Carbon Tax Rant

Commentary, Politics, Rants, Society
carbtax

My Facebook feed strikes again

I’m actually sharing this post not because I agree but because it’s kind of a terrible idea, and I’d like to explain why I think so.
It misrepresents what the carbon tax is.
 
The carbon tax isn’t revenue in the same way that something like income tax is. The money collected from the carbon tax MUST go towards paying for initiatives to combat climate change and reduce Alberta’s dependence on oil and gas. This money doesn’t go into their larger government pool to spend on whatever government things they want.
Maybe you think the NDP should be funding energy innovation from their regular revenue, or maybe you think they shouldn’t be funding such innovation at all. I think that since continued government funding on innovation in oil and gas is what allowed this crazy profitable industry to get started in AB in the first place, maybe it’s that industry’s turn to fund the next innovation.
I think we should keep the tax. It’s only fair that industries that have profited so immensely for so long while contributing to climate change also now contribute to repairing the damage and building a more sustainable future. To be fair to these industries, it seems like a good number of oil and gas companies are willing to step up to the plate in this regard. It’s just Conservative politicians and media who are having a hard time with it, and spreading shit like this around so that you’ll vote for them instead of the NDP in the next election.
 
It misrepresents what federal equalization payments are.
Transfer payments don’t work like this, and people need to stop sharing stuff that propagates this misconception. It’s dishonest at best. This makes it sound like the Government of Canada takes money from the Government of Alberta and gives it to the Government of Quebec. What actually happens is this: the Government of Canada collects income and business taxes from ALL Canadians, and some of those taxes get distributed to poorer provinces so that they can maintain a minimum standard of public services.
Stopping transfer payments doesn’t give more money to the government of Alberta, it just leaves the Federal government with more money, and all the provinces with less. Maaaaybe if the Feds also lowered income and business taxes at the same time (good luck with that), it would result in some individual Albertans having a tiny bit more money in their pockets at the end of the year, but the people who would benefit the most from such a move are the people who need it the least (i.e. super wealthy people who pay higher percentages and larger sums of tax). So you would be giving money back to mostly wealthy people across the country and taking services away from mostly poor and middle income people in have-not provinces. And the government of Alberta would still have to find the money to support their economic and climate goals from somewhere, so in this plan nobody’s goals get accomplished and almost everyone is worse off. Well done. *slow clap*
I disagree with stopping transfer payments because I have this crazy notion that as long as we’re united as a country, we should continue to have a minimum standard of healthcare, education, and social security across ALL provinces, not just the ones with lots of oil.
Also, can we just stop shitting on Quebec all the time? It’s not a good look, Alberta. 1. They’re not the only ones who accept equalization payments. 2. Asking for some of the tax revenue to offset the risk of having a pipeline run through your province is not unreasonable and doesn’t make them the bad guy here.
They’re raising a straw man to distract you, which helps no one.
 
To all my conservative-voting friends and family – they’re just building up a straw man for you to take down. Most of the stuff they say to demonize the NDP is distorted, exaggerated, or outright false. The NDP surely aren’t perfect, but they’re no worse than the PCs were, and some of their initiatives stand a really good chance of actually working and making life better for Albertans. They’re willing to take risks and try new things in a way the PCs haven’t been for a long time, and that’s very much what we need right now. Give them a chance.
While some individual PC and Wildrose politicians are good representatives who are on your side, each of those parties as a whole is most definitely not. They don’t care about whether or not you have a job in the industry, they only care about winning the government and propping up their corporate friends. Don’t buy into it and share their bullshit oil vs. NDP propaganda. Do your research, understand the issues, and demand that they do better by you as voters. Challenge them to stop the fear and hate mongering and instead build a conservative party that is actually conservative and actually cares about your bottom line. Engage in meaningful debate, consultation, and advocacy with the current NDP government to have your voice heard. Ignore the strawnotley.

Gender Parity in the Cabinet

Commentary, Politics, Rants

Stephen Harper had an extremely unstable cabinet, shuffling ministers around regularly and often making appointments that were questionable at best. Remember the environment minister who was a climate change denier in his spare time?

This isn’t unique to Mr. Harper. Patronage has been the method by which most of the top positions have been chosen in Canadian politics for most of our history. For some people, this has been a consistent concern, particularly when Prime Ministers make terrible choices like the example I gave above. But the vast majority of Canadians don’t really care. I’ve often seen them claim with an indifferent shrug of their shoulders that those ministers must have been chosen for a reason. There’s a general feeling of trust that a mostly male, arbitrarily appointed Federal Cabinet is probably somehow qualified to do the job. When they prove themselves to be unqualified by doing a bad job, they’re judged individually on the merit of their work, not collectively on the reasons they got the position the first place, and the country gets on with its day.

Introduce gender parity as Justin Trudeau just did, and suddenly people come out of the woodwork and decide they give a MASSIVE shit about merit-based minister selection.

Prime Ministers overlook qualified female candidates in favour of their friends all the time and few even notice, but introduce even the slightest chance that an even slightly better male candidate may have been overlooked in order to make the cabinet look more like the actual Canadian population, and suddenly it’s a problem. No one even stops to consider that maybe we have gender parity not because Trudeau is throwing out qualified male candidates, but because he’s actually bothering to consider female candidates in the first place, something that previous PMs rarely seemed to do.

Few people have bothered looking at how qualified the new ministers are: they see a news headline about gender parity and jump to the conclusion that most of them must be unqualified because they must have been chosen on the basis of their genitals alone. It’s assumed that men got their position because they’re qualified, and that women or minorities got it to fill a quota. The widespread assumption that men are automatically more qualified results in more qualified women being turned down in favour of less qualified men all the time. It’s a problem that Justin Trudeau set out to overcome, and he seems to have succeeded.

Everyone is suddenly clamouring for merit-based appointment over representativeness-based appointment, but hiring is more than a simple, objective checklist that can be equally applied to anyone and everyone to come to a 100% guaranteed best conclusion. I’ve done this kind of appointment work before, where you’re given way too many qualified candidates for a limited number of positions, and have to find a way to organize them into those positions. In these processes, things like representativeness and interpersonal ability/circumstances become really important. You’re putting together a team that has to work cooperatively to effectively represent and serve a diverse social landscape.

When you go into this kind of process, you create an image in your mind of how you want the group to look as a whole once it’s formed, and then balance that against how you want each individual position to look. Sometimes you get lucky with the perfect group and the perfect candidate for each position, sometimes you have to make small sacrifices to one in order to improve the other, and that’s okay. Attempting to apply complete objectivity to people’s so-called “merits” to pick the exactly most “qualified” person for each position would overlook an important fact of humanity: humans are not work experience robots, and you can’t slot them into positions in the same way you would choose which smart phone to buy or which accounting software to install for your business. They’re complicated, and their ideas, work ethic, interpersonability, and yes, even their representativeness, all matter. Those things are all part of their “merits”. If you’re looking at specific work experiences alone, you run the risk of creating a dysfunctional and incapable team.

People complain about representativeness being chosen over qualifications, but when it comes to a representative body like a federal cabinet, representativeness is a qualification. This should go without saying, but a cabinet that’s more representative of the population will do a better job of representing the population. Ministers do more than just lead their individual ministry, they also do a lot of team work to create policy, and an unrepresentative cabinet cannot hope to make representative policy.

It’s also worth mentioning that in a government where policy is determined by a team and ministers have access to massive support and staff structures, underqualification does not have to be the end of the world. Most of Harper’s cabinet ministers were woefully unqualified for their specific positions, but Canada kept chugging along.

Look, I’m no fan of Trudeau. I have many misgivings about him and the Liberal party, and I don’t trust them any more than all of you nay-sayers. However, forced gender parity in the cabinet is not the massive problem all these people seem to think it is. If anything, it’s a step up from the “appoint your old, white friends and a token minority or two” system used by previous PMs, because at least this one is relatively representative of the population. So stop your complaining. If you’re bothered about a specific minister’s lack of specific experiences, then be critical in that way, but don’t jump to the conclusion that the ministers must be unqualified just because Trudeau had the audacity to actually seriously consider some female candidates for once. Try to treat our gender-equal cabinet the same way you treated the mostly-male one: judge them individually on their level of experience and the quality of their work, rather than assuming they just got the job because they happen to have a certain set of genitalia. If you were fine with previous ministers getting their position because they were white men who were chummy with the PM (and all evidence suggests that this could be the only reason many of them got it) then you have no right to complain about the possibility that this time around, maybe some were more strongly considered for a ministry because they were women.

How to vote strategically (actually)

Elections, Politics

Strategic voting refers to voting for the candidate most likely to beat the one you don’t like in order to make your vote count for more. There are all sorts of websites set up to try to make this kind of voting as easy as possible for you. However, a really good voting strategy involves a little more complexity than just choosing the most popular lesser evil.


The first thing you want to do is figure out the popularity of each candidate in your riding. Even though your vote no longer contributes to parties’ election funding, showing your support to the party you like by giving them your vote can still help increase their legitimacy, and that’s worth quite a lot – your vote always counts, even if your candidate won’t win because of it. The more of the popular vote they manage to secure, the more seriously other parties have to take them – this is particularly important for historically smaller parties like the Green Party, which frequently gets left out of debates and interviews. If you know that the candidate you dislike is unlikely to win anyway, then go ahead and vote for the party or candidate you like the best! Sometimes “strategic voting” isn’t necessary.

 

If you find that strategic voting may be necessary in your riding, then you can consider voting for the most popular lesser evil, but donating to or buying a membership for the party or candidate you actually like. More registered members means more legitimacy, and more campaign money means better advertising and lobbying efforts so that their policy ideas can reach more minds and have more influence over the more popular parties’ actions.

 

You can also write to the candidates and their party leaders, and pressure them to consider the platform points you support from the party you wish you could vote for. Even if a candidate is not going to win, their ideas, if popular enough, can still influence the behavior of other candidates and their parties, during the election and after. This kind of citizen lobbying can do a lot more than you realize, especially if a lot of people engage in it! It’s also free – all you need is an e-mail address.

 

Candidate Popularity

 

There are a few ways to figure out candidate popularity, and I recommend using them all for the most accurate results.

 

1. Look at polls – multiple ones, since a single poll is rarely accurate on its own.

 

2. Take a walk around your riding and see which way it’s leaning based on lawn signs. Anyone with non-PC signs, or signs supporting CBC, public libraries, or other publicly funded operations, probably won’t vote PC (for example). If there is almost no signage supporting the party you dislike (or its policies), then they’re highly unlikely to win that riding and you can feel pretty safe voting for whoever you want.

 

3. Consider your riding’s demographics. Is it mostly old white people? Mostly students? Young families? Immigrants? Old and/or well-off white people and fundamentalist Christian families tend to vote for the most “conservative” candidate available (sorry for overgeneralizing, old white people and Christians). My riding growing up was mostly young families and students, and that riding has been pretty strongly held by the NDP for a pretty long time. My current riding is mostly professionals, immigrant families, and low income/single parent families, so it’s unsurprising that the Liberal party has held it for some time, and since the Liberals have been slowly falling out of favour with their historic voting base at other electoral levels, I wasn’t much surprised when they were ousted and replaced by a NDP candidate in the recent Provincial election. Demographics can tell you a lot about how your riding will vote.
*Remember that new seats have been added and federal riding boundaries have changed this year, which could change your riding’s historic demographics, and therefore it’s historic voting habits.

 

4. Check out the parties or platforms of other successful politicians in your riding. In Edmonton, we had provincial and municipal elections fairly recently, so their results can serve as a good test for how your riding votes – who is your MP, City Councillor, and School Board Trustee? The kinds of platforms they ran on will tell you how your riding likes to vote. Sometimes you can even see how many votes each candidate received, so you can tell how close (or not) their particular race was, although the 2015 Electoral report for the Provincial election hasn’t been released yet so you’ll just have to settle for knowing who the winner was.

 

Register

 

ELECTION!!!1!!11!!!!1

Elections, Politics

Our good friend Jim has called an election for the 5th of May. Since I’m a political science bachelor with a lot of non-politically-minded friends, I thought I’d actually make an effort this year to observe, dissect, interpret, and publish the goings-on of this provincial election in the hopes of making it seem a little more convenient and easy to understand, and a little less intimidating or overwhelming, for those friends.

I should state at the outset that I’m not a fan of the Progressive Conservatives, and that is definitely going to show in this series of posts. I’ll try to give them fair treatment, but I can’t guarantee anything.

So how does this whole thing work, anyway?

In order to make an informed vote, you need to understand how both the political system and the electoral system work. Not understanding them may lead you to cast a vote that doesn’t actually match what you want or need from the government. How can that be, you ask? I’m going to start with some voting 101 to get you up to speed.

For my busier friends out there, here’s a TL;DR summary:

https://nosuchnothing.wordpress.com/2015/04/10/election1111-tldr-summary/

1. Parties vs. Representatives

Most elected representatives in provincial politics (known as MLAs) belong to a party. Parties work as a team to set goals and get things passed in the Legislature. Sounds nice in theory, but it gets a bit weird in practice.

This gif is surprisingly relevant.

In Canada, party members have to vote together. If a representative wants to propose something, the rest of the party has to agree with them or it won’t happen. Decisions are often made behind closed doors between party members, and then brought to the legislature for a vote. MLAs rarely act alone on their own initiative, but pass everything through their party first. Once the party has made a decision about something, everyone has to vote in favour of it, regardless of whether or not they personally think it’s a good idea. It helps parties stay organized and consistent, which is good, however…

Imagine: everyone in your riding wants to increase corporate taxes. Literally every person.

If your MLA’s party also wants to increase corporate taxes, then your MLA can vote in the Legislature to increase corporate taxes.

 

However, if the party disagrees, then your MLA must vote against corporate tax increases, even if every single person they represent wants them to vote in favour.

If they refuse to follow the party and vote the way their constituents want them to, they run the risk of being kicked out of their party. They won’t lose their seat in the Legislative Assembly, but they may as well have. Because the MLAs in parties work as one, without a party affiliation your MLA is on their own most of the time so it’s very difficult for them to get their voice heard.

This is the face they will make.

2. Leadership

With Canada’s party system, the Premier is not chosen by a direct vote of all Albertans, but by the party with the most seats in the Legislature. Each riding has a seat, and elects a MLA to represent them. Whichever party can win the most ridings gets the most seats, and therefore gets to run the show. They decide amongst themselves who from their party will be the Premier, and they can change that person at any time without any input from Albertan voters.

Important note: Our entire system works on a first-past-the-post basis. This basically means that you don’t have to have the most, you just have to have more than anyone else. In terms of leadership, this means that you don’t have to have the most seats in the legislature to have control of the government, you just have to have more than any other party.

A majority government happens when the party in power has a majority of the seats. That party can basically do whatever it wants because it has a majority of seats and, because all party members must vote together, a majority of the votes.

The little “x” in the corner of this image is a lie.

 

A minority government happens when the party in power has more seats than any other party, but doesn’t have the most seats overall. This means that even though they control the government, the other parties can out-vote them if they work together.

A LIE, I TELL YOU!

 

3. Voting

Voting also works on a first-past-the-post basis. A candidate doesn’t have to have the most votes to win, they just have to have more votes than any other candidate. Seems to make sense, but there’s actually a huge problem whenever you have more than two candidates. I’ll show you:

If…

Candidate 1 got 30% of the vote

Candidate 2 got 70% of the vote

Candidate 2 wins.

However, if…

Candidate 1 won 25% of the vote

Candidate 2 won 20% of the vote

Candidate 3 won 22% of the vote

Candidate 4 won 23% of the vote

With 10% being spoiled ballots (meaning they were blank, illegible, etc)

Candidate 1 wins with only 25% support.

Yikes.

4. Making a decision

So how do you make a decision on how to vote? There are lots of strategies you can look at implementing, but I’ll tell you right now what NOT to do:

DO NOT vote based only on the party. Many people always vote for the same party regardless of which candidate is running in their riding, and this is a mistake.

DO NOT vote based only on the candidate. Some people want a particular person that they like to represent them, which is nice in theory and a good strategy in some places, but in Canada this is also a mistake. Voting can’t be that simple because of that party system I explained earlier, which is why it’s so important to understand how it works.

Shut up an listen, bald angry dude. This is important!

Deciding how to vote is a tricky balancing act between a candidate’s qualifications and promises, and the actions, policies, and promises of the party they belong to. A particular candidate might seem really competent and have great ideas, but if their party is going to ignore those ideas then you might have to settle for a candidate you like less that belongs to a party you like more. On the other hand, you may love a particular party, but if the candidate running for that party in your riding is an incompetent boob, a lot of important on-the-ground work might get messed up if they win, so you may have to vote for a better candidate from a party you like less.

How you balance that will depend on what you care about. If you care about local matters, like how your constituency office is run and how issues are dealt with in your riding, then you’ll want to give more consideration to the quality of the candidate than to the quality of the party. If you care about provincial matters, like the budget, or public policies and laws, you should give more consideration to the quality of the party, rather than the quality of the candidate.

I know it’s hard, but I believe in you!

You can also simply vote against the party/candidate you like the least. Lets say you despise the PCs (as I do). You don’t care who wins in your riding, as long as it’s not the PC candidate. You’d want to look at various polls and other predictions to determine which candidate seems most likely to win over the PC one, and then vote for that candidate in the hopes that others will have the same idea and your collective votes will push that candidate over the threshold they need to beat the PC one.

AND THAT CONCLUDES VOTING 101!!!!! Contact me if you have any questions, and I shall endeavour to answer them.

In following posts I will attempt to break down each party’s platform into easily digestible little bits so that you don’t have to do any reading yourself (because no one really wants to read through a party platform – booooooooring!), and also give a review of some candidates’ histories, qualifications, and promises. Can’t guarantee I’ll get around to all candidates, as there are many, but I’ll start with those in Edmonton and Calgary and work my way out from there!