Monday, October 19, 2015

It's Election Day...Go Vote!

Finally. October 19th. Election Day.

I will vote later today, and as I noted in yesterday's post I will be voting for the Liberals here in my riding of Ottawa-Centre. However, this is not another "why I am voting Liberal" blog post.

This is simply about voting. A right we have, but which unfortunately not enough of us exercise.

Today is an opportunity to reverse a trend which has seen over time fewer and fewer Canadians vote. An opportunity to show prospective candidates and elected officials that the voter is engaged; that she and he are paying attention.

Too often I hear people complain about government. Federal, provincial, municipal. It doesn't matter. I hear complaints about issues and how they are being addressed. Complaints about officials and how they act.

Well, elections are our opportunity to do something about it. Governments act differently when they know they are being watched. The more they are held to account, the more likely they are to pay attention to the voter.

Now don't take this as an endorsement of perpetual pandering for votes, or shopping for votes as Susan Delacourt so effectively described in her book of the same name. I have no desire to see a continuation of what we have today in which policies and positions are targeted at specific voters.

I want to see a government which lays out a vision and a plan which benefits the country. And then I want them to sell it on its merits. I want the government to work for my vote, not simply buy it.

That process starts with the voter. It starts with an engaged citizenship which holds its elected officials to account.

That process starts today. Get out and vote.


Sunday, October 18, 2015

Choosing Change; Choosing the Liberals (part 2)

Tomorrow is election day. After all of the speeches, debates, ads, attacks, pivots, ups and downs, it will be time for Canadian voters to bring an end to the longest campaign in modern memory by casting their votes.

For a politics watcher like me, #elxn42 has been fascinating. Broad range of issues? Check. Compelling narratives? Check. A genuine three-horse for several weeks? Check.

And perhaps most importantly as we end the campaign we have a choice. A choice about the type of government we want. A choice in terms of both the role and the tone we expect of our government.

In part 1 of this post I laid out the choice for change as being driven by the "what" (the issues) and the "how" (the tone and approach to governing). Not surprisingly, I find myself on the side of change.

But who? In this campaign there is choice within the choice for change. At the beginning it appeared that the leader of the change movement was the #NDP and their leader Tom Mulcair. Today, on the eve of election day that position now appears to be firmly held by Justin Trudeau and the #LPC.

Now a simple answer to the "who" would be to vote for the change party which has the best chance of winning. This is the so-called strategic voting about which we have heard a great deal over the past several weeks. If change is what you want, then vote for the party most likely to unseat Stephen Harper and the #CPC.

I suspect that there a lot of people who are adopting this approach. After nearly 10 years in office this is a government - and in particular a Prime Minister - which has worn out its welcome with many, many voters.

But I can't vote that way. The issues matter too much to me. The role of government is an important question for me. I can't simply vote against someone; I need to vote for something.

When I cast my vote tomorrow it will be for the Liberal Party of Canada. Here are three reasons why.

First, the economy is more than just a balance sheet. While I have no interest in excessive deficits and unsustainable debt, I do not think government should be so dogmatic about the bottom line that it fails to invest in those things that help an economy grow and which actually make it sustainable.

Infrastructure is critical to our economic future, and Canada has an infrastructure deficit. Our ability to effectively and efficiently move people and products is constrained by this deficit.
  • Want to be a successful trading nation? You need the right infrastructure.
  • Want high quality of life for your citizens? You need the right infrastructure.
  • Want to protect the environment? You need the right infrastructure.
There is a real and important role for government to play in this space, and the Liberal Party is prepared to play this role and make these investments. These are investments which, if done properly, set Canada up for success.

Second, how the government uses the tax system matters. Everyone wants lower taxes, yes. But the current approach of boutique tax cuts does absolutely nothing except reward those who can already afford to spend. Similarly, the current system of tax credits for families is giving everyone with children money, versus focusing on those families that need it the most.

I would prefer to see the highest earners pay slightly more if the result is that the government is able to invest in lower earners - those in the middle class or trying to get there. This does absolutely nothing to help me as an individual, but I think Canada is better for it. This is where the Liberals are focused and this is why they will get my vote.

Third, tone matters.

The Liberal campaign has been positive and has tried to actually articulate a future that is more than just about getting rid of Stephen Harper. The tone of our politics needs to change and the Liberals have reflected this by running a campaign that has largely avoided negatives and fear-mongering.  

This is a campaign that speaks to what we can accomplish versus simply highlighting what we want to avoid. I need a campaign that challenges me to see a better future, and then shows me a plan as to how we might get there.

The plan may or may not work. It may need to be altered. But the point is that there is a recognition that things can change for the better. That's where good policy starts.

I am not a strategic voter.  I am not choosing the Liberals because they are leading, or because they offer the best chance of replacing the Conservatives.

I am choosing the Liberals because their vision for Canada reflects mine.


These last two posts have been more personal than my usual writing. I decided to write about what this election has meant to me as a voter, versus just a guy watching politics. When I write again it will likely be more apolitical and issues-focused. But for now it was important to just be me.

One person with one vote.

Monday, October 12, 2015

Choosing Change Part 1: It's About the What and the How

One week to go.

By this time next week, the campaigning will be over and the counting will only be a few hours away. Between now and then the party leaders will be making their final arguments, while their teams will be revving up their get out the vote operations.

Of course the broad narratives are already firmly in place. A vote for "stability in an uncertain world" versus a "vote for change and an end to more of the same." A vote for "you can't trust this guy" versus a vote for "we've had enough of this guy."

It will come as no surprise to anyone who follows this blog (anyone?) or my tweets (@Politicwatcher) that this Guy Watching Politics is on the side of change. However, it is not change for the sake of change that I am supporting. Nor is it simply "Anyone But Harper" that is driving my thoughts on #elxn42.

Issues and engagement were the main reasons why I started this blog, and they are the reason I decided to post again after some time away. There are real issues that need to be discussed if we want to move the yardsticks forward for this country and for our democracy.

The parties of change - the Liberals and the NDP - represent the best chance for issues to be openly discussed. Both have tabled platforms and positions which, for me, are more reflective of a world that is not binary; where issues cannot be boiled down to black versus white.

It doesn't matter if you are talking about the economy or the environment, social policy or industrial policy, deficits or surpluses. The world is far too nuanced and complex to simply frame policy decisions in these areas into simple "either ors".

Unfortunately the Harper government has consistently done just that.

Take discussion on taxes as an example. You are either for taxes or against them in their discourse. And with that is gone a more important discussion about how we use the tax system to build the society we want.

Want another example? Safeguarding the environment and growing the economy are seen as mutually exclusive. A binary choice which blindly ignores the fact that an issue like climate change is an economic issue as much as an environmental one.

This approach is depriving our country of real and thorough debate on what we need to do if we want to succeed in a complex, competitive and challenging world.


If issues and policy are the what, then the discourse of our politics is the how.

The how is a hugely important element of a well-functioning democracy. How we encourage debate. How we use Parliament. How we treat differences of opinions. How we demonstrate transparency and accountability.

Unfortunately a defining feature of the Harper government has been its "how".

The comportment of the government has been one in which Parliament is at best a burden to be borne, but more often a place to be circumvented. It is a how that characterizes those with differences of opinion as enemies, not just of the Conservative party but of Canada.

Think of the Duffy affair and what it showed us about the PMO. Recall the muzzling of scientists and consider what that means for the development of evidence-based policy. Reflect on omnibus legislation that is drafted to preclude debate. Look at how the government advertises and how it attacks.

Simply put, the "how" of the Harper government is a how that consistently opts to offer Canadians the worst of politics at the very time they need the best of government.

Both the Liberals and the NDP have tabled positions which are intended to improve the how in our democracy. Both appear far more committed to making the discourse of our politics more inclusive, open and positive.

Of course, there are no guarantees that either will fully adopt the changes they are proposing. History is full of parties which run on change and then govern on more of the same. In fact one need look no further than the 2006 Conservative campaign for such an example.

However, while there is no guarantee of an improvement from either the Liberals or the NDP there is an unequivocal guarantee of more of the same from a Conservative government whose "how" is hard-wired into their style of governing. It is unfortunately in their DNA and won't change.


It is the what and the how which makes me a supporter or change. I believe Canada needs an open, vigorous debate on many policy issues. And I believe that without change this is not going to happen to the extent it needs to, nor with a tone befitting a country that considers itself to be among the best in the world.

But opting for change is only step one. There is a choice within the choice for change, with two parties vying to be the face of change. In the second part of this post (later this week), I will focus on that choice and what it means to me.

Friday, October 9, 2015

Getting Engaged

Every four years or so I get to see people change right before my eyes. I get to hear them say things I have never heard them say. Express views and levels of insight I never knew they had.

I am talking, of course, about the Winter Olympics.

You know the person. The one who suddenly becomes an expert in curling, explaining with new-found confidence what shot should be made. Or the one who can dissect a figure skating routine, identifying where points were won and lost.

The Olympics has that effect on a person. Pulling them towards something they otherwise would never devote the time to following. They cast aside their indifference, get caught up in the spectacle and develop expertise out of thin air. 

Over the past several weeks I have seen this same phenomenon play out in Canada's #elxn42, particularly when it comes to polls.

I see F5 keys being worn out on computers at work, as people refresh their screens in the hopes of getting the latest update to the CBC poll tracker. I overhear discussions about the national narrative, and how we really need to focus on what is happening at the regional level. I watch heated discussions about the use of land lines versus mobiles, about how the undecided are being distributed by this poller versus that one.

People are getting up early just to get the latest Nanos daily tracker results. Without missing a beat they can tell you that the EKOS tracker will come out at 4:00 pm. And then there are the seat God do people love the seat projections. 

And you know what? It's awesome. 

People are engaged in a way I did not see them being engaged in 2011, 2008 or 2006. People are talking about the polls, yes, but they are also talking about the issues. By and large they can articulate the narrative and position of the three main parties.

I tried to think about the reason. Availability of information is definitely part of the explanation. You can get election information and raw data from so many sources, so quickly. 

Twitter is also having an effect. If 2011 was Canada's first real Twitter election, the ensuing years have seen it grow into what often seems like the primary communications vehicle for parties, candidates, supporters and detractors.  If you are on-line you simply can't escape the chatter.

But if I had to pick one thing that is driving the current levels of engagement, I would vote for the emergence of a true change versus more of the same narrative. 

On the one side you have two parties casting themselves as agents of change, but who also have significant policy differences between them. There is a choice within the choice for change.

On the other side, you have a government casting themselves as stewards of stability and safety while at the same time trying to introduce a question of dangerous risks associated with their opponents.

And woven within all of this are so many issues. The economy, cultural accommodation, security, the environment, the role of government, trade. We have always had issues around which elections were framed, but I honestly can't recall a campaign with so many.

For both seasoned politics watchers and those who fall into the "winter olympics" category, this election has been fascinating to follow. Let's hope the next 10 days remain as compelling and that regardless of the outcome, the levels of engagement don't dip.

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