Sunday, October 19, 2008


One three hundred million dollar election later and what did we learn? As I predicted at the very start, Stephen Harper came back with yet another minority government. Yes, he will once again have to face a dysfunctional Parliament and get engaged in more partisan bickering the voters are frankly getting sick and tired of ...

I worked for the elections again this year. I usually do when I am available to do that. My husband and I took a poll at my son's high school. All together, there were eight polls, each with their own Deputy Returning Officer and Poll Clerk, as well as other polling station staff, such as an Information Officer, two Registration Clerks and a Central Polling Supervisor. Working for the elections for the uninitiated is a very LONG day ... starting out relatively early, usually about 8 - 8:30 a.m., depending on your state of readiness.

I arrived and immediately set up my polling station and the part of the table where my Poll Clerk was going to work. It was already set up so that my ballots were in consecutive order, each ballot booklet numbered on the front and several of them initialed at the back. Some other DRO's, I hear, did not choose to do this ... oh well, voting started at 9:30 a.m. Greeting voters is a very interesting job. People are in a for a quick, relatively painless experience at the polls. The feds imposed heavier ID requirements, but people were okay with this ... I would rather see people out voting than being discouraged by bureaucratic barriers. Many new voters registered; these people are voting for the first time.

Some interesting things happen on polling day. One fellow was given his ballot. He went behind my voting screen and voted, then he proceeded towards the front door with it ... until he was stopped by other polling staff. I had him come back to put his ballot in the ballot box, explaining it would not do a lot of good for him at home. Another woman was in such a rush to vote, she moved behind the voting screen and forgot to take her ballot with her, which I was holding out waiting for her to return. I suppose she wondered what she had to do behind there, when she had no ballot to mark. People are interesting once they return their ballots, get the strip off the side torn off, then they deposit it into the box.

Some were clearly indicating who they were voting for. Others joked about whether they were going to throw the bums out, or put new ones in. Others had questions. A few had come to the wrong polling station or were unsure of where they were supposed to vote. I watched older voters, younger voters, disabled voters, frail voters as well as ethnic voters all come and go all day to their various polling stations to vote. It is always interesting trying to guess how these people are thinking, because we are not supposed to know how they voted until we count the aggregate samples in each of the polls.

One of the things the uninitiated discover is that we are not allowed to leave the building during the day until our polls are closed up for the day. We can go to the bathroom or accept deliveries of food or drink, but we cannot leave our polling stations for too long at any given time. I discovered the best time to get take-out delivered is before the dinner hour ... as between 5 - 7:30 p.m., there is usually non-stop voting. It is still busy after that but it does dwindle after that until it trickles to a dull roar about 9:00 p.m. Therefore, polling staff have to eat on the run, eat fast, portable foods and sneak medications or other fluids in during lulls in voting patterns.

At the end of the day, I add up the unused and used ballots by matching the ballot strips and subtracting the last ballot number used from the final ballot number issued from the unused stack and if they match up, then the ballot box is opened. Scrutineers from various political parties and candidates come throughout the day to collect information on who voted (so they can continue to bother those that didn't to go to vote). At the end of the day, many of them stick around and assist with the count. Even after knowing how each candidate fared in our eight polls, it is only part of the broader picture.

You know when you sit at home and watch the election returns, there are "elected and leading" figures under each party across the country ... some of them are only "leading" because not all the polls have been reported. There are things that can happen at a polling station that can slow things up. For example, an unnamed DRO who is probably reading this was unable to balance his Statement of Vote. He was still struggling after I assisted another group to close up and was ready to go myself. His Poll Clerk wanted to go home ... After working with the two workers, we learned there were some missing ballots that were soon recovered and we were able to re-enter the Statement of Vote. These are the situations you see on TV with "8 polls still needing to report", etc. The report is called in almost immediately and once delivered, the formal Statement of Vote that is signed is handed directly to the Returning Office, along with re-sealed ballot boxes (in the event of a recount).

Anyways, all across the country, we had over 160,000 polling stations and other staff working at both the Advance Polls and Voting Day Polls, as well as the candidates, their volunteer campaign teams, as well as paid advisors at the party level, and 308 returning offices to report ... and $300 million dollars later, after people get paid, printing bills are paid, halls are rented, etc. ... Stephen Harper is returned to Parliament with yet another minority!!! Harper argues it is a stronger mandate than he had last time. True, he had more seats, but he still secured approximately 38% of the vote ... less than 20% of the eligible voters voted for Harper this time around.

It is now time when the main political parties decide what to do. Every party lost this election, as far as I am concerned. The Conservatives failed to get their coveted majority. The Liberals failed to get more than 77 seats. The NDP, while they increased the number of seats, failed to increase them beyond the number they sought when they first set out and Jack Layton announced he was running for Prime Minister. The Green Party lost as it failed to get ANY seats despite the doubling in its popular support. Perhaps, the only party that can claim "victory" in any way is Bloc Quebecois, as this party single-handedly prevented a Conservative majority. Is this all that elections have become? Sadly, it is true.

Of course, approximately 59.1% of eligible voters even bothered to cast a ballot. We don't have the demographics of the voting public yet, but I am hoping it has increased among the young and the low-income populations, both of whom tend to vote less. Nevertheless, this low turnout was subsequently bemoaned by all political leaders, wondering what can be done to increase the voter turnout. This has been a chronic problem, possibly due to our first past the post system which really does not turn out results that are truly reflective of voter opinion. Also, one wonders about the impact of all the finger pointing and negative campaign ads. To me, parties should be forthright and attempt to sell themselves directly to voters, as opposed to giving us lots of reasons why not to vote for the other guy.

I worry about how this Parliament is going to conduct itself. I have a certain respect for Stephen Harper, but not for his partisan meanderings or any of the partisan meanderings of the other parties as well. The other thing that bothers me is right after the election, one can almost predict with crystal clear accuracy of how fast and against whom the knives will come out. Stephane Dion is suddenly under attack. He apparently spent several days away from the media, possibly feeling hurt and under attack for not doing as well as he should have. I am not so sure it was entirely Stephane Dion's fault. I think it was the carbon tax or "Green Shaft" as it eventually became known that had turned off voters. As former Prime Minister Kim Campbell once said, elections are not the right time to discuss complicated issues.

People felt kind of safe with Steven Harper because he played it cool during much of the campaign and did not go to extreme steps in pushing new taxes or complicated policies that voters are not likely going to understand, or may even fear for that reason. Despite Harper's "cool" campaign with little new announcements other than a few small steps targeting industries that are in trouble, etc., he mentioned very little about what he might actually do regarding health care, jobs, environment and poverty alleviation - the big four, according to all major political opinion polling companies. It may well be that Harper would prefer to leave these things to the provinces and simply hand out money, but the more sinister among us are concerned that there is a creeping privatization of health care that needs to be retrenched by enforcing certain provisions of the Canada Health Act, as an example.

On the other hand, voters did not feel confident enough to give Harper or any political party the full reign of majority rule. In reviewing comments about minority versus majority, people associated a "majority government" with a dictatorship, regardless of who was at the helm. People are still too close to remember Liberal scandals, HRDC-gate, sponsorgate, etc. and many voters are also quick to point out that the Conservatives have gone through some scandals of their own. No party can be trusted at the helm of a majority, it seems. This campaign was a big ABC movement all over, although people were reluctant to toss Harper out on his ear.

As an interested voter and political observer, I often point to electoral reform as at least part of the solution. Reforms are in place in the majority of democratic countries of the world that more closely tie voter preferences to seat composition. Ontario attempted to have a referendum for its last election as to whether or not this province would change the way votes are counted, but it once again was rejected by the voters ... I don't think the voters were given a good education on the proposed reforms and the way they were explained to people almost scared them, sort of like the idea of a "Green shaft" scared many voters in this election. However, BC is hosting its second referendum on electoral reform at its next provincial vote, so all might not be lost.

As a cynic, I also wonder if Stephen Harper knew the stock market was about to tank like it did, or knew that Barack Hussein Obama was going to do so well in the U.S. (where voters seem to have a taste for change), before he set this vote. Unfortunately, his urgency to go to the polls backfired on him in a sense that he did not get the majority mandate that he wanted and Parliament will once again be returned to what he thought was a "dysfunctional state" before he called this election in September.

Several people are talking about the possibility of the Opposition Parties, the Liberals, NDP and Bloc uniting under some type of Coalition against Harper's government, perhaps to give rise to a vote of non-confidence and then lobby the Governor General to ask the leader with the next highest number of seats to form a coalition government. It happened in 1926 with the King Byng affair and again, in Ontario, in 1985 when the Liberals and NDP joined together to vote the then recently re-elected Conservative government under Frank Miller to form what was then an "historic Liberal-NDP accord" which kept the government stable for two years in response for passing mutually accepted legislation.

While the idea seems appetizing for some, it is unlikely especially because the Bloc would have to be part of this Coalition. While Bloc Quebecois is progressive in its political perspectives, it is also a separatist party that has somehow gained the right to run candidates in federal elections (and subsequently collect Canadian pay cheques and Canadian pensions after they serve two terms in office). Would two essentially federalist parties be able to work with a separatist party for long enough without this becoming an issue? For those that fear separatist flames, the whole idea of the Bloc holding the "balance of power" in any such coalition is scary.

However, one thing is true. In about eighteen months to two years, we will be talking once again about a federal election, as at some point either Stephen Harper decides Parliament is too dysfunctional, or perhaps Parliament itself decides that it is ... and sends voters back to the polls. One thing that is nice about that is that I can look forward to once again sitting behind the counter as a polling official for Elections Canada, as this is one type of job I do enjoy doing as it contributes to the operations of democracy in Canada.

Your thoughts?

Wednesday, October 8, 2008


When Prime Minister Stephen Harper walked into Rideau Hall to ask the Governor General to dissolve Parliament and issue the writ of election this past September 7, 2008, he was smug enough to believe he could transform his uncomfortable and "unworkable" minority situation to a stronger majority.

But, not so fast, Stephen Harper!

Canadian voters are stupid, but they are not THAT stupid. Calling the election a year early is Harper's idea ... full, front and center. So, if his party self-destructs as a result of calling this election at the worst time, guess who is going to carry the blame?

As the election moves along, other news we read about in the papers involves numbers outside of those pesky political election polls: these numbers are jobs being tossed out by the thousands as company after company decides to spurn Canada for the greener pastures of Mexico or even the southern U.S. As the country continues to bleed jobs, Harper struts along as he continues to "go the course". Dion calls it "doing nothing". Layton calls it "giving his buddies at Exxon and the banks a $50 billion gift".

As Harper landed and exited his campaign UFO in Niagara Region lately, he likely had no idea where he landed ... he began to talk about regulating the sale of chocolate cigarettes, something that he condemned as being marketed to children. This was here, in the Region of Niagara, where thousands of jobs just left the Region and workers recently given the pink slips were not even allowed to cross Harper's barricade to bring the Prime Minister up to date on this reality.

As he left the discussion about cigarettes, he reassured us folks in Niagara that our economy is producing more jobs than it is losing and for us to be reassured that our economy is doing very well, thanks to his government's policies ... well, tell that to our folks that were pushed out of jobs that paid $25 - $30 an hour and are now working at jobs that pay $10 an hour. The push to drive wages down has been in force for quite some time, although the two major political parties never talk about it.

So, as one part of the news highlights further and further job losses and bigger and longer dips in the TSX and Dow Jones, the Conservatives' popularity numbers appear to be following. I am not naive enough to suggest that there is a lot the government can do about the stock market, but there are steps they can take, in conjunction with the private markets, to ease the blow. As Dion suggested time and time again, Harper's answer to this problem is to "do nothing".

It is said the Dion was the winner of the French language debate last week and for the English debate, the victory was split between May, Layton and Duceppe. While the Conservatives continue to portray Dion as being a "weak leader", I watched him speak today before the Canadian Club in Toronto and boy ... if I was a Liberal supporter, I would be wow-ed back into his camp! If I were a tentative Conservative voter, I may be as well. No, Dion is not a "weak leader" ... he was called that in order to lead the weakest minds among Canadian voters to follow the blue brick road to the Conservative camp.

The unfortunate thing about this election is that it started off being about nothing ... other than Stephen Harper's allegation that Parliament has been dysfunctional (despite passing over 63 pieces of legislation, two budgets and one economic statement). Harper was getting impatient and no longer wanting only a piece of the pie. He wanted the whole pie.

So, he starts off on the attack ... long before an election was called. Somebody should do a Freedom of Information request to find out how much of our tax dollars were spent on pre-election ads and where this money came from. Elections Canada might like to know. For me, I could not care less about the attack ads. It took almost to the eleventh hour of this election for Harper to even release a platform, let alone answer any questions ...

The Conservative election platform is a 41-page document which includes 22 pages of glossy colour pictures of himself, some of which include that lovely sweater he started off this campaign with ... others of his kids. How cute. The sad part of this whole affair is that I do like Stephen Harper as an individual ... he has two young children, both of whom he walks to school. He does not come from big money like many former PMs have. He is an economist, but is also not a lawyer or from Quebec, which gives Canadians a breath of fresh air. He also takes in stray cats ... something on its own makes me feel for the man.

Stephane Dion is more of an intellectual with a background as a university professor. He is married and has an adult stepchild, as well as a dog named Kyoto. The fact that he named his dog Kyoto makes me wonder about this man, not that he is not allowed to name his dog anything he wants ... but he takes pride in the fact that he helped create the Kyoto Accord, which Harper came in and rapidly unraveled.

Jack Layton is a controversial individual. He was a professor at Ryerson University in Toronto, as well as at one point operating a type of environmental consultancy. He is married to Olivia Chow, also an NDP MP from the Toronto area. Neither came from money; in fact, Layton's fortunes probably grew after the two of them became city councillors for the City of Toronto. Both are known to travel by bike as well as public transit, something you will never see happen in Niagara with ANY of its politicians, no matter how humble their beginnings.

While I will probably be voting for the NDP this time around, I still have considerable issues with this particular party. I might personally prefer the Green Party, but I might want to see their party and organization grow first. My concern right now is to get people to vote for the candidate who is most likely to keep the Conservative candidate out. It is nothing against Stephen Harper; in fact, if I could vote for my local candidate and Prime Minister separately, I would definitely vote for Stephen Harper as the Prime Minister. I just don't like a lot of his underlings.

Now down to the point of this entry ... a recent opinion poll has placed the Conservatives at 31% of the vote, Liberals at 27% and the NDP at 24%. I smell a minority government of a different type. Maybe there might be enough NDP votes to keep a minority Liberal government in place. The best interests of this country would be served by a minority government of any stripe at this time, as it forces the parties to work together ... as opposed to one party imposing its own ideas, hell or high water, on everybody ...

The election campaign started with Harper well ahead of the Liberals, at one point his party was at 41% ... there was a lot of talk about a Conservative majority. There was even talk about who will be picked to be in his Cabinet. At the same time, many people are fearing a Conservative majority ... apparently now, enough of them to prevent one from happening. Dion seems to be taking his votes back, probably because he isn't spending much time babbling about the Green Shift, which his advisors probably realized is too complex to talk about during an election.

Instead, Dion speaks about a 30-day economic plan following his election as Prime Minister, something Harper appears to lack, even AFTER the release of his 41-page platform. His focus is on finding ways to alleviate Canadians' fears about the stock market which is now in a free fall, talks of the "Great Depression" are intercepting news reports on the $700 billion bailout in the United States (another unfortunately necessary measure, though controversial). People want to hear about jobs, their savings and their incomes.

All this talk about chocolate cigarettes didn't work, Mr. Harper.

However, I don't vote for political parties anymore. I vote for local candidates. After all, these are the people I will be darkening the doorsteps of in order to push my own agendas, as well as the people who will be taking issues of the people in Niagara to Ottawa. Sometimes, I want to vote for the person whose lens it is that will be interpreting what I tell them, as opposed to a party and/or a platform (which as it demonstrated during this election, can change at a whim).

On October 14, 2008, my husband and I will probably be working at the election. I do this, not for the money, but for the support of democracy. This is an institution that is very important to me ... although I am not a Liberal either, but there are reports of people with Liberal signs on their lawns in three Toronto ridings and in Niagara Falls, who are getting their car brake lines cut, their homes vandalized and are getting threatening telephone calls telling them to take their signs down. This to me is reminiscent of Third World elections, where people are made to feel fearful of expressing their opinions or support for particular candidates.

In this country, we should have nothing to fear when we speak out or show our support for any particular candidate. People in Canada should be safe to put ANY sign on their lawns, voice unpopular opinions and even join pressure groups to influence public policy. This is a part of our democracy that I feel strongly about ... and this is what I am sometimes fear we are losing.

Educate yourself, my friend. Learn about all of your local candidates and vote with your mind and your heart and turn up at the ballot box on October 14, 2008.