Sunday, November 30, 2008

Will Harper eat his Red Herring?

The Canadian Government announced their economic update on Thursday. It contained two main components. There was a demonstration that the government was sympathizing with the people by cutting government perks and raises. They would also eliminate the $1.95 per vote subsidy the government pays to counter act the restrictions placed by fundraising restrictions brought in by Jean Chretien. The opposition parties opposed the economic update because it did not contain any economic stiumulus package.

The elimination of the subsidy was a red herring. The Conservative Party is the only party that has been successful at adjusting to the new fundraising restrictions. The Liberals are already in financial trouble. The subsidy accounts for 83% of the Bloc's funding. The NDP would also be hurt by a loss of financial support. Harper could not have expected to get this confidence motion through parliament. I beleive the plan was to propose it with the intention of dropping it, in a show of compromise. The update would be passed. The opposition parties would be exposed for operating out of self interest rather than being upset about the lack of an economic stimulus. It would also serve as a distraction that although government perks are being eliminated, Harper has significantly increased the number of cabinets ministers he has. While the perks may be reduced there are more people receiving them.

The opposition parties are refusing to back down. The government announced that they are going to bring in an early budget, which would bring in an economic stimulus after consultations with the provinces. That should have settled all the reasons for refusing to backdown. The opposition appears to be refusing to back down.

The opposition parties are still claiming that they will bring down the government in hopes of bringing in a Liberal/NDP with BQ support coalition government. The parties are united in their hatred for the Conservatives. How are they going to govern? They are three parties that want to take Canada in different directions. The Green Shift was the key plank in the Liberal platform that the NDP opposed. Who would be Prime Minister? Dion would seem to be the only logical choice. Would being Prime Minister be enough to cancel the leadership race so he can stay on. Dion kept all of the leadership contenders out of his shadow cabinet. Would he leave his star talent out of his cabinet?

In the end this is all banter as all parties should be afraid to go to the polls only 6 weeks into their new mandate. Sometimes in a game of chicken someone forgets to blink. If everyone plays there hands correctly this issue will blow over next week, when the fiscal update is approved by Parliament.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Balance of Power

Parliament is back in session as Stephen Harper tries to steer Canada through the major economic crisis with a minority government. The Liberals are suffering financially due to the election. They are also ready to be torn apart with the in fighting as they struggle to choose a new leader. Dion made a very wise decision by keeping the contenders out of the shadow cabinet.

Some people still want to attribute the loss to the dynamics of vote splitting. They also seem to think that the minority government is in the exact same boat as before the election with the need to have one party on board to pass any legislation. A last look at the numbers shows that the Conservatives have a stronger foundation then opposition supporters would like to admit.

Basic political theory shows that each political party has a core group of support. These are people that identify so strongly with their party values that they will get their vote no matter what. This support is how the Liberals became the natural governing party of Canada. In an election each party tries to build on their base support in order to win. A pattern I have noticed that if a person is elected with more than 50% of the vote they are likely going to be reelected. Dissatisfaction with the individual may reduce their vote to the 40s% but still enough to win. Applying the same theory to the recent election results shows a strong Conservative Party.

Here are the results of seats won with more than 50% of the votes.

Conservatives 80 of 143 (55.9%) In every province from New Brunswick to British Columbia.

Liberals 17 of 77 (22%) In PEI, Newfoundland, Quebec, Ontario

Bloc Quebecois 13 of 49 (26.5%)

NDP 8 of 37 (21.6%) In Newfoundland, New Brunswick, Saskatchewan, Ontario, Manitoba, British Columbia.

The Conservatives have a broad based foundation that they can continue to build on. The Liberals need to appeal to a wider group of Canadians with a focus on policies that benefit the entire country. The Bloc is still showing strong which will keep a Quebec centred focus on various economic policies. The NDP also demonstrate a wide appeal that can be built on in the future. The next Liberal leader will need to show rebuild their tarnished image quickly. If not they will continue to lose ground to the other parties. In the next election a call for strategic voting against the Conservatives may no longer be a call to vote Liberal.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Speaker of the House, Keeper of the Zoo.

Stephen Harper has secured his strong minority government and it is now time to get back to the legislature. It is time to get parliament up and running again. Yesterday was the day for choosing a speaker and today is the thrown speech.

Peter Milliken was able to hold of challengers for his job through 5 rounds of balloting. In his seven years presiding over the house he has transformed the job of Speaker as an unwanted position where people go to end there careers to the point where at one point there were eleven contenders for his job. He is incredibly knowledgeable and has earned a high level of respect that crosses party lines and is unusual for a politician. May he continue to hold onto his job for as long as he wants.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Bet Shemesh Election Over. Now What ?

All the votes for the election have been counted and confirmed. Abutbul took the Mayoral race quite handily. Despite some people's fears the world has not ended. Abutbul will now has the challenge of forming a broadbased coalition

Some of his biggest problems may come from those who got him elected. Gimel launched a strong campaign that "all" the Gedolim hold that all Jews must vote for Abutbul and Gimmel. These people beleive that "all" and "our" are interchangable concepts. This could mean they are not will to compromise with other members. This could pose a tremendous challenge as Abutbul belongs to Shas who has their own Rabbinic council for making political decisions. Those who got him elected hold 8 seats and he needs to keep them happy.

In cases of conflict having a broader coalition is a good idea. There is no reason to think that B'Yachad will not be given a great deal of influence to make sure the council remembers to cater to the non-Haredi as well. Keeping the 3 biggest parties happy is all he needs to govern. He can also reach into the little parties on issues where his position differs from Gimmel.

Gimmel and their Rabbinic leadership put a tremendous amount of effort into railroading Tov in the hopes they would not win a seat. Tov catered to the 'American' Haredi leanings in Gimmel. One description was Haredi who don't like having their Rabbi's telling them how to vote. Tov also served as a party to cater to the issues of the Rama. They have a lot of potential without much experience. If the two parties can resolve their differences they may be effective at those who felt disenfranchised by the status quo.

The biggest loss to Bet Shemesh was Chen losing their seat. They have done a ton of good on city council over the last 5 years. There was a tremendous feeling that people should not vote for them because they would not win a seat. They only missed by 46 votes. This should be a lesson that sometimes when people over anlayze and vote strategically they end up with a worse outcome than what they were trying to avoid. Hopefully this lesson will be remembered in future elections.

In the end the city is better off with a change in leadership. The question is how much good can the new city council bring.

Abutbul 12103 or 46.72%
Lerner 7365 or 28.43%
Vaknin 6439 or 24.85%

Gimel 5
Shas 3
B'Yachad 3
Dor Acher 2
Likud 2
Mishpacha Achat 2
Avoda 1
Tov 1

Note: Rabbi Myers spoke about some issues that his congregation was upset about in context of the election.

1. In response to the complaint about the litter and noise. The election is just a giant colour war with a bigger budget.

2. Rabbi Kornfeld claims he never said that all Jews were obligated to vote for Gimmel and Abutbul. Everyone needs to consult with their own posek. When Rabbi Kornfeld was shown the letter with his name on it, he said someone took artistic license with his election endorsements.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Political Culture Shock

Municipal elections are took place across Israel today. I am used to Canadian elections under the scrutiny of Elections Canada. Voting is fair and results are available quickly. There are many steps in place to prevent voter fraud. The results are verifiable in cases where there are voting irregularities or the results are close. Such cannot be said for the Israeli electoral system.

In Canada there is no campaigning on election day. Any signs of partisanship must be kept away from the polling stations. There have been cars driving around all day with campaign signs, playing loud music and throwing garbage (campaign literature) onto the streets. Parties set up information booths across the street from polling stations in an attempt to sway last minute voters.

In Canada the polling stations are very simple and secure. The returning officer signs every ballot before giving them out. The ballot is black with white writing that includes the candidates name political party and a spot to indicate who you wish to support. Every ballot that clearly indicates who you wish to vote for and does not indicate who has no indications of who cast the ballot counts. The returning officer verifies the signature as they watch the ballot placed into the ballot box. When the ballots are being counted the returning officer must verify that they are counting the exact same number of ballots as they distributed.

In Israel voters are handed two envelopes. The yellow one is for Mayor and the white one is for the party. In the ballot box there are ballots for all of the candidates. The yellow ones have the Mayoral candidates name on them and are placed in the yellow envelope. The white ones have the party name as well as a letter designation. The white ballot is placed in the white envelope and sealed. Both envelopes are placed in the ballot box.

A ballot is spoiled if it has any markings, has been folded, two in one envelope, or altered in anyway. There are many opportunities for electoral fraud under this system. In a 3-way race one could remove ballots to make it look like a particular candidate is winning. One could remove an opponents ballots so that others are not able to vote for them. One can also tamper with another candidates ballots causing a person to unknowingly cast a spoiled ballot. Unless someone is caught red handed there is very little that can be done to undo damage caused by the fraud.

Throughout the day there have been reports of electoral fraud. There have been reports of police being called in when intimidation tactics were used to prevent some from voting. At least 3 polling stations were closed when it was discovered one candidates ballots were substituted with fake ballots where they slightly altered the candidates first name. Anyone who did not notice would have cast spoiled ballots. Some friends were locked into their voting station as police investigated tampered ballots. I saw children walking around the streets with ballots in their hands. All these incidence call into question the integrity of the final vote count.

Canadians are very lucky with the level of integrity of their electoral process that they take for granted. I sent an e-mail to Elections Canada today asking if they could teach the Israeli officails how to have a fair election.

Sunday, November 9, 2008

Local Elections - Bet Shemesh

The electoral process is much more complicated then in Canadian Municipalities. Elections are held every five years. Each voter receives two ballots, one for Mayor and one for City Council. For Mayor if nobody gets 40% of the vote on the first ballot there is a run off between the top two contenders the following.

City Council is chosen by Proportional Representation. Each party has a list of candidates and voters choose the party they like. This year City Council will expanding from 17 to 19 seats. Any party that receives less than 3.95% of the vote have their votes thrown out. Then prearranged vote transfer agreements are applied between the parties. After that all the votes are divided by 19 (5.26%) to determine how many seats each party gets. It is normal for a party to have one or two seats although some of the bigger parties end up with up to three seats.

One may think that the complicated formula would deter people from being concerned about vote splitting. This is not the case. This year there is a party (Chen) that has served on city council last term. Everyone acknowledges that they did a good job and were a valuable member of city council. A new party has targeted a large percentage of their core base support. The consensus is that the party will not win a seat. Those who wish to support the party are faced with the dilemma of possibly wasting a vote or worse taking there vote to a safer candidate gaurenteeing the loss of their party of choice. Most of the party issues are too complex to delve into unless you really care about the local issues. On to the race for Mayor.

There are three candidates running for more. The unpopular incumbent Mayor is Daniel Vaknin. He is being challenged by Deputy Mayor Shalom Lerner and Moshe Abutbul. Abutbul and Lerner are close friends who are in the race to overthrow Vaknin.

Daniel Vaknin (Likud) - Vaknin has served as the Mayor of Bet Shemesh for three terms. He has a reputation of playing dirty politics and making promisses to everyone to get elected. Over the years he has halted many projects to expand and grow the city because it was not exactly what he wanted. Those who have worked hard to get him elected make themselves only accountable to him and have no fear of the consequences of not getting things done. Most of his support this time around come from fear of electing a Haredi Mayor. Abutbul complained to senior levels of Shas that Vaknin was sending out anti-Sephardic propoganda. The complaint was passed on to Netanyahu who said that he didn't really want Vaknin to win.

Moshe Abutbul (Shas) - Abutbul is dedicated to doing a good job and will be an upgrade from the current Mayor. His core support is from people who have their Rabbi instruct them how they should vote. In order to build up support he has entered into coalitions with various parties with very specific special interests. He wants to be able to reach out to all the different groups in the city. The agreements he has in place are going to keep his hands tied from achieving that goal. Some of the key players in his support are more interested in building power for themselves rather then helping the communities they claim to represent.

Abutbul wants to do a lot to help the city. He beleives it is simply a matter of cutting up the pie differently. In fact the issue may be he needs a bigger pie. On his goal to build a local hospital, he thinks the money can simply be raised outside of Israel. He has also suggested he wants a central bus station in Bet Shemesh. If he can help build the economy there may be a bigger pie to meet all of his expectations down the road. Until then he may have no choice but to focus on diverting funds to the Haredi community that could get him elected.

Shalom Lerner (B'Yachad) - Lerner is the head of his own local party. It is the closest thing to having a Centre leaning candidate. He tends to see the big picture on various issues and understand that different groups have different needs. He gave an example of a swimming pool that he had arranged to be donated to Bet Shemesh. The only condition was that it would be seperate swimming. Vaknin canned the proposal in order to avoid upsetting the residents who want mixed swimming. As a result there is one swimming pool servicing 100,000 people. The point Lerner made is that if there were many swimming pools, they could have different rules to cater to the needs of the various groups. Lerner applies this type of logic to all kinds of city problems. He wants an express bus from the Ramma to the train station. It could be done very inexpensivly without involving the major bus companies and would save valuable time for those who rely on the train. He has the type of forward thinking to really make Bet Shemesh a great city.

In the end this is a two horse race between Abutbul & Lerner. Vatnin's support has dropped so drastically that it looks like it is going to be decided on the first ballot. Lerner would make the best Mayor because his background and experience make him able to cater to the different conflicting interests of the city. Abutbul would also be a good Mayor and would probably incorporate B'Yachad into a significant role in his government. By the very nature of his core support he is going to allienate people that he should be helping.

No matter what the outcome, hopefully this election will bring change that will bring prosperity to Bet Shemesh.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Celebrating Obama

There is a presumption that during the American election the Liberal party was supporting Obama while the Conservatives were supporting McCain. On pure ideology this may have been the case for many people. In Canada the Conservatives Party are the big winners in the wake of the Obama victory.

One of the most lingering complaints directed at Harper is that he makes decisions to line himself up with Bush. It was convenient way for opponents to attack the government without the bothersome task of evaluating the policy. Government policy will now need to be evaluating on it's own merit as opposed to how it alligns with US policy. The classic example is that Harper was accused of being against Kyoto because Bush was against Kyoto. Obama is also against Kyoto.

This is a major shift in Canadian political discourse. Not much has changed in how the Conservatives are going to govern. A lot has changed in how their policies will be perceived by Canadians.