Thursday, June 28, 2018

The Proportional Representation Referendum, I have no idea how I will vote

This referendum is making feel like I need to choose between losing a leg or losing an eye.   All the outcomes are bad and will not benefit the people of BC.

I have been interested in improving the voting system we have federally, provincially and locally for about 35 years.   At times I was very active in the electoral reform movement - REALLY involved.   In 2004/05 it was the fundamental focus of my life. 

I have looked at the history of voting systems and how they have been used around the world   We have a bad system for our federal and provincial elections but not the worst possible.   In BC our local elections use one of the worst possible ones.

What I want out of a voting system are the following values:

  • The results fairly represent public will
  • Power sits more with elected representatives than with political parties
  • The voting system encourages moderation and cooperation
  • We have a clear and stable government that follows through with a program that has majority support from the public

First Past the Post does not manage to reflect any of these values well but two of the proposed alternatives (Mixed Member Proportional and Dual Member Proportional) do no better than First Past the Post and the third (Rural-Urban Proportional) really fails on the first value.

I have a real problem with the two part referendum.   You can vote No and then decide which PR system we should adopt  - people who do not want PR will be able to decide what to change to.    That is just wrong.   We needed a clear choice between two systems fully fleshed out.

What also bothers me about the referendum is that we are being asked to vote for a new system without knowing how that will be implemented.   Mixed Member Proportional is a very complex hybrid system (it is not a real proportional system) but how it is implemented makes some serious differences in how it plays out.   The options could really screw over large parts of the province and effectively leave them without representation.   It also normally means shifting a lot more power to the leadership of political parties from the voters.   The government is saying "trust us to design the details after the referendum.    Of course we will be completely fair and ensure that in no way it benefits the NDP or the Greens.".    I do not trust elected officials to create a voting system that benefits the public or preserving their own high paid job.

As much as I worked my ass off to get PR in 2005 and 2009,. it feels wrong to me to have a vote again on the issue.   I feels unfair given the public decided to go with the status quo even though it was not beneficial for them.    People have a right to vote against their best interest and that decision should be respected.   We really should not be having another referendum on this subject so soon again.

I also really dislike both sides of the campaign.    The Yes side is approaching it as if this is a way to ensure the centre right in BC could never be in government again.   The No side is just using disingenuous fear based arguments and doing nothing to explain how our current system works and what it is OK for the minority to rule over the majority.

How will I vote?  I am not sure.   I am certain for the system I will only vote for Rural-Urban Proportional even though it really badly screws people in rural BC. 

 As to Yes and No.   I want to vote Yes because I have spent more than a generation on the issue but I worry that the system we will get because of it will be worse than what we have.   Voting Yes or No would be so much easier if I knew what a Yes outcome will look like.    It should have been a clear question on two systems.

I may end up voting Yes because of the No side and how they are using Trumpesque type campaign tactics.   I feel like voting No would make me feel complicit in a fundamentally destructive campaign.    But I have to balance that against my fear of getting Mixed Member Proportional, a system I see as corrosive to politics from watching German politics since the late 1970s.

Maybe I will not vote Yes or No and only vote for the system?

Overall I am resigned to a bad outcome no matter how the vote goes. 

Saturday, April 7, 2018

I am retiring from active political engagement

I have reached a point where I do not have the passion for politics any longer.   The discourse in politics is one that is negative without facts or ad hominem.  I have put in a lot effort to try stop treating those they are not agreement with as the enemy but I am done.   I have harmed my mental well being and financial well doing this.

For 38 years politics has been a core of the "Bernard von Schulmann" brand.  I have been a part of 54 electoral campaigns and almost never let an election go by without being actively involved, but no longer.   I have made a lot of changes in my life and giving up politics is the next logical thing to do.

I am still going to be active online, my focus will be history and cultural things.  I suspect from time to time I will delve into analyzing some data that could be called political and posting that online but I am not going to be in a political debate or be involved with any campaigns.   I may choose to not vote.

Friday, December 1, 2017

Women premiers in Canada by time in office and relative political power

I have looked at this a number of times.   A few weeks back we passed nine straight years of at least one woman being a premier in Canada.  

 This is the list by time of the women that have lead governments in Canada

  1. Christy Clark      BC      2319 days Liberal
  2. Eva Aariak         Nunavut 1827 days non-partisan
  3. Kathleen Wynne     Ontario 1755 days Liberal
  4. Nellie Cournoyea   NWT     1469 days non-partisan
  5. Catherine Callbeck PEI     1353 days Liberal
  6. Kathy Dunderdale   NF      1148 days PC
  7. Rachel Notley      Alberta  923 days NDP
  8. Alison Redford     Alberta  898 days PC
  9. Pat Duncan         Yukon    884 days Liberal
  10. Pauline Marois     Quebec   581 days Parti Quebecois
  11. Rita Johnson       BC       217 days Social Credit
  12. Kim Campbell       Federal  132 days PC
Bold=won a general election
Underline=currently in power

Here is the list by person days governed, the number of people multiplied by the days in office.   I do this because I think it is a much better measure of the political impact of each woman
  1. Kathleen Wynne     Ont 23,868,000,000 Lib
  2. Christy Clark      BC  10,435,500,000 Lib
  3. Pauline Marois     Que  4,582,000,000 PQ
  4. Rachel Notley      Ab   3,826,760,000 NDP
  5. Kim Campbell       Fed  3,786,000,000 PC
  6. Alison Redford     Ab   3,273,000,000 PC
  7. Rita Johnson       BC     715,500,000 Socred
  8. Kathy Dunderdale   NL     590,700,000 PC
  9. Catherine Callbeck PEI    149,000,000 Lib
  10. Nellie Cournoyea   NWT     92,000,000 na
  11. Eva Aariak         Nu      58,300,000 na
  12. Pat Duncan         Yk      24,800,000 Lib
When I first looked at this in 2011 Kim Campbell was way up on this list representing more than 70% of the person days on the list.   Now she only represents just over 7% of the person days.  Kathleen Wynne dominates with 45.5% of the person days.

Since 2010 we have moved in Canada from women being only a small footnote in political leadership to a normal and ongoing part.

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

Where things go now in BC

We are in a unique situation in Canadian political history.   There are only a couple of examples I know of where the government was reduced to a large minority or a bare majority.
  • Ontario 1985 - the PCs won 52 seats, the Liberals 48 and NDP 25.   The Liberals and NDP cut a deal and replaced the PC government after it was defeated on a vote of non-confidence.  With the change in government the Liberals provided the speaker and the PC speaker resigned.
  • Saskatchwan 1999 - NDP won 29 seats, the Sask Party 25 and Liberals 4.  The NDP government continued in a coalition with the Liberals with a Liberal being the speaker.
  • New Brunswick 2003 - PCs 28, Liberals 26 and NDP 1.   With the speaker the numbers were tied in the house but the Liberals decided to let the the PC government continue to rule.
  • Ontario 2011 the Liberals won 53, PCs 37 and NDP 17.   A PC member almost ran to be speaker until it was pointed out to him this would allow the Liberals to govern as if they had a majority.  The government lasted 32 months as a typical minority.
Only in the Ontario situation, where the opposition clearly had many more seats than the government, did the government change.   Interestingly in 1975 the Ontario PCs were reelected with a minority but the Liberals and NDP could not come to a deal to replace the government.

We had our election on May 9th but did not have the final results until May 24th which is the day I am starting on.

May 24th - election results are completed
May 25th to May 28th the Greens negotiate on who they will support
May 29th - NDP announces they have come to an agreement with the Greens
May 30th - 1:30 pm Christy Clark addressed the province and said she would meet the legislature in June
May 30th - 2:00 NDP and Greens sign their deal - this is many ways is the functional end of the 2017 election

June 22nd - Legislature returns and Throne Speech is read.   Is this a reasonable time to meet the legislature?  I would argue yes.   We are only talking just over three weeks between the end of the election process and the Throne Speech.  In Canadian terms this is relatively fast.   It is only a few days longer than it took in Ontario in 1985.

When will we get a vote of confidence in the government?   If every member spoke as long as they were allowed the vote would take place on July 5th or 6th.   The soonest the vote could happen is on the afternoon of June 29th.

Let us say the vote is on June 29th and the government is defeated.   Christy Clark would then resign and the Lieutenant Governor can call on John Horgan to try and form a government.   Horgan would most likely be sworn in on Friday July 7th.  

John Horgan said he would meet the legislature within a month of being sworn in which would be most likely Tuesday August 8th with a vote on August 16th or 17th on confidence in the government.   This would be the first vote of the NDP speaker to keep the government in power - yes, it will be an NDP Speaker.   The house will be tied 43 to 43 with the speaker as the 87th member.

The Speaker of the House votes only if there is a tie.  They vote for confidence in the government but against any new laws or amendment of the laws.    This is not only the convention but is alluded to in the law in Section 43 of the BC Constitution.

The problem at this point is how does the NDP manage to pass any laws when the house is tied?   The conventions that guide how the speaker votes is not one that works well for a new government trying to do anything.   Unless the Liberals agree, the NDP would not be able to pass any laws or even change the standing orders of the Legislature.

I assume the NDP would try to bring forward a budget in mid to late August.   What this budget would look like on final reading is very much in question.   During the committee stage, the point at which any bill is considered clause by clause, the Speaker does not take part and the government provides a chair who does not vote.    This means during the committee stage the NDP would have 39 votes, the Greens 3 and Liberals 43.   The Liberals would have a majority and could amend the bills as they like.   This means the Liberals could alter the NDP budget, though there are limits within the standing orders to how far the changes can go.

When the bill comes out of the committee stage in an amended form, this is what now goes forward to the 3rd and final reading.   The NDP does not have the votes to amend the bill at this point.   The NDP would have to pass a budget as amended by the Liberals even if the Liberals voted against it because the budget is a confidence motion.   Based on the NDP/Green agreement the Greens would expected to vote for the amended budget as well.

The NDP could withdraw their budget after the committee stage but this is not a good way to go.  Interim supply would only last for three months after the NDP government is sworn in.   They would have to pass a budget by early October or go to an election.

This all applies for any government bill.   $10 a day childcare?   Liberals can amend it at the committee stage.   Changes to the voting system?  Liberals could alter at committee stage.   Political donations?   Liberals could change to a form they would like to see.    Everything depends on the Liberals if it comes to the legislature.

The NDP budget is likely to be passed in mid September with some amendments from the Liberals.  Once it passes I expect the NDP to end the sitting of the house and not resume till February.   There is no reason the NDP would want to have the legislature sit more than the minimum.   I have to wonder how well the NDP/Green agreement would fare over the five winter months when the NDP is governing but the legislature is not sitting.

The NDP would bring forward a budget in February 2018.   I think this budget will be defeated because the NDP wants a new election to try and get a majority.  We will most likely have an election in late March 2018.

John Horgan is not going to be willing to govern for any length of time having to cooperate with the Liberals all the time in the house.    He will not be able to implement his political agenda.

A few things to look out for if/when the NDP is government:

  • Problems with some NDP cabinet ministers - a new government has teething pains in their first year, normally you have four years in power to the teething pains are long gone
  • Liberal and Green cooperation to amend government acts in the legislature 
  • A possible serious fillibuster by the Liberals at some point
  • More discord between the NDP and Greens
  • Anger by people that the government is defacto governing by Orders in Council
  • Loud opposition to the actions of the NDP government from business interests and from construction unions
  • Discontent from the public sector labour movement because the government will not deliver anything close to what they are seeking
  • A possible Liberal leadership race over the winter with a new leader by February 2018.   Christy Clark would not resign her seat
  • Death of any Liberal MLAs.   If a Liberal MLA were to die the NDP has a six month window in which to govern 43 to 42 before a by-election is held.   I would expect the legislature to be recalled rather quickly after the death of a Liberal to pass as much of their program as they can.  Ralph Sultan is 84 years old though a very fit 84 year old.
  • Death of any NDP MLAs.   This gets really tricky if it were to happen because now the NDP and Greens would not have a majority even with the speaker.   If the death happens while the legislature is sitting the Liberals could easily pass a non confidence motion.

Wednesday, February 8, 2017

2016 Census Numbers

Prov/Terr      2016      2011      Pct  Pop per MP
Ontario     13,448,494 12,851,821  4.6%  111,145
Quebec       8,164,361  7,903,001  3.3%  104,671
BC           4,648,055  4,400,057  5.6%  110,668
Alberta      4,067,175  3,645,257 11.6%  119,623
Manitoba     1,278,235  1,208,268  5.8%   91,303
Saskatchewan 1,098,352  1,033,381  6.3%   78,454
Nova Scotia    923,598    921,727  0.2%   83,963
Van Isle       799,400    759,366  5.3%  114,200   
New Brunswick  747,101    751,171 -0.5%   74,710
Newfoundland   519,716    514,536  1.0%   74,245
PEI            142,907    140,204  1.9%   35,727
NWT             41,786     41,462  0.8%   41,786
Nunavut         35,944     31,906 12.7%   35,944
Yukon           35,874     33,897  5.8%   35,874

BC and Alberta need more MPs because as smaller provinces they should not have worse representation that larger provinces.   BC needs 3 more MPs and Alberta 5 more.   To put Nova Scotia in their right place in the list they should have one more MP

Tuesday, December 20, 2016

New BC program for first time house buyers is a very good policy decision.

I firmly am convinced that the new BC government for first time house buyers is very good for BC economically and the single best thing that can be done for millennials

Last week the BC government announced a program for first time house buyers in BC in which they can get a no interest matching loan to cover up to 5% or $37,500 of price of the house as a down payment.   I personally think the program is an interesting way to make house ownership an option for millennials.   People opposed to the BC Liberals have come up with a number of reasons this program is a bad idea but I am not convinced of any of them.    
News Release

A major problem in buying the first house at the moment is coming up with the 10% down payment.   Saving the money to manage to get to $50,000 down payment for a $500,000 house will take a young couple a long time because there is not a lot of spare money around to save at that point in their lives.   If they can put aside $5,000 a year it will take them 10 years to get a down payment together.  It is long enough to discourage people from ever trying to get in the housing market, ten years at age 28 is longer than the adult life they have lived.  The government no interest loan changes the money you need to save from $50,000 to $25,000 and that time frame drops to five years.   A five year time frame is one that people can think about in their 20s.

Repayment of the loan starts in five years at which point in almost all cases the ability to cover the repayment is much more manageable, that $25,000 becomes a $104 a month payment.   Remember there has been no interest on this loan but the value of the house has probably risen*.

The program limits support for houses priced up to $750,000 but that is much too expensive for almost all first time house buyers to afford.  A much more realistic price is $500,000 which means a monthly mortgage payment of about $2300 with a 10% down payment.   Most people making use of this program will be using a lot less than the maximum they are in theory allowed to access.  

In the Lower Mainland this means almost all the purchases will be of condos and townhomes and this is a part of the Metro Vancouver real estate market that has not risen unsustainably over the last 18 months.

Making it possible for a lot of younger people to buy houses is good for the BC economy.  A crash in the Metro Vancouver real estate market would cause a major recession in the province.  We need the market to cool and come down but if it falls too fast the whole economy goes down.  .Well timing government intervention like this program should be able to soften or even stop a recession caused by the crash of house prices.   The fall of house prices in the US were the primary reason for the Great Recession.

All residential real estate markets need a constant and steady influx of first time 30 year olds buying.  This has not been happening in Metro Vancouver or Greater Victoria.  Saving the down payment takes too long.   This program will in the short term speed up the decision for many to enter the market.   These new buyers replace people downsizing, moving away or dying..   If the people leaving the market are not replaced there will be to many houses on the market and not enough buyers.   It may sound insane to many people at the moment but the market in Vancouver is already showing signs of not enough first time house buyers.

The biggest complaint I have heard is that the influx of new buyers could be inflationary but in this case that is not likely happen because the market is teetering on a rapid decline,  The short term large influx of new buyers will cushion the market for the next year or two and help stave off a recession.

As a program it actually costs the government very little.   The only cost is administration and the interest lost.   This program will not require new government taxation to pay for it.   This is not a grant but a loan and secured against the house, there is almost no capital risk to the government.    It is a clever way to turn a small cost to government into a huge economic benefit.

 The timing of the program is close to prefect for the larger macro economic needs.

For the millennials, this is a chance to do what previous generations have done and have a significant capital asset.   Delaying getting into the housing market from about 30 to close to 40 will create a whole generation of people who do not have access to the financial resources other generations have had.   Borrowing against the value of a home has many important roles in people's lives.

An example, most people that start up a new business at age around 40 use their primary residence as the security to get the financing they need.  If many fewer people have houses they own there are many fewer people that can be entrepreneurs, we can not afford that as a society.

Another example, a house functions as a family social safety net.   It provides a source of financial resources if things go wrong.   For many families it is a effectively an insurance policy against the unknown.

House ownership creates a stronger middle class.   Everyone talks about supporting the middle class, this program will help large numbers of people aged 25 to 40 get into the middle class.   I know people this age that had resigned themselves to never being able to own a house that are now calculating when they could buy with this program.   It works well for my kids because over the next five to fifteen years they will start to own houses and this is not something anyone expected`

This program is one of the only serious government programs that moves wealth from the older generations to the millennials.   Simple generational fairness alone should be a reason to support this program.

From the political side this is a very smart move the government.   The single big target demographic in this coming election are the millennials.  Trudeau won the federal election only because of them and no knows how they will act in the BC election,  I think this policy will move a large number of them over to supporting the government.  What is good for a winning election does not have to be at odds with good policy.

All in all I think this is program is not only a very good idea but it truly bold and innovative   I do not expect it to be perfect but it can be altered as glitches are seen.  I can not think of the last time government has decided to start this large a new program

* I bought a house at age 33 and in the next seven years it lost 55% of its value.  At 51 I am unlikely to ever own a house again