Crawl Across the Ocean

Tuesday, November 29, 2005

Trending Towards Zero

No, not the level of respect in politics today, scoring in the NHL. 14 teams in action today and none managed more than 4 goals. The new NHL, bearing a strong resemblance to the old NHL.

Wasted Votes

During the typical campaign, I hear a lot of people say something like, "I'm going to vote for Person/Party X. I considered voting for person/party Y but I didn't want to waste my vote." For a typical specimen of this species, see this recent post over at Tart Cider,
"A Conservative vote in Parkdale-High Park is pretty much wasted, as far as I can see, since it squanders a real opportunity to influence the balance of power in the House of Commons."

So here's the question for anyone who is going to worry about casting a wasted vote this time around. What exactly do you mean by that?

Is it:

a) Your vote won't influence the outcome of the election
b) Your vote won't be cast for the eventual winner in your riding
c) Your vote won't be cast for either the eventual winner in your riding or a strong contender
d) Your vote will go to a party which isn't either in power or the official opposition
e) You don't expect the vote in your riding to be close
f) You plan to consider your options carefully the night before the election, drink heavily and show up wasted at the polls the next day

If it's a), I have bad news for you. I checked the last two federal elections and not a single race was decided by one vote. So every vote cast was wasted by this criteria. If this is your rule, you may as well stay home, since the odds of your vote actually affecting the outcome are so small that it's really not worth your while.

If it's b) then I am genuinely mystified. Say candidate Dockwell Stay is running in your riding and he was won by over 10,000 votes in the last 8 elections and he wins again by 15,000 votes this time. Do you somehow feel that your vote ensuring his margin was 15,001 instead of 15,000 was less wasted than if you had voted for someone else and the margin was only 14,999?

If its c) then I have to ask, given that we know from a) that your vote isn't going o affect the actual outcome, what benefit of less waste do you get from voting for one of the two contenders?

Say the final vote in your riding is: Ms. NDP 14,000, Mr. Liberal 13,750, Joe Conservative 6,000, Dr. Green 3,500.

Does knowing that you cast your vote for the NDP, thus preventing the results from being: Ms. NDP 13,999, Mr. Liberal 13,750, Joe Conservative 6,001, Dr. Green 3,500 mean that your vote wasn't wasted? Are we just back to a) and worrying about that vanishingly small chance of you casting the decided vote?

d) is like c) only even less rational. Would the final national seat standings affect how you vote in the situation I just described. Does it mean that a Green vote is wasted but a vote for the NDP, Libs or Conservatives isn't, even though your vote has no impact on the final seat totals?

As for e), does knowing the result ahead of time (in all likelihood) mean that your vote is wasted? But at the same time you know that (in all likelihood) your vote won't affect the outcome anyway, but you don't consider it a waste for that reason?

If its f) then, well, I can't argue with that one. Just don't drive to the polling booth.

So what's my point? My point is that the only criteria under which it makes sense to consider a vote wasted is a criteria under which pretty much every vote ever cast is wasted. So choosing who to vote for based on worries about wasting your vote is irrational and you are better off voting on principle.

Of course, if your objective is to influence how other people vote, then it might make perfect sense to talk about wasted votes.

So You Think You Know Politics?

Prove it - by entering James Bow's election result prediction pool (deadline: not for a while yet), or by trying to answer Calgary Grit's 20 questions about what will happen (deadline: Friday midnight), or by entering RevMod's gaffe-o-meter pool (deadline: tomorrow midnight).

Federal Election: Blogging Mission Statement

So the next federal election will take place on January 23rd, 2006.

The way I see it, the influence of the federal government is a function of two things1:
1) What policies are advocated by political parties
2) Which political party holds power

(Over)Simplifying even further, we can classify 1) as the non-partisan battleground of ideas and 2) as the partisan battleground of party politics. A blog like Dave Pollard's 'How to Save the World' which comments almost entirely on ideas and rarely mentions politics could be considered a fairly pure example of 1) while a blog like Calgary Grit which rarely mentions any policy issues, instead focussing on who said what and how it might affect them in the polls, is an example of a fairly pure form of 2). Most political/policy blogs fall somewhere in between the two extremes.

Sometimes the word 'partisan' is used in a perjorative sense, probably because supporters of a political party are continually forced into a 'does-the-end-justify-the-means' calculation in which tactics which might benefit their party even though they hurt the country are considered because the benefit to the country from having their party get elected is deemed (by party supporters) to outweigh the harm of the tactic in question. More cynically, people are also sometimes seen as seeking merely personal gain by supporting a party rather than seeking what is best for the country. This is no doubt true in some cases, but I think that, thankfully, it is not all that common in Canada.

Having said all that, I think that both non-partisan and partisan discussion have their place in a healthy democracy, but personally, I think we place too much the emphasis on party politics at the expense of thinking about which policies are best, and this is especially true during an election campaign. So I'm going to try and focus on the actual issues for this campaign, not because there is no place for partisan, strategic politics, but because I think that place is pretty full and I hate crowds.

Getting back to 1), most parties adopt policies which they feel are a mix of what should be done for the good of the country and what will be popular and help them win the election. Generally, the ratio of the former to the latter is inversely proportional to the % of the vote that the party normally receives.

My objective for the campaign is two-fold. One, to try and bring what's good for the country in line with what is popular. Second, to identify which party's platform is most in line with what is good for the country. To accomplish these goals2, what I want to look at is: What are the most important federal policy issues we face? What decisions fall within the scope of federal government and will really have a significant impact on the lives on Canadians and people around the world, now and in the future?

Once the key issues have been identified, I'll try to identify which courses of action, which policy choices, yield the greatest / most certain benefit. Then I'll tie it back to 2) by looking at what the parties are advocating on the key issues. Are the best policy options being proposed by anyone? Who is on the right track? Are people offering counter-productive policies?

So, over to you readers, what do you think are the most important federal issues, and (optionally) why? I have some ideas (regular readers can probably guess most of these) but I'll talk about those next post (in this series).

1 Obviously, I'm vastly oversimplifying things here, but for the purposes of this post, let's just ignore all the complicating factors.

2Yes, I am aware that the likelihood of my having any impact on anything requires an electron microscope to be differentiated from zero (hence the self-mocking post-title) but better to have blogged and lost than never to have blogged at all, and all that...

Monday, November 28, 2005


It looks like P.E.I. voters have voted against changing the province's electoral system. According to the CBC, "by the end of the night, Islanders had voted 63.99 per cent against reform, while 36.01 per cent voted yes."

The CBC characterized the 64% as an 'overwhelming No vote'. Meanwhile the Star noted that this was the second time a province had 'rejected' electoral reform, with B.C.'s 58% vote in favour of reform being characterized as a rejection (when only 6% higher and it would have been an 'overwhelming' endorsement!) The Star's coverage makes me wonder what would have happened if Campbell had set the threshold at 90% in B.C. and 87% had voted in favour. Would the Star still report it as voters rejecting change? I know, I know, I'm just cranky cause the 'Yes' side lost in P.E.I.

Anyway, reform was always going to be a tough sell in an old-school small-c- conservative province like P.E.I., especially with all the politicians doing what they could to ensure a 'No' vote, but I was still hoping for the best.

Oh well, just have to keep battling. Eventually Canadians will embrace change for the better, it's just going to take some work to hurry the process along as much as possible.

If you want something to cheer you up, this great introductory post on electoral reform by the Idealistic Pragmatist might do it. If not, the Carnival of Schadenfreude (next post down) is bound to bring a smile to the lips of anybody not named Conrad Black (or Barbara Amiel, perhaps).

Update: On yeah, I forgot to mention, the Federal government fell today (and it can't get up).

Carnival of Schadenfreude

Well, I caught my eye in the mirror
And gave it a long and loving inspection
"There stands some kind of man", I roared
And there did, in the reflection
My hair combed back like a raven's wing
My muscles hard and tight
And curling from the business end of my gun
Was a query-mark of cordite
Well I spun to the left, I spun to the right
And I spun to the left again
"Fear me! Fear me!"
But no one did cause they were dead

And then there were the police sirens wailing
And a bull-horn squelched and blared
"Drop your weapons and come out
With your hands held in the air"
Well, I checked the chambers of my gun
Saw I had one final bullet left
My hand, it looked almost human
As I raised it bravely to my head
"Drop your weapon and come on out!
Keep you hands above your head!"
I had one long hard think about dying
And did exactly what they said

I'm a little late commenting on this, but with some topics it's better late than never and the return of the prodigal Black sheep certainly falls into that category. A few years back, the British Government decided to offer Conrad Black a peerage (making him Lord Black of Crossharbour) but Prime Minister Chretien who (like many people), hated Black's guts, cited an obscure rule which prevents Canadian citizens from holding foreign titles, so Black was forced to choose between his Canadian citizenship and a British title.

Given the choice, Black renounced his Canadian citizenship, making some unfriendly comments at the time about how he could never soar on eagle's wings with the lead weight of Canadian citizenship tied around his talons (or something like that).

But Black's days of lording it over everyone have come to an abrupt end. These days he has been forced to sell off his assets, his longtime associate David Radler is squealing on him, and Black has been charged with 8 counts of fraud and is facing up to 40 years of jail time. Worst of all, the paper he founded, the National Post, held a contest to determine Canada's Greatest Public Right-Wing Ideologue and the Post's readers voted for Don Cherry over Black. If only he'd been more flamboyant with his suits, and less flamboyant with his status seeking and financial shenanigans, how different things could have been.

But what's done is done and the future looks bleak. Facing jail time in the U.S., Black has suddenly decided that maybe the lead weight of Canadian citizenship is bearable after all. It's enough to make a guy wish that Jean Chretien was still in power to give Black's appeal for citizenship the proper hearing it deserves. Even without Chretien around, it looks like the Liberals might be bringing in a law making it impossible for people charged with a serious crime to gain Canadian citizenship - seems reasonable. Perhaps this is just a Liberal ploy so that they can blame the opposition for Black getting his citizenship back if the new law dies due to an opposition vote of no confidence.

At any rate, few Canadian bloggers were able to resist the urge to partake in this rare bumper harvest of schadenfreude.

The Amazing Wonderdog, "enjoys the spectacle of Black crawling back upon his expensively tailored knees"

Pogge and Paul Wells both make the same jump to a joke about Paul Martin understanding flags of convenience.

Kevin Brennan wishes Black luck, sincerely I'm sure, although the post title suggests otherwise.

Talkx3 first wants Black to go on a speaking tour explaining to young Canadians why Canada is the best place to live. Great idea!

Maria has some heartfelt comments on the situation from the perspective of someone just getting their citizenship (for the first time).

A commenter on Maria's post suggests having Black beg for his citizenship on live TV (A great idea, I can see it now: Ben Mulroney hosting, "The lines will open up after the show. If you want to see Black given his citizenship back text us 'wotevr'. If you want his sorry ass kicked to the curb, text us with 'seeyah') which prompted Brett Lamb to do a poll.

Maribel (the Nag on the Lake), thinks that under the circumstances, Black might have to apply for refugee status.

The Melville quotient simply says, "Oh, Conrad. What a prick he is".

The Daily Ranter suggest the Black is the 'Weenie of the Week' - just the week?

Finally, Kevin Patrick, at A Town Called Podunk has the most thorough blog coverage I've seen, ending on a high note:
"Like many a tourist to Europe before him, suddenly Mr. Black has discovered that the little Maple Leaf on a backpack, or even on a passport, can be a truly valuable thing to call your own!"

1Lyrics from 'O Malley's Bar' by Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds. If you agree with Dan McTeague that the music of U.S. rapper $0.50USD is too violent to be played in Canada, do not ever listen to this song!

Rorschach Watch

Following up on my previous post, there were some more people projecting their own reasons onto the gap between Canadian and American productivity in the Globe today:

"A recent study by two top economists, Melvyn Fuss from the University of Toronto and Leonard Waverman, chair of economics at the London Business School, concluded that ICT can account for about 60 per cent of the huge and widening labour productivity gap between Canada and the United States.

Their study measured simple investment in ICT, but it went a step further than most studies by quantifying the spillover effects of ICT on productivity in companies. In essence, they attempted to measure the effects of networks, and not just quantities of hardware and software.

Specifically, the researchers look at the number of personal computers in use in the United States compared with Canada, as a proxy for diffusion of ICT. They find that households in Canada actually have more computers per capita than in the United States. Canadian small businesses have fewer computers per capita, but just marginally.

Medium-sized and large businesses, on the other hand, as well as education and government in Canada are far, far behind.

"There is significantly lower accumulation of ICT by medium and large firms, education and government in Canada," the study notes.

"The major difference in the stock of PCs in Canada used by medium and large corporations compared to U.S. firms may signal reluctance in Canada by managers to embrace completely the new economy and the significant changes it requires."

I can think of about 10 problems with this hypothesis off the top of my head, but here's the good news, column writer Heather Scoffield actually went out and did some research to get some balancing (and insightful) views so I don't have to make the effort.

"Andrew Sharpe, one of Canada's top experts on productivity, agrees with the two professors that ICT is at the root of much of the productivity gap with the United States. His own research shows that large corporations in Canada lag the United States in terms of investing in ICT.

Still, he is doubtful about drawing the conclusion that more than half the productivity gap can be explained away by the ICT factor. Given that PCs are quite cheap these days, any large company that needed one would already have one, he reasons.

"Intuitively it doesn't make sense," he said of the Fuss and Waverman conclusions.

Plus, the professors' paper focuses on the big gap between Canada and the United States, and does not shed much light on why, the United States aside, there has been essentially no productivity growth in Canada whatsoever for the past two years.

Mr. Sharpe, who is the executive-director of the Centre for the Study of Living Standards based in Ottawa, believes the most recent productivity stagnation is mainly because of Canada's natural resources.

Because commodity prices have been high, he argues, resource firms have had incentive to extract commodities that would be marginal with lower prices. While the extraction is still profitable, it drives down the national productivity numbers. (Productivity is usually defined as output per amount worked).

Still, Mr. Sharpe said he is generally sympathetic to the Fuss and Waverman argument that ICT is a main reason for Canada's poor productivity performance.

"Even if ICT is not the major cause, it may be part of the solution," he said.

Scoffield keeps digging...

"And the Fuss and Waverman paper hits a big brick wall when it comes to the country's statistics authority. John Baldwin, director of micro-economic analysis at Statistics Canada, says he thinks the study distorts the ICT problem in Canada.

"There are so many things that determine how productive a company is. I'd be surprised if there were a holy grail," he said. "The best firms are implementing ICT into their operations faster than other firms. But the best firms are doing a lot of things better than other firms."

Mr. Baldwin also has issues with the methodology used in the Fuss and Waverman paper, and he thinks they handicapped Canada by not considering that high-technology is embedded into many different types of equipment these days, not just computers.

Canada, he also points out, has a much different economy than the United States. Because Canada is a resource-based economy, much corporate profit is invested in infrastructure -- pipelines, dams, engineering structures -- rather than the machinery and equipment that U.S. profits favour.

Plus, Mr. Baldwin adds, since Canada has experienced a huge growth in its labour market over the past two years, the country's wealth per person has remained unchanged when compared with the United States, at about 80 per cent."

Personally, I'm inclined to side with Baldwin and Sharpe over Fuss and Waverman. Waverman shows his preference for words over reality with his quote that closes the column,
"Raising productivity is not about shedding jobs, but enabling labour to have the modern tools and the organizational structure to compete at world levels."

Of course if your labour force has the tools and structure to compete at world levels, this is just business speak for meaning that they each employee can get a lot done, and when each employee can get a lot done, you don't need as many of them (or you hire more because you've driven your less productive rivals out of business) and we're back to shedding jobs.

Anyway, while it's common to see people carelessly projecting their own opinions onto the productivity question, it's rare to find a well researched article which presents a balanced perspective on this complicated topic. Well done.


For some more technical details on some of the problems with the Fuss and Waverman paper, see this submission to the government's telecom policy review by the Canadian Cable Telecommunications Association (true, this is a lobby group, but their criticism of the paper (starting on page 4) seems pretty reasonable to me).


I couldn't find a link to the Fuss and Waverman study in question. It sure would be nice if the mainstream media would start linking to documents they write columns about in their online versions.

Life in Vancouver

I woke up this morning to a bright blue sky and two layers of white stuff on the ground. One being the first light dusting of frost I've seen this year, and the second being the layer of salt my landlady spread on the walkway to the curb.

Thanks to the salt, I was able to safely navigate the completely dry but treacherously cold concrete pathway. I guess if you live here and own salt, you have to take whatever chance you get to spread it around.

Random Grey Cup Thought

One nice thing about relatively simple sports like hockey and soccer: Your team may lose, but it's unlikely to lose because your star player doesn't know the rules of the game he's been playing all his life.

I guess that in the heat of the moment you forget these things, and it's not like the situation arises very often, and Calvillo showed some class, admitting his 'dumb mistake' after the game, but still: the thing which really makes football football, and not say, rugby, is that you are allowed one forward pass. Not two, one.

Great game though.

Sunday, November 27, 2005


A reminder that voting or the first round of the Canadian Blog Awards is underway, so if you wanted to vote for CAtO as best 'progressive' blog for the best blog in each category, the link is here.

You can vote once per day up to and including Wednesday.

Saturday, November 26, 2005

Take Your Future Into Your Own Hands, Islanders

If you're from P.E.I. I probably don't have to remind you of the string of lopsided results the first-past-the-post electoral system has produced. Currently 4 opposition MP's, 1 in the parliament before that, 1 after the 1993 election, and so on.

To really have a true democracy, you need to satisfy a couple of conditions which are currently being neglected. 1) The MP's in parliament should be a reasonable reflection of the voters preferences. If 45% of the province votes for someone other than the winning party, and that 45% is represented by one person, the system is broken.

2) There needs to be a credible opposition in the house which has enough numbers to effectively monitor government action. When one lone person is trying to do the job of holding government accountable for the entire Island, the system is broken.

The only reason we still have the inadequate electoral system we do is because it is in the interests of the politicians in power (who like only have one person holding them accountable) to keep the system as it is, and these same people are responsible for setting the terms of when and how the system can be changed.

Look no further than Premier Binns setting of an unprecedented 60% threshold for the vote against the wishes of the commission he himself set up and muttering out of one side of his mouth about needing a high turnout for the results to count and giving orders to cut funding for the referendum out of the other side of his mouth to see a politician who feels threatened by the idea of an electoral system where there will be a real opposition.

P.E.I. is a small province but it could send a big message to the rest of the country on Monday. A message that the people of P.E.I. are no longer willing to settle for democracy lite under an electoral system that almost the entire world has already abandoned.

Vote yes on Monday.

Friday, November 25, 2005

This Surface May Seem Calm Enough, But Underneath, But Underneath

Well, the fog has given way to plain old rain, so things are back to normal here in Vancouver, which I guess means that it is time to return to writing about federal politics. I've been planning to write some posts about various federal policy issues (because there's no better time to talk about the issues then during an election campaign), looking at each issue from a non-partisan perspective and then comparing my analysis to the position in each party's platform, but that takes time, which I don't have a lot of at the moment. So for now, here's a passing thought about the election which occurred to me today.

Back when George Bush nominated his personal lawyer Harriet Miers for the Supreme Court, Josh Marshall had an insightful comment that he wouldn't be surprised to see the nomination withdrawn - not because there were people opposed to it (there would be people opposed to any nominee) but because there was nobody willing to go out and defend the nomination. Sure enough, it wasn't long before the Miers nomination was withdrawn, and I didn't hear much complaining when it happened.

Wandering around blogland reading Warren Kinsella, Andrew Spicer, James Bow, KevinG and in particular this excellent column by Paul Wells, I'm starting to think that the same thing is true about the federal Liberal party. All the people I just mentioned are fairly centrist and pragmatic rather than ideological, and while obviously they're not all going to vote Liberal every election, they are pretty representative of the natural Liberal constituency (in my opinion). And yet they all seem to be hoping for, if not actively working towards, a Liberal defeat this time around.

Looking at the polls, it seems that there is still a large reservoir of Liberal support out there, but I suspect that the only dam left on this reservoir is the fear (after so many relatively prosperous years of Liberal rule) of putting someone else in power. And each day I see a few more cracks in that dam.

Changing metaphors, the Liberals have increasingly started to remind me of an old monarch, once respected but now corrupt and over the hill, desperately trying to hang onto power by bribing and threatening people, but increasingly deserted by all the independent powers in court and only supported by a few diehard personal loyalists and an ever shrinking group of hangers-on and sycophants who are only there for the largesse.

Maybe I'm out to lunch (or reading too much Shakespeare!), or maybe I'm right and the Liberals will manage to seal up the cracks and the dam will hold for one more election, but I think there is a bigger chance than most people realize that the Liberal dam could burst and we will see fewer Liberals elected West of Montreal than anyone is currently expecting.

Time will tell, I guess.

Title taken from Dream Thrum by James (the band, not Bow).

Thursday, November 24, 2005

Million Dollar Answer?

One question which has never really been answered about the U.S. invasion of Iraq is what the true motivation for it was. I only bring this up, because all this time people have been searching for an answer, Jeffrey Kopstein, political science professor at the University of Toronto, has had it all along.

Says Kopstein,
"Let's start with the reason for the war, the real reason. The real reason came out of an analysis of 9/11, an analysis that has yet to be challenged. This analysis was straightforward and forms the core of the neo-con position. It runs as follows."

Here is Kopstein's argument in point form:

1) Modernization has provoked a fundamentalist Islamic backlash in the Arab world.
2) This backlash can affect us here in 'the West' as evidenced on 9/11.
3) The only possible solution to the backlash is to impose political and social modernization on the Arab world from outside the region
4) The best way to do this is to pick a large Arab country, invade it, occupy it, and stay put until the country is set on an irreversible path towards becoming politically and socially modern.
5) Once that first country becomes socially and politically modern, there will be a domino effect and all the other Arab countries will follow.

Iraq was apparently chosen as the target because Saddam was a brutal, aggressive, dictator who wanted to have weapons of mass destruction (unlike the leadership of any other Arab countries, presumably).

I don't even know where to start with this. For now, let's just note the breathtaking arrogance that suggests that we (in the West) have the right to invade, occupy and impose our version of social and political modernization on a country because it happens to be in the same region and speak the same language as a group of individuals who launched a terrorist attack on us.

Aside from all that ethical mumbo-jumbo, the primary practical problem with Kopstein's reason for invasion has now become too obvious even for him to ignore:

"Needless to say, things have not worked out as expected. We now know that a forced opening of the Arab world, or even creating regimes that do not view their own people in instrumental terms - something far short of democracy - is fraught with all kinds of difficulties."

We now know?????

[sarcasm alert]
Yeah, who could have predicted this would be fraught with difficulties. Good thing we went through this learning experience. We'll have to keep this in mind for next time. This is coming from a professor of political science?

Anyway, at least Kopstein acknowledges that this plan isn't working, so what does he propose? Well, nothing really. His main point seems to be a warning to people who opposed the war that they shouldn't be happy that the needless, destructive, invasion and occupation of Iraq which has cost so many lives might be coming to an end. Why not? Because the root problem of terrorism hasn't gone away and the next 'solution' the U.S. comes up with is likely to be to turn itself into a torture tolerating police state and we're not going to like that either.

I can certainly agree that I don't want the U.S. to become a torture tolerating police state and I also agree that, if there are more terrorist attacks there, this could well start to happen, but I don't really see how this is in any way connected to being happy if the U.S. starts making plans towards removing itself from Iraq.

Maybe Kopstein just doesn't like hearing 'I told you so' and this 'you wont be so happy when they start torturing people' rebuttal is the best thing he could think of to keep people quiet. But since his rebuttal has no connection to his problem, this argument isn't likely to be any more successful than the war was (on the plus side, it won't kill as many people).

Wednesday, November 23, 2005

AAAPainters for Council!

I know, the election is over and I should move on, but the fog hasn't quite lifted yet, so indulge me in one more post on the voting in the municipal election (or just stop reading, I suppose). I was surprised, receiving my ballot, to find that the names were listed in alphabetical order as opposed to random order. I figured that maybe they printed half in alphabetical order and half in reverse alphabetical order and figured that was good enough. I was quite surprised to find out after the fact that all the ballots are printed listing the names in the same, alphabetical order.

Here are the vote totals (listed in alphabetical order) for the nine non-incumbent council candidates put forward by the NPA (I excluded Peter Ladner, their one incumbent, because an incumbent would be expected to get more votes than newcomers:

ANTON, Suzanne NPA 60586
BALL, Elizabeth NPA 50865
CAPRI, Kim NPA 52719
JENKINSON, Valerie NPA 46077
LEE, B.C. NPA 50047
LEUNG, Ronald NPA 48430
MALIHA, Patrick NPA 39165
THOMPSON, Kathi NPA 45314

In chart form:

(click to enlarge)

Just looking at it with the naked eye, a fairly solid trend favouring candidates with names at the top of the ballot is visible.

Calculating the correlation (Pearson coefficient) between the order on the ballot and the number of votes received, we get a value of 0.78 (where 0 indicates no linear correlation between ballot position and vote total and 1 indicates perfect correlation between the two). 0.78 is a pretty strong correlation - the probability of getting that kind of relationship by chance is about 1 in a 100.

To get a better sense of the impact of ballot position on vote, I fit a little linear regression model to the data which suggests that the first person on the ballot could expect to get 55,646 votes, with each subsequent candidate getting 1,690 fewer votes than the last. So the second person listed gets 55,646 - 1,690 = 53,955 votes, the next person gets 53,955 - 1,690 = 52,264 votes, etc.

It's clearer if we plot the votes received and the votes predicted by our model on the same chart.

(blue line is actual vote totals, pink line is predicted based on linear regression)

For fun, we can look at the people who are off the trendline and try to explain why that might be.

For starters, Patrick Maliha, the second last NPA name on the ballot was expected not to do well, but even allowing for that, he really underperformed. The best explanation I can come up with for this is this article about him from the Tyee,
"Patrick Maliha freely admits to putting on triple-x comedy nights in the past and sees no contradiction in joining Vancouver's establishment party. He points out that underneath the dirty talk in his shows, he deals with serious issues, like Lenny Bruce or Chris Rock.

"Yes, I do a lot of dark, nasty, dirty shows," Maliha said. "I like to swear and talk about dirty subject matter. I'm dirty, but I'm dirty to get people listening."

Maliha styles himself as a citizen-politician who knows the street life, having lived in a roach-infested "bad part of town" in Ottawa 15 years ago.

"Do I have an addictive personality?" Maliha asks. "Yes. At the time, I lived to excess, but I had my epiphany. You figure out how not to be shackled by your excess. I'm running now in Vancouver to help out the Patrick Malihas of 15 years ago."

Maliha may not have seen a contradiction with a former triple-X comedian running for an establishment party with a core base of support among the socially conservative Asian community, but it seems like the NPA voters did. I'm guessing the NPA won't run any more raunchy comedians in future elections.

Alternatively, considering the next paragraph from the Tyee...
"All seriousness aside, does he have jokes about the current campaign?

"Oh I don't want to be cruel," Maliha says. "I'd never say something like Jim Green has an uncanny resemblance to Jabba the Hut. I'd never say that they call him Jimmy the Hut. Never."

...we have to consider that voters may simply have concluded that Maliha wasn't funny.

Moving on, Elizabeth Ball was another underachiever. From the same article in the Tyee,
"[Ball] had to answer whether she can focus mentally and stand up to the demanding life of a city councillor, after a history of injuries and shopping accidents cancelled her theatre career.

Ball was awarded $330,000 from the Gap in B.C. Supreme Court for damages suffered when a mannequin fell on her in a Vancouver store. Previous to her 1996 Gap mishap, Ball was knocked out cold and suffered headaches and neck spasms when a chandelier dropped on her in lighting store in 1991.

In court documents from Ball's 2001 civil trial against the Gap, the judge reasons, based on medical evidence, it is unlikely Ball will be able to return to work and thus deserves the large cash award.

"Given her age and lack of training and experience it is also unlikely that she will be able to find other employment," writes Madam Justice Ross. "Unfortunately, I think that it is likely that the plaintiff will be permanently unable to work." Gap appealed, but the ruling was upheld in 2002.

Ball says she has overcome cognitive damage through working with therapists and adds she thinks it's sad her critics would rather question her mental faculties than celebrate her rehabilitation efforts."

Maybe I'm just not being politically correct, but this story really didn't inspire me to vote for Ball, and I suspect I'm not the only one.

On a more positive note, Suzanne Anton got significantly more votes than the model predicts, topping the entire ballot and even outpolling incumbent NPA candidate Peter Ladner. My suspicion for why she outscored the model's prediction is that the model is based on a linear relationship between ballot position and votes but in fact the relationship is likely non-linear, in that it gets stronger as you get closer to the top of the ballot. In plainer language, being first on the ballot instead of second is a bigger advantage than being 5th instead of 6th which is in turn a bigger advantage than being 13th instead of 14th and so on.

The other factor, of course, is that she was probably a pretty strong candidate, having already served as park commissioner and being one of the first people I picked (starting from zero information and being fairly non-partisan) to vote for based on her record.

Like Anton, B.C. Lee and Ronald Leung both got more votes than you might expect based on the model. Since they are the only 2 Asian candidates running for the NPA, it's possible that they got a boost from that. Alternatively, it is possible that they benefited from a ballot order which clustered Ladner, Lee and Leung all in a row, positioning Lee and Leung right beside the party's strongest candidate and creating a little block of NPA candidates to draw the eye of the voter.

Again, it's entirely plausible that they were just strong candidates. I don't really agree with Leung's socially conservative views but there are probably a fair number of Vancouver voters who do, and they don't have many potential councillors to vote for.

I'm not really sure what happened to Hardwick and Jenkinson to put them below trend, although I note that if the trend is indeed non-linear as I suspect, than they wouldn't be too far off what you would expect (based on eyeballing the graph and mentally fitting a quadratic line through the data).

Anyway, the last few paragraphs were all pure conjecture on my part, but what isn't conjecture is that a simple statistical analysis suggests that there was a strong non-random correlation between how many votes you get and where you are on the ballot, quite likely enough of a connection to make the difference between who ends up on council and who doesn't. If Kathi Thompson's name was Kathi Anderson, she'd probably be one of our new councillors.

To be sure, the results from previous elections don't (at a glance) show quite as strong a pattern and maybe it's possible that this really was a 1 in a 100 case and the NPA's strongest candidates just happened to have names near the start of the alphabet, but I'm not sure there's any reason to take a chance. If 5% of Jim Green voters can vote for James Green by mistake, it seems very reasonable to think that voters have a sub-conscious tendency to vote more often for people at the top of the ballot than for those at the bottom.

At the very least, half the ballots should be printed in reverse alphabetical order, and ideally the order should be entirely randomized. Time to write (cut and paste) a letter to the city clerk's office, I think. Perhaps once I have fulfilled my civic duty, the fog will finally lift for good.


As the last orange rays go horizontal, a final, fleeting chance to catch the fierce, vast beauty of the Wilderness.

Which is to say, Timmy (and Princess Monkey) are shutting down 'Voice in the Wildernesss' or at the very least, not posting any more (we'll see if Timmy listens to pleas to at least keep the site online, even if no new posts will be added).

Few (if any) blogs and/or bloggers did as much to inspire and encourage me in my own blogging. And I can't think of anyone who blogged with the same passion, respect for dissenting views, eloquence, and yes, pure volume, that Timmy did.

Lots of sad days lately as some of my favourite blogs close their doors. It's almost enough to make me rethink the conclusion of my last post (that blogs will only continue to gain in number, readership, influence and sophistication) and think instead that maybe Alan (at Gen X at 40) is right and blogging is just a fad that has already hit its high-water mark. I hope not, but I guess we'll see.

Monday, November 21, 2005

Municipal Election Blogging - Postscript

Via One Damn Thing After Another, an article in the Tyee about blogging and the municipal election. Here are the first few paragraphs:

"People who hope blogging will revolutionize politics may be surprised by the results of an experiment at the UBC Journalism School. After extensive analysis of media coverage of the municipal elections, the Thunderbird Online Journalism Review has found that blogs pale in comparison to some corporate media.

"Vancouver's blogosphere is just not being charged up by this election," said UBC Journalism Professor Mark Schneider.

In contrast, both Schneider and Richard Warnica, the student who is leading the project, singled out CanWest publications the Vancouver Courier and the Vancouver Sun for their excellent coverage.

Schneider theorized that there is "something about Canadian reserve and respect for decorum which prevents bloggers from expressing themselves enthusiastically."

By contrast, their American counterparts have been credited with breaking stories and both the Democratic and Republican parties allowed bloggers to cover their nominating conventions in the run-up to the 2004 presidential election."

First, a quibble on verb tense. Presumably, people who 'hope that blogging will revolutionize politics' are by definition not surprised that it hasn't happened yet. Only people who think blogging has already revolutionized politics would be surprised.

Second, if you compare to three years ago, I'm guessing blogs had a much bigger impact this time around, especially Downtown Eastside, the blog of independent candidate for council Jamie Lee Hamilton. I'm not sure how much more enthusiastic (or 'charged up') you can be than getting into a libel suit with a mayoral candidate.

Third, blogging may have influenced the election in some less than obvious ways. Would the Tyee have its highly entertaining and informative open comment threads if these had not been popularized by blogs?

Fourth, I have to laugh at Schneider's theory of some kind of national character of 'reserve' which prevents bloggers from expressing themselves. Has this guy ever read My Blahg, Canadian Cynic, any random Blogging Tory?

Still, for all my quibbling, the article has a point that, compared to say a provincial or federal election, coverage on blogs for the municipal election was pretty light. But for real insight as to why, it makes sense to get opinions from some bloggers, so you need to go to Rob's post and read the comments from him and Ian King. I agree with the reasons they offer for why there may not be a lot of blogging about the election, especially the lack of a substantive audience for posts about local issues and the lack of online information resources to use as blogging fodder.

Just a couple of additional things I would add, speaking from my personal point of view.

One: municipal politics is kind of boring, the issues (borrow money for sewers? bike lanes on bridges? 15% or 20% social housing in new developments? Wal-Mart or no Wal-Mart?) generally don't stir the (my) imagination the way a debate on same sex marriage or global warming or taxation policy (ok, I'm a geek) or standardized testing or universal health care does. Plus the scale of everything involved is smaller. After all, you don't see much coverage of the White Rock municipal election, do you - scale is crucial?

Two: Mobility. I've never lived in the same city for more than 4 years since I moved out of my parent's place, so I don't really have much knowledge of the city which as compared to my knowledge of the province or, especially, my knowledge of the country. If I had lived in Vancouver my whole life, or was planning to live the rest of my life in Vancouver, I would be more passionate about municipal politics, but I haven't and I'm not going to - and I suspect I'm not the only one.

But, having said all that, I have to return to my earlier comment about how much blogging has expanded in just 3 years (I for one, had never heard the word 3 years ago). If blogs keep getting a wider readership and growing in organization and sophistication for the next 3 years, then the people who hope (fear?) that blogging will revolutionize politics may yet get their wish1.

1Although I suspect that 'revolutionize' is going to be too high a bar, perhaps 'significantly influence' might be more attainable, if a little less catchy.

(N) P (A) Soup

There was a beautiful blue sky here Saturday morning, the first one in a while and the weekend forecast was for plenty of sunshine. But as I stepped outside to go vote in the municipal election, the sun went missing and the sky had started to turn grey. By the time I got to the polling booth (2 minutes later), the city was smothered in a heavy fog which still hasn't lifted.

Maybe the fog is just a special effect for a movie, or maybe life has imitated art and, after so many comic book movies being filmed in Vancouver, the city has turned into a comic book city, destined to be shrouded in fog until we are saved (in three years time at the next election?) by some hero in tights. Yes yes, maybe fog is just part of living by the ocean and the timing is coincidence, but really, where is the fun in that?

Anyway, the election results can be found here. In short, the conservative Non-Partisan Alliance has generally returned to it's former strength with NPA rep. Sam Sullivan beating Jim Green in the race for Mayor, and the NPA taking 5 of 10 seats on council, 5 of 7 on the Park Board, and 6 of 9 on the school board. Vision Vancouver took 4 of 5 council seats while COPE took the last council seat as well as the minority 2 seats on the park board and 3 seats on the school board.

The results website has an interesting map of the city showing which districts had more support for Jim Green as Mayor and which had more support for Sam Sullivan. People in Vancouver always talk about the split between the (rich, conservative) West side and the (poor, progressive) East side but the map shows more of a North-South split if you ask me. Perhaps the fact that Sam Sullivan himself is from the East side helped his vote there. I'd be curious to see the map overlaid with a demographic map showing the percentage of Asian residents per district or one showing the median income per district or one showing the median housing / condo price per district. I'm guessing you could accurately predict most district's preference based on these variables and the only ones you'd miss would be those with very local issues (the Cambie corridor and the RAV line, Hastings Park and the decision to put slots there).

One other note, the final mayor votes for the top 5 candidates were as follows:

GREEN, Jim VVN 57796
GREEN, James - 4273
WEST, Ben WLP 1907
YEE, Scott - 688

Note the similarity of the name between the second and third place finishers. Now it's possible (in the 'anything is possible' sort of way) that James Green just happened to be a particularly popular independent or that people deliberately voted for James Green instead of Jim as some kind of statement, but the most plausible explanation seems to be that a lot of people just were confused and voted for James Green when they meant Jim.

If we assume that the number of legitimate James Green voters was the same as the number of Scott Yee voters (Yee had the most votes of any of the remaining 15 independent candidates, so this is a fairly generous assumption), then 3,585 voters mistakenly voted for James. If we add those 3,585 votes back to Jim's total, then the final count would be:

GREEN, Jim VVN 61381
WEST, Ben WLP 1907
YEE, Scott - 688
GREEN, James - 688

Pretty close! Although, I should note that this analysis presumes that out of 61,381 people intending to vote for Jim, 3,585 (5.8%) voted for James by accident. I can see a few people being thrown off by the similar names, but more than 1 in 20?

Anyway, I think that next time there is a close two person race and there is third marginal candidate whose name is similar to one of the two-front runners, I am going to just ignore my personal preference and vote for the front runner who is afflicted with a doppleganger, just to make the final result match up better with voter intentions. Next time. Assuming, that is, that the fog has lifted by then and the city hasn't been overrun by evil (yet colourful) villains with silly nicknames.

Note: The Tyee has some commentary of the results here. The most insightful (in my opinion) is from Ian King (scroll a little).

Friday, November 18, 2005

Full Marks for Honesty

"Now I got shrinks that will not rest with their endless Rorschach tests
I keep telling them that I think they're out to get me
They ask me if I feel remorse and I answer, "Why of course!
There's so much more I could've done if they'da let me!"1

The Rorschach test is when psychologists get you to look at some random inkblot, describe what you see and then they analyze your response to supposedly gain some insight into your personality based on what you 'project' onto a meaningless image.

More and more, I'm getting the sense that the current Rorschach test in Canadian politics is Canada's lagging productivity growth over the last few years (I wrote about this topic here as well). What I mean is that people will take whatever it is that they want implemented as policy and then proclaim that we have to do this because it will boost productivity which is the ultimate driver of our standard of living. Productivity is ideal for this purpose because nobody really has any idea which policies might work to increase productivity and there's pretty much no way to really measure the impact of any given policy on productivity.

Rarely is the 'do what I want because it will increase productivity even though I have no evidence that it actually will' argument advanced more honestly than in today's Globe and Mail by Neil Reynolds (subscription only, you can probably find it on google news). Writes Reynolds,
"In its Falling Behind report earlier this year, the Canadian Senate's standing committee on banking, trade and commerce gave Mr. Goodale a credible package of productivity reforms: Reduction of the corporate tax rate, reduction of income tax rates for middle- and upper-class wage earners, elimination of restrictions on foreign investment, aggressive pursuit of international trade agreements and elimination of internal barriers to trade. Although no one really knows how to get supercharged productivity gains, all these reforms meet the most important test: First, do no harm."
(emphasis added)

Presumably joining the invasion of Iraq wouldn't have done any harm to productivity either, but, so far at least, nobody is suggesting we should have done that to boost productivity.

The truth is, productivity is pretty mysterious. One thing we know is that the most direct route to increasing productivity is to fire people, and force your remaining workers to get the job done with fewer resources. People get stressed, families come under pressure, the government is forced to help those laid off but productivity goes up. Again, Reynolds,
"In a report on U.S. productivity gains in manufacturing that was published this year, U.S. economists Martin Neil Baily and Stephen Z. Lawrence conclude -- ironically -- that the phenomenal U.S. productivity gains are themselves responsible for massive job losses in the manufacturing industry.
Mr. Baily and Mr. Lawrence, however, say that superproductivity accounted for 90 per cent of the American manufacturing jobs lost in the past five years."

There's nothing ironic about this. Productivity is a measure of output per worker and when you fire workers this tends to go up. On the flip side, when companies are making record profits and enjoying a boom in demand for their products such as oil, timber and mortgages (to name just 3) they tend to hire more people and productivity growth goes down - which seems like a pretty good description for what has happened in Canada in the last few years. Ironically (for real this time), if this analysis is right, then cutting corporate taxes could do harm to productivity since the increased retained earnings could just be used to hire more workers (and did I mention that unemployment in Canada is already at a 30-year low and the central bank is worried about inflation?).

Anyway, my main point here is that, if you hear anybody advocating that we should implement policy X because it will boost productivity, be very skeptical.

Note: Reynolds (of course) does not provide a link to the Baily & Lawrence study he quotes, nor does he even give the title, but I think he is referring to this study, "What Happened to the Great US Job Machine: The Role of Trade and Electronic Offshoring."

It's pretty technical, but underscores the complexity of the issues involved and the need to be careful drawing conclusions as shown by this quote (pulled out of context, but still making my point, I think),
"Productivity, trade flows and domestic demand are interrelated in complex ways. Their movements may reflect independent causes or inter-actions among them. For example, rapid US productivity growth could lead to relatively lower US prices, more US exports, fewer imports and more domestic use. However, rapid US productivity growth could also lead to higher US incomes and more demand for both domestic products and imports. Similarly, rapid increases in imports could stimulate domestic productivity growth, and increases in domestic demand could lead to more imports and fewer exports.

In addition it is dangerous to imply that increased imports and larger trade deficits necessarily come at the expense of domestic employment. The clearest way to see this is to imagine the economy is at full employment - as it was in 2000. If this is the case, it is not possible for domestic supply to meet the increased demand. The ability to trade allows the national spending to exceed national income so the increase in national spending leads to a larger trade deficit, but there is no job loss due to imports. Yet a mechanical decomposition might lead to the claim of jobs lost due to imports.

In sum, these estimates can be helpful in providing a perspective on the relative importance of domestic demand and trade in manufacturing employment. But it is
important to be cautious in drawing causal implications from the results."

1 From the hilarious 'Curse of Millhaven' by Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds.

Thursday, November 17, 2005

Random (pre-federal election) Question for the Day

Do we really want the kind of people who would nominate Barbara Amiel and ignore Jane Jacobs as Canada's leading public intellectual running the country?

(hat-tip Section 15, Colby Cosh)

Follow Ups

Speaking of high prices for homes in Vancouver, this spectacular panorama shot is pretty similar to the view our condo-owning next door neighbours have (if they face North - update: And if it is not raining!). (via Darren Barefoot)


Some months back I took an online quiz and it declared that I was a 'Mandarin', which might explain why I liked this speech (from Harry Swain, a high level mandarin in Ottawa, to a crowd of assistant deputy ministers - i.e. high ranking civil servants) so much. (via Warren Kinsella).


Reminder #1: The Vancouver Municipal Election is this Saturday.


Reminder #2: Nominations for the Canadian Blog Awards close Sunday. A sincere thank you to whoever nominated CAtO for Best Political Left Blog.

Tuesday, November 15, 2005

23/5 & (Horror) Story Time

I'm guessing that when grammar grannies get all cranky about people starting sentences with conjunctions, it's not because they are worried that some blog meme will come along and sever the offending sentence from the preceding one, to which it would normally be joined by a comma. But, having said that, this blog meme issue might just be a particular example of the general problem with such sentences.

At any rate, Kevin at Odd Thoughts has tagged me (update: talk talk talk tagged me as well) with a meme which instructs me to go back to my 23rd post (this one) and extract the 5th sentence, which read:

"But if you keep getting hostages taken time and time again, any normal person would look for a way to change the dynamics of the situation."

James Bow figured that people should also write a little story based on this sentence, but I didn't have time to write a story *and* write a post about politics so you can blame James for the following:

Management Decision

"But if you keep getting hostages taken time and time again, any normal person would look for a way to change the dynamics of the situation."

"So what you're saying is, we're not normal?"

"No, I'm only saying that we need to develop a five year plan to reduce the likelihood of any more hostages being taken."

"A five year plan - you want to come up with a five year plan? Isn't Friday your last day here?"

"Not if you decide to hire me back based on the genius of my five year plan."

"Listen Paul. Like you just said, a normal person would want to change the dynamics of the situation. So that's what we did - we fired you. You've had 12 years to get this department in order and if we're still getting hostages taken left and right, no last minute five year plan is going to make any difference."

"But I was only assistant manager for 10 of those years"


"It's all Jean's fault.."


"What are you going to do, put Stockholm Syndrome Stevie in charge? We'll have so many hostages taken there won't be anyone left to pay the ransom."


"Or maybe you'd like to put Jack in charge - that guy took *me* hostage for cripes sake!"


"Or maybe you'd like to put those guys who've been trying to hold the whole company for ransom in charge, or maybe that guy who comes in and waters the plants every couple of weeks! You can't replace me, this is my department! I am this department!!"

(a pause)

"Look, there's no easy answers here Paul, I can't promise anything, but we'll take your five year plan into consideration and we'll let you know. Don't call us, we'll call you.

Update: I hate it when I hit publish by accident. Anyway, this is the part where I would normally tag 5 more people to do the meme as well but most bloggers I know have already been hit by this one and most of the rest I've already tagged at least once and I don't want to get on anyone's nerves with multiple tags and really, if you want to post on this meme, I think you should just go for it. Consider this an open tag to anyone reading this post who has a blog of their own to dig up the 5th sentence of your 23rd post and write about it.

Second Update, on Second Thought: I think that first update was kind of lame, so here are some real tags:

Trish at Journey to Faith
Chris at Tart Cider
Chris at Murky View
Rob at One Damn Thing After Another
Ginna at Gin and Tonic

But the open tag is still open for anyone not on this list...

Monday, November 14, 2005

What's That Hissing Sound?

Economic topics are generally interesting to me, and the possible existence of asset bubbles (like the tech bubble) are no exception to this, but as a potential first time buyer of a home in the Vancouver / Victoria area, I have a particular interest in the possible existence (or not) of a housing bubble - especially one in the Vancouver / Victoria market.

For the global perspective, the best way to get up to speed on this topic is to read this thorough and worrying article from the Economist with the ominous subtitle,
"The worldwide rise in house prices is the biggest bubble in history. Prepare for the economic pain when it pops"

Canadians might take comfort from the fact that the index of Canadian housing prices has only increased 42% over the period 1997-2005 as compared to 154% in Britain, 114% in Australia and 73% in the United States.

A Canadian could be further reassured by this TD Economics report, written by Carl Gomez and reassuringly titled, "Cooling Housing Market Shows No Signs of Bubbly Behavior"

For now, let's leave aside the chart on page 1 which is presented as evidence of why there is no bubble but looks to me like it is showing that prices haven't been this far above the long term trend since the last bubble burst. Looking inside the report, we find the following comments,
"we believe the risks of a speculative bubble are elevated in Vancouver's housing market."
"indicators are pointing to increasing risk of a housing bubble in Victoria."
"current economic conditions cannot fully account for the pace of housing price growth in Vancouver and Victoria"
"if history is any guide, past housing price corrections in Vancouver have resulted in cumulative real price declines of anywhere from 50 per cent (1981-1983) to about 25 per cent (1996-2001)."
Good thing the 'market shows no signs of bubbly behavior' then!

I jest, but I highlighted this article in particular because it is probably one of the better such articles out there, with solid data-supported analysis.

The line I most take issue with is in the conclusion, which reads,
"but what prices will do in the next five years should not be of great importance to any potential homeowner in Vancouver or Victoria who is simply buying for the long-run since real home prices have consistently grown over the longer-term ... any potential fall in the market price of their home should have little or no impact on their standard of living."

To which I can only reply, 'speak for yourself Carl!'. If I'm going to be on the hook for a home costing half a million dollars, the fact that there is a good chance that half million could be reduced to three or four hundred thousand dollars is most definitely of very great importance to me. Try as I might, my lifestyle is modest enough that saving $100,000 to $200,000 on a transaction can make a real impact on my standard of living.

Thankfully, if you're looking for some thorough yet entertaining commentary and analysis of the Vancouver market - from the perspective of your average homeowner (or would-be homeowner) - you need look no further than the Vancouver Housing Market Blog, which I stumbled across the other day.

If the topic interests you, I recommend following the link and poking around for a while. Track down the modest little house selling for $900,000 on the Westside. See pictures of the shacks in the heart of the downtown Eastside (the worst neighbourhood in Canada, by most accounts) that sell for $300,000. Listen to Robert Schiller, professor of economics at Yale and noted author of 'Irrational Exuberance' - a book which predicted the bursting of the tech bubble - refer to Vancouver as the 'bubbliest city in the world'.

Interesting stuff, all leading to the conclusion that buying property in Vancouver/Victoria right now isn't so different from buying into tech stocks in the last 1990's. Having said that, I started investing in stocks in late 1999 and I came out OK, but I still think it would be wise for anyone to think twice (and maybe a third and a fourth time) before buying anything in Vancouver or Victoria these days. I know I will.

An afterthought: I approached this topic from a pretty personal, local point of view. As the article in the Economist notes, the real story here is the potential impact on the global economy of housing bubbles all over the world starting to deflate simultaneously, with the reduction in consumer spending (because people can't borrow against their houses increasing value any more) that is likely to accompany the bursting of the bubble(s). More on that another day, perhaps, but for now, here is the short version: "Uh oh!"

Sunday, November 13, 2005

Got Some Time on Your Hands?

Here is a link for anyone who meets the following three criteria:

A: You've seen the movie Batman & Robin (the one with George Clooney, Uma Thurman, Arnold).

B: Like many people, including myself, you consider it to be one of the stupidest movies ever made.

C: You haven't already read the incredibly long, very funny review from the Agony Booth that I linked to.

Condition A is necessary because if you haven't seen Batman and Robin, you won't be able to appreciate how it could drive someone to write a painstaking 10,000 word explanation of just how dumb it is.

Condition B is necessary because if you saw Batman and Robin, and you liked it... Well, I have nothing further to say to you at this point.

Condition C is self-explanatory, I think.

A couple of quotes to give you an idea of the tone of the review:
"Barbara's helmet then falls off, probably so we can fully appreciate her reaction when Dick takes a moment to remove his own helmet and say, "So, this is where you hang out!" Barbara, who's only being saved from horrible bloody death by the strength of Dick's ankle, just lets off an annoyed groan. Yeah, if I'm about to plunge 600 stories, about the last thing I'd want to hear in my final moments is a stupid pun.

Back at Wayne Manor, Dick quizzes Barbara about her racing. She explains that she's been doing it ever since her parents died because it "made the pain go away." Yeah, right. If that were the case, you would have seen a lot of people taking up street racing immediately after this movie came out."

and later...

"Freeze then goes on the warpath, promising that Batman and Robin's "bones will turn to ice! Their blood will freeze in my hands!" Ivy likes the idea, but says "the society that created them" should not go "unpunished". Freeze is totally digging on this same vibe: "If I must suffer," he says, "Humanity will suffer with me!" I can't think of a better explanation for why I wrote this review in the first place."

The true power of the internet at work.

Saturday, November 12, 2005

Spreading the Word(s)

Over at Dymaxion World, John passes along some bright ideas from economist Dean Baker, including one of the best ideas I've encountered in a while now, open source textbooks (pdf document).

You should really read the full article I linked to above (it's not long, clearly written and very persuasive), but the basic idea is that the government would cover the up-front costs of paying someone to write a textbook for them and then immediately move the textbook to open source and make it available to anyone free of charge. Presumably it could then either be downloaded and printed by students or a physical copy of the book could be distributed via campus bookstores.

Teachers would have the option of using any of the existing textbooks or using the government funded one, keeping in mind that one is likely to cost each student $150, and the other $10 - $50 depending on whether students just get a version printed and bound at the local copy store or buy a shiny copy at the campus bookstore. Without the profit motive for releasing pointless new editions every couple of years, the market for used books would thrive as well.

This would drastically reduce the cost of textbooks for students without reducing the value of the education they receive at all, it is a pure efficiency gain.

The NDP should support this policy because it will make education more affordable, especially for those who don't have a lot of money to begin with. As Baker notes (using U.S. figures but the numbers are sure to be similar here)
"According to the Government Accountability Office (GAO), the cost of textbooks and supplies came to $898 for an average first year, full-time student at a four-year public university in the 2003/2004 academic year. This represents approximately 170 hours of work at a minimum wage job."

The Conservatives should support it because it is an example of how people can benefit from a more competitive marketplace and also of how government can reduce the cost of education through purely voluntary transactions, without transferring any tax dollars from one person to another or putting any complicated or punitive bureaucratic rules into place.

The Green party should support it because it is a more efficient use of resources and also because having all the materials freely available online should minimize all the environmental impacts of printing, binding and distributing so many copies.

Finally, the Liberals should support it (once all the other parties have added it to their own platforms) because it is the kind of sensible policy with far more winners than losers that can win votes.

Counter-arguments? (I can't think of any serious ones, only minor quibbles)

Thursday, November 10, 2005

One Less Binding

Citing time pressures, Andrew Anderson of Bound by Gravity has decided to quit blogging. I'm guessing I'm not the only one who was inspired to try a little harder here on my own blog to live up to the standard he set in terms of open mindedness, interesting yet civil discussion, and focus on policy issues that really matter.

His departure from blogging leaves a hole that will be difficult, if not impossible to fill. Hopefully we'll see him around, commenting on other blogs and maybe returning to his own when time pressures ease. Best wishes Andrew!

Wednesday, November 09, 2005

Vancouver Municipal Election, Nov. 19

So the Vancouver municipal election is fast approaching. This post is intended to be my personal repository of links and thoughts on the election but if, like me, you live in Vancouver and want to know more about the upcoming election, it might prove useful.

General Information

The main city website with voting information is here, with the page on information for voters here. In addition, the Wikipedia article on the 2005 election can be found here.

The flyer which has a summary of the relevant information is here (pdf).

Vancouver doesn't use any ridings (or wards as they're generally known at the municipal level), instead every voter votes for every position available in city government.

The positions available are:

1 mayor (list of candidates with brief profiles of each here).

10 Councillors (list and descriptions here).

7 Park Commissioners (!) - (list and descriptions here).

9 School Trustees (list and descriptions here).

In addition to voting on these positions, voters are asked to vote yes or no on borrowing money to fund various spending items in the proposed three year capital plan. The spending questions can be found here.

A sample ballot can be found here.

It occurs to me that people who thought that using a Single Transferrable Vote electoral system in B.C. would be too complicated for voters have obviously never encountered a Vancouver municipal election ballot! I'd say I'm relatively involved in politics, as these things go, but I really think it's asking a bit much for me to know who would make a good park commissioner.


To help simplify things for voters there are a number of parties running candidates.

The left leaning Council of Progressive Electors (COPE) won 9 seats on council in the last election in 2002 (results here) and it's leader Larry Campbell was elected Mayor. COPE is most known for supporting the 'four pillars1' strategy on drugs and is running lots of candidates for the available positions on council and the school and park boards, although with Larry Campbell having moved on to the Federal Senate, there is no COPE candidate for Mayor.

Vision Vancouver is basically a group of more centrist councillors who were elected under the COPE banner in 2002 but have split off to form their own group for 2005. Jim Green is running for Mayor under the Vision Vancouver banner. Vision is going for a minimalist electoral strategy, with 5 people running for council and nobody running for school trustee or park commissioner (if all 5 Vision candidates were elected along with their mayor candidate, this would give them a one-vote majority on council, with 6 of 11 positions).

The Non-Partisan Alliance (NPA) held the balance of power prior to the 2002 election in which they were reduced to holding just 2 seats on council. This party describes itself as an collection of independent citizens but is generally seen as being right wing and places a heavy emphasis on fiscal cautiousness. Sam Sullivan is running for mayor under the NPA banner and the NPA also has a number of candidates for council, school board and the park board.

The Green Party is running one candidate for council, two for parks board and one for school board. Presumably the plan with the small number of candidates is to avoid splitting the Green vote in the hopes of getting some representation. Currently, the only elected Green Party member is school board trustee Andrea Reimer (who was a vocal opponent of STV in the Provincial referendum on electoral reform).

The remaining parties, the Interest Party (serious, but tiny), the Work Less Party (single issue publicity stunt party) and Nude Garden Party (name speaks for itself) are profiled by a solid article in the Vancouver Courier here.


The best place to go for a roundup of media coverage of the election is this 'media map' being constructed/maintained by a group of graduate journalism students at UBC. Basically, they monitor a whole bunch of different local news sources and then collect all the election coverage in one place. Handy.

One other thing worth highlighting is this very helpful summary of the last term from the Vancouver Courier. It lists the issues which arose, how each councillor voted on them and notes a few of the comments councillors made for or against each item (link found via blinkit).

Candidate Blogs

A number of people running have blogs including Jim Green, Andrea Reimer, Sam Sullivan and Austin Spencer. Most of these are pretty lame. Of note, Council candidate Jamie Lee Hamilton has a long running, well written blog called Downtown Eastside. Negative points to the NPA for referring to Sam Sullivan's 'online campaign diary'. I'm guessing it's this kind of snobby unwillingness to use a relatively new word like 'blog' which led to Vancouver being known as 'No Fun City' last time the NPA was in charge.

Personal Opinions

The truth is, I place a lot of importance of the city being well run and the impact that has on quality of life here, but at the same time, none of what seem to be issues in the campaign (bike lanes on the Burrard bridge, the redevelopment of Woodwards Department Store, safe injection sites for drug users etc., really grab my interest very much.

In general, I find myself just looking for sensible, intelligent, pragmatic people rather than identifying with any particular party or ideology.

This could change, especially since my knowledge base right now is so small, but right now I'm leaning towards Sam Sullivan as Mayor. I can't really articulate a good reason why other than that he seems like a reasonable, experienced person, who could somewhat balance out what I expect to be fairly left leaning council.

For council, I'm leaning towards:
Greg Aulin, Suzanne Anton, Kim Capri, George Chow, Heather Deal, Jamie Lee Hamilton, Valerie Jenkinson, Tim Louie, Kevin Potvin and Tim Stevenson. I was pretty impressed with independent candidate Kevin Potvin's spiel on the city website and also by his own personal website. In the spiel, he realized that the main barrier (besides awareness) faced by an independent candidate is credibility, so he included personal endorsements from well known locals like Rafe Mair to overcome that barrier. On the website he talks a lot about policy, managing to successfully walk the line between saying nothing and making unrealistic promises.

School Board:
Allan Degenova, Mel Lohan, Shirley Wong, Reimer Andrea, Angela Kenyon, Ken Denike, Sharon Gregson.

Park Commissioner: I still haven't decided whether to vote on this one or not. Perhaps I'll just pick the people with strong sounding bio's or take a mix of people from different parties. Not sure.

In general, I'm open to suggestion so if you have comments on the people I've named or think others are deserving of a vote instead, let me know.

Capital Plan: For the most part, I am opposed to government borrowing on principle, except in extraordinary circumstances (e.g. war, depression). But on the other hand, I recognize that cities are facing gaps in infrastructure and don't currently have the tax base (relying solely on property taxes) to deal with everything that needs to be done. Plus, most of the planned borrowing seems to be for pretty sensible things. On the other hand, in three years of COPE government Vancouver's credit rating did go down one notch (although it is still very high), so maybe more borrowing isn't such a good idea.

I'll definitely vote in favour of Question 4 (legacy projects) because it just makes sense to take advantage of opportunities to piggyback on some of the work being done for the Olympics where possible. In my mind, this is kind of like an RRSP loan at a personal level, where the benefits of spending now outweigh the cost in interest payments. As for the rest, question 1 (public works), question 2 (public safety & civic facilities) and question 3 (parks and recreation facilities), I'm not really sure what is best. Could be an election day decision.

The End

If anyone has any insight or links to more sources of information, let me know. Municipal politics doesn't really inspire me much, but it probably matters more than you would think it does based on the relatively trivial topics which make up the issues. At any rate, it would be nice to make an informed decision.

1The Four pillars are: Harm Reduction, Prevention, Treatment and Enforcement. More information here.

Monday, November 07, 2005

Canadian Politics in a Nutshell

Note: Post updated to add a couple of links and some commentary on 'Caring for Canadians'

Rough translation of a conversation I had with my girlfriend earlier today:

Girlfriend: So what do you think of that whole Gomery thing?

Me: You should read my blog

Girlfriend: [rolls eyes] I mean, it's not like anything is going to change, anyway. The Liberals have been in power since I came to Canada

Me [calculating in my head]: hmm, I know she came to Canada when she was a years old. And I know my age is b, no wait, b+1 and the difference between our ages is c, so she must be b+1 + c = d years old now. So she's been here d - a = e years. It's 2005 now, so she first came to Canada in 2005 - e = f. And the Liberals took power in year g. Is g < f? Yes.

Me [out loud]: Yeah, that's true.

Girlfriend: And it's not like the NDP is going to take power any time soon.

Me: That's also true.

[a pause]

Me: There's still the Conservatives

Girlfriend [makes face]: That's scary.

Me: Exactly.

I imagine that any Conservative party supporters who read my blog (if there are any) just went into 'yeah but' mode, but before you tell me about how it's just that darn Liberal media making the Conservatives look scary and how the Conservatives' officially stated policies aren't that bad, have a read through 'Caring for Canadians' by Mike Harris (former Progressive Conservative premier of Ontario) and Preston Manning (former leader of what is now known as the Conservative party) (link via Tilting at Windmills).

The disconnect between what prominent Conservatives are saying and what's in the party policy document might also offer a little insight into why accusations of 'a hidden agenda' resonate with the public. As Ian Urquhart says in the Star, "Harper may actually agree with much of what Harris and Manning have proposed but, with his eyes on winning seats in Ontario, he hasn't said so out loud."

And Harper and Manning are not just one isolated example. Try reading the blog of Monte Solberg (Conservative MP, Finance Critic, and thus presumably a good candidate to be Finance Minister in a Conservative government) for a while. His opinion on people appearing before a Finance Committee on social justice,
"I see now that their war on poverty is actually a war on the poor. Their pursuit of social justice is really a pursuit of socialism. Their help, though well meaning and without guile, is as dangerous as dynamite."

His thoughts on productivity,
"Then the Finance Minister says that enhancing Canada's productivity must become the chief objective of our economic policy. A couple of days later he announces that he will not bring in the tax relief for large employers at all, the one thing that obviously would improve productivity."

Yeah, except there is no real empirical or theoretical evidence to suggest a strong link between lower corporate taxes and higher productivity. The U.S. combines the world's highest productivity and some of the world's highest corporate taxes. Canada's productivity has gone in the tank in the last few years, ever since the Liberals started cutting corporate tax rates in 2000. But Monte doesn't need evidence, tax cuts are always the best solution to any problem. It's this kind of willful ideological blindness to reality which leads people to do stupid things like selling off the right to drive across Toronto for 99 years for next to nothing - and the thought of people afflicted with this kind of blindness running the country is scary. (and I haven't even addressed any social issues).

So What?

I have no real inclination to defend Paul Martin, but I am somewhat puzzled by all the people who seem to be upset with him because he 'must have known what was going on' with the sponsorship scandal. I mean, I'm certain he must have had at lesat some idea what was going on, but even if he knew every last detail, my only reaction is, 'so what?'. I mean, what would you have him do? What would you do in that situation?

Any suggested courses of action which don't end with Chretien as the current Prime Minister?

Saturday, November 05, 2005

P.E.I. Pseudo-Democracy Watch

Greg (from Sinister Thoughts) is right, Premier Binns seems to be making up the rules as he goes along in P.E.I.'s low (and getting lower by the day) credibility referendum on electoral reform.

So let's recap. Binns created a commission to study electoral reform and the commission recommended a referendum with a 50% threshold. Then Binns decided a few weeks before the referendum to change the bar to 60%. Then he stated that there is a turnout threshold, because a low turnout would invalidate the result. But he won't specify what that threshold is, and has provided so little funding for the referendum that many fewer polls will be open than would be for an election. And now he says he might have a second referendum, depending on the vote in the first one, but won't say what result would trigger a second referendum.

OK then.

Thursday, November 03, 2005

The Gospel According to...

Note: Updated to fix the link to Jonathan's post on Democratic Participation.

This is just a round-up of some interesting posts from the last few days.

John at Dymaxion World makes an interesting case for how China may end up providing us with (many of) the solutions to (some of) our environmental problems. Basically, their resource constraints and environmental problems are so severe that for them finding workable solutions is a necessity, not a luxury.

I've been slow to mention that Jonathan has returned to thorough, link-saturated posting over at No More Shall I Roam. In the tenth installment of his Ezra Levant watch he manages the difficult task of making Ezra look even more foolish than usual. And his other recent posts on democratic participation (I disagree in a number of places with this one, but it's still a good post) and crime trends (as reported by the nearly-National Post) were worth reading as well.

Matthew, from Fruits and Votes, follows-up on my earlier post about P.E.I.'s exercise in phony democracy, with a good explanation of some limited referendum conditions (beyond a simple majority) that he would support.

In addition, Matthew also has an interesting post-Gomery report post on the interaction between Quebec separatism and our electoral system, explaining how our First Past the Post system is working against national unity at both the Provincial and Federal levels.

Finally, Mark, at Section 15, has generally been focusing on more important matters than blogging (Congratulations! btw) and I don't know any bloggers named Luke.