Saturday, October 12, 2013

Saturday Afternoon Links

Assorted content for your weekend reading.

- Andrew Coyne sees the disproportionate influence wielded by the representatives elected by a minority of voters in Canada and the U.S. as evidence that both countries should move toward proportional representation:
Two systems, both dysfunctional, in opposing ways. Is there nevertheless a common thread between the two? I think there is. Both have become hostage to small groups of voters, the objects of vastly disproportionate amounts of the parties’ time and attention. In both, the parties are sharply divided on regional lines. And in both, politics has become increasingly, corrosively nasty. I suggest these trends are not accidental, but have to do with a feature the two share: the first past the post electoral system.

The most important thing to know about first past the post is that it is highly leveraged: Not only do the parties’ representation in the legislature bear no resemblance to their respective shares of the popular vote, but tiny swings in the vote lead to exponentially larger swings in electoral outcomes.

Finding and mobilizing those votes are thus a matter of huge consequence to the parties. In Canada, these are typically the swing voters, the uncommitted and disengaged; in the more polarized politics of the U.S., it is more a matter of “ginning up the base,” motivating your most committed — and therefore demanding — supporters to get out to vote.

So where our politics has converged on the centre, theirs is increasingly dominated by the fringes. But in both, politics has become less and less about the broad public interest, more and more focused on appealing to a small fraction of the electorate. Some votes really are worth a great deal more than others.
- Gary Mason discusses Vancouver's crisis in dealing with severe mental health issues. But it's particularly worth noting that a drastic increase in arrests based on dangers to public safety doesn't seem to have been matched with much effort by any level of government to actually fund treatment for the people fighting mental illness.

- Pat Atkinson wonders whatever happened to the Cons' promise of a culture of accountability - and Tabatha Southey's best suggestions as to how to find a plausible justification for the latest abuses of public money by Mike Duffy can't quite answer the question. Instead, it's the NDP proposing to fix the problems exacerbated by Stephen Harper - both in addressing patronage and cronyism generally, and the Senate in particular.

- Michael Byers observes that the Cons' military procurement plans seem to be largely inspired by Monty Python.

- Finally, Bruce Johnstone comments on the Sask Party's inability to cooperate with anybody:
What it suggests is a government that “doesn’t play well with others.” In other words, the Saskies don’t like sharing power or tax dollars with any organization they don’t have complete control over. The common theme running through the Wall government’s economic development record is impatience with any group, program or policy that a) they didn’t come up with or b) isn’t controlled directly or indirectly by them.

One could accept the Sask. Party government’s small-c conservative philosophy that government shouldn’t be subsidizing business or “picking winners and losers,’’ if they actually practised what they preached. But for every program or organization they’ve shut down, a new one has taken its place, spending even more tax dollars than its predecessor.
 [Edit: fixed typo.]

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