Sunday, March 25, 2012

Unite the Left: Recalculating the 41st Parliament of Canada

(Picture retrieved from The Disaffected Lib. Copyright unknown.)

If you are a Liberal or New Democrat, you will probably cry. If you are a Conservative or Bloc Quebecois, this is your worst nightmare. This is the result of our last general election:

          party           | seats 
 Green Party              |     1
 Bloc Québécois           |     4
 Liberal                  |    34
 NDP-New Democratic Party |   103
 Conservative             |   166

Now here are the hypothetical results if the NDP and Liberal Party had combined as Unite the Left in response to Unite the Right:

    party     | seats 
 Green Party  |     1
 Conservative |   122
 Liberal/NDP  |   185

My results are based on raw poll data from Elections Canada. I have made the assumption that all votes would stay with their respective parties. I realize this is unlikely, however, this is purely a what-if exercise intended to get parties thinking. The status quo promises one thing: Unite the Right will continue to be a major factor in Canadian politics. Unless the left deals with party pride, the left can count on getting nothing. If they can overcome this divisiveness, everyone has the chance of having at least some of their favoured agendas put into action.

If you are curious how I produced these results, keep reading for more detailed results and methodologies.

Friday, March 16, 2012

Poem: From Under Gilded Stars

From under gilded stars, on silent hinge,
The bars, unseen, begin their secret close.
And those with warning? Silenced by the fringe,
With promise of black gold to soothe all woes.

From under gilded stars the maim'd lose ears,
The voice of reason silenced for its cost,
As 'Terror!' brands on cheeks spread baseless fears.
No habeas corpus? Our freedom lost!

So cherish views which challenge status quo,
For meteors and comets always show,
There is no guessing which path they might fly.
Ideas, only, solve the true night sky.

This is a continuation of this train of thought.

The Star Chamber was an English court, originally created to hear cases of those too powerful to receive justice from the regular English courts. It was so named, possibly, because the ceiling was a painted sky with gold stars. Over time it was perverted into a weapon of the king for silencing dissent. The proceedings were secret and punishment was arbitrary. Common forms of punishment were the cutting off of ears and the branding of cheeks of those deemed to be adversaries. The court was finally disbanded by the Habeas Corpus Act of 1640.

The abuses of the Star Chamber drove the motivation to enshrine a number of the basic rights found in the Canadian and U.S. constitutions. Many of those suffering this persecution fled to, and helped build, North America.

We are currently experiencing great prosperity due to our oil resources. I certainly agree with proper exploitation of this resource. What I do have a great deal of concern for is the systematic vilification of those who voice environmental or other concerns. The oil isn't going anywhere. The price of oil is trending upward. All evidence suggests this will continue as the resource dwindles, worldwide.  The only loss to assume from minor delays to production is a short term loss. The cost of environmental damage and failure to prepare for resource exhaustion is enormous. Worse, those who would pay those costs are our children and grandchildren.  We owe it to them to do it right.  We need as many ideas to circulate as we can possibly get so that we have the best chance of doing it right.

What scares me most, though, is the systematic effort to deny free speech, equal treatment under the law and the right to an evidence based and public hearing.  Environmental activists are being likened to terrorists, in some circles. Decisions are being made, behind closed doors, which revoke benefit previously given to contrary political voices. Finally, this is being done in a method which is secret and provides no body of evidence.

I'm not saying the intent of this degradation is evil. I do think, however, that it is a misguided attempt to improve benefit to Canadians. Unfortunately, it may end in those with truly evil intentions having precedent and framework to seriously damage our freedom and democracy. We have to be vigilant and always ensure we know why we have these rights and where these supremely important ideas came from.

Thursday, March 15, 2012

A Tragedy: Denial of Basic Rights Given Our History.

Given the apparent willingness of the Conservative Party of Canada to deny our hard fought and priceless democratic rights, such as: gagging public scientists who dissent, discrimination against charities and artists on the basis of dissenting environmental stance, and the belief that we can ignore the ancient rights of habeas corpus and due process in criminal law, is an tragedy, unfolding.

In that spirit, here is an iambic pentameter triplet in the style of one of the great tragic writers: Shakespeare.

If you deny the rights of one today,
To history look, for later, it does say,
Of you, demand the many, greater pay.

What will our descendents think upon looking back at our folly?

If you doubt our freedoms, such as free speech, equal treatment under the law, and freedom of conscience are under threat, read about , here.

Update: I wrote another piece related to this one here.

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

How Did We Get Government By Bad Apple and What Can We Do?

Humans, by nature, are optimistic. When we face a range of choices in any situation, we try and choose the best, hoping it gives us a positive outcome. The simpler the choices we have available, the less chance we have to choose a smart one.  Politics, especially when it comes to how we choose our government, relies on providing all of us with the simplest choice available. "My party is right, will fix everything and contains only saints, your party is wrong, destroys everything,  and contains only crooks."

Are we just lazy? Being human and optimistic, I really don't believe so. We certainly devalue the shares of lazy companies pretty quickly. Most of us wouldn't think of telling our children not to work hard in school.  Even when it comes to our own health, I don't think anyone seriously considers being a couch potato is the sensible approach.

So, if we want smart outcomes, why have we only given ourselves simple choices? I believe it is because we have become lazy. The Westminster system of government has been a work in progress for centuries.  Take the Magna Carta as an example. Most of it is no longer considered just or necessary. The whole idea of Common Law, too, relies on incremental change. Its very nature partially sprang from the idea that situations change and responses need updating. So why haven't we changed parliament to get the smartest, most democratic, results?  I believe we have chosen the simplicity of tradition, allowed politicians to practice what they know, allowed political strategists and hacks to determine agendas based on the simplicity of how government is chosen,  and, most importantly, become drunk on the ease of politics providing us with blanket statements on good and evil. In the end, we are left with a government based mostly on the fact that a previous government appeared to be more evil then the one that replaces it. We throw the baby out with the bathwater!

In the Westminster system, as it now exists in Canada, the legislative and executive arms of government are combined under single ministers who may influence votes in the House of Commons and Senate through a party whip. To me, this seems to be a glaring conflict of interest. Since when is creating good policy had anything to do with good day to day operation of government departments? Business understands this. There is widespread belief that separating a board of directors and upper management is ethically and financially necessary.

In business, the buck tends to stop with the individual making a poor decision. Employees are hired and fired based on merit. If a VP in upper management has poorly performing areas of responsibility, that VP rather than all of upper management will likely get the axe. Only when there appears to be signs of upper management joining to make unethical, highly and continually unprofitable, or illegal decisions, will a board act to remove management, en masse. Unfortunately, this is exactly what we don't do with our government. We give out decision making power, en masse, to new people, based on the stink of corruption which tends to be caused by a relatively few bad apples. The number of Liberals implicated by the Gomery Commission was a relatively small number in a relatively small geographic area. It is likely that even if shown to be an organized effort, those responsible in the 'robocall' affair will be a small group of bad apples, too. Unfortunately, we may, yet again, use this as evidence that the whole government is guilty.

The short term election cycle we currently have adds another major flaw. The short election cycle tends to make it better for politicians to make decisions based on short term answers. I don't think any Canadian, in his or her right mind, would say that short-sighted decisions lead to good outcomes.

So who benefits from the constant throwing of babies out with bath water? I believe it is nothing more than job security for pundits, lobbyists, political strategists and hacks, and pollsters. It is these, so called professionals, who tell politicians whether what we think is good or bad in order to press our buttons. In this way their employers can win an election based on emotion and not evidence of smart and rational results or lack thereof. We get our simple choice. It is for this reason that politics has degenerated into an exercise of fear mongering and the stoking of anger.

So what can we do to ensure we have the ability to select a government based on evidence an rational thinking?

Perhaps removing ministers from the legislative decision making process can let us determine when a problem exists in policy and not administration and vice versa. We would have to do so in a way which goes far beyond the American approach since that approach is still a little too emotional for my liking. Perhaps we should elect government ministers under an elected Governor General as chief executive. Neither ministers nor the Governor General would have any legislative authority, except in, perhaps, demanding change of legislation from Parliament. For instance, if an act of Parliament is determined by this separate Cabinet to need change, Cabinet may submit an amendment for debate and implementation.

So can we base our government on the skills and intelligence of those we elect and, at the same time, remove those, who make a living by preying on our emotions, from the decision making process? We could elect our MPs and my proposed elected Cabinet in a staggered fashion. We end the general election entirely. We can then stop choosing those who represent us based on party affiliation and simplistic political ideology. Instead, we will get meritorious debate and decision. We don't have to look far to see the result of this type of democracy.  Many municipal governments in Canada work quite well without partisan political politics.  They certainly get things done. I'm in no way saying we should outlaw political parties. We just need to remove some of the political spin they tend to generate.

To reduce the tendency for short-sighted ideas, perhaps we could do two things. To reduce pressure on those we elect, we could substantially increase term limits. Obviously, doing this alone would probably not be a good method to dissuade corruption so we would also need a robust method of recall. You're hired because we trust you.  You're fired because you're a crook. We will give you a look every now and than, though, so we can give opportunity to fresh ideas and new blood.

Dealing with the parasites living on the host that is politics, in this country, would inevitably take care of itself as a result. Strategists would have to study real issues of importance to Canadians. Lobbyists would have a much harder time advancing ideas since the number of those who effectively exercise power would grow immensely. So here is a conservative idea: smaller government.  To the pundits and hacks, I'm sorry to say, you would be made redundant--goodbye and good riddance.  We could become a far more efficient and competitive country if they all had to get useful and productive jobs, instead!

The citizens of Canada are not lazy and simple-minded.  It is high time to create a structure for government which assumes we are hard working and smart.

I would like to thank and credit the following for adding their ideas:

 for reminding me to mention lobbyists. How could I have forgotten those parasites?

Monday, March 12, 2012

Current Essential Worker Approach Is Regulation. A Better Way?

The Conservative Party of Canada espouses the importance of smaller government, fiscal responsibility, and keeping government out of the lives of Canadians. When it comes to their approach for solving labour conflict, in portions of the economy critical for national stability, they are doing anything but.

Mediating labour disputes costs money.  The current method, using tactics such as binding arbitration, has significant public cost associated with it. If there is a way to force parties to work it out themselves, it must be used. We should never be spending money on things people or organizations are quite capable of doing if they have the right incentive to do so.

Binding arbitration forces parties, on both sides a conflict, into a situation dictated by government. This is regulation, plain and simple. The assumption is made that the sides are incapable of settlement. This treats the parties like children and does nothing to foster ability to work together.  What's worse, there is significant risk of government appointed mediation having bias reflecting the government's own ideology rather than something more agreeable to both parties. If government truly believes in staying out of the lives of Canadians, they must use an approach in which the conflicted parties solve it for themselves.

So what is essential service all about? It is meant to maintain the country's well being, as a whole. There are goods and services, whether publicly or privately provided, that have huge national cost if they can't operate. Essential service designations are absolutely necessary.

So how can it be made to work? Well, Christian social conservatives will love this one.  It come right out of the Old Testament.  Remember the story of King Solomon and the women fighting over a baby? If we assign unbearable cost to all parties in a conflict, they will have an incentive to agree. All we have to do is make the price of agreeing far greater than the cost of disagreeing. In this way, the parties suffer the cost of failing to agree, not the country.

In the case of the private sector, the employer would pay a significant penalty as a percentage of payroll costs. Employees would pay a significant penalty as a percentage of pay. These penalties would be kept in trust until such a time as an agreement is reached and then the penalties would be returned to the respective parties. In the mean time, it would be work as usual.

In the case of public service disputes, the employer penalty would have to work differently. Holding your own money in trust, for a government, is no cost at all. A government could engage in a war of attrition quite easily. Some method would need to be worked out that would be a significant cost to government, possibly even costing it politically. Perhaps, the government's penalty would be redirected  into currently operating government programs chosen by the opposition. (update) A less political approach would be to distribute the government penalty to provinces, equitably divided according to transfer payment amounts or federal tax base by province, while exempting the distribution from transfer payment calculation.

This isn't a finished framework, however, I hope these ideas can be expanded on, and used, to give us better value from, and less meddling by government.

The wisdom of Solomon!

Friday, March 09, 2012

Getting More Canadians Out To Vote

I was listening to an interview with Glen Pearson, the former MP for London, Ontario, on As It Happens, CBC Radio One, March 8, 2012.  It started as I was pulling into my driveway.  This was one of those great radio moments in which, rather than shutting off the car in indifference and heading inside, I was glued to the radio.

Mr. Pearson gave clear reason to my deep feelings regarding voter apathy and the extreme partisan politics which has debased the Canadian federal political system. Two points in particular stood out to me:

First, he suggested the current Conservative government encourages voter apathy in order to disenfranchise more centrist voters through disillusionment.  This enables the party to win the vote using the more extreme base of the party.  In my mind, this gives the current government the ability to rationalize extreme ideas as having popular support.

Second, he voiced the long standing complaint of back bench MPs who feel they have very limited ability to represent the wishes of their constituents.

Voter apathy is hardly surprising in this landscape.  So how can voter apathy be reduced?

Firstly, voting is a right.  What is less often expressed is that voting is also a fundamental duty and responsibility of all citizens.  However, if you take a look at the section of the Canada Elections Act which encourages citizens to vote, there is no measure to ensure a citizen should be responsible for the exercise of a duty which is fundamental to democracy.  The Act states:

  • 133. (1) No employer may make a deduction from the pay of an employee, or impose a penalty, for the time that the employer shall allow for voting under subsection 132(1).
  • Marginal note:Hourly, piece-work or other basis of employment
    (2) An employer who pays an employee less than the amount that the employee would have earned on polling day, had the employee continued to work during the time referred to in subsection 132(2) that the employer allowed for voting, is deemed to have made a deduction from the pay of the employee, regardless of the basis on which the employee is paid.
Marginal note:
This section of the act means to encourage everyone to vote by ensuring that no citizen will suffer financial loss in the exercise of voting.  The Act is saying society as a whole should pay the cost an individual may face when exercising his or her right to vote.  The glaring flaw of this approach is the presumption that all citizens will accept the responsibility to vote for which they are being paid, by society as a whole.

I don't believe a citizen should be mandated to vote by threat of sanction.  I also believe society as a whole should not be paying the cost of those who see election day as nothing more than a holiday.  To balance these beliefs, the legislation should be amended to cause Elections Canada to issue receipts for exercised ballots.  This need not be any more than an additional tear off piece of the ballot which is returned to a voter once the ballot is submitted.  This receipt can then be submitted to an employer before an employee is eligible to receive the benefit of pay for time taken to vote.  Other carrots could be designed to sensibly encourage those who receive income, by means other than employment, to be socially accountable.  The message of this measure is, "If you are a responsible citizen, society will accept the cost."

Secondly, as many others have stated, all MPs must be able to represent the views of their constituents.  Citizens must be able to get a sense for the true reasoning and caring nature of those who wish to serve Canada.  In this manner, each of us will feel represented and engaged by our politicians.

This requires careful balance, however.  Governments must have a certain level of stability or rivalries may occur like those prior to the Great Coalition in which governments fell faster than maple leaves from one autumn to the next.

Yet, it was government paralyses which led to MacDonald, Cartier, Brown, and others to realize that the status quo was a failure.  If these politicians didn't have the guts and freedom to break from political dogma, Canadian confederation may never have happened.  Always towing the party line is no way to intelligently build and manage a nation.

I do not believe it would take a complex change in parliament to address the lack of reason that dogma causes.  One simple way to ensure effective debate and to show us all what our individual MPs are made of is to make most parliamentary votes free votes.  The decisions of parliament should be based on debate; debate should not be civilized or uncivilized insults in reaction to a fait accompli as dictated by the Prime Minister and his back room strategists and cronies.  I voted for the wisdom I saw in a candidate running in my riding, not some political hack beholden only to the success of a party in an election.

To ensure a certain level of stability and maintain the ability for a given government to implement a general political ideology, confidence votes, such as non-confidence motions and money bills, should still be subject to the party whip.

Only brave and reasoned ideas will ensure we, as part of the great idea which created Canada out of partisan political bitterness, can continue to compete and matter in a world that rewards wisdom and intelligence.

Monday, February 06, 2012

Designing Technology for Freedom: Could a "Citizen Defence Through Truth App" help Syria?

Update: This idea seems to have hit a chord with some.  Please, if you read this, send the link to two others.  With any luck, a few altruistic programmers or others with the skills needed to get communication into the hands of the oppressed.

In a volume no greater than a deck of cards, the general purpose computer now fits in our pockets. Just about all the features we expected, from desktop or notebook computers, now come in smart phones.

Most people know that these devices have cameras, WiFi, microphones, and accelerometers.  Some even use these devices as hot-spots to allow their other devices to access the Internet via the smartphone's wireless data service.

Fewer of us understand what can be done with these technologies when combined in these small packages.

So how can we turn these devices into defenders of human rights and democracy?

We need a "Citizen Defence Through Truth App."

Here are some features I have thought about:

Wireless: Using the full feature WiFi hardware in these devices, the app should provide the ability for a phone to participate in a mesh network comprised of all phones running the app.  This network should focus on low data rates for maximum WiFi distance.  The benefit of mesh networking is in its ability to remain robust as nodes in the network disappear or move.

Anonymity:  Data transfer and storage on the mesh network should work in a manner based on FreeNet and Tor.  This can reduce the risk individuals may face by hosting sensitive information.  Data would be replicated to maintain a robust information store.  As with FreeNet, the most frequently accessed data will be the most robust.

Stealth:  The app must be designed so as to be very hard to find on its device.  It should try and maintain itself in volatile RAM.  Perhaps it could wipe itself if a dead man code isn't entered regularly.

Communication: The app should provide for secure chat, picture sharing, video feeding, web proxying and voice messaging.  Perhaps face and licence plate detection routines could automatically blur video and images to further protect vulnerable individuals.

Taking this a step further, wireless carrier service can be provided by small aerial drones or wireless sites in border states as Internet gateways using satellite data or other methods for Internet connectivity.  Drones could also drop small solar powered relay devices and full featured devices tailored to run the app.  They need be no larger than a deck of cards using current technologies.

This is all doable now!  I hope those with better engineering skills can make it happen.  The truth on the streets of Syria, or any other human rights denying state, must be seen by the world.  There are citizen journalists in enormous peril as we speak.  If we truly do believe in human rights, democracy, and freedom, we owe it to these people to give them the best chance possible.

Update: I'm overjoyed to see my idea being picked up by other bloggers and developers.  Here are a few.  Let me know if I missed you and I'll be happy to update this list. thanks to GildasSapiens thanks to beauseph (My own post)
The Tyranny Daily thanks again to GildasSapiens

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

The Government of Canada Must Protect the Canadian Internet

As a Canadian and someone with 15 years of experience in the basic technology which makes up the Internet, I find SOPA extremely troubling.

Organizations, such as ICANN, , control some of the most basic functions of the Internet. Most of these are American organizations. They can, under this sort of legislation, be compelled to effect changes to basic services such as Domain Name Service and allocated Internet addresses

These changes can have direct effect on Internet users here in Canada and anywhere else throughout the world. Internet service, for any organization, anywhere in the world, can be disrupted by actions taken by ICANN.

It is about time for the Government of Canada to demand treaties with the United States which protect due process of law and Canadian sovereignty over the Canadian Internet and a Canadian's ability to communicate with any party in any country regardless of whether or not that party may have broken American law.