise."

Let's say the Conservatives are polling 40 per cent of the vote NDP 35 per cent and the Liberals 25 per cent for simplicity's sake, with 100,000 eligible voters in the riding.

With 40 per cent, the Conservatives should have the most votes and win -- but wait.

If the NDP gets 50 per cent of its voters to the polls and the Conservatives and Liberals only 33 per cent, the NDP will have 17,500 votes versus the Conservatives' 13,200 and the Liberals' 8,250 -- and win the riding easily. That's the "GOTV surprise."

If every party had the same GOTV effort, money, number of volunteers and paid staff, phone banks, data and ability to utilize it, then the polling would dictate who wins -- but politics doesn't work like that.

In B.C., the Conservatives and NDP generally have the best "on the ground" GOTV campaigns because in 2011 those two parties won 21 and 12 seats respectively of B.C.'s then-36 seats, while the Liberals won two and the Greens one.

Why is GOTV particularly important in this election? Because to defeat the Conservatives and form a minority government with the most seats in Parliament, the NDP needs to win 35 more seats than they hold now nationally, while the Liberals need to win 100.

That means the Liberals task is almost three times harder -- not impossible but much more challenging.

Short of a disastrous drop in Quebec for the NDP with the Liberals the main beneficiary, it's hard to see where the Liberals could pick up 100 seats across the country.

Here in B.C., the NDP came in second in 18 of the Conservative seats, the Liberals in just 3 and the Greens in none.

This means, notwithstanding polls and voters changing party preference in 2015, that the Conservatives and NDP have demonstrated they have the two best GOTV efforts and are the most likely to be competing against each other in the overwhelming majority of B.C.'s now-42 ridings.

The third place party, the Liberals in this example, would need to get a 70 per cent turnout to match the NDP's 17,500 votes -- and a bit more than that to win.

Fourth past the post

What about the Green Party or other candidates? Unless they are polling in percentages similar to the other parties in our example, they have no chance to win.

But they can impact the possibility of the non-Conservative parties losing to the Conservative candidate if enough votes that might have allowed the NDP or Liberal to win instead go to a Green or other candidate.

That's not an anti-Green comment, it's a straightforward political analysis of the challenge facing any fourth or fifth party anywhere in the world. And Greens can potentially make the same argument against the NDP and Liberals in leader Elizabeth May's Saanich Gulf Islands riding, presuming she polls higher than the others.

Some will undoubtedly argue that this example under our first-past-the-post or single plurality electoral system illustrates the need for a proportional representation electoral system.

Fair enough argument, although every electoral system depends heavily on GOTV efforts to maximize seats won.

And under the mixed member proportional system used in many European countries and rejected by Ontario voters in 2007's binding referendum, this example would still result in the same candidate winning the local riding.

The MMP would somewhat balance that with a second ballot indicating party preference and then add elected members from each parties' list of candidates to roughly equal the national vote percentages of each party.

Nonetheless, and notwithstanding promises from the NDP, Liberals and Greens to introduce proportional representation, the 2015 election is not being fought with that system.

Sorry strategic voters

Strategic voting has been heavily promoted by Leadnow and other groups but as I have previously detailed in The Tyee, the facts are it rarely affects elections.

The problems are many and significant: to work strategic voting requires accurate and detailed riding level polling in many areas; a serious advertising and communications budget to get the word out to voters in multiple ridings; convincing up to 60 per cent of NDP or Liberal voters to support the party they have consistently opposed in the past; and overcoming strong campaigns and GOTV efforts by both parties -- who obviously completely oppose strategic voting.

And it's GOTV that will likely prove decisive in this election barring a sudden voter stampede to one party that would rival the surprising NDP victory in Alberta earlier this year -- when Rachel Notley's crew saw their vote quadruple over the previous election. That kind of movement happens extremely rarely. 

But in this election, the main factor will be what Aaron Strauss observed: "Some campaigns do it better than others" -- and those campaigns will win seats on October 19.


Sunday, October 04, 2015

Why Conservatives Don't Need a Majority to Keep Power in 2016, and Beyond

Prime Minister Stephen Harper - "Just watch me!"
The Stephen Harper Conservatives have a clear path to stay in control, and fight another election, without Parliament ever sitting.

Bill Tieleman’s 24 Hours Vancouver / The Tyee column

Tuesday September 29, 2015

By Bill Tieleman

“No one is so brave that he is not disturbed by something unexpected."

Call it an unexpected doomsday scenario for New Democrats, Liberals and Greens, but the Conservatives have a clear path to stay in power after the election into 2016 -- and then fight a second election -- without Parliament ever sitting.

And with some polls putting the Conservatives in first place, or at least with the best chance of winning the most seats, the odds of them pulling a magic rabbit out of the electoral hat keep increasing.

Despite people like Green Party leader Elizabeth May being in denial -- her party issued a recent flyer claiming "the Conservatives will not form the government after this election" -- exactly the opposite is very likely.

Unwelcome news to many, but here's how it could work.

The Conservatives win the most seats in the new 338-seat Parliament on Oct. 19, but not the 170 MPs needed for a majority, followed by the NDP, Liberals, Greens and Bloc Quebecois.

The order that opposition parties finish in and their seat count are of great interest, but not a major factor in this scenario.

That means as the incumbent, Stephen Harper remains prime minister unless and until defeated in a confidence vote in Parliament.

So Harper doesn't call a session until spring -- and Canada's Constitution only requires Parliament to meet once a year.

One obvious precedent: former Progressive Conservative prime minister Joe Clark delayed calling a session for five months after winning a minority government in 1979.

This is constitutionally straightforward no matter how many times optimistic Harper haters claim otherwise. In fact, no prime minister has been dismissed by Canada's governor general in our post-Confederation history.

NDP leader Tom Mulcair and Liberal leader Justin Trudeau both say the party with the most seats gets the first chance to form a government.

Mulcair recently said: "The party that forms the next government is the party that has the largest number of seats. That's our constitutional order."

And Harper agrees.

Harper resigns

Next, Harper announces he will resign as party leader but remain prime minister until a Conservative leadership contest occurs.

In early 2016, a new Conservative leader is chosen by the membership and becomes the new prime minister. That is tradition both federally and, with premiers, provincially.

Paul Martin and Kim Campbell, for example, became new Liberal and Conservative prime ministers respectively, after becoming their party's leader.

The new Conservative PM calls both Mulcair and Trudeau seeking their support to resume Parliament -- presumably they immediately refuse, though a careful reading of their recent statements shows they would not allow "Harper" to continue in a minority situation, not specifically "the Conservatives."

"I think that anybody who has attended a single question period over the course of the last several years would be able to tell you that there is no likelihood that the NDP would ever, under any circumstance, be able to support Mr. Harper," Mulcair told reporters last week.

Trudeau was equally clear: "There are no circumstances in which I would support Stephen Harper to continue being prime minister of this country."

But no matter.

Election, round two

The new Conservative leader makes a major policy statement thanking Harper for his great economic leadership but apologizing for some "excesses," like the draconian security Bill C-51, muzzling scientists and public sector workers, repeated confrontations with organized labour, and climate change inaction.

"It's a brand new day," the new Tory leader shouts with joy, outlining significant plans for change after seeing the light.

But because the NDP and Liberals won't give peace a chance, the new prime minister asks Governor General David Johnston to dissolve Parliament and call a new election so the Conservatives can seek a mandate.

And after Johnson agrees, citing past precedents -- debatable or deplorable -- we are into another election in May 2016!

Newly elected MPs of all parties never even get to their desks, and a weary Canada trudges off to the polls again, cursing politicians all the way but unclear which are the worst.

The Conservatives under their new leader -- is it Jason Kenney, Peter MacKay or some other worthy right-winger? -- once again use their enormous fundraising advantage to more than double the spending of the NDP and Liberals.

A re-energized base is both thrilled to see Harper finally gone and relieved their party has a fighting chance at winning the 2016 election.

And while a majority is the goal, they know a minority Tory government will last at least 18 months, since the opposition won't dare defeat them in Parliament to force a third election in 12 months.

Alternative scenarios

Outlandish? Impossible? Maybe, but Canadians keen on ending Harper's reign may be disturbed by the unexpected -- as surprising as what happened to Julius Caesar on the steps of the Senate on the Ides of March.

For those who read the polls, know the Canadian Constitution and parliamentary precedents, and understand how a desperate party can cling to power -- remember Harper proroguing the House of Commons in 2008, for example -- and it becomes an increasingly likely scenario.

Those who discount this possibility probably also disagreed with my own Ides of March warning to the NDP and Liberals in 2011 that defeating the Harper Conservative minority government would end in disaster.

"Friday's opposition vote to defeat the Conservative government for 'contempt of Parliament' was an exercise in self-delusion, testosterone and faulty logic that will surely result in Stephen Harper returning after the May 2 election as prime minister -- and likely with a majority," I wrote in The Tyee on March 29, 2011, with events unfortunately proving the point.

Harper could do it again -- or even pull off a second, even more disturbing scenario, in which the Conservatives are just a handful of seats from a majority on Oct. 19.

In that case, Harper stays on, delays calling a session of Parliament until spring, and works the phones day and night.

"Hey, Liberal MP from New Brunswick! Would you like to join my cabinet? And what does your excellent riding need in terms of federal funding?" Harper might ask in so many words, trying to convince a few good men and women to switch parties.

After all, it took then-Liberal Vancouver Kingsway MP David Emerson mere days to become a Conservative cabinet minister back in 2006, despite repeatedly denouncing Harper -- who is to say either of these possibilities can't happen again with so much at stake?

Unless, that is, the NDP and Liberals stop the Conservatives from winning the most seats on Oct. 19.