After showing very little interest in the topic for the last year or so the media are in a tizzy because Justin Trudeau finally stuck a fork into the cooked goose of electoral reform. Nathan Cullen, the NDP’s advocate for disposing of first past the post (FPTP) called Trudeau a liar. Many commentators went with that characterization, adding electoral reform to a growing list of broken promises, ranging from the trivial (the budget deficit) to the weighty (climate change and aboriginal rights).

Abandoning efforts to scrap FPTP was a disappointment and the way the Liberals made the scuttling public – through Trudeau’s “mandate letter” to a new minister –was sneaky, dealing a crippling blow to any notion he will do politics differently. However, it was not surprising. As I wrote back in July , getting rid of FPTP would have required Trudeau spending a lot of political capital. And that disbursement would have been for either a reform the Liberals fear – mixed-member proportional representation – or for the ranked ballot, which the Liberals want but most advocates of electoral reform reject.

So despite Trudeau’s well-known (and much replayed pledge) “2015 will (NOT) be the last federal election conducted under the first-past-the-post voting system.” And that’s too bad. Not only are the Liberals kissing off the idealistic notion of “making every vote count”, leaving FPTP in place has a distinct downside. As I argued in my July piece, FPTP in a multi-party system encouraged the kind of divisive politics we saw during the 2015 election campaign.

“The campaign strategy was a doubling down of the game plan the Harperites had been following since winning a majority of seats in 2011 – stay in power by keeping your supporters happy while taking advantage of FPTP and a divided opposition. That approach of firing up the base while ignoring the concerns of the majority of Canadians was evident in many policy areas, notably foreign affairs, the environment, First Nations, corrections and culture.”

And, as the NDP has frequently discovered at election time, when the Conservatives lurch to the right, center-left voters tend to flock to the Liberals to keep the scary Tories out. That phenomenon, combined with Trudeau’s personal appeal, left the Atlantic region as a glaring example of the deficiencies of the FPTP. The Liberals won all of the seats with about 60% of the vote across the four provinces, leaving not a single Conservative, New Democrat (or Green) in the House of Commons to raise regional issues on behalf of those hundreds of thousands of voters who did not support Liberal candidates.

Depending on how strong the hard right is coming out of this spring’s Conservative leadership race, the same polarizing dynamic could well continue in 2019. But even if it doesn’t, the Liberals already have their bogeyman in Donald Trump. Trudeau apologists are excusing his broken electoral reform vow by characterizing that issue as a distraction from the real business at hand, dealing with the Trump administration. The next federal election is a long time from now but we may be getting a preview of the Liberals’ preferred strategy – presenting their guy as the only one to defend “progressive” Canadian values against the nutbar in Washington.


Culture shock

Annual employment numbers for 2016 came out the other day from Statistics Canada, showing further significant job losses in the Information, Culture and Recreation (ICR) sector in Nova Scotia. That industry classification includes what’s left of our film and video production industry. In 2016, monthly employment in ICR in this province averaged 16,200, down from 17,500 in 2015 and 19,200 in 2014. That loss of 3,000 jobs since 2014 represents a 15.6% drop, the steepest in any of the industry classifications reported for Nova Scotia in CANSIM 282-0008.

In addition to film and video production the classification includes activities such as broadcasting, publishing, libraries, archives and artistic productions. So the downturn likely cannot be attributed only to the provincial Liberal government’s ill-advised ransacking of the film tax credit. But there’s no doubt the ICR sector in Nova Scotia is in trouble. Since 2014, only two other provinces (Newfoundland and Quebec) have experienced a drop – relatively modest – in employment in the sector. Across the country, there has been an increase in employment of 25,000, led by Saskatchewan, which enjoyed nearly a 24% increase in jobs from 2014 to 2016 and British Columbia, which went up almost 18%. Here are the numbers, going from  east to west.

               2014        2016        % change

NL           7500       7100          -5.3%

PEI          2600      2600           0.0%

NS          19200    16200        -15.6%

NB          11000    12400          12.7%

Que      181900   179500       –  1.3%

Ont      316500   318000          0.5%

Man       21800     23300         6.9%

Sask       16500     20400        23.6%

Alta       72500      76300           5.2%

BC       107700   126600           17.5%

It  may be that provincial policies are not at fault for the job loss. It could be the result of people going to Chase the Ace, the impact of Chronicle-Herald strike or folks staying home to watch Netflix. But whatever the cause, it looks like our cultural industries are having a tough time keeping up with other provinces. Perhaps our low-profile Minister of Communities, Culture and Heritage has an explanation.