Don’t Believe the Hype.

Last week I equated politics to sports in an effort to show you just how “unboring” politics really are.  Here is another example.

Handicapping the horse race.

One of my favourite summer jobs during university was as a mutual agent at the Hiawatha horse track in Sarnia.  I loved the races and became pretty astute at betting, especially after being taught how to read a program by a pair of horse owning twins who knew their stuff.  They told me to weigh all the factors provided in the program and to pay little or no attention to the odds.  Odds were just a guess, and anything could happen.  I became a fan of betting on the long shot now and then.  Win or lose, it always made for an exciting race.

Horse racing is all about the odds.  Odds are determined by several factors:  How has the horse been racing and behaving lately?  Is it on any medication? Who are it’s parents, and where was it trained?  How have the other horses been racing by comparison? This is called “handicapping the horse race”.  Assigning a bias, if you will,  based on various criteria.

Your goal when studying the program and tally boards and deciding on your bet is to determine which horse(s) you think – weighing the odds and options – has the potential to give you the greatest return for your wager.  Watching the tally board you see the numbers change up and down, depending on how other people are betting.  When wagering, you choose according to what you know, what you’ve learned and your what your gut tells you to do.

Sounds a lot like politics, doesn’t it?

Except in politics, the program isn’t a neat little booklet full of odds and statistics.  Instead it’s ads on TV and articles in news papers.  It’s televised debates and the topic of discussion on radio shows.  It’s snippets and sound bites of promises and politicking.

And then, there are opinion polls.

When I think of opinion polls, I remember the phone invariably ringing at dinner time and my mum saying, “Don’t answer it! We’re eating!”  If there was an election going on, my dad would jump to answer it regardless.  He loved the pollsters and never turned down an opportunity to share his opinion.

Opinion polls started long before the telephone became a staple of nearly every household.  The  first polls were conducted by postcard, mailed to all voting age residents in an area.  The cards returned would be tabulated and averaged into an “educated guess”.

The same equation is used for the telephone polls.  A random (we are told…) sampling of the population is called and surveyed on various questions.  These questions can range from your opinion of a candidate, which party you would most likely support if you were to vote that day, or more directly, which Prime Minister you would choose.  The data is collected and tabulated into an average.

For example:  Out of 1000 voters, “X” would vote for A and “Y” would vote for B. Divide the totals for each candidate by the total number of voters, and you get “Z”.  Easy enough if it were a two party system, but much more difficult and divided in a multi-party system.

Polls, at one time, were thought to be a very accurate indicator to the outcome of an election, usually only being off by a few points.  Look out for that dark horse though!  On election day in 1984, Brian Mulroney, who was trailing in the polls throughout the campaign, made a 9% leap.  He came out on the other side of the gate to win a landslide majority.  Nobody saw that one coming.

There are many factors that can contribute to disproportionate results in polling, especially in today’s technology era.  Many households are giving up traditional landlines and are opting for cell phones or Skype.  This is especially true among the younger population.  You also have those with call display who won’t answer their phone if they see an unknown number. This makes it difficult to get a representative sampling of the population.  Because of this, polls have become increasingly less accurate and have virtually lost any weight they may have held at one time.

The biggest fans of polls are the media:  print, radio and television.  If they’ve got a great story (usually negative “great” stories.  Rescuing kittens won’t make it to the headlines during an election) along with a riveting poll number, it gets people intrigued.  It sells.  It keeps them coming back.  It’s an opportunity to spin the stories from the campaign trail and keep selling more.

It is not unusual for poll numbers to be manipulated with stories in an attempt to sway voters in a certain direction, according to the bias of the media outlet presenting the results. This can backfire, however, ending in a surprise result like we saw in 1984.

My advice to you is to be critical when looking at poll numbers, and take them with a grain of salt, unless you are provided with the following information:

  • How many people were polled in the sample?
  • Who commissioned or requested the poll, and what (if any) is their political bias?
  • What does the pollster have to gain from conducting the poll?
  • What area of the country was polled?
  • What was the average age range and social demographic of the people polled?

We aren’t usually provided with these answers when we look at polling results, and if it is provided most people don’t pay attention to it, so a little critical thinking can go a long way.  Spin placed on the results and stories in the media can help or hinder a campaign.  It can sway public opinion and create a “herd” mentality.  “Everyone else is voting for “A”, so I will too!”  (Don’t do that. Ever.)

My opinion on polls:  Don’t believe the hype.  There are so many variables at play in polling that the only true test of public opinion falls on election day.  Take a lesson from the horse races when making your decision.  Read the program and carefully weigh the information.  The numbers are an educated guess and shouldn’t be used to make your final decision. And don’t be afraid to bet on the dark horse, if your gut tells you to do so.  It just might come out the big winner.

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The “C” Word…

We’re nearing the end of week two of the 2011 federal election campaign, and there is one buzz word Prime Minister Harper has not stopped hammering into the psyche of Canadian voters.  I almost feel like I need to whisper the word so please, lean in close.

Coalition…

Waaait!  Calm down! There is no need to panic. Really, it’s just a word.  Everything is going to be fine. Breath.

Now can I ask,  how many of you understand what the term “coalition” means? If you are like 7 out of 10 people I speak to you haven’t a clue, but you know it’s “illegitimate”, “reckless”, “undemocratic” and sounds very scary.

Really, it’s not.  And in 1997, the Prime Minister might have told you that himself.

So, what is a coalition then? In general terms it is a partnership between two or more parties who agree to work together to form a majority government.

Yes, that means toppling the newly elected minority government and replacing the ousted Prime Minister and his/her Members of Parliament with representatives selected (usually) proportionately from each of the coalition parties, with one of the coalition leaders being chosen to take the helm as Prime Minister. The parties will work together, cooperatively, on the formation of a budget and policy.

Cooperation.  That isn’t such a bad thing, is it?  Isn’t that what Democracy should be about?  We elect our officials for the good of the whole, not of the few. Majority rules.

Let’s look at the numbers from the 2008 election to put this into perspective.

In October of 2008,  58% of eligible Canadian voters aged 18+ cast their vote.  Of those voters, 38% voted for the Conservative Party; 26% for the Liberals; 18% for the NDP; 10% BQ and 7% for the Green Party.

A quick tally of the numbers show that 60% of Canadians who voted did not vote for the party that took control of the government and, essentially, us.

If there is one message I hear over and over from frustrated voters during this election it’s that they want a majority government.  Frankly they don’t care who gets it, as long as it is a majority.  They want a government who will “get stuff done”.  It begs the question then, what is so terrifying about a coalition between parties who are willing to give you that majority?  What is so reckless about it? I can tell you for certain, there is nothing illegitimate or undemocratic about it.  In fact, it is a preservation of democracy to have that option.

And it should not panic you.

Coalition governments are very common in countries such as Finland, Belgium, Germany, the United Kingdom, Israel, India and Australia, among others.  And they are successful.

Coalition governments traditionally come together if, a) the official opposition named in the results loses by a very slim margin, or b) in a time of crisis or war.  The election results are still to be seen, but if you believe our Prime Minister’s other tactic of fear, we are in danger of trouble on our own soil. “A sea of troubles is lapping at our shores.” (Insert eye roll.)

If  this is true, then I fail to see how forming a coalition – should the Conservatives only be able to win another slim minority – would be considered “reckless”, “illegitimate” or in any way scary.  It should be looked at as more of a positive action.  An action that fulfills the will of the majority.

So I say ignore the hype around the dirty “C” word that the Prime Minister drops at every single speech. (It’s getting tired.)  The only troubles “lapping at our shores” are the fake ones made by campaign advisers, spin doctors and the Prime Minister himself.

Maybe those troubles are lapping at the shores of the fake lake, because I sure don’t see them anywhere else.

An Open Letter to ALL Federal Candidates

Dear You,

Yes, you. Whether you are running for a seat as a Member of Parliament, or the role of Prime Minister, I am talking to you.

You all made a grown woman cry tonight.  Oh yes, you did.  How in the world you could have done such a thing, you’re wondering? I’ll wager when I tell you, not a single one of you will apologize or take responsibility.  It’s always his fault, or her fault, or some guy who’s been dead for 100 years’ fault.  There’s more finger-pointing going on in the House of Commons than on a street corner in New York City for crying out loud!  I watch CPAC.  I see your snarls and jeers.  Your head shaking and the disdainful drone of “Shaaaaame.”

Give it a rest. Honestly.  You are acting like children.  Nay: worse!

One of the first important lessons we teach our children is manners.  Always reminding them to mind their “p’s and q’s”, and to not interrupt while somebody else is speaking. It’s rude.

Second, we teach them the importance of honesty.  I tell my children “I’ll always be less upset knowing the truth, rather than finding out later I was lied to.”  We tell them that liars are always caught, and cheaters never prosper.

In the schools we have zero tolerance policies for bullying. No name calling, threatening words or body language, and total hands off. Repeat offenders are suspended or expelled. Zero tolerance.

These are the values we raise our youth with.

Mr. Ignatieff, when you were in London last week, I asked you a question. It was something to the effect of, “Where are we going wrong with getting the youth in Canada to vote?  How do we get them engaged and interested in politics?”

You looked me in the eye and said, “There is no silver bullet. You need to talk to them and ask what is important to them.”

So I asked, and here are a few of their replies:

“I don’t know… I don’t really know anything about politics…”

“I worry about how I’m going to afford to get an education, and if I’ll be able to find a job while I go to school.”

“I worry about the environment and the future of our natural resources.”

“What do I care? They don’t care about me.”

And the one that made me cry (which I am squarely placing the blame on all  you for):

“I don’t care. I won’t ever vote.  Every single one of them are liars, and they are only interested in themselves. They’re bullies who are just try to make everybody hate each other.  I don’t trust any one of them.”

That really upset me, and it made me cry. It made me cry because I thought, she’s right! For the most part, you are a bunch of bullies. Your playground antics are atrocious! Why should she care? Why should anyone care? Why do  I care??

This, dear sirs and madams, is where you are failing our Canadian youth.  Your example, or lack thereof.

The youth of this country doesn’t trust you. They don’t care, because they think you don’t care. They feel you all are more interested in ripping each other apart than talking about the real issue:  Us.  Canadians.  The people who elect you.  The people who entrust you with the duty to do what is best for our country.

The youth of Canada are asking you to stop acting in your own interests and start listening.  They want you to stop bickering, name calling, bullying and lying, just as we have always taught them.  They want you to lead by example and tell them you remember how it was at their age, and that you will help.  Tell them that you faced similar challenges to the ones they face, and recall the uncertainty they feel of the future that lies ahead.  Assure them you are here for them.

Talk. Relate. Listen. Engage.

If I may, I’d like to give you some advice to you all as you head out the door to campaign over the next few weeks. Please, keep these basics in mind.

1)  Mind your p’s and q’s.

2) Be honest.  Don’t cheat. Don’t lie. Don’t steal.

3) Don’t bully each other.  We are a civilized society.  Act like it.

4) Set an example for our youth. Talk to them and listen to what they have to say. They are our future.

I won’t wait for an apology from you.  You know, for making me cry tonight. I already made the wager you wouldn’t, and that’s okay.  I’m over it.  But I do hope that each and every one of you will issue an apology to the youth of Canada.  Apologize for the terrible example that you have set to date, and promise to do better in the future.

And when you make that promise, stick to it.  It’s a promise you owe to us all.

Best wishes,

Jo

Federal Politics 101: Why apathy is boring.

I think it is fitting that the first post of my new blog be about a subject that has many Canadians scratching their heads: Federal Politics 101. More specifically I want to touch on what politics mean to all of us as Canadians, and why I believe that apathy is boring.

My introduction to Federal Politics began at the age of 11, when I went door to door canvassing with my dad for Progressive Conservative candidate (and a friend/colleague of his), Ken James. My first taste of Democracy in action, dad said I charmed the voters as I handed out campaign literature with him and attended rallies. It became a regular occurrence after that. Every election, Federal or Provincial, I was on the streets with dad encouraging people to vote. (Not much has changed, save for my own personal leanings.)

My biggest thrill came in 1992, just as I was heading off to the University of Windsor to study french and spanish.  I was introduced at a PC rally to the Right Honourable,  Kim Campbell. I shook her hand and told her that one day, I hoped to become “…the second female Prime Minister of Canada.” She looked me in the eye, smiled and said, “Jo-Anne, you might be the first!”

In my first year at University, I took my inaugural “Poli Sci 101” course, Introduction to Canadian Government and Politics. I knew from the outset that this is where my heart was.  I found myself completely engrossed in the words of the Professor, Dr. Heather MacIvor (a self-proclaimed “anal retentive feminist” and extremely knowledgeable, highly intelligent woman). Preferring the Political Science studies to my languages, I made the decision before second semester to jump ship. Political Science was my calling, the languages could wait.

Here is a brief summary of the basic things I learned in that introductory class.

What are federal politics?

  • Our system of Government is  a Democracy;  Government for the people, by the people. We elect them, and they represent us.
  • The federal system in Canada is run by a Parliament; The Parliament consists of elected officials in The House of Commons, and appointed positions in the Senate. You have no say who is appointed to the Senate (and at times, very little say who leads the House).
  • Our parliamentary electoral system is modeled after the United Kingdom, and is described as “first past the post”. Candidates are run for each party in areas called “ridings”. The candidate who wins the most votes in his/her area, wins a seat in the House. The leader of the political party able to win the most seats or ridings becomes the Prime Minister. (Not too confusing, right?)
  • We are a multi-party system. Any Canadian citizen can run for office under any party banner. The major parties in Canada are the Conservative Party of Canada (formerly known as Progressive Conservatives pre Alliance, Reform and PC merge), the Liberal Party of Canada and the New Democratic Party.  It could be argued that the Bloq Québécois and Green parties are also “major” players in Canadian politics, and therefore I add them to our list, although the Bloq is centralized to Quebec, and the Green party does not hold a seat in the House of Commons.
  • This system is flawed. The majority of voters are not always represented in a “first past the post”, “multi-party” system, especially when a minority government is attained.  (I will come back to that at another time.)

Those basics should suffice as an overview. Read: enough of the boring stuff. On to the real grit.

How do Federal Politics affect me?

Federal politics have a huge effect on our daily lives.  It determines what kind of social programs we have access to, or lack thereof; how much tax money will be deducted off  our earnings, and what return we will see for those tax dollars. For example, overspending without taxation leads to deficits, creating a need for higher taxation in the future. Over taxing leads to less spending by the citizens of the country, which will also have it’s difficulties. The choice of investment for our tax dollars dictates the future of our finances both as an individual and a country. The Federal Government serves as our face on the world stage.  How we are perceived as a nation is determined not only by our own personal actions at home and abroad, but also by the actions of our  elected officials and the choices they make.

Apathy Sucks!

There is a lot riding on your vote. Please, don’t think for one minute that it doesn’t matter. It does! In a democracy it is the only voice you have to say, “I agree!” to whomever represents your interests the best.  It is a small way for you to say, “I live here, this is my home, and I know how I want to see it run!” If current events say anything to you, they should be saying, “VOTE!”. People are dying for the freedom of choice we enjoy in Canada. Literally.

Beyond just the importance of your vote is educating yourself in order to make that vote really count. My advice: don’t vote rigidly for one party because it’s your long standing tradition, or how you were raised. Vote on the issues that speak to you, regardless of party lines. Listen to what each candidate has to say. If they bore you, ask me.  I’ll tell you in layman’s terms what they are saying, how it affects you and debunk the lies.

Forget the myth that politics are boring. Politics are exciting. I’m serious!

Sports fans could equate politics to horse racing (first past the post), baseball (hitting a policy home run), or hockey (dropping the gloves and throwing a good punch at the opposition, or scoring a goal in the five hole when the other team isn’t looking).

Movie and book lovers can equate politics to a good romance, drama, mystery or sometimes, a chilling horror! Love reality TV?  Some of the so called reality shows on the boob tube are nothing compared to the drama that occurs in the House of Commons every so often. Try watching CPAC for an afternoon. The shouting and insults could curl the toes of the best “trash TV” lover.

Apathy is boring.  And it can be deadly.  If we are not careful about who we elect, it can be harmful to us as a whole.  As I stated above, politics affects us in so many ways that we need to make informed choices. Don’t vote based strictly on tradition and allegiance.  Vote on the issues that matter to you. Educate yourself on those issues and use the reasoning skills you were born with to come to a decision worthy of your time to cast that vote.

If my interest could be piqued at the age of 11 and continue with me to this day, yours can be too.  Politics do matter.  They matter to you, to me, to our parents and grandparents and most importantly to the generation that comes after us.  Our children, their children and grandchildren!  Leave your mark, and leave a legacy.  Vote.  If you don’t, well, you’re boring.