Move Over Seinfeld…Toronto Got Another Show About Nothing #topoli

Imagine a reality show where you have five main contestants:

-This popular guy from four years ago who had come out of rehab because he smoked crack.

-A perennial loser. Who is a all around good guy, but tend to say weird things.

-A woman who is unlike her late husband even if she is trying really hard.

-This random woman who was on Undercover Boss Canada to make sure the trains do run on time.

-This nerdy guy, who is smart, intelligent and makes sense with his awkward smile. But he could finish last of the group if he is not voted in.

No, it’s not the 87th season of Big Brother. It’s Toronto politics.

And yet, even if all five major candidates are all different, they platform are all similar being between populism in a technocracy and technocratic populism.

The main difference in platforms between the candidates is between subways, more subways, more LRT (a fancy world for streetcars) or more or less of the same.

Rob Ford? He could win the election. But essentially because he is seen as many to be entertaining for the job in a world of politically correct automatons. The guy is clearly unstable for the job and I feel sad for him. I think that losing the mayorship for him would be a good thing for him, his wife and Rob Ford’s kids.  But to crucify Ford because he seems to not love gays is a waste of time. The major problem with him is his lack of trust. Would you trust him to do anything for now on?

On the other side you got John Tory. Will he be able to be like Lazarus? In 2003, he was close of winning the post of mayor. He could be first past the post this time. However, his other experiences in politics had been total fails. The 1987 provincial election, the 1993 federal election with two seats left and even the by-election he lost after losing the 2007 provincial election were bad memories. The problem with Tory is that he is good on paper, but he tend to fudge when it counts like for the funding for confessional schools in 2007.

Olivia Chow? The problem with Chow is that unlike her late husband she doesn’t seems like someone who is nice. She sadly seems to be the kind of one way person who doesn’t accept any criticism while she is bashing anyone else. The other problem is I find chow to be like Bob Rae in 1990, a politician of protest and I am not sure how she will be in power when she will have to say no.

Trust is also important in this campaign. Problem is that the 2011 federal campaign has a major trust issue because of Jack Layton health condition and the fact that he died only a few weeks after the election in the summer of 2011. Chow was never open about this and citizens never got the whole story on this to make an informed choice in a very presidential kind of election. We never got the exact story on why Layton was walking with a cane. If she has the same attitude in power when making decisions, it will raise lots of doubt just like Rob Ford is actually doing.

The other thing with Chow? Her tendency to go on gimmicks which are Rob Ford-like. Her pledge to "ban handguns" are one example that makes me skeptical about what Chow will be when decisions will have to be made. Chow also have (especially in debates) a constant holier-than-you attitude. I don’t like politicians who take a Mother Theresa stand on everything. That’s un-progressive. In fact, don’t think that Chow is the "progressive" candidate in the race.

Karen Stintz? I don’t know much about her to be honest. She was not really impressive in debates. The only thing I could remember of her are the bad flower ad. Perhaps they are not this bad after all because I remember her mainly because of her ad and the flower seeds.

And David Soknacki is probably the guy who impressed me the most. I didn’t know him a lot as a councilor to be honest. Seems like a guy who know his stuff unlike the ton of gimmicks which others say. Sadly, perhaps he is just too honest and competent for this job.

The worse part is this people in Toronto will have these choices. Good candidates are much too low in the polls and the over-hyped candidates are much too high.

Back off the Internet

Like many people who are interested in the area of privacy, I have been following the NSA case for months and months.

One thing is sure. It’s sickening. The NSA is so much of a beast that even elected officials know very little about it’s internal policies or even basic figures in their budget.

It’s sickening to see politicians accept spying, but then turn around and say how bad it is when they are spied themselves.

But it’s naive to say that it’s just the NSA who does it. In Brazil it’s done, in Russia it’s done, in China it’s done. Whatever for security, industrial or technical interest. However, that Edward Snowden is used as a tool of the Russian government is secondary to the fact that he exposed things which went against the US Constitution. As Snowden was a public servant of the US Government, he did what is right by being a whistleblower.

This is why people (and elected officials) should become the watchdog of a state which is too intrusive in people bedrooms in the name of "security". You can have security with liberty, but you cannot have liberty with security.

There is no doubt also that the state should get off of the Internet. The example of the "Right to be Forgotten" by the European Union comes to mind, and it has a chilling effect and it’s usually used by people who are well connected and have a lot of money and staff to waste.

Journalism has no future? Good.

There is no doubt that journalism had changed a lot in the last 10 to 15 years. People tend to take information from a lot of sources, and advertising revenues are difficult to get by which makes that all business models are difficult to get by. People are also less inclined to pay for information.

But all these changes really open opportunities that were impossible before. Lower overhead costs now makes it possible to dedicate more resources into journalism itself.

I am a fan of print journalism. But I don’t see a future with print journalism in the west except with very local journalism. What I see rather is that journalism will go from soft news to depth articles and commentaries.  This is why many newspapers now use news agencies to work on their day to day "press releases" type articles.

There is no doubt that in the next few years, a robot will be able to write simple day to day articles. But the market for niche journalism or commentary is virtually unlimited. With overhead costs going lower and lower, it’s even now possible now to do experimental journalism, by doing crazy out of the this world things.

You have a laptop computer with the Internet and a crazy idea? Congrats. You could become a journalistic star if your idea is indeed really good.

This is why that even if journalism seems to have no future, it has one. One which could open a lot of doors instead of closing them. And with billions of ideas in the world, it’s possible to do anything. There is no doubt that perhaps in the next few years, we will see the rise of the hyper-freelancer, the person who is a journalistic star, but who is working by himself.

Autopsy of an election

Who won the Ontario yesterday?

It’s not who you think. The PC had performed badly as they had not won new seats, the NDP had a correct score but no wave, as the party had lost some strongholds. You probably all think that it’s the Liberals who had won it? Really? Nah. I do not think the Liberals have won a big prize.

In fact, the Liberals had lost the election by winning it with a majority. By doing what is happening right now in France to the Socialist Party who have no credibility left. There could be a possibility that the Liberals continue their ways and their government could become toxic. The Liberals had done a five weeks campaign based on denial and attacking others because their own record is frankly terrible. Very few new ideas from them.

The Liberals have won a majority? And yet, their coalition that put them in power could collapse really fast. First example are trade unions related to the public sector, if the Liberals do like what McGuinty did two years ago, it will probably be too much for them. Without "Working Families" and the teachers union supporting them, not sure that the Liberals will have a strong machine.

On a side note, as many are saying, the trade unions in the public sector are possibly the only organisation who is organized enough in Ontario who had any power to GOTV. Even many people in big business support the Liberals because they love giving subsidies. And unions in Ontario are not close to the NDP as they are to the Liberals since a few years.

The dilemma for the Liberals is that if you massively raise taxes, you will have quasi-riots and if you do massive cuts, trade unions will do everything to destroy you especially if they had supported you in the past. Ask Bob Rae. The new electoral map is also a double edged sword for the Liberals. The 905 could be a very volatile region like the 2011 federal election told us.

The second thing are taxes. Like for Manitoba with the GST raise, sooner or later, one tax will be too much. The Liberals had become toxic since 2011 in almost all of rural Ontario and if there is a chance that they do a policy which puts people angry except in their strongholds. This had happened to the NDP in BC in the 2001 provincial election.

This is why this election will have consequences. Ontario will be downgraded sooner than later if business continue as usual and Wynne superpowers to not cut anything and please anyone will vanish as quickly as they appeared. If the Bob Rae legacy told us one thing, you need to be really strong when times are rough.

People tended to laugh about Atlantic provinces or Quebec for a long time for re-electing corrupted, incompetent and despotic governments, now it’s Ontario who is the joke province by taking the easy way out rather than the responsible way in.

I must say that Tim Hudak did a great campaign except that his Million Jobs Plan was tacky, ill-conceived and stucked to him for too long. This was a problem and it’s sadly better in an election to be general and concise as same time. Negative advertising also works well especially against a government as despotic as the Liberals. Stephen Harper had learned this after his 2004 loss and it worked wonders against Michael Ignatieff. Next PC leader should make the referendum as a referendum on the Liberals, and says that he would make things better. It worked really well to the Quebec Liberals (which are frankly not like Ontario Liberals) to transform the election on a referendum on a shaky PQ government.

But Hudak loss doesn’t mean a lots of things as he was always a very unpopular leader in the polls who burned his chances rapidly. Ontario is not a left-wing utopia and there will be a tide against the Liberals as soon as they will impose another (carbon?) tax or a deficit levy. This will make the Liberals toxic in the 905. In some ways, Quebec (who is currently doing a very ballsy pension reform for employees in the municipal sector) is becoming like the Ontario of the mid-1990′s while Ontario is becoming like British Columbia in the late 1990′s.

The NDP are in a shaky position being a third party in votes in Toronto while doing well in industrial heartlands and in Northern Ontario. But Horwath has a big problem in her hands. Like in BC, they are divided between two clans, the urban activist wing and the pragmatic bread and butter camp (some call them the Tommy Douglas camp, as they are supportive of balanced budgets). But it’s sure that one of the wings will leave the party. The Liberals are also divided between a left of centre faction and a more pragmatic centrist faction. If things go very badly for the Liberals, party will have difficulty be united.

In conclusion, what is strange is how the Liberals had taken a big gamble with this election like the BCNDP winning an unexpected majority in 1996. This gamble is a dangerous game as you are sometimes better to rebuild in opposition for a few years rather than continue. The party have many skeletons in their closet and awful management skills. Like the Tories in the UK in the 1990′s, the Liberals could win another term in government to be for ages in opposition being divided between two wings. And there is no doubt that the Liberal cabinet is far from strong and that wishful thinking aside, the federal Liberals are nervous if the Ontario Liberals screw up until fall 2015.

Ontario decides what tomorrow? #onpoli #on2014

Ontario will vote tomorrow for a general provincial election.

For those who are not familiar with the Canadian political system, a Canadian province have a lot of powers. In education, healthcare, transportation and energy, they manage a lot of resources. But a majority of voters in Ontario will probably don’t vote tomorrow. Unlike in Quebec where 70-ish of voters had turned out to vote last April, political apathy is high right now in Ontario. Very high.

The Liberals in Ontario had been in power since 2003, and they been implicated in a loads of scandals. Ontario is also in a dire fiscal situation. The province have a out of control structural deficit, a mounting debt and massive problems related to corruption and despotism. In any normal situation, paying more than one billion dollars in fines because you cancelled a power plant project to save a few marginal seats and then trying to hide the evidence would be tantamount to prison.

The party also lacks vision and especially political courage, for example by ordering a detailed report (the Drummond Report) on finding ways to help Ontario have a sustainable financial future but by then shelving all its more important points.

Instead of running on their record in office, which is frankly horrible in the last few years, the Liberals had done a nasty campaign of fear against both the Progressive Conservatives and the NDP. The other trend is that the Liberals are having support of all the clientelistic groups possible. Whatever some corporations, trade unions and pressure groups, the Liberals had become a status-quoesque patronage machine for established interests.

So, why are Wynne’s Liberals are not at 15% in the polls? Because of "progressives" who wants to vote "against" Tim Hudak PC. In other words, the Liberals have promised the Moon to every pressure group possible and would don’t mind putting the province broke just to win another term.

What if the reactionaries (aka those who wants to protect the entrench interests) are now with the Liberals?

I find that Tim Hudak is quite pragmatic. What he wants to cut (and he is honest to say it unlike the Liberals) is realistic. He wants to lower the number of employees down to 2009 levels. The NDP wants to cut also but they clearly don’t need a Ministry of savings to know where to cut as the Drummond Report had done this job.

What progressives voting for Wynne should remember is that the Liberals are hardly champions of many of their causes. They support corporate cronyism (ie: giving taxpayers money to prop up rich corporations who in return give money to the party), they support the Beer Store (a corporate monopoly) and they support giving bailouts to help corporations making cars for example.

But the problem instead goes much deeper for Canadian progressives. They don’t seems to have allies who understand that in some cases organised labour and other pressure groups are not the best actor to promote social justice. I agree that the ONDP and the Greens had understood this and like European social democratic parties, they now understand that having more deficit spending and more debt is fundamentally an anti-social policy. 

So, who the support? Vote or don’t vote, but remember that voting for the Liberals is giving them carte blanche for the future even if they are still in a minority. And if this future is like the past few years, Ontario will become the worst province in Canada in many ways. 

Don’t hate Lutfur Rahman, hate the game. #TowerHamlets

Never mind Lutfur Rahman and Tower Hamlets, having elected mayors works.

But only in one condition. That the mayor have one vote in the municipal council. In a system of checks and balances, there is no doubt that the mayor must have the confidence of the municipal council to do anything. Being an elected mayor does not means that you should be above the law.

A recurrent critic of the elected mayor system in the UK is that it lacks oversight as the mayor is running in a way a shadow government. What Lutfur Rahman had done seems serious but he was caught his hand in the cookie jar in a system which helps him.

Local government is a mess in the UK which don’t help the empower the responsability associated with an elected mayor. For example in the specific case of the London boroughs, some boroughs have elected mayors and others have mayors which have no political power. The situation is the same all around the UK. Some major cities have elected mayors and other have not. In Canada and in some parts of the US, cities have become real unitary authorities with boroughs which have very limited powers when they exist. Almost anywhere in the world of local democracy outside the UK, the mayor is an important figure, but in many North American cities, he has one vote like the others in council.

How could major elected officials in all 32 London boroughs be able to get on the same footing when one is elected by a majority of his constituents and the other is nominated because of is the leader of the party running the council assembly?
In fact, when it became possible by law for local administration to have mayors directly elected by people by referendum, it made a bad problem worse by having a jurisdictional hotchpotch which makes it clear that some elected officials have more standing than others.
London boroughs also have this horrible electoral system which makes it possible to have no opposition in the borough council (like what happened in 2010 in the borough of Newham and Barking and Dagenham) with only more than half of the popular vote. The electoral system should be reformed as having no opposition is the worse thing which could happens to any democratic system to have more despotism and corruption. This is why the London boroughs should have an STV system for local elections like in Scotland.

Sadly, akin to the question of unitary authorities which is a ongoing debate which lasted for decades, all local government reforms in the UK had been unfinished business tainted with many cases of NIMBYism and bad compromises. They have created a monster which even have made even the more political citizen become uninterested by all the complexity involved by this framework. With all the districts, counties, metropolitan authories, even an Oxford graduate sometimes have difficulty keeping out the pace.

This is why the problem is with local administration rather than elected mayors. A broken system, which looks liks a rambling shack covered with decades and decades of duct tape.
As the level of governement closest to citizens, power to the People should be the battle cry for localism? Does it really applies to the UK or is this just a theorical fantasy out of a A-Level British politics course?

Dear Lib Dems, just be liberals for now on, you have nothing to lose

The Lib Dems have one seat now in the European Parliament.

Is it a bad result? Yes. But I see it as a big opportunity. They have very little to lose.

Big problem with the Lib Dems is that the party was a bric-a-brac coalition between liberals, radicals, third ways, centrists and social democrats. This coalition cannot move on. You cannot live in the political arena as a third party without ideas just because you are not red or blue.

First of all, the Liberal Democrats should have a more constructive approach to the EU. It’s a massive problem when some of party cadres are living 0ff the European Union. You are not the Party of In when you are trying to be more Catholic than the pope in regards to the EU.

Second of all, it’s illogical that the Lib Dems become an orange New Labour Party. The Lib Dems should be the party of food choice, of drug reform, of property rights and or school choice. The party should have insist of being the laboratory for radical reforms. For example, the party should have party planks decided by online voting, the party should have a e-membership. The Lib Dems should also be for a free press, with no ifs or buts involved.

Third of all, it’s harsh saying that, but the Lib Dems have an economical policy which is Labour-lite. Even Orange Bookers are seen as wets, people with no spines. The party should rather focus on a new manifesto, one which insists more on a bottoms-up welfare system (such as with a basic minimum income) and a tax code which is reducted to his most basic expression.

If the Lib Dems are incapable of having constant policy planks, they change change their bird to the dodo bird. A dobo bird which is squeezed between a panoply of political actors all taking parts of the dodo bird left and right.