Affairs: Your Online Newsletter
President's Message: Electoral reform a pivotal
Interview with the
Book Man: How the Democrats are spinning their win from
Web Editor: Tax town blues
Electoral reform vote a pivotal event for Ontario
More will be at stake in the October 10 Provincial vote than whether the current government is re-elected. Ontarians will for the first time be asked not only to choose their leaders, but to decide whether they want to approve proposed electoral reform. If ever a high voter turnout was needed to ensure a democratic Ontario, this is the time.
The electoral reform question on the October 10 ballot will be a choice between the current "first past the post" system and an alternative system, currently used in some other democratic countries. The new choice is called Mixed Member Proportional (MMP), in which voters in a riding are asked to vote not only for a candidate, but also for their preferred political party. Under the new system there would be more seats in the legislature - 129 rather than 103. Of those, 90 would be directly elected, but another 39 would be appointed by the parties, based on their proportion of support. Under this system, now used in Germany and New Zealand, it has been observed that more women gain a seat, and parties which rank third but still have voter support (such as Ontario's Green party) have a better chance to acquire seats also.
I will not argue in favour of reform or against it here. That's not my place. But I strongly urge one and all to participate in the vote. It would be a terrible shame if electoral reform were enacted by a small minority who turned out to vote while most declined - and an equally terrible shame if it failed to be enacted for the same reason. It's up to all of us to resolve to vote and to persuade as many friends, co-workers, colleagues and acquaintances as possible to turn out and vote their conscience. They should do that anyway, but especially now.
In order for electoral reform to pass the upcoming vote, there will have to be more than a simple majority vote in favour of it. There will have to be a 60 per cent majority in at least 60 per cent of electoral districts. But more than that, in order for the vote to accurately reflect what most Ontarians want, there will have to be a high turnout.
It's up to us all to encourage that.
New events are on our schedule as summer proceeds and fall rises on the horizon. On Wednesday, September 5, we have a luncheon at the Albany Club, titled Climate Change: Differing Views on Reaching Kyoto.
Then on September 10, we have a breakfast, again at the Albany Club, featuring Greg Lyle handicapping the coming Ontario election.
Of course, on Wednesday, November 21, it's our Annual Conference, the premier public affairs event of the year, at the Sutton Place Hotel. This year we're putting together an excellent array of session and guest speakers, with the day themed on Corporate Activism and grassroots campaigning. Keep track of developments on our Events Page as we all continue to enjoy summer - but mark your calendar for this important event now.
Please join me in welcoming two new people to our Board of Directors. Kathleen Perchaluk is Legislative Assistant to MPP Jim Wilson. Paul Burns is Vice President Public Affairs at the Canadian Gaming Association. We'll post details about both new Directors soon on our Who We Are page.
And now, it is my pleasure to welcome our newest members:
As always, I encourage members to contact me with suggestions, input or comments. But my contact information has changed. Now I'm Vice President, Government Affairs, for Ontario with the Canadian Restaurant and Foodservices Association, and you can reach me at email@example.com. Please update your email contact lists with the new address.
Interview with the registrar
When the province granted Toronto its City of Toronto Act, featuring the power Mayor David Miller had been seeking to tax as necessary to support expenditures, that tax power came hitched to five interlinked mechanisms of accountability. Those mechanisms were to include an Auditor General - said to be independent of City Council while simultaneously appointed by it - whose role would be to improve accountability across the board; an Integrity Commissioner, to ensure that those at city hall behaved themselves, a Code of Conduct to support this by telling them the difference between right and wrong ("...to provide members of Council and other City board appointees with guidelines for appropriate behaviour and conduct that meet the highest ideals of public service," in the words of the press release from February, 2007); an Ombudsman to investigate when citizens complained that all of the above had failed, and a "Lobbying Control Framework" including a Lobbyist Registrar to put the arm on those the public presumes to be at the root of previous scandal. That last job was assigned, with much fanfare, to Marilyn Abraham. She would ensure that henceforth the work of lobbyists would be open, honest, and above all ethical, the city's press release said, which may well have confirmed to a highly receptive public that this had not previously been the case. The public, the Administration knew, were baying for a lobbyists' cop, and they would have one.
Human resources pro
For their GR ethics cop, Toronto selected a seasoned human resources professional. Abraham previously served as Registrar of the Human Resources Professionals Association of Ontario (HRPAO), the largest human resources association in Canada. Before that she worked in senior human resources roles at the Legislative Assembly of Ontario and the Hamilton Board of Education. Her resume includes several years with the City of Burlington, managing recreational programs. "Ms. Abraham will play an important role in ensuring Council's decision making process is transparent, open and accountable to the public," the February press release declared. "The Registrar will establish clear rules for the interaction between lobbyists, Members of Council, and City staff..." She would, it went on, implement the city's lobbyist registry, develop that lobbyist's code of conduct and enforce it. To which the public, conditioned to view lobbyists as backroom manipulators, pumped a collective fist in the air, while those in the government relations profession, including members of this organization, went about preparing to work with this newest overseer of a profession under more critical scrutiny than government itself.
To that end PAAC board member and former reporter Guy Skipworth went to interview Abraham about her plans. Not long afterwards, things happened at Toronto City Hall that put those plans on hold and the city's 'accountability' press release in deep shade. Here is what Abraham had to say to PAAC when she thought she was going to get the budget to run her department the way that press release promised. Parts of the interview have been paraphrased or condensed, for readability.
GS: We'll talk about lobbyists, but first, what about politicians and those for whom you worked at the legislature?
That was in June: High hopes from a lady with high esteem for politicians and public servants, and high expectations that if she did her job right, enforcement of ethics at city hall would not be a problem. She expected to be in for some hard work, and was ready for it. She didn't expect what happened. Neither did Mayor David Miller.
When Abraham spoke to PAAC, her office budget had been pared from $1-million to around $700,000 but it was ready to go. Miller had leaned hard on the McGuinty government for the City of Toronto Act, and got it. Now he would use it to implement two new taxes, one a land transfer tax and the other a car registration tax, to cover expected shortfalls due to expenditures already committed. With an estimated $356-million expected as income from that, there seemed no need to cancel things that stuck in the public's throat, such as $1.2-million in renovations to the mayor's office and an equal amount to purchase the Theatre Passe Muraille, which was about to go out of business. Public complaints about these expenditures could be dismissed as mean-spirited, just like the odd public complaint about union agreements that pay more than $50,000 per year to garbage collectors. The public would pay the taxes and Toronto would have what it needed. Even the mayor's opponents would not complain about the budget for Abraham's office. That was the plan.
Long fall, hard landing
All those best-laid plans fell far and landed hard. Councillor Brian Ashton, a member of the mayor's executive committee, voted against the tax measure and it failed to pass by exactly that one vote. In response, the mayor instantly began talking about closing subway routes and cutting the police budget. Union agreements were obviously untouchable, but Abraham's budget was cut down to the level of a single councillor's office budget - around $367,000 - ensuring that there would not be enough to implement the registry as planned. PAAC member and lobbying expert Guy Giorno was quoted in The National Post saying, "they don't want this enforced; they don't want the public to know who is lobbying them, who is trying to influence decision-making."
Those were harsh words, reflecting sentiments by no means exclusive to Giorno - the words of people, including journalists, who cannot help but notice that councillors slashing Abraham's budget from just-enough to insufficient deftly prevented the birth of a registry the Post article bluntly described this way: "The broad purpose of the lobbyist registry is to make public which paid influence-peddlers are meeting with politicians, and on what issues." The mayor's office renovations also became a casualty of the budget crisis, although purchase of the Theatre Passe Muraille did not, but the loss of the registry for lobbyists (paid influence peddlers! Ye gods!) made more headlines, and probably annoyed Miller more than losing his renovations - he campaigned on that registry and on his associated promise to "clean up city hall." Marilyn Abraham, according to Post reporter Kelly Patrick, who filed the August 3 story quoted above, was not available for an interview at the time. At this writing, PAAC's Guy Skipworth hadn't gotten another one, either.
Can't blame Abraham for that. Until she and David Miller figure out how to run a million-dollar department for the price of a cheap house in Toronto (land transfer not included) what's there to talk about? She told us she liked political environments. Well, she found one.
-D.S. with notes from Guy Skipworth.
The politics of Facebook and Twitter
by Chanchal Bhattacharya, Ph.D.
We're beginning to see real world political campaigns run parallel virtual campaigns using Internet technology, and the implications of this are only beginning to show. Recent U.S. and French campaigns have used this technology because it garners media coverage, and because it has a "cool" factor. Two approaches figure prominently: Facebook and Twitter.
You probably have already heard about Facebook. Twitter is a new technology that enables users to send group messages via Internet instant messages and cell phone text messages. It is primarily used as a social networking utility.
A reality lost on most over the age of 35 is that e-mail is far less popular among those under 35 than instant messaging and text messaging - indeed, the relative preference for e-mail versus instant messaging and text messaging seems inversely related to age.
Twitter combines properties of "micro-blogs" and group e-mail lists with social network capabilities. From this standpoint, it is simply an extension of rapidly evolving social networking communication capabilities to instant and text messaging. It's part of a plethora of new technologies that integrate peer to group social network oriented communication.
A fascinating feature of Twitter is that it turns any network into a "smart mob" such as those used by techno-anarchist activists who pioneered this approach as a means of overcoming police attempts to control mass protests. It is also increasingly used as a technological adjunct to "interactive marketing," the umbrella term covering things some people call "stealth" marketing.
Twitter combines this capability with instant messaging, and extends it - for free - to local campaigns, or to any group of any size. Both the federal NDP and Conservative central campaigns use text messaging. In the U.S., some campaigns are now also using Twitter - both the John Edwards and Fred Thompson campaigns use it to maintain contact with and to mobilize those under 30.
Virtually all successful campaigns are organized around top-down hierarchical communication flows. The promise and challenge of emerging social network technologies is that they provide the basis for far greater interactivity, and peer-to-group communication among political activists at the grassroots level, which results in substantially higher degrees of activism and engagement, but at an apparent cost of far lower collective effectiveness.
In the 2004 U.S. presidential election, the George W. Bush campaign managed to combine the positive characteristics of social network technologies with the structural efficiencies inherent in top-down hierarchical structures. Despite repeated efforts in both North America and Western Europe, the liberal left has not achieved anything comparable. Further, every political engagement between right-wing and left-wing approaches has resulted in fairly striking victories for the right.
This is not a result of the technology. If anything, social networking technologies are very strongly biased toward left-wing approaches. What differentiates the left and right is that the latter have proven far more effective in how they have adapted their existing approaches to the implications of new technologies. Therefore, the seeming advantages created for the left by the new technologies are illusory.
Thus far, the right has proven to be far better at exploiting these new capabilities to effectively mobilize and coordinate massive grassroots campaigns than the left. This has obvious implications for those left-wing political activists who extol the political virtues of these technologies.
Dr. Bhattacharya is researching the impact of the Internet on political communication and election campaigns. He has taught political science at York University and Memorial University. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Spin cycle: How the Democrats are spinning their 2006 election win
Book reviews by Stewart Kiff
The Thumpin', in great hyperbolic style, takes what seems like a modest but nonetheless important Democratic mid-term Congressional victory from the autumn of 2006 and portrays it as a nation-shaking, transformative event. Frankly, the fact that a second term president faces a Congress held by the other party should astonish no one, nor should it be taken as the beginning or end of any sort of revolution. Regardless: this book is an entertaining and informative exposé on the 2006 American Congressional campaign.
Back in 2005, when Democratic Party hopes of retaking Congress were merely hypothetical, Chicago Tribune Reporter Naftali Bendavid was given unprecedented access to Illinois congressman and Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC) Chair Rahm Emanuel and his work leading the 2006 campaign. Emanuel is a fortyish, hard-charging, gleefully vulgar, go-for-the-jugular self-promoter of the Kicking Ass school of politics. Yet he is far from a Democrat ideologue, or even much of a liberal for that matter. His philosophy can be summed up in one word: results. Politics, as Rahm Emanuel repeats many times in this book, is all about winning. End of story.
I found the underlying premise of this book, that Democrats did not care about winning until Rahm Emanuel got involved, a bit difficult to swallow. Certainly, when I've met Democrat political professionals they seemed highly focused on winning. Yet such is the cheerleading nature of this book that it does not strongly contest its protagonist's glaring self-promotion and revisionist history.
The book's narrative begins in 2005 as the wounds suffered by the Democrats in the November 2004 presidential election are being attended to. It goes on to the successful 2006 mid-term election campaign and the gain of 30 seats by the Democrats to capture a majority in the House of Representatives.
Emanuel claims credit for roughly 20 of those 30 seats, and the book details the process of targeting them (as well as some losing battles) for the 2006 election. A large portion of the book is taken up with the backroom politicking within the Democratic camp, especially the conflicts between the national campaign and the grassroots coalitions that constitute the Democratic Party of the United States. Often Emanuel went against perceived local wisdom, championing what he thought were more electable, right-of-centre candidates, over more liberal party loyalists with long-term local allegiances.
Included is the story of how he successfully championed the nomination of Tammy Duckworth, a young wounded Iraq war veteran, for the nomination in Illinois' Sixth Congressional District, a district where she had never even lived. She sought and won the nomination over Christine Cegelis, a 51-year-old single mother who had been the party's nominee two years previously. Cegelis had done well in the previous 2004 election, but not nearly well enough to take the seat from the incumbent Republican. Many local party activists thought Cegelis deserved another chance in 2006, but Rahm, representing the national campaign, supported Duckworth as a candidate with a much better chance of winning, creating real division and conflict among party activists. In the end, Duckworth beat Cegelis to win the nomination, but ended up losing the general election by a close 49 percent to 51 percent.
His only criterion in the 2006 campaign, said Rahm, was to win. "I'm cutthroat about this," he was publicly quoted as saying. "I don't give a crap where I pick up seats. I plan on winning. There is no emotional attachment."
In short, Rahm has emerged as the Democratic counterpart to the oft-maligned Karl Rove. And true to form, most of the conflict detailed in the book is not with the Republican party, but between the win-at-all-costs Emanuel faction of the Democratic Party and its liberal faction favouring a comprehensive 50-state strategy lead by former Presidential candidate Howard Dean and assorted progressive bloggers.
Even after the victory of 2006, that liberal faction strongly disputed Emanuel's contribution, saying that the watered-down inoffensive liberalism of some conservative Democrats - for whom Emanuel had been instrumental in winning nominations - had actually prevented the Democrats from picking up more seats. This faction of Democrats had wanted forthright anti-war populists, with more grassroots support, to lead the ticket. Undoubtedly, Emanuel's vulgarity (his book is filled with his famous unrestrained use of the f-word) and his open contempt for Democratic "purists" has worsened this existing divide. It doesn't do much for party unity, but it makes great reading.
In the end, The Thumpin' is filled with braggin', swearin', politickin', and a whole bunch of good old fashioned spinnin'. I recommend it for anyone who enjoys a taste of the aggressiveness and discipline that makes American politics so fascinatin'.
Summer reading: History books with buzz
The Iconoclastic Forgotten Victory: The First World War Myths and Realities by Gary Sheffield, is now out in paperback. It is a wonderful and rare achievement to make First World War history readable and at the same time challenge existing beliefs, and Sheffield's book is a standout in the field. In it, Sheffield argues that the First World War has become a "forgotten victory" because the successes of the allies in winning the war and the danger of the enemy they defeated have been largely overshadowed by the modern perception that WWI was wasteful and futile.
Nothing could be further from the truth, argues Sheffield, as he takes apart this belief piece by piece. This book is very challenging and well worth a read by those who prefer a well researched history.
Another great read is A History of the English-Speaking Peoples Since 1990, by Andrew Roberts. Weighing in at a very large 736 pages, this tome is not to be undertaken lightly. However, for those looking for some great reading at the cottage, there are few finer histories currently available.
This book has already generated quite a buzz. Roberts has done an incredible job stitching together the threads of the convoluted events of the last century into a highly readable narrative. His alternative view to recent history is worthy of your consideration.
PAAC member Stewart Kiff is the President of Solstice Public Affairs. He welcomes your feedback and suggestions, and can be reached at email@example.com.
Tax town blues
Toronto mayor David Miller's push for new city taxes, which was defeated narrowly in July when councillor Brian Ashton voted against the mayor, would have included a new tax for registering a car. This brought the issue of congestion fees to the fore. Are congestion fees a good way to reduce traffic problems and air pollution? Yes. Would this one have done these things for Toronto? No.
Look at New York, where mayor Michael Bloomberg is pushing hard for congestion fees of a different sort. He wants to charge people eight bucks to bring a car into the city. Drivers would have to pay it like any highway toll, or else keep the damn car out. The idea is to impose new thinking on people headed for the congested downtown Manhattan core. If a commuter decides it's not worth the extra cost every day and it's better to come in by transit, that's one less car getting in the way and putting out exhaust fumes in New York. If the driver has no choice, the city gets to gouge him and put the money to use, presumably something better for the public than millions of dollars worth of pricey furniture for the mayor, or new alternative art venues to please the nipple-ring set. Congestion fees work well in other major cities, such as London and Stockholm.
Toronto, however, has a problem with this. The problem is, people who own cars in Toronto and use them there would get away with not paying anything extra. This keeps some people up at night - the nagging worry that somewhere in Toronto, somebody is getting away without paying an extra fee. A further problem is this: If congestion were reduced, so would be the incentive for people to use transit. Praise public transit if that's your job, but many folks exercise their freedom to feel revulsion at the cattle-car experience, and some feel fear on public transit, especially at night. This is an unreasonable attitude, but it's surprisingly widespread among women, the elderly, those unschooled in kung-fu and people who do not own Kevlar body armour. If you want to push more people to take transit when they don't want to, traffic congestion is your friend.
That's why congestion fees like London's just aren't up to the job in Toronto. Better to charge everyone a nuisance tax for their cars whether they use them in peak city traffic or not, thus ensuring that they'll use them anyway to justify the cost. That way, you get more money for whatever you consider to be desirable public expenditures while preserving the extremely useful traffic congestion situation. This was the sort of thing proposed for Toronto, which would have passed the city council vote but for the surprise switcheroo by Brian Ashton. The mayor subsequently off-loaded Ashton from his executive committee, but the damage was done.
It gets better. When the tax grab fell on its face, the mayor went to Premier McGuinty in Oliver Twist mode. After gaining tax power through the City of Toronto Act and then failing to use it, the plan seems to be to convince the voting public, as a provincial election draws near, that McGuinty must give yet more money to Toronto or he's the bad guy.
Only a fool would sit still for this, and the Premier isn't one. He got bad press once before, when he promised not to raise taxes, was elected, then took a goggle at the hidden deficit and decided not to let it fester. So he raised taxes and endured criticism. Now, to be re-elected he needs people to concentrate on the good judgment he exercised in killing the deficit, and not on the sanctity of promises. What he does not need is to have reporters ask, for the published record: A) Will you give more money to Toronto in order to avoid selling this important city down the proverbial river, and if you will, are you B) going to finance that by raising provincial taxes about six-tenths of a second after you're re-elected?
After lobbying the Premier heavily for the City Of Toronto Act and finally getting his wish, Mr. Miller does not seem to mind putting Mr. McGuinty in this position. The mayor's new position is that the province must tax on Toronto's behalf after all, since he couldn't sell his own initiative to his own people. All things considered, Mr. McGuinty's answer was very diplomatic. In order to hear him chiding the mayor, you had to listen between his words. You have the power to tax, and you must use this power for good and never for evil, he seemed to be saying. Like me.
As a result of these events, on the downslope toward election the Premier is looking about ten feet tall in comparison with Toronto city council. Dalton McGuinty throttled the deficit in its crib and therefore is able to finance public transit in the Toronto area to the tune of $17-billion and change - something made possible because he took just precisely the kind of decision Toronto failed to take. For comparison purposes, voters can view the spectacle of David Miller reduced to trying to find savings in places like the police budget, of all things, after the failure of his tax initiative, which included a congestion fee so ill-conceived it could never have done a thing to alleviate congestion.
Add to this the further spectacle of Toronto city council taking their budget problems out on the much-anticipated lobbyist registration initiative - something the public, with the taste of municipal scandal still sour in its collective mouth, definitely wanted to see proceed. As the situation continues to ferment, it will be tough to blame voters if they decide that some people do politics like NASA planning a trip to Mars, and some do it like Beavis and Butt-head trying to fly a 747.
And who in the press will dare bust the Premier's chops for that 2004 budget now?
We welcome member input, whether it's a letter to the editor, a story suggestion or a proposal for a guest column. Feel free to email your input or suggestions to us. All submissions for publication on this site are subject to approval by the Editorial Board.
Writer/Editor: David Silburt
Public Affairs is
E-published by the Public
Affairs Association of
Tel: 416-364-0050 x306 Fax: 416-364-0606