Why does the Maxim Institute Hate Democracy?

Earlier this month, the Maxim Institute, a far-right think tank based in Auckland published an article about the urban/rural divide in New Zealand.The institute has done some “research” that indicates that there are differences in lifestyles and attitudes between regions in New Zealand. They forecast that a greater proportion of the population will live in urban centres (70% in 30 years time). Strangely the institute chooses to frame this as a problem:

That’s a lot of urban voters, and it’s going to be very tempting for politicians to focus more and more on urban interests in order to win those votes, possibly at the expense of the rest of the country.

It could also make it easier for urban voters to ignore or mock the interests of voters living in very different communities.

I don’t see the problem. If the vast majority of the population lives in urban areas, then it is only right that politicians focus on urban interests. That’s democracy in action. It’s also assuming that policy development is a zero-sum game. This is not strictly true, a policy designed to help urban dwellers does not necessarily harm rural dwellers.

Let’s also keep in mind that the opposite situation exists at present. Politicians already prioritise property owners and corporations at the expense of ordinary people. Policies such as irrigation schemes and the dilution of water quality standards are designed to benefit rural voters while harming the interests of the wider public. Why doesn’t the Maxim Institute write about these issues instead of this one that they made up?

It’s worth mentioning that the urban-rural divide is a cornerstone of political analysis in USA, where it plays a massive factor in elections. Donald Trump can credit the urban/rural divide with handing him the presidency that he didn’t deserve. The electorate is divided into a series of winner-take-all states where the number of electors is not proportional to the state populations. Narrow victories in swing states and the over-representation of small rural states turned a 2.7 million vote deficit into a 77 vote surplus in the electoral college. By preserving and accentuating a bias in favour of rural areas, the American right-wing have been able to engineer electoral victories in the face of popular defeats.

When we keep this in mind, the motives behind the Maxim Institute’s article become much more sinister. They don’t say it, but it is implicit that they think that the electoral system should be redesigned. I imagine they would want something less proportional, like FPP that favours rural constituencies. Never mind that FPP has been rejected by the public twice during the past two and a half decades.  While they may cry crocodile tears about their contrived decline in rural areas, this is all about securing right-wing power over New Zealand for years to come.

As things stand NZ has a very proportional voting system. There is no reason for this to ever change. If the increase in the numbers of urban voters is a problem for the political right, the problem is with them, not with the voters and not with the electoral system. If this is typical of the standard of work that the Maxim Institute is producing, urbanisation should be the least of their worries.

Justin Trudeau Made Me Sad :'(

Reading NZ political blogs has been a mixed experience for me. Everywhere you look, there are bound to be right-wing gloaters. They are incredibly tedious, they spin everything in favour of their governing party, deride anything remotely left-wing and blithely use the appeal to popularity fallacy. This is why I find Canadian politics interesting. It’s refreshing to see right-wingers impotently venting into online comment spaces, outraged that the left is making things better.

Unfortunately, the new-ish Liberal government led by Justin Trudeau does not seem to be as progressive as I would like. Namely cash-for-access and not doing enough to shift the economy away from oil exports. Now, I hear that the Canadian government is not going to follow up on the promise to replace the abhorrent FPP voting system with a better alternative. The Guardian reports that this followed the appointment of a new Minister for Democratic Institutions who did not seem to regard electoral reform as a priority.

This is a classic example about why government led electoral reform hardly ever works out. Why would a governing party want to change a system that bought it to power? In the case of FPP, the governing party gets more for less, i.e. an absolute majority in Parliament with 40% of the vote. Electoral reform needs to be led by the public, the government will only change when not doing anything becomes too unpopular.

This is short-sighted behaviour from the Liberals. They should remember that the Harper government was able to govern with less than 40% of the vote, all because of FPP. In a proportional system, there would never be a Conservative government in Canada ever again. A Liberal-NDP (plus Bloc and Green if needed) coalition would outnumber them by a massive margin. Perhaps the Liberals are selfish and unwilling to share power with other left parties, such that they are prepared to subject Canada to the disastrous prospect of Conservative governments in the future.

As I’ve mentioned in earlier posts, New Zealand is an instructive example. Following some cases where the second-placed party got to form the government by themselves, a popular movement developed. Ironically, the Lange government promised and failed to deliver electoral reform, which the National party took advantage of in order to win the 1990 election. They then gave us a referendum in 1992. Perhaps inaction by Trudeau’s government will further strengthen the move to proportional representation in Canada!

The comment section was full of misinformation and sentimentality from individuals who like having a “local” MP. Of course, NZ gets bought up in these discussions since we have seen reason. However, one jackass insisted on saying that the NZ government was being held to ransom by minority interests and that MMP was unpopular. So, I created a Guardian profile* and set the record straight (you can read my comment here).

It’s disappointing to see left-wing heroes let us down by capitulating to the status quo. It means during times of left-government, we don’t get to relax in the exhilarating march towards progress and mock the right-wing losers. No, we need to make our opinions heard by those in power. Democracy should not just be representative, it should be participatory. Now is the time for reform-minded Canadians to participate.

*You can only create you pseudonymous username right after you’ve submitted your first comment (replies to other comments don’t count). I nearly gave away my identity in this process, so be aware!

It’s Rigged Don, but Not As You Know It

The world is aghast as Donald Trump, the bigoted incompetent fraudster who ran as the Republican presidential nominee managed to win the US presidential election. One of his many bizarre actions was to claim that the election was rigged against him, presumably by some shadowy conspiracy orchestrated by special interests *wink wink*. Of course he has piped down about it since he actually won the damn thing, as one would expect from someone who has a childish obsession with not accepting defeat. However, I contest that he was right, the election was rigged; but not in the way that Trump left everyone to infer. Let’s cover the ways in which I felt the election was rigged in favour of Trump and the Republican Party:

  1. FBI dirty tricks: FBI director Comey staged an unconventional intervention less than 2 weeks away from polling day, suggesting that Democratic presidential nominee Clinton emails were still a problem. (I’ve forgotten what the accusation from her opponents was again, all they seem to do is scream “E-MAILS!!!1!11!!!!!!1”) Right before polling day, he then announced that there was nothing new. Why did Comey need to bring this to our attention? Why couldn’t they have investigated it in silence, like they did for Trump’s Russian connections? Oh that’s right, Comey’s a Republican and the FBI is Trumpland. They’ve put their self interest before due process and it worked: Clinton’s polling fell. This was a political hit-job of the highest order, something that the NZ Herald would be proud of.
  2. Gerrymandering: This doesn’t benefit Trump directly, but will no doubt help him as he tears the US to shreds. Very few congressional seats were up for play, in part because of the obscene amount of gerrymandering that took place. Gerrymandering is when electoral boundaries are redrawn considering local voting trends in order to maximise the number of districts that a party wins. It comes as no surprise to me that the Republican Party benefits from gerrymandering to the detriment of the Democratic Party. This could be solved in part by nonpartisan boundary allocation; however introducing proportional representation will be a more effective solution.
  3. Voter Suppression: What do you do if people don’t like you? Just make it harder for them to vote! Republican controlled states have been relentless in passing measures which make it more difficult for those who are likely to vote for their opponents to do so. Some of these measures include: purging of voting rolls, mandating ID, or under-resourcing polling facilities in “certain” areas. North Carolina received particular scrutiny for this, a state whose electors were grabbed by Trump.
  4. Electoral College: What a fucked up way to elect a president. Divide electors into groups along an arbitrary basis (by state) and then make (almost) every state winner-take-all. The effect: Clinton gets more votes, Trump gets more electors, Trump wins. Whatever happened to the idea of “majority rules”? Do the Trump supporters who see their win as a triumph of democracy care that their triumph isn’t actually that democratic?

The answer is that the Republicans don’t care about the inconsistencies in the US electoral system. As far as they’re concerned, it has done the job of helping them win. If Americans want to correct these injustices, then they are going to have to demand it, for their representatives won’t fix the system voluntarily. It can be done. New Zealand had two elections where the National Party gained fewer votes than the Labour Party, but was able to form a government because the FPP system resulted in them winning more seats. In the end, the political parties had no option but to give the public a say on electoral reform given the strong demand for it. As for voting, it takes me longer to walk to the local school to vote than it does to go in, get ticked off, vote and put the ballot in the box. I don’t even need to show ID! Take note America, that’s how it should be done.

Trump’s claims of a rigged election were not only false, they were the exact opposite of reality. His supporters are in fact not a silent majority, they are a hateful coward minority. The Republicans have won with a minority of the vote thanks to passive and active measures which are patently undemocratic.

Now the conman gets to face what should be his worst fear: having to deliver on his promises.

2016 Waimakariri Local Elections – I Make Some Endorsements

The local elections for 2016 are upon us. Up for election are Mayor, Councillors, Community Board members District Health Board members and Environment Canterbury councillors. In this post, I am going to outline who I think should be elected in my district (Waimakariri, north of Christchurch. I will be using the candidate profiles provided to every elector in addition to random knowledge about the candidates that I happen to have.

Mayor

This time around, we have two options: incumbent David Ayers and Natalie Leary.  Ayers focused in particular on the completion of many post-earthquake infrastructure projects during his time as Mayor. He failed to identify areas for improvement that he would aim to address should he secure another term.

Leary does not have the same amount of political experience as Ayers. However she has recognised areas where improvements can be made, such as reducing commuting time, clean waterways and financial transparency. It’s not exactly clear what steps Leary has in mind to achieve these objectives.

It’s a choice between uninspiring political experience and a honest recognition of where we can improve. I expect that Ayers will be re-elected, however, I shall be giving my vote to Natalie Leary.

Council

I get to vote for 4 candidates in the Rangiora-Ashley Ward. Most of the profiles are full of trivialities about the candidates personal life. This is a FPP style election, the 4 with the most votes get elected to council. FPP is a terrible system, but the fact that there are multiple seats means that there won’t be as many wasted votes. I will be giving my votes to the following candidates:

Chris Gunn: A strong advocate for public transport, including the introduction of commuter trains between Rangiora and Christchurch.

Peter Allen: His profile statement is quite vague, but he recognises the need to face issues surrounding water quality and transportation.

Linda Stewart: She has a wealth of experience from serving as Chair of the Coastal-Burwood Community Board during the earthquake recovery. There also wasn’t any pointless information in her profile.

Kirstyn Barnett: Also has past local government experience believes in transparency and is pragmatic enough to recognise rates rises may be necessary, but should be minimised (I don’t pay rates, so I’m don’t really care*). Plus she’s a volunteer at Cat Care!

Now there are some candidates who clearly should not serve as councillors. Paul Williams seems to think that because his ancestors served on the council that he should get to as well. That his only policy initiative is “eliminate wasteful council expenditure” demonstrates a lack of understanding of local issues.

National Party stalwart Dan Gordon is also running for council. Given that he hasn’t risen above the level of councillor, he may be regarded as an ineffective career politician. He failed to correctly declare a donation to Jim Gerard’s Mayoralty campaign in 2007. Unfortunately, he got away with it (see last page of this submission) and is now relying on voter amnesia to get back in. I haven’t forgotten and I won’t be voting for him.

The rest of the candidates aren’t that interesting and don’t warrant further consideration.

Community Board

The Community Board is essentially a less powerful council that represents a subset of the district. I get to vote for 5 candidates in another FPP type election in the Rangiora sub-division. There’s even less policy in the candidate profiles, but at least they promise to listen to you! I will be voting for the following candidates:

Peter Allen: Same reasons as for voting for him in the council.

Sarah Lewis: She expressed interest in further developing cycling and walking tracks within Rangiora, which is a great idea to encourage people to get outside and explore the local area.

Murray Clarke, Keith Galloway and Judith Hoult: All of the following are incumbent Community Board members with an understanding of local government processes. Also partly a tactical vote to keep Jim Gerard out.

Now who shouldn’t you vote for: as previously implied I won’t be voting for Jim Gerard. Like Dan Gordon, he has connections to the National Party (he was the MP for Rangiora from 1984 to 1997). He was a beneficiary of Gordon’s false declaration. More disturbingly, his parliamentary voting record is appalling, highlights including voting against Homosexual Law Reform (1986) and Abolition of the Death Penalty (1989).

The remaining candidates weren’t able to capture my interest and aren’t discussed here.

Canterbury District Health Board

Hooray, STV voting! I can’t remember how it works just right now, but it’s more proportional than FPP. Therefore it’s better. 7 positions are available and contested by 22 candidates. As a general rule, I will tend to vote for individuals with some form of medical expertise and ignore “professional manager” types.

The lying bastards known as Fluoride Free NZ have published a list of local-body candidates who responded to their questions surrounding fluoridation. While I would prefer government funded universal dental care and regulation of the composition of foodstuffs, fluoridation represents a stop-gap solution during these tough neo-liberal times. Strong anti-fluoridation beliefs can also be a useful indication of wider crackpottery, thus helping me decide who not to vote for. The Spinoff also has a more comprehensive quack list.

I plan to vote for the following:

Rochelle Phipps: Has worked as a GP and has experience as a medical practitioner. Just the sort of person who should have a strong voice in an organisation responsible for delivering medical services

David Morrell: A former hospital chaplain and an incumbent member of the DHB. Not afraid to voice pro-fluoride sentiments in the face of the hostile opposition.

Jo Kane: Another incumbent with a good vision outlined in her profile statement.

Jono Bannan: Has experience in psychological and counselling services. Will bring a much needed mental health perspective to the board. Too frightened to take a stance on fluoride, wants a referendum (which the anti-fluoridationists would likely win).

Gilbert Taurua: I’m generally sceptical of candidates with extensive executive/directorship/managerial backgrounds. Still perhaps having one or two on the board will help with “synergy” and “dynamism”. Let’s go with Gilbert!

Drucilla Kingi-Patterson: I was weighing up between her and Janet de Lu. Kingi-Patterson wants to lobby the government for more CDHB funding given that the Tories have failed to increase it in line with the population increase. On the other hand, de Lu wants to get the best out of the current level of funding. I know which approach I prefer.

Aaron Keown: He managed to lose his council seat at the last election due to his sycophancy towards train wreck CEO Tony Marryatt and general nastiness. Was also an ACT party candidate in 2008. He must have had a change of heart since he now proudly trumpets free car parking at the hospital! That I’m placing him 7th is an indication of the poor quality of many of the other candidates. STV is hard!

Being STV, I can also rank the remaining 15 candidates. I’ve put the “management cultists” (those with no medical training, but management experience)  immediately below my top 7 and put the lunatics in the last places, with Richard Roe getting ranked last.

Environment Canterbury

Yes, we get to vote for ECan councillors again after the National Government replaced the councillors with flunkeys since dairy farmers were unhappy that ECan was getting in the way of making money (and trashing the water supply). The Tories get to pick 6 commissioners and we get to vote for 7 councillors. North Canterbury is represented by 1 councillor and the two choices are dreadful. Both are essentially mouthpieces for farming interests at the expense of all other citizens. Neither candidate mentions anything about public transport or water quality in their profiles (two things that ECan is responsible for). Their responses to Generation Zero were either inadequate or absent. I cannot in good conscience vote for either of them. Let’s hope that Christchurch residents vote in the better candidates who are standing in their area.

In summary, I have endorsed candidates who are supportive of public transport and water quality initiatives. Those who are familiar with the medical system have been endorsed for positions on the DHB. I am disappointed that there is no real choice for ECan councillor, the restoration of democracy to ECan should be an imperative and it is a disgrace that the government even removed democracy in the first place. Voting closes at 12 pm, October 8 2016, don’t miss out on electing capable people to your council and keeping the undesirables out.

*This is an issue that gets the local right-wingers frothing. It comes as no surprise that they fantasize about returning to a time when only landowners could vote.