Voting in Canada’s 2015 Federal Election

We’re in the midst of an election in Canada, and I’ve been spending an extremely long time analyzing our alternatives in the Victoria riding. Yesterday I made my decision on how to vote. Here it is, if you’re interested.

First things first. In general, in whatever riding you live, the overriding principle on how to vote should be: deny the seat to the Conservatives. If the Conservative candidate has any chances whatsoever, vote for the strongest-polling candidate from the other parties. The damage that Harper has caused to this country that I loved from my first day here has been tremendous. He has poisoned the political discourse, pretending citizens are merely taxpayers, dismantling the civil service, fighting science and evidence-based policy, turning many of us, including many born in Canada, into second-class citizens, spying on dissidents, depending, at this time of environmental crisis, on exploitation of the dirtiest fossil fuels in the planet for economic growth (only to have that economic growth crash down the moment oil prices drop), sowing up fear, hatred, and bigotry, and embarrassing us around the world. He must go. It does not matter if you think Trudeau is not ready, it does not matter if Mulcair looks awkward, it does not matter if in debates they argue like school children, it does not matter if you don’t like some policy details from one platform or the other. Our first goal must be: deny the seat to the Conservatives.Penguin Enemy

This goal, however, does not help us in Victoria. We live in a very progressive city, where the Conservative candidate does not have a shot, and the Liberal candidate stepped down after someone dug up some controversial Facebook comments. In here, it’s a fight between the NDP’s incumbent, Murray Rankin, and the Green challenger, Jo-Ann Roberts. I’ve met both of them, chatted for a good while with Rankin, saw them debate, and had conversations with their canvassing volunteers. I’ve also poured over their party platforms, though the NDP did not make this task easy,
releasing its 81-page platform document extremely late, only two days ago, when advanced polling had already started.

What do the candidates and their parties offer?

Rankin, the incumbent, offers a great resume, to start. He has worked as an environmental lawyer, has worked for First Nations communities, and already has parliamentary experience. He’s not a backbencher, he’s performed as an Opposition critic, and on an NDP government would probably have a cabinet position. Though when I talked to him
he tended to regurgitate NDP talking points, to ramp up the chumminess, and to amplify my own indignation in a manner I thought not quite genuine, I can’t blame him for that (the campaign trail is tough), and I am happy to have him as our representative, all else being equal.

The NDP itself is a bit harder to love. For a party that is the natural choice of the Left, it is bizarre to see it running to the right of the Liberals in an effort to clinch the election. There is no hint of capital redistribution in its platform, for instance. Crucially, for Victoria, the party does not reject tar sands pipelines; it rejects merely their oil-friendly approval review process (it was painful to see Rankin in a debate with an extremely environmentally-minded crowd perform verbal contortions to stick to the NDP platform on this while still trying to tell us what we wanted to hear). I have several other minor concerns, such as the party’s support for the investor-state Canada-Korea trade treaty, its doublespeaky support for the energy sector, shutting up candidates when they dare speak about keeping oil in the ground, and its folksy “let’s roll our sleeves and get’er done” approach to vision and platform documents, which makes me feel like I’m about to get swindled by my union rep.

And yet, many of my lefty friends, whom I respect highly, swear by the NDP, and love it. The choice for them is obvious:
the NDP is the progressive choice, warts and all, and it would be foolish not to support it. To them, throughout this election, Victoria Greens are either crypto-liberals, crypto-libertarians, or merely wide-eyed party-poopers who may be denying us our very first shot at a truly progressive government.

What about the Green candidate? Roberts’s resume, on progressive issues, is certainly less impressive than Rankin’s. She worked for decades as a CBC journalist and radio show host, but other than vowing to fight CBC funding cuts, and a declared affinity for Green policy, she appeared to be, to me, a bit of a blank slate from a political perspective (she claimed that her work as a journalist demanded the projection of neutrality). In debates she seemed quite sharp, yet diplomatic, following the Green principles to the dot. In the one case that I observed where she was unsure of the official party policy (on animal rights), she offered her views on the topic, and later corroborated that they matched with the official stance.

This is important to me because of two points that, combined, are problematic. The first is the Green policy against vote whipping. On its face, it is refreshing: the NDP’s Rankin is a very competent representative, but he will have to vote the party line every time, as he has during his tenure so far, and as every single other NDP representative has in recent years, for every single vote, even when that vote goes against our wishes. But one must consider the presence of people such as Andrew Weaver, a BC Green MLA (provincial representative), by all accounts a great scientist, but a petty, confrontational, status-quo politician, refusing to adhere to his party’s stance and claiming there is room for his views under its “big tent”. I have been a member of the Green Party for years, and Weaver’s performance has forced me to consider that I may have made a mistake. The big question for me then, for this election, is whether Roberts would turn out to be another Elizabeth May or another Andrew Weaver.

And why is adherence to the Green vision important? You may not be familiar with it, but if you are, and if you are progressively-minded, the reasons are evident. The Green platform is the most progressive choice available (an assertion that my NDP friends have disbelieved, but that remains standing under analysis). It is evidence-based, compassionate, modern, pacifist, and multicultural, and it follows Schumacher’s call to reject the gigantism that ails us as a society.

Obviously, the Green Party’s platform, being as good as it is, has no shot at actually forming government. It’s the Hermione Granger of Canadian politics, the woman in the male-dominated boardroom that offers the common-sensical solution, ignored, only to hear her peers repeat it mangled up and get all the credit. It’ll probably be an eternal underdog, and it needs all the help it can get.

What to do, then? Support the best platform on an untested candidate, or make a pragmatic decision, lending support to a party that can actually implement its vision? This was my dilemma, until recently. Two points tipped the balance.

The first is the poor performance of the NDP in the national polls in the past couple of weeks, which convinced me that their chance of forming government has practically evaporated, and the calculation that Trudeau’s Liberals may actually need Green seats to push their agenda. The pragmatic progressive vote here, then, given the trajectory of the polls, is Green.

The second point was my growing conviction, especially after talking to canvassers and getting a call from Roberts, and the very direct appeals from Elizabeth May, that Roberts, indeed, is committed to the progressive aspects of the Green platform.

Roberts has an uphill battle—the polls are close, though they do not favour her—but she may yet win. I cast my vote for her yesterday, and I invite you to vote for her as well. My only regret is that I came to this decision so late, so that whatever support I can drum up will be limited.

There is advance polling today (Sunday) and tomorrow. Even if you don’t agree with my conclusions, I urge you to vote. Both the NDP and the Greens need a strong showing, with as little absenteeism as possible, as our aggregated numbers will matter in determining the possible legitimacy of a Harper government, should he not get a majority but attempt to rule on a minority government. Please go vote!

Voting in Victoria’s municipal election

The mayoral election in Victoria is coming up in November 15th, and for once choosing a candidate was not an easy decision. I ended up doing quite a bit of research, both on the mayoral candidates and on council candidates, and I thought it best to share my conclusions for any undecideds still left.

For mayor, of course, the choice was between Fortin and Helps. I did not understand the discontent over Fortin. He’s progressive, environmental, compassionate, and apparently a great guy. Victoria is improving through his tenure. The budget overruns with the Johnson Bridge should be expected, and the issue seems just an effort to rally up voters who define themselves as “taxpayers” exclusively. So as an incumbent he looks great—except we have a choice, in Helps, of another seemingly progressive, environmental, strong candidate. I had friends endorse either candidate very convincingly. So I had to do quite a bit of city council motion reading, debate-watching, canvasser-questioning, and so on.

In the end I chose Fortin. One reason is that he is an experienced mayor over whom I have no objections. Another reason is that, as I understand from a couple of sources, Helps’ relation with council is strained, and since those council members are likely not going anywhere, we might end up with a more dysfunctional council if she wins. But the greater reason is that, through my research, I grew convinced that while Fortin is authentically convinced of progressive causes, Helps has more of a flexible, “pragmatic” position. The positive spin on Helps’ malleability is that she listens to the public on the issues that matter to them. The negative, as suggested by her stance on issues like the Mason St development site or the Crystal Pool vote, is that there’s a chance, not high but fair, that she will take a conservative or centrist position unless there’s an outcry big enough for her to backtrack. That could get tiring. She says that she does not want to be placed within a left-right continuum; I would like a mayor that is comfortable working and deciding from the left.

Council (each voter can vote for up to eight candidates) was a difficult decision too, mainly because there were (a) many candidates, and (b) few credible ones. Choosing the first five or six was easy; the rest was tough. A good tool to decide was the Dogwood Initiative’s survey of candidates. I am still a bit unsure on two of the candidates I chose, though I’m afraid their chances are low anyway.

The most difficult, vaguest decision was for School Board Trustees (we can vote for up to nine). There are very few materials to help one decide, and, again, not very many credible candidates. Most say the same things, mostly about wanting to either keep good public services or being financially responsible, and reading between the lines of their small differences is difficult.

So here we go, my choices for this election (* indicates most uncertainty/second thoughts):

Mayor – Dean Fortin

Council

  • Marianne Alto
  • Ben Issit
  • Erik Kaye
  • Jeremy Loveday
  • John Luton
  • Pamela Madoff
  • Ian Hoar (*)
  • Charlayne Thornton-Joe (*)

School Board

  • Edith Loring-Kuhanga
  • Diane McNally
  • Deborah Nohr
  • Rob Paynter
  • Jordan Watters
  • Nicole Duncan (*)
  • Bev Horsman (*)
  • Ruth MacIntosh (*)
  • Ann Whiteaker (*)

If you feel I included some bizarre choices here, or that I’m missing a really fantastic candidate, I would love it if you let me know. Remember to go vote!

Things were very different before we came by

Reading Berton’s “The National Dream“, about the construction of the Canadian transcontinental railroad, I’m impressed by how different Canada was only 140 years ago. Its political system was tremendously corrupt; its territory was barren, largely unexplored, deadly; its only neighbour was poised to take over it, by economic if not military force. Victoria, the major city in the Canadian West Coast then, barely had a thousand voters—Vancouver wasn’t even on the map. The country, on the whole, appeared, to my eyes at least, to be on the verge of collapse for at least a couple of decades.

What I find striking is that this was all not so long ago: our grandparents’ grandparents lived through it. And yet the impression I got from Canada, when I first arrived, was of a country established, whole, with a culture, a history, and an identity. The “Canadian project” was not in question.

Many of the good things we take for granted were not easy to accomplish; they were not a given. They required quite a bit of effort, and quite a bit of luck, and everything that is true about that time is true about today.

Canadian citizenship

Taking the oath of citizenshipLast Sunday, on Canada Day, Val and I took the oath of citizenship to become Canadian (we retain our Mexican citizenship, too). The ceremony took place at the beautiful Government House, and we got the chance to meet and shake hands with the Lieutenant Governor Steven Point, the Minister of Community, Sport, and Cultural Development for British Columbia, Ida Chong, and the Mayor of Victoria, Dean Fortin.

It was an emotional ceremony, but I didn’t feel I became Canadian there. As with my PhD convocation, I felt that the ceremony was merely a ritual to mark something that had happened earlier on, gradually, over many moments and incidents. Getting the citizenship is great—I’ll get to vote, travel will be much easier—but I’ve been calling Canada home for a long time already.