Friday, May 29, 2009

It's not easy being green

While conspiracy theorists clamour over which tyrannical corporate cabal killed the electric car, many major car makers are preparing to unveil the next generation of electrified clever cars. Regardless of your belief in CO2 induced global warming and the impact (if any) that mankind may have on this natural process, crude oil is a finite resource. Be it 10, 50, or 100 years in the future, eventually we will require a substitute to fossil fuel for personal and industrial locomotion.

Until that day when the eggheads at Ballard Power can devise a viable and effective hydrogen fuel celled engine, our options are limited. I long for the day when I can wake up in the morning and drain my bladder into my gas tank to propel myself to work. In the meantime, electricity would appear to be our most logical avenue. Before the shareholders of Archer Daniels Midland espouse the marvels of Ethanol I will offer an ominous warning; tapping into the food supply to help satisfy our insatiable appetite for fuel, what could possibly go wrong? And to those who proclaim that we must drastically increase our imports of Brazilian sugar ethanol to fight Global Warming; are you suggesting that we tap into the millions of acres of sugar cane growing in the dirt where the rain forests once consumed massive amounts of carbon? Do we really want to offer Brazil more incentive to replace rain forests with sugar fields? But I suppose that caring about the rain forests is so 1980’s…

Thus electricity in the near term is the most efficient means of powering our propulsion (aside from crude oil that is). Let’s assume that environmental activists are successful and we end up with a Chevy Volt in every driveway? Question: What happens when you dramatically increase the demand for electricity by millions of mega watts daily? Answer: Unless you simultaneously increase the capacity to produce it, the price of electricity will emulate sky rockets in flight. How many wind turbines does it take to power a million Volts? Needless to say, I have serious doubts that we will be able to increase capacity sufficiently to power this seemingly inevitable revolution of electric cars. Demand for this critical resource will grow exponentially faster than our ability to produce it.

The developed world is so definitively dependent on electricity for so many critical functions in every day life that any significant price shock would have disastrous consequences. The Obama Administration is steadfast in its desire to create new green technology, a renewable means of replacing a non renewable resource. That is a noble endeavour and I hope that they are successful. But forgive me for being skeptical of the ability of the government to build enough wind turbines and solar panels to replace oil and coal anytime soon. Barak, as dignified as your dream of a green revolution may be, just remember that a wise amphibian once said, “It’s not easy being green"...

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Is the carbon tax now viable public policy?

In the wake of Gordon Campbell’s victory in British Columbia, there has been an initiation of punditry suggesting that the Carbon Tax is now a viable policy despite the post mortem of the Dion Campaign blaming the demise of the Liberal Party of Canada on the ill advised Green Shift. Now that a politician has won a campaign against perceived long odds in Canada with a carbon tax as a central platform issue, many who advocate that policy are drawing attention to its role in Campbell’s victory. First, I disagree that Gordon Campbell won because of the carbon tax; if that is indeed what Andrew Coyne was hypothesizing in a recent MacLean’s piece. A year ago when gas prices were high and the tax was introduced, polls showed BC went roughly 60% - 70% against the tax, which is why the NDP adopted "axe the tax" as its chief election issue. Since the tax was introduced, gas prices have fallen by just under 60 cents per litre. Now people are just less pissed off about it rather than supportive of it.

There are certainly people who support the carbon tax which I would peg somewhere between 30%-40% of the population. Did Gordon Campbell lure people who voted NDP or Green in the last election over to his side this time? It is difficult to measure. Popular vote (of the less than half of eligible voters who voted) has the proportions remarkably similar to the previous election. So if he won left leaning votes, it was offset by an exodus in the other direction (which would require right wingers to vote Marxist). I think it is safe to say that the right wing of Campbell's Liberals (who vote Conservative federally) stayed in his tent out of fear of an NDP victory. For example, someone decided to start a BC Conservative party which ran this time for the first time. This party ended up with about 2% of the popular vote, even in ridings where the Tories win over 60% federally.

As much as I enjoy throwing hyperbolic flaming bags of shit at the NDP, they governed BC from 1991 to 2001 and they really fucked up. Unlike Bob Rae, they were not governing at a time of world wide recession. In the late 90s there was a boom period everywhere but here. From 1951 to 1991 the Social Credit Party (which is ostensibly a breed of Libertarianism) won 11 of 12 elections, but eventually collapsed over scandal. When the Socred ship sank, the NDP won back to back elections; they proceeded to do what the NDP does best and devastated the BC economy. The right wing vote flocked en masse to the next best option, and out of the ashes of NDP Scorched Earth came back-to-back-to-back center-right majorities by Gordon Campbell.

To come back around to the carbon tax, the Green Shit of Stephane Dion was very unpopular out here because we already had a carbon tax. I do not support carbon taxes, nor do I support cap and trade. But for those who believe it is necessary to burn less fossil fuels, a carbon tax really is the most efficient means of attaining that goal. Cap and trade creates a massive bureaucracy to measure, regulate and enforce. Carbon tax accomplishes the same goal for a fraction of the effort. I voted for Gordon Campbell's party, and I can at least reconcile my opposition to his carbon tax under the guise of "fossil fuels are a finite resource and eventually we will require an alternative, and a carbon tax makes an alternative more profitable". Despite the fact that I believe the market will do that on its own regardless as the supply of dead dinosaurs dries up.

Remember, in the last Federal election BC voted 44% Tory, 26% NDP, 19% Liberal, 9% Green. The Liberals fell over 8% in BC popular vote from 2008 over 2006 under the Dion Green Shit. The hypothesis that Gordon Campbell won his third mandate BECAUSE of the carbon tax is just wrong; he was simply the lesser of two evils. Opinion polls showed every party leader was regarded unfavourably by the electorate, hence the low voter turn out. In my blog I called it the “none of the above” election. One radio guy joked that he could have won the election if he started the none of the above party. I think most pragmatic people out here recognized that a recession is a terrible time to put the NDP in the driver’s seat, especially considering that they crashed into the median when times were good. At the end of the nineties, they fell from in power to two seats, the second worst collapse of a sitting government in the history of Provincial elections. Unlike when it happened to the Tories federally, the NDP did not split in three. Their fall from grace was because they really sucked that badly.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Playing Chicken over Employment Insurance

It is often said that the hardest part of playing chicken is knowing when to flinch. I can recall my first exposure to the game of “chicken” was at age ten one winter while visiting a friend’s house. We decided to go sledding at a hill near his home. It was a steep hill, and at the bottom there was a solid wooden fence with the trail splitting in two just in front. Sledders who were near the end could either turn left or right. There were older kids playing chicken at the hill where the first to turn was the loser. If we wanted a turn sliding down the hill, we could either play chicken or go home. My friend went first, as it was his neighbourhood. So he took his “crazy carpet” (basically a sheet of plastic with handles that could go very fast without much control) and took off down the steep hill. Sure enough, as the older kid turned to the right and to safety, my friend could not turn left in time, lost control, and smashed into the fence at a high speed. Needless to say, that was the end of the day’s activities, and our last time sledding at that hill.

I see many parallels in the posturing taking place in the Canadian Parliament between the Liberals and Conservatives over Employment Insurance. Michael Ignatieff seems to have found what he believes to be his winning issue, his “crazy carpet”, and is willing to risk collapsing the government unless the government drops the EI hours worked requirement to a foolish 350 hours (a policy which ironically would only affect less than 5% of the population in the next several months). Perhaps Iggy has been too busy researching his own genealogy to read up on Canadian History, because there is a good reason that the current EI restrictions are in place. It is because of something defined in economics as “moral hazard”; which is to say the effect of an insurance policy that actually increases the probability of incurring a loss. Once upon a time in the infancy of universal Employment Insurance, requirements were quite loose compared to today. Evidently the lure of being paid not to work created a disincentive to work in a significant proportion of the population. Whether people will admit it or not, a lot would rather be paid slightly less not to work than paid slightly more to work.

This is not to say that all repeat claimants of Employment Insurance fit into this class of people. There are people who are not significantly skilled and have difficulty retaining employment for long periods of time. There are people with physical or mental dysfunctions who also have difficulty staying employed by no fault of their own. I once worked at a job with a guy who had terrible body odour, where most of the work was indoors. He was a good worker and well groomed, he just had this genetic horrific funk that drove people crazy. Eventually my boss made up an excuse to lay him off, even though the real reason was B.O. I worked with people who were laid off for being annoying, people laid off for being stupid, and I was once laid off for refusing to do unsafe work. My employer wanted me to rewire his warehouse despite the fact that I had no training what-so-ever in electronics. At the end of the day I was called into the boss’s office and he apologized that he had no work left for me to do (it was a summer job at “general maintenance”).

I confess that I do have difficulty reconciling how to best avoid moral hazard while not punishing people who get laid off frequently through no fault of their own. As someone with a degree in Mathematical Economics, I do spend a lot of time trying to figure out a way numerically to be able to weed out the leaches from the vulnerable, and maybe you can’t. All that you can do is set the system to an equilibrium value where you discourage the destructive behavior without punishing the good intentioned. All I can say with certainty is that the equilibrium is NOT 44 days of work for a year of benefits. That my friends is what we call a moral hazard.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Is Gary Bettman "Nucking Futs"?

Basically what happened this week in the American Courts on the Phoenix Coyote Saga is that both sides had submitted too many pages of supporting documentation at the last minute and the judge did not have adequate time to properly review them. Overwhelmed, he reverted them to this mediation process which won't solve anything and is not legally binding. The mediator is not allowed to make a binding decision, and I doubt either side will budge. It seems like a transparent measure by the judge to get both sides to debate specific arguments, allowing him to make a decision later in the summer. I do think he is apprehensive with granting the sale such that the team can be moved.

My analysis of the Tuesday decision is that it might make it more likely that Jimmy gets the team, but less likely that he can move them in time for the 2009 season. Jimmy will try, but I believe the NHL now has the time frame to filibuster an immediate move even if Jimmy gets the team. Honestly, the NHL argument that Moyes does not own the team is ludicrous. This man has now burned roughly 300 million dollars out of his own pocket in Gary Bettman's field of dreams, and now the NHL claims that he doesn't own anything? Does that make any sense? If I spent 200 million to buy a team, then incurred 100 million in operating loses; I don't give a flying fuck if the league helped me make payroll, I would have a reasonable expectation that I would own something at the end of the day that I could sell to the highest bidder with the goal of possibly making back some of my loses. I think Reg Dunlop said it best, Jesus Christ, what a fucking nightmare.

But hey, even if Gary gets to keep his Hindenburg in Arizona, Jimmy can also make offers to Florida, Atlanta, and NYI; who rumour has it are all desperate to sell, sell, sell. They can't keep Jimmy out of the loop forever. Each time Gary tries to "cock block" Jimmy, it is Gary who ends up with the mud on his face.

Monday, May 18, 2009

Copps Coliseum

I have been doing some thinking about the viability of moving a NHL franchise to Hamilton. I don't think Balsille particularly cares what city he relocates to. From a maximizing profitability of a franchise in Southern Ontario, the optimal location for a stadium is probably somewhere along the 401 between Kitchener and Guelph. That puts them within an hour drive of Hamilton, Mississauga, Kitchener, Guelph, Cambridge, Brampton, and so on and so forth. Just in terms of most convenient distance from the greatest number of consumers. That also puts a little more distance from Buffalo, which is unquestionably the most at risk for a disastrous loss of revenue.

However, the reason Hamilton is at the front of the line for Balsille destinations is because they have the most NHL ready stadium in the region. It is a matter of securing his most realistic sequence of events. His first obstacle obviously is just being able to buy a team. Bettman for reasons previously discussed does not want him to purchase a franchise, and has blocked every attempt he has made at entry into the league. This is now his third attempt, and if it fails I am certain that it won't be his last. It is also abundantly clear that if Balsille is successful in attaining ownership, he wants to relocate immediately. He has made his intentions very public, to the point where this most recent offer includes a clause that he be allowed to move the franchise. It is a double edged sword, because on one hand it is likely the biggest reason that he has been repeatedly denied entry into the ownership club, but also ensures that if he were to get a team, he would not have to wait a number of years to move them.

Copps Coliseum cannot be a permanent home. Aside from its age, the biggest structural flaw is that it has fewer than 10 luxury suites. That is a big deal. The Canucks have roughly 30 suites, and they are a cash cow for the organization. We're talking about millions of dollars annually. Logically even if you retrofit and upgrade Copps Coliseum, it will only be a temporary home. Bettman is even citing the capacity of the facility in Hamilton to support his contention that Balsille should not be allowed to move a team to that location. It would appear that Balsille has no desire to adopt an "if you build it, they will come" strategy, and do what has been done in Kansas City and build an NHL/NBA ready facility before securing a franchise. That is a high risk move, and a financial albatross each year that the stadium remains operational without a primary tenant. You can't pay for a 500 million dollar building by holding a few Hannah Montana concerts.

What it comes down to now is whether or not the taxpayers of Hamilton want to spend money to upgrade Copps Coliseum when it is only going to be a temporary home. While Jimmy is heavily courting Hamilton right now, once he is able to get a franchise north of the border, his attention will immediately shift to building a new barn. Will that be in Hamilton? Perhaps it is the most probable destination, but it is not a certainty. It is a complex financial equation that involves negotiating land purchase, property tax, building permits, etc, etc. If Kitchener offers him a nice piece of real estate and a good deal on taxes and if it will cost more to build in Hamilton and you could end up with the Kitchener Coyotes.

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Gary Bettman, Lost in a Field of Dreams...

I know that sometimes when I watch a movie it has a profound effect on me, leading to a permanent impact on my psyche. I swear that Gary Bettman was brainwashed by the film Field of Dreams, because the keynote quote of “if you build it, they will come” seems to have had a dramatically negative impact on the NHL Commishioner. The idea that you could just drop an NHL franchise in the middle of the Arizona Desert and you will create NHL fans out of thin air. Well they built the Arena in Glendale, and they did not come. I get the feeling that ego has a role to play in Bettman resisting the migration of his failed experiments back to the great white north. Despite allegations that he has expressed a desire to return the Coyotes to Winnipeg, it is clear that Hamilton is the far better choice. There are just that many more eyeballs and wallets within driving distance. The largest hindrance to relocation to franchise is a lack of luxury sweets in Copps Coliseum. The luxury boxes are how franchise extract millions of dollars from Corporations who compete for the right to spend that money.

I don't believe anyone has officially quantified the economic benefit of a hockey franchise in a strong hockey market. I suppose it would not be difficult. What you would need is economic statistics from the greater Winnipeg area for the period leading up to the departure of the Jets, and the period after. Look at business revenues in Winnipeg and tax revenues in the city and province. You could easily see if there is any measureable effect of the departure of the franchise. There was certainly a significant loss of happiness (or in economics, the immeasurable variable of utility) with thousands of hockey fans. You can't measure the loss of pleasure that the people of Manitoba suffered, but you can measure business and tax revenues. Conversely, you could also measure the impact in Ottawa when they brought in the Senators. You could then compare the two circumstances, ripping a team and adding a team, and measure any possible economic impact.

While I have not seen an official study, I did gain some unique insight working at GM Place, being there for events, and cleaning up afterwards. A pro sports franchise, especially one so popular as the Canucks in Vancouver, is a magnet for commerce. You have thousands of consumers who fill their wallets with cash and head to the arena to spend money in a fashion from which they derive enjoyment. The actual stadium will directly employ anywhere from 400 - 700 people. In Hamilton they would be moving into an existing building initially, a building which already employs people.

Between preseason, regular season, playoffs, charity events, open practices, you would be adding roughly 60 - 70 major events to Copps Coliseum annually. That translates to an increase of about a million visitors. For that new traffic, there would be an increase of about 200,000 man hours of janitorial services, Concessions and souvenir sales people, security, and so on and so forth on an annual basis. I never saw the official revenue and cost balance sheets of my employer, so I am just estimating based on observation. The "multiplier effect" applies mostly to the food and beverage industry in the downtown area. This effect is more substantial depending on the size of the "secondary market" of fans. In Phoenix, they don't sell out, so anyone who wants to see the game can buy tickets for cheap at the door. There's no need to go to the sports pub next door to watch the game. In Vancouver, thousands of secondary fans who can't get tickets congregate in the downtown area where the stadium is. It allows them to be close to the venue, and share in the celebration with the fans that were at the game. I have no idea if it is more profitable to build an Arena outside town like the Senators in Kanata, or downtown like most teams.

I suppose at the heart of this entire "study" would be whether or not the existence of a pro sports team actually stimulates economic growth, or if it is a zero sum game. It is after all just entertainment. People show up, watch, feel emotion, and go home. At the end of the day no tangible product is manufactured, and all it really does is encourage people in the area to spend money. Does spending that money in a different manner improve the economic prosperity of the region as a whole? The franchise does attract outside dollars primarily in the form of corporate advertising. Businesses buy luxury suites, and spend big money to litter their ads all over the stadium. Money that would not otherwise have been spent in a fashion that could provide tax revenue to government. That is somewhat offset by teams dropping big money on players who don't live permanently in the city. It hardly benefits the people of Vancouver economically to have Mats Sundin build a mansion outside Stockholm. However a number of players do live here year round, and they spend a lot of what they make right here.

So again, you'd have to look at Winnipeg and Ottawa before and after to see if there is any measurable impact economically. It certainly redistributes the way money is spent, and perhaps spending money to watch a hockey game means that you don't buy that new barbeque? Restaurants could do fantastic business, but Canadian Tire may suffer. If it is a zero sum game economically, you can't exactly measure the amount of pleasure that people in the region have gained by the arrival of a team or the loss of a team. Were factory workers who had Jets season tickets bummed out and less productive when the team left town? Did those tech workers in Ottawa become more productive when their company bought those box seats? Tough to say.

The Canadian Dollar is a whole other matter. Canadian teams lose money mostly in the form of payroll. All player salaries are paid in American dollars from Canadian revenue. An 80 cent dollar means that your 40 million payroll now costs 50 million. It is a disadvantage, but not a hindrance because the Canadian teams generate much more revenue than most of their American counterparts. But even a 50 cent dollar does nothing to help save the sinking ships in the Southern USA. Infact, the NHL membership has to inject cash into those franchises, and with a lower Canadian dollar it decreases the net total income of the NHL as a whole. The NHL would have less money to bail out their failed experiments. The only way it really affects Ballsille is that a 220 million dollar offer would now cost 265 million Canadian dollars, though I don't know how much of his current accounts are in Canadian. In so far as a lower dollar providing a reason for Bettman to block franchise migration to Canada, that is nonsense (even if he really believes that). I don't care what the dollar is at, it is better to have a Canadian team operating at a profit than a Phoenix team operating at a loss.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Apathy in Democracy, is the sky falling?

In the aftermath of the Provincial Election in British Columbia, there has been much discussion on the worst voter turnout in recorded history with roughly half of eligible voters taking the time to vote. There are those in the media and political theatre who suggest that this is evidence of a political crisis, that our democracy is broken and the entire system requires a drastic overhaul. Christ I think it is the entire thesis behind Elizabeth May’s new book, the idea that low voter turnout is proof of a failure of a democratic system. Perhaps my opinion is biased because I have voted in every single election that I have ever been eligible for. I never missed a single student’s council vote from high school to University. It was never something that my parents drilled into my head. They always voted, but they never preached to me the need to always vote. The reason that I vote every single chance I get is because I am affluent, I follow the issues that matter to me, and I want my opinion to count for something.

While I would undoubtedly be more satisfied if more of my countrymen participated in the democratic process, I am against mandatory voting. Most of the people that I know who don’t vote are that way because they don’t know the issues and don’t particularly care. They find politics boring, and would much rather vote for the next Canadian Idol than city council. People who don’t care about the issues and do not read party platforms are not people that I want to force to vote. They are just as likely to do what I did my senior year at University where I voted for the student’s council candidates with the coolest sounding names because I was too busy to read the platforms. Can you force people to educate themselves and learn the issues?

I don’t want to stereotype those who do not vote and hypothesize as to the motivation behind their apathy. I know people who don’t vote, I ask them why, and I encourage them to vote. I would be interested in reading demographic statistics of people who do not vote, and investigate the causes for their apathy. Personally I find the most outspoken and most involved people are often the angriest about the government and their own situation. Anger at the governing party failing you in some way shape or form is a powerful motivator to increase your interest in politics. I believe that the people who are apathetic are often NOT the people whom the government has failed. I would go so far as to present a hypothesis that low voter turnout suggests a degree of satisfaction that the marginally interested people have with their lives. It has been my experience that people who are pissed off want their voices heard or represented.

I would also say that in the example of this week’s election in BC, all of the leadership candidates sucked. I did not like any one of them, and I’m sure I was part of the majority. I considered it important that I vote because as an economist who believes that Karl Marx was the anti-Christ, it was important to me that the NDP lose. Others who might not see any measurable difference between the effects that the two main parties will have on their lives might not care which party wins. If you don’t care who wins because you are satisfied with your life and don’t expect a difference under either victory scenario, why miss the first period of the hockey game to stand in line to vote on your way home from work? I disagree with Elizabeth May that it represents a crisis and structural flaw in our democracy and infact just might represent that we’re actually doing pretty good.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Catastrophe Averted

I am overjoyed and incredibly relieved that the Sherriff of Nottingham has soundly defeated the Wicked Witch of the West in BC’s “none of the above” Election today. Well, I suppose it is unfair for me to describe NDP Leader Carole James as a wicked witch. She more resembles a Jim Henson acid trip gone horribly awry, a bastard creation of the Master of Puppets abandoned on the casting couch of the Muppet Show. As much as I disapprove of Gordon Campbell, I revile the NDP’s Communist Manifesto that much more. The parliament will closely resemble the previous one, so it is not as though she has led to a collapse of NDP voting numbers; however she has failed to take advantage of a big opportunity. The incumbent government was presiding over an economic downturn, they were embarrassed by a number of unpaid traffic tickets from multiple candidates, and the premier himself had a DUI conviction. Furthermore, historical data proves that it is difficult for a government to win a third consecutive majority mandate. After extended time in power, voters tend to gravitate towards change.

This really was a failure by the NDP. Many British Columbians had a negative opinion of the Premier, but they also have displayed a noticeable disapproval of the Communist Muppet leading the NDP. Additionally I am very happy about the defeat of the BC-STV proportional representation system, simply put because it was mathematically flawed. I do support proportional representation in theory, but I struggle to conceive a method of assigning seats in parliament in our system of regional representation. The best I can conjure is to have a designated number of “wildcard seats” that are to be assigned to the candidates who had the best showing that skews seat counts closer to popular vote. For example if you were to add 15 seats to bump the total to 100. Tonight the greens won 8% of the popular vote, so they would get 8 wildcard seats for their most successful candidates, the BC Conservatives get 2 seats, and the NDP gets 5. Under those circumstances, the seat proportions would closely resemble popular vote. The only flaw with that system is that certain ridings get more representation in parliament than others, and this makes minority governments more likely. I think most Canadians are growing sick and tired of minority governments…

I am just thankful that the NDP lost. I was prepared to move to Alberta if the worst case scenario came true. This was not my ideal scenario, as I was already chased out of Ontario by Dalton “I will not raise your taxes” McGuinty. I did not want to have to pack my bags and emigrate again. I had my prayers answered! I even considered sacrificing a live chicken while rubbing a rabbit’s foot and eating a salad of four leaf clovers. I was prepared to do a ritual dance around a camp fire while consuming peyote and screaming to the heavens…if I were superstitious, which I am not. Instead, I wrote a few blog posts on the election, and while it likely had no measurable effect on how people voted, I can at least take some comfort that I tried to make a difference in the only way I know how.

“Shallow men believe in luck. Strong men believe in cause and effect.”

-Ralph Waldo Emerson

Friday, May 8, 2009

Gary Bettman

I have had just about all I can take from Gary Bettman. His refusal to allow for the sale of a franchise to a billionaire who wants to move a team back to Canada is an insult. He is quoted as saying the NHL is in the business of fixing problems, not relocating teams. Oh really? Since he became Commish in 93, four teams (two of them Canadian) have been moved south. He has expanded from 24 to 30 teams, and half of those to markets where people don't like hockey. The theory that you can move hockey franchises to markets without any significant hockey fan base and people will suddenly fall in love with the game has proven flawed. The “if you move there, they will come” strategy is defective. The Jets would have been better off to stay in Winnipeg as Phoenix hasn't worked. But as Bettman helped facilitate the theft of that Canadian franchise, to give up on the market he sold them to would be like admitting a mistake, and the ego of this madman is nauseating to true hockey fans.

I would strongly urge the Canadian Government to at least try to do something to challenge the NHL on its refusal to allow a second team in Ontario. Even if legally there is little that can be done, it would be to the benefit of the Prime Minister’s sagging poll numbers to at least feign a legislative offensive on an anti-trust basis. It might not be legally binding, and it would likely not be able to force the franchise to move to Canada; but who are we kidding? The NHL is in the business of entertainment. In entertainment, as in politics, perception is everything! And at this exact moment in time, while the sale of the Phoenix Coyotes is awaiting a hearing in an American Court, while public support for another Canadian franchise is very high, while the governing party has been sliding in the polls, it is easy to see that there are a lot of good reasons that the Canadian Government should at least try to do something. They don't call politicians "lawmakers" for nothing.

The Lesser of Two Evils

I cast my ballot in advanced polls in the British Columbia's "none of the above" Election this week, and reluctantly chose Gordon Campbell's Liberal Party. In what is ostensibly a two party race, I did consider voting for the Green Party as a protest vote. That however would be difficult to reconcile if the NDP infact won, and why would I vote for a party with which I agree with maybe 10% of its policy platform? I have found in talking to some people who vote Green that they do so knowing that they have no chance of winning. They feel better about themselves if they vote for the "Earth Party", but if you actually quiz them on Green policy, they either don't know it or disagree with it. Of course this is not true of all Green voters. Some of them really are as crazy as Elizabeth May, hard though it may be to believe.

I also voted against the STV proportional representation referendum. While I agree with proportional representation in theory, that if 10% of the people really want a green parliament it should be represented in the legislature, the BC STV is mathematically flawed. One principal that I believe in strongly in both Federal and Provincial Parliament is that elected members represent a geographic territory and are accountable to the electorate of that riding. Aside from the fact that I am growing more and more frustrated with minority governments by the day (and proportional representation makes them mathematically more probable); the proposal for redistributing seats and votes under STV is incredibly convoluted and is counter to the one aspect of our system that is most important to me as an active participant in this democracy.

Ironically, at first I was leaning towards voting yes. That was of course until I heard Elizabeth May strongly endorse it. That was enough to push me to other side. I tend to treat Elizabeth May in the same manner as George in that one episode of Seinfeld where he concludes that every instinct he has is wrong. Then Jerry says "if every instinct you have is wrong, then the opposite would have to by right." That's Elizabeth May to me. Anytime I hear her give an opinion on policy, I immediately assume that the opposite would have to be right.

So thank you Ms May, for helping convince me to vote against proportional representation in British Columbia...

Monday, May 4, 2009

Natural Governing Party?

I keep hearing that the Liberal Party is the "natural governing party" in Canada. When you look at modern history, the past 30 years, we have had 10 elections. Recent memory calls to attention nearly 12 years of Liberal majorities, 3 elections where the Conservative Party was split in two. With two Conservative Parties, the Liberals were 3 for 3 in winning majorities. What about when there has been a united right in the past 30 years? There were 7 elections producing one Liberal majority and one Liberal minority. That means that the Conservative Party has won over 70% of elections with a united right in the past 30 years. This then begs the question, who is the natural governing party in recent history? The Liberals can only conquer when their enemy is divided, so to all those Mulroney loyalists under our tent, I say it is okay to be frustrated but you need to relax.

I already know what the response of Liberals will be to the diatribe above; that the Liberals have done what they have done with a divided left. To that I have two rebuttals:

1) Use that as an excuse as much as you'd like, but until the NDP ceases to exist, there is nothing that you can do about it. You can elect a leader who can attempt to outflank the NDP on the left (like a Dion), but in doing so you lose the center where most Canadians are. You can try to merge with the NDP, and to that I say good night and good luck. In the meantime, the NDP isn’t going anywhere.

2) There is no evidence that NDP voters would all move unquestionably to the Liberal Party if disbanded. The NDP is a Trade Union party more than the bleeding heart Marxist idealism of Jack Layton. The NDP will always behave in a manner that funnels as much money as possible to their base, unions and poor people. I draw a distinction because the two key demographics of the NDP base because many people in unions make really good money. I have worked on jobs at unionized sites, construction, factory, etc. Based on my own experiences, I would say that a substantial number of unionized blue collar workers, if they were to sit down and debate social policy with Jack Layton, they wouldn't agree on all that much. Layton is an idealist, not a roughneck.

The interesting data comes in the form of New Found Land. Danny Williams ran his "Anybody But Conservatives" campaign, which cost the Tories about 60,000 votes. Many of those people just didn't vote, and a large majority voted for the NDP. The Liberals did not experience any statistically significant gain. This suggests that there is indeed a bridge between the Tories and the NDP. It may not manifest itself in the words of their leadership, but rather in the ballot box.

Saturday, May 2, 2009

I hope they remembered to wash their hands...

As I was casually surfing through the channels on my television set today, I did happen to catch Michael Ignatieff making his way through a crowd of adoring Liberal delegates, shaking the hands of every person he passed, even blessing some with a hug and a kiss. The first thought to go through brain? Didn't the WHO recently advise people against shaking hands while this pig flu is spreading? I get that the mortality rate for this virus is not much different from the normal flu; nor am I accusing the Liberal Party of negligence by behaving in a manner en mass that could further spread a potentially volatile pathogen in a Province that has already amassed 22 cases. Mostly I am just concerned about the health and safety of all those Liberal foot soldiers and Field Marshals. What a devastating tragedy it would be if a mutant pig flu was spread through the ranks of the Liberal Party of Canada at the coronation of Michael Ignatieff...

PS: "..." is the only way I know to lyrically express sarcasm...

One more thing, I also noticed that Mr. Iggy has adopted a particularly annoying behavior that I first noticed in Hillary Clinton. I'm sure Hillary wasn't the first politician to do this, it was simply the first that I noticed doing because she looked so ridiculous doing it at a crowded rally. "The Point" where the politician walks through a crowd or stands on stage and does the point to someone they know, raised eyebrows, and smirk look. At least Iggy stopped short of the awkward clap and waddle back and forth; so at least he wasn't quite so foolish looking as Hillary was, but it was creepy none the less.

A Convention About Nothing, or a Convention About Money?

When I first heard that Michael Ignatieff was taking control of the Liberal Party, I was happy. Not because I thought Iggy gave the Tories the best chance of winning, but because I shudder to imagine what horror Bob Rae would reap upon Canada if elected Prime Minister. Even if Ignatieff was the more electable candidate, to me he was the lesser of two evils. When I heard that the Liberal Convention would go ahead despite no leadership vote, I was excited because I thought that it would become a policy convention. Liberals could vote on policy, and actually produce some sort of tangible platform so that myself as a moderate could decide if I could vote for the new candidate.

No such luck. A convention with no policy and no leadership vote left me wondering what on earth the Liberal Party stood to gain by even holding a convention. I laughed at the first suggestions that this was a Convention about nothing, as back in the day I was a big fan of Seinfeld. I understand why the Liberals will not release any policy, but by doing so they are eliminating any possibility that I would vote for them. To me politics is all about policy. Passionate speeches loaded with superlative hyperbole does not sway me either way. I want policy, and I am not getting any. As a moderate I have to hold myself open to the option of at least considering voting for the other side if I can weigh their policy against the ruling government.

But I disagree that this is a Convention about nothing. This is a Convention about money. I would be curious to see the final price tag of this Ignatieff coronation, what it cost the sum total of the delegates to attend, and how much in donations the party was able to procure. They are asking their party members to spend a lot of money to come to Vancouver and listen to speeches, attend a few “workshops” and likely also charging them a price of admission. Will the Liberal party turn a profit by weekend’s end? Or are they bleeding money from the party core whom they hope will donate more money to a fiscally troubled party in the future? It is difficult to measure if this convention will produce a net gain financially for the Liberal Party.

What I know for sure is that the Liberals have purchased the electioneering software used by Team Obama, both for recruiting and fundraising. Such that if they are not turning a profit this weekend, then the likely objective is to arm their membership with tools and ammunition to raise money and recruit new members while also arming them with some sharp talking points and slurs to use against the Tories. So this is hardly a Convention about nothing, it is a Convention about money, which the Liberal Party sorely needs.

The other likely objective of this Convention is advertising. They will get a lot of play from their friends at the CBC, and they are hoping that Canadians actually pay attention and watch the speeches. That is a long shot at best. Does anyone really care? I am a politics junkie, and while former Prime Minister Jean Chretien was delivering a partisan speech, I was watching a hockey game. If someone like me who cares about politics would rather watch Playoff hockey, how many swing voters were tuned in?

Here’s what I don’t get; the excuse for not voting on policy is that they don’t want the Conservatives to know their policy. Meanwhile, they are perfectly able to keep the results private. They don’t have to release their policy, but they won’t even vote on it? The only possible explanation for presenting a lame excuse for not having a policy convention is that Ignatieff does not want to be bound by the desires of the party membership. Iggy supports pre-emptive wars and coerced interrogation, so it hardly benefits him to have the core of the party vote against it. If nobody votes, then come election time Iggy can present whatever the Czar wants. If I were a delegate of the Liberal Party forking out big money to attend this Convention, I would be outraged that I did not get the opportunity to vote on party policy.

“I have come to the conclusion that politics are too serious a matter to be left to the politicians.”

-Charles De Gaulle