Wednesday, September 17, 2014

The Problems with BC's Local Elections

In BC the way we elected the councilors for our local governments is called plurality at large.   It is in my opinion the worst method for electing representatives that reflect the will of the public because its nature is to dramatically favour one set of people over another.

In the system you are allowed to vote for up X number of candidates, X being the number of council positions.   The top X candidates then get elected.   It works sort of OK in a small town like Lillooet where almost everyone knows each other but even there the results can be screwy because of how the general public feels they should vote.

For larger municipalities like Saanich, Burnaby and Surrey people can vote up to eight people.    There are a couple of major ways this voting system becomes unfair for the people running and does not reflect the will of the public especially in the larger municipalities

When you can cast up to eight votes most people feel they really do need to vote all eight.  The politically astute will choose to plump their ballot to help their preferred candidate but most of the public thinks this is either unfair or they are not fully exercising their democratic responsibility.

The fact that most people do feel they need vote a full ballot leads to the first problem with the system.  Most of the voters do not know eight candidates they really like.  The voter is then stuck with how to fill out the rest of their ballot and they rely on anything they know at all.   This means voters very often go for any names they recognize on the ballot and in most cases this means the current incumbents.  

A candidate running for council that campaigns hard is effectively campaigning for the incumbents as well.   Based on the average number of ballots cast by the public, for every two voters a new candidate gets to vote the incumbents will each get one vote as well.  Because of this it is very, very hard to defeat incumbents in this electoral system.  There is one change on the ballot that make a huge difference and break this easy hold on office incumbents

The one factor that will change how the election turns out is if there are strong competing municipal political parties.  Once the party name is on the ballot each voter is given a clear indication of who is who and a lot of people vote for all the candidates of one slate or the other.   What happens from there is that either one party is utterly dominant, such as the Burnaby Citizens Association, or the council composition dramatically changes from election to election, which is what Vancouver often sees.

While the municipal political party direction creates very dramatic changes with lopsided councils it does make it easier for incumbents to be defeated.   Incumbents have to first get their party nomination and then the party has to win the election.   Without the party on the ballot it becomes really, really hard to defeat incumbents.  But with the party names on the ballot the election becomes a winner takes all affair.

Here are examples illustrating the problem

Victoria has never really moved into having strong municipal political parties.  In this table you can see how safe the incumbents have been over the last six elections:
Year   Incumbents 
    running defeated
2011   8       3
2008   5       0
2005   6       0 
2002   6       1
1999   6       1
1996   6       0
total 37       5

86.5% of the incumbents were re-elected.  This sort of record is not something you would see in provincial or federal elections

In Burnaby the BCA has been very dominant, in fact in the last two elections the mayor, all eight councilors and all seven school board trustees elected were from the BCA.
Year     BCA elected 
     council  school board
2011   8/8         7/7
2008   8/8         7/7
2005   6/6         5/7
2002   7/8         6/7
1999   5/8

To get elected in Burnaby you have to be part of the BCA.

We need to change the municipal voting system so that it much more accurately reflects the public will.  It harms the quality of local government if the elections results are so skewed in the favour of one group over another.

Monday, September 15, 2014

Since 1867 Canada has had more Scottish Prime Ministers than the UK

Ultimately one of the problems of the UK is that the Scottish people are not a major political power in the country.   One way to clearly see this is to look at how many UK Prime Ministers have had any Scottish Ancestry since 1867 and compare that to Canada.

UK Prime Ministers since 1867 with Scottish Ancestry

  • David Cameron - was born in England
  • Gordon Brown
  • Harold Macmillan - Scottish ancestry on his father's side only
  • Ramsay MacDonald 
  • Bonar Law  -  he was born in Canada
  • Henry Campbell-Bannerman
  • Archibald Philip Primrose -was born in England
  • William Ewart Gladstone

Canadian Prime Ministers with Scottish Ancestry

  • Stephen Harper
  • Kim Campbell
  • Joe Clark
  • Pierre Elliot Trudeau - Scottish on his mother's side
  • Mackenzie Lyon King
  • Arthur Meighen - Ulster Scot
  • Charles Tupper
  • Alexander Mackenzie
  • John A Macdonald
Canada has managed this many Prime Ministers of Scottish ancestry even with so many Francophone Prime Ministers.  

The reality is that no matter how you slice it, Scotland with 5.3 million people is only 10% of the England's population of 53 million.   The United Kingdom will always be dominated by the interests of the population of England and rightly so.  

The status quo is not good for anyone in the UK.   Either Scotland needs to become independent or the UK has to become a proper federation.  The current halfway house is of no benefit to anyone

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

UBCM Ferry Report - I hate flawed economic analysis

The UBCM released a report on the socio-economic impact of ferry fare increases in BC.  It looks all nice and fancy and has some provocative numbers but overall it is not a well done report at all.

I am starting this posting again because the first one was 3000 words long with details of the flaws in the report and I was only part way through.  Overall the report seems to been written to be misleading as to the impact of the increase in ferry fares.   The one aspect that looks to be done well is the calculation of the lost passenger numbers due to the fare increases but I admit I have not done the math independently to test if it all works.

The core of what is misleading about the report relates to the economic loss due to the fare increases, here are my main issues with that

  • The GDP value should have been expressed as an annual value and not a ten year value.  It is very rare to speak of the dollar GDP values on any term longer than a year.  Using ten years inflates the value in the mind of the public.   The headline number should have been $230 million, though that would not be accurate because of my following issues
  • The GDP loss calculation makes some assumptions that are not true which means the numbers that arise from those assumptions are wrong.   
  • The report leaves the impression that all the potential passenger spending is lost to the BC economy when very clearly this is not the case.   Most of the people travelling on BC Ferries are from BC and will have spent their money somewhere else in BC.   Spending money on ferry fares adds less value to the BC economy than most other discretionary spending.   The spending they would have done at their ferry destination will all have been done somewhere else.   If I do not go to Vancouver I still spend money on food and entertainment.  Take this away and the annual economic loss to the province is much smaller than $230 million 
  • The data used to try and show a general economic downturn on the Island and coast does not show that at all.  The report does not use  a consistent set of dates for comparison of data even the relevant data is available online.  It looks like data cherry picking to try and prove an economic downturn
  • Many numbers are presented without any backing as to how they were arrived at.  As an example, on page 45 the have a table showing loss in taxes to governments including $53 million in local government taxes.  I have no idea how they could have come up with that number since local governments simply set the property taxes each year at the level they need to fund their programs, where the does the loss come from?   I could list a dozen more examples.
  • The data is often too specifically accurate.  When you are working with estimates and models you can not have a long string of significant digits.   You have to stop after the margin of error is reached.   In table 34 on page 45 they have values calculated down to the last dollar for a nine digit value, that is misleading and less accurate than properly rounding the numbers.  People think $13,982,756 must be more correct than $14 million even when the first figure is a fantasy.  It is very misleading.   First year economics students using basic mathematics would understand doing this is wrong.
  • The report does little to account for a number of specific economic impacts between 2003 and 2014 in different communities around BC.  These events are so much larger than any possible BC Ferry fare increase impact that the impact of a ferry fare increase could not be seen in the data.

I could go on for page after page on the flaws of the report, trust me, it is fundamentally flawed.

What can I take away from this report?

  • The increase in ferry fares has reduced BC Ferries traffic
  • BC Ferries is much more cost efficient than similar services elsewhere especially Washington State Ferries.   
  • Some of the most ferry dependent communities have suffered economically though the report does a bad job of showing this and my own work on the issue shows it much better
  • Overall the possible negative economic impact on BC of the higher ferry fares is so small as to not realistically be measurable if it is there at all.   

The final kicker, the data from this report could be just as easily be used to show that for the vast majority of people in BC the current government's approach to BC Ferries is beneficial.   BC Ferries is still subsidized and this comes from fuel taxes from all of BC, a more cost effective BC Ferries is good a thing.

Bad research and analysis is a pet peeve of mine.  

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

If the BC government loses the PR war with the BCTF will Peter Fassbender be recalled?

Given how important education is to the public, it has always surprised me how unpopular the BCTF has been.   For the first time it this seems this is changing.  The one person that will carry the responsibility for this government PR loss will be the minister of education Peter Fassbender

In the last week, as the school year was supposed to be starting, it has been the government that has been very much on the media defensive.   The call by the BCTF for arbitration was a smart move because in refusing to take that option the government looks like they are not interested in settling.

I am seeing more and more people who are not long term BCTF supporters or allies speaking out on behalf of the teachers side of the strike.   For the first time I am seeing real grass roots support for the BCTF.  

What will a public relations loss mean for the government?   It is hard to say because it is 32 months till the next election which is a very long time in politics.  What is not a very far away is the ability to recall MLAs.  I think Peter Fassbender may by in trouble and could be recalled.

Recall in BC is not easy but it can be done.   You need to get 40% of the eligible voters sign a petition to recall the MLA.   We have had one successful recall in BC and two more that came reasonably close out of a total of about 12 serious attempts.  The two close attempts failed primarily because of bad organization.

The last time recall was used in BC was in relation to the HST,  I thought the whole approach that time made little or no sense because the MLAs targeted were not the core people behind the HST.  The decision to go after Ida Chong was not a smart one.   People argued that because the 2009 election result was close she would be easier to recall, I did not think that would matter.   The recalls failed because the targets were not the culpable ring leaders of the HST.  They also failed because there was going to be a referendum on the HST, they had achieved what they wanted so the recalls looked petty.

In 2014/15 I do think a recall against Peter Fassbender could succeed.   The way the government has handled the strike with the BCTF has been less than stellar and much of that will fall on Christy Clark as premier and Peter Fassbender as minister of education.   The obvious recall target is the minister of education.

Surrey Fleetwood, Peter Fassbender's riding, was a close race in 2013, he won by 200 votes over Jagrup Brar.  This means it is not a hardcore right wing anti-union area.   Peter Fassbender starts any recall campaign as a less popular Liberal MLA than most.  If he were the target of a purely partisan anti-Liberal recall I do not think he would be in trouble, but in the wake of the strike this would not be the case.

Surrey Fleetwood had 35,692 registered voters in the last election.   If we assume some growth since then there are likely around 36,500 registered voters now.  To recall Peter Fassbender there would have to be 14,600 valid signatures, about 165 per day during a recall campaign.  This is achievable given a legitimate reason to target him and the demographics of the riding.

One factor that will have an impact on any recall against Fassbender is that a lot of youth will be motivated to be active and sign any recall petition.   In Surrey Fleetwood the youth that were in Grade 12 last year and are in Grade 12 this year are enough to be more than 10% of the signatures required to recall the MLA.    As the year goes along more and youth in Grade 12 this year will be eligible to sign the petition.

It is not just the youth that would now be old enough sign the petition that would make the recall of the minister education easier in Surrey Fleetwood.  Overall the riding has a significantly higher percentage of children at home than the provincial average.  36.7% of the riding population are kids living with their parents, province wide this figure is 29.6%     This means more people are directly affected by the strike.   Finding people willing to sign the petition should be easier than elsewhere in this specific case..

The only thing that works in Fassbender's favour is a mythology in this province that recall is impossible.   As long as a lot of people believe that he should be safe, but if people look at the real stats and understand the unique situation of Surrey Fleetwod, the recall of the minister of education  becomes probable.

What Peter Fassbender and the government need to protect him from any serious recall attempt is to settle with the BCTF soon and have the union happy.   This does not seem likely to me.

Thursday, September 4, 2014

If you can not vote for yourself why should be allowed to run?

I think a simple change in our democracy is to require everyone that runs to be able to vote for themselves.

Right now there is no requirement to run and be on the voters list.  In BC you can choose to run in any local election around the province.   Provincially and federally a candidate does not need to live in the riding where they live.   In all three cases, there is nothing that I can see that requires someone to be registered to vote.

Meanwhile the Senate of Canada, that insult to democracy, does at least require a senator to be a resident of the province they are representing.  

It feels fundamentally wrong to me to have a place represented by someone that is a local voter.  It should be the first requirement to run as a candidate that you are a locally registered voter.  

I know some people will say something like:

 "If the people do not like that the candidate is from elsewhere they do not have to vote for them.   Letting people run elsewhere allows for better people to be elected."  

If residency does not matter, why bother with restricting elections to citizens?  Open it up to everyone and  you can get the best people in the world to run.

I feel strongly about this.  It is a change that needs to happen.

Graph of 10 year average area burned in BC

After a long term drop the 10 year average has risen over the last decade



















Graph of the area burned by wildfires in BC over the last 50 years

2014 is not yet done, but baring something strange at this point 2014 should end the year with around 340,000 hectares burned.

It should be noted that this year one fire alone, the Chelaslie River fire (R10070),  has burned 133,162 hectares, more than a third of all the area burned this year.   Overall, the five largest fires account for 270,000 hectares, almost 80% of the total area burned.