Thursday, 19 October 2017

Political Parties and their Funding in Canada

I was discussing politics online with a couple of Americans (John Eremic and Ankur Aggarwal). John mentioned that all elections were choices between two evils and that government was necessarily corrupt. My own point of view of government was more optimistic because I've never been limited to only two choices of party, and the House of Commons has always had at least two other parties weighing in on every matter. The discussion made me wonder what American politics would look like with multiple parties, in the Canadian style.
Both the Democrats and Republicans are “big tent” parties, but no-one seems particularly happy with their tent-mates. The rift between Clinton and Sanders supporters, on one side, was mirrored by the public and bitter rift between Trump supporters and the NeverTrump supporters on the other.

The last federal election in Canada was a very close three-way race until the last week or two. The parties were
1. the Conservative Party, under the leadership of The Right Honourable Stephen Harper, which had a legacy of government, a few well-publicized examples of mismanagement and prevarication, and a few tentative moves to stigmatize Muslims;
2. the New Democratic Party, under Tom Mulcair, was a socialist party that had been in second place in Parliament and tried for a breakthrough into power by moving towards the centre,
3. the Liberal Party under new leader Justin Trudeau was left-leaning centrist. In addition, there was
4. the Bloc Quebecois which campaigns on Canada’s version of State’s Rights, but only for and only in the province of Quebec, and
5. the Green Party, which finally got its first seat in Parliament in the last election.
6. There’s one Independent. There’s usually one or two of these, and I remember one vote in which the fate of the government rested on the vote of an Independent.
Now, if we map this onto the US, the Sanders supporters would split between the NDP, the Liberals, and the Green Party, but be fairly happy with their choice either way. Clinton supporters would go for the Liberals or the Conservatives. NeverTrump Republicans would go for the Conservatives. I think that Trump supporters would probably form a protest party on the right, as has happened more than once (Social Credit, Wild Rose, Reform…).

Anyone not covered might consider one of the other existing parties. The last time I bothered to check there were 22, including two Communist parties that have never elected a Member of Parliament but have contested for seats since the 1920’s. I honour their persistence.

In addition, my correspondent's sense of helplessness to alter a government could well be due to how the political parties are funded. There is no limit to the spending of groups that are not the political parties in favour or against the political parties, and the spending can be by corporations as well as by actual people. It would take many, many individuals to match the potential or actual spending of a Google or the Koch Brothers, so why, he might wonder, should an individual bother?

However, the funding of parties is quite a bit different between the United States and Canada. I believe that the Canadian rules are much fairer, and they may be surprising to an American.

Individuals may contribute funds to a party, but not corporations. The limit is $1500/year. The names of all donors of $200 or more must be released. There are generous tax credits for individuals who donate.

The government partially reimburses parties for electoral spending. How much depends on how much the national vote was attracted or how much of the vote only in the ridings in which they ran candidates. (“2 per cent of the national vote or 5 per cent of the vote in the districts in which they ran candidates receive 50 per cent of the money they spent as a reimbursement.”)

There are also spending limits in force during an election:

“Political parties may spend 73.5 cents for every voter in districts where they are running candidates. For their local campaigns, candidates may spend an amount based on the population of the district in which they are running, typically between $75,000 and $115,000. If the election campaign is longer than 36 days, as was the case in 2015, the limits for both parties and candidates are increased proportionately.

“Groups or individuals other than political parties and candidates may spend no more than $150,000 to try to persuade voters during an election, and no more than $3,000 of that may be spent in any one district. Critically, all of these limits to spending apply only during the election period — between when the writs of election have been issued (when the election is officially called) and election day.”

There is more detail here (Political Party Financing in Canada), but I think those are the highlights.

As for the media, I’ll confine my comments to the leaders’ debates. Participation in them is complicated by the number of parties, the need to have debates in both official languages, and the freedom of leaders to take part or not. In general, parties that had Members of Parliament before the election was called were invited to the debates. Here’s some detail about who came to which: Canadian federal election, 2015 - Wikipedia

I’d say that small parties get better opportunities to win a seat or two in a Westminster-style Parliament. That’s how the Greens got their first MP, by concentrating on the election of their strongest candidate in a sympathetic riding. Once you have seats, you have the ability to ask questions and propose bills in Parliament, although Private Members bills often don’t pass. You also, then, get to speak in leaders’ debates in the next election.

Social Justice

Here's my response to this quotation: "How do you respond to this Walter E. Williams quote, 'But let me offer you my definition of social justice: I keep what I earn and you keep what you earn.'"


You want to start a business. Fine. I offer you a place to start your business. It’s got plumbing and electricity. There’s a security system and a guard on call. If you have any questions about the regulations in this place, we’ve got someone with the answers you can call. This is a great place to get your business off the ground. We really hope you make a success of it.

But, you do know that all that infrastructure comes with costs, right? And the security isn’t free. And someone is paying for the staff to give you the information you need. Even the money you earn has value only because of a system that you didn’t establish, but benefit from. So what share of the money you earn belongs to the people who built and ran the place, guaranteed the security, and set up the systems? It’s got to be more than nothing, right?

Now, the roads, the water, the electricity, the laws, the courts, the government, the schools that train up the kids to make them worthwhile employees for you, the hospitals that patch them up when a work-related accident happens so they can go back to work…what’s your share of that? Because you’re sure not paying the full cost.

And if your business fails, but you don’t starve, not because of the kindness of this neighbour or that one, but because there’s a whole system we’ve collectively voted for and collectively pay for to make sure you and your family don’t starve, should you pay into that while you can? Or is it something you’ll turn up your nose at because the system is, at the moment, keeping someone else from starving?

A lot of what each person earns is owed to this “public thing” that allows us to earn. And the Latin for “public thing” is “res publica.” We often shorten it to “republic.”

Monday, 25 September 2017

Part of Iago's Motivation in Othello was that he was Spanish

Over on the Quora website, in a post by David Melinkoff, I learned something new that changes my interpretation of Iago in Shakespeare's Othello. It's that "Iago" is not an Italian name.

Iago's apparently a common name in the Galician language (a language with many similarities to Portuguese, but which is spoken in Spain). Spaniards are more likely to be called Santiago (St. James), like the old man in Hemingway's Old Man and the Sea. Alternatively, "Diego" and "Tiago" may be corruptions of Santiago. Instead of thinking "Sant Iago," people may have thought "San Tiago."

In contrast, the Italian version of "James" is "Giacomo, Iacopo or Jacopo, Giacobbe, Giacomino, Giaco, Giamo, Mino." Quite different.

The significance of Iago's ethnicity is that Moors and Spaniards have a history. To be specific, the Reconquista is a period of 780 years in which the Christians of Spain gradually "reconquered" the Muslim-ruled areas of the Iberian Peninsula. It concluded in 1492, but the relations between Christian Spain and its non-Christian subjects led to later tensions. In 1492, Moors in Granada had to convert or be expelled. In 1502, Queen Isabella made Catholic faith compulsory in Castille. In 1526, Charles V ordered the same within Aragon. Philip III systematically expelled the descendants of Muslim Moors (Moriscos) between 1609 and 1614 and succeeded in ridding his kingdom of about a quarter million of them.

This relates to Iago's motive for hating Othello, which is a problem and a half to understand. Coleridge called it "motiveless malignity." Others suggest jealousy and envy, but these do not seem to be primary motives.

However, Shakespeare most likely wrote Othello in 1603, when the long-standing antagonism between Catholics and Moors in Spain was still at work. His audience would have been well aware of it, and would not need it explained. Think of the racial slurs that Iago aims at Othello--"an old black ram," "barbary horse," "lascivious Moor." These seem to spring from a culture that is long-experienced at despising darker people. In an American context, they'd be at home in the Deep South, where racial hatred and repression have had a long history. I don't feel they would come to people as readily in a cosmopolitan city such as Renaissance Venice, though it had its own ethnic tensions.


Here is the answer I had given on the question "

Tuesday, 19 September 2017

What's Canada's Government Like?

Well, now, to answer the question of what Canada's government is like, We should know what "the government of Canada" is, exactly, right? That's a little complicated, but here it is:

Right now, the government of Canada consists of the Liberal Pary caucus, meaning all of the Members of Parliament (M.P.'s) who belong to the Liberal Party. In fact, the Liberal caucus actually holds the impressively formal title of "Her Majesty's Government" because their M.P.'s outnumber those of any other party. 

The leader of the government party is called the Prime Minister, and here's the current one, Justin Trudeau, M.P.

The Prime Minister selects a committee of his fellow caucus members to do the actual running of the government, though. They sit with him in a group called the Cabinet.

However the Cabinet and, indeed, Her Majesty’s Government, are parts of the House of Commons and are answerable to the full House.

Or, perhaps you’re thinking of Parliament itself, of which the House of Commons is only one half. The other half is the Senate.

Now, at its most inclusive, the term “Government of Canada” also includes the Governor-General, who carries out the Queen’s duties in Canada. That person is currently David Johnston.

But the Queen is the head of state

And the judicial branch of government is topped by the Supreme Court of Canada.

That’s a 2016 photo, apparently.

Canada also has a written constitution, in two parts. The Queen proclaimed them the law of the land.

That’s about it. Unless the question is about how well the government of Canada is doing these days. Well, the Opposition parties, unsurprisingly, have criticisms, but there has been a refreshing lack of moral turpitude on the part of the government since the Senate scandals got aired and dealt with, and most parts of the Liberal Party platform seem to be heading towards becoming the law of the land at a deliberate pace (TrudeauMeter).

Saturday, 26 August 2017

Does "North America" Exist? Some Say Not.

I find it frustrating at times to interact with people, especially Spanish speakers, who inform me that Canada is an American country. It sounds silly, put like that, but they learn in school that "América is a continent, from the Arctic to Tierra del Fuego. The name of the US is United States of America. Canada and all the Iberian American countries are American countries."

They are partially correct. That is the proper terminology to use in Spanish.

In English, North America (a continent) and South America (a continent) make up a unit that is either called “The Americas” or “the New World” or even “the Western Hemisphere,” but never just “America.” 
That's my assertion, which just on the face of it, has neither more nor less weight than the opposite assertion.
We could just argue about that, but I’d rather point you at one of many, many English language sources. We can start with our good friends at Wikipedia (Americas).

In modern English, North and South America are generally considered separate continents, and taken together are called the Americas in the plural, parallel to similar situations such as the Carolinas. When conceived as a unitary continent, the form is generally the continent of America in the singular. However, without a clarifying context, singular America in English commonly refers to the United States of America.

In some countries of the world (including France, Italy, Portugal, Spain, Romania, Greece, and the countries of Latin America), America is considered a continent encompassing the North America and South America subcontinents, as well as Central America
So, like I said, it’s a Spanish-language thing to call both North America and South America simply America.

The source also mentions that, in French, “America” includes North America and South America. However, the Canadian government, in its French-language usage, does not do so, but calls them Les Amériques , or “the Americas.” (Le Canada et les Amériques). Another example: L'Amérique du Nord et du Sud - IR (10.7 µm).

The National Geographic Society agrees that they are separate continents (North America: Human Geography):

North America and South America are named after Italian navigator Amerigo Vespucci. Vespucci was the first European to suggest that the Americas were not part of the East Indies, but an entirely separate landmass. The portions of the landmass that widened out north of the Isthmus of Panama became known as North America.
I don’t think you’ll find much support in recent English-language writing to the idea that “America” is a single continent. In fact, I can assure you that, in Canadian high schools (as I suspect, in American ones), the continents of North America and South America are named separately.

Wednesday, 15 February 2017

Is the White Race Superior to Others? (Short answer: No. That's Just Silly).

Here's another of my Quora writings.


“Races” of humanity do not exist as facts in nature, as anthropologists in general are happy to tell you:
With the vast expansion of scientific knowledge in this century, however, it has become clear that human populations are not unambiguous, clearly demarcated, biologically distinct groups.
You should read the whole AAA Statement on Race that quotation came from. It’s a consensus statement from the whole profession.
Physical anthropologists in particular are happy to tell you the same thing:
Pure races, in the sense of genetically homogenous populations, do not exist in the human species today, nor is there any evidence that they have ever existed in the past.
(Emphasis mine).

That’s a consensus statement by the American Association of Physical Anthropologists ( that’s worth reading so you can get a sense of what kind of variation they do find if they aren’t finding “races” as you understand them.

“Race science” is old science, man, and we’re way beyond that.

Now that I’ve cleared away the whole concept of a “white race” existing in nature, what is it exactly? It’s a cultural concept, just like the caste system of India. From outside, we can look at India and say “There’s no way to tell for sure if someone is Brahmin or Kshatriya or Untouchable by looking at them,” but the distinctions sure make sense to people in the system. Look at President Obama…everyone accepts that he belongs to the “black” race, though a full 50% of his genes came from this lady

His “black” status is a social and cultural fact, not a genetic one. If Michelle Obama were a white woman, then Malia and Sasha would still be called “black” because their father is “black.”

Wouldn’t it be interesting to reverse the rule so that anyone with a white parent were classified as “white.” In that case, the only “blacks” in the US would be recent immigrant families from Africa and the Caribbean. It makes exactly as much sense as the rule we have.

As a social and cultural fact, not a genetic one, race is of great interest to Social Anthropologists and Cultural Anthropologists and Sociologists.

Now that we’re clear on what race is (and that it’s all facts in our heads, not facts in our bodies) let’s quickly deal with whether one of these social and cultural categories, the white race, shows superiority in general over other races.

Is evidence of superiority in a country’s wealth? Well, comparative wealth all depends on the period we’re looking at. In the 15th and 16th centuries, for example, China accounted for 25%-30% of the economy of the whole world. Right now, after a bad patch, it’s back up to 17% and apparently rising. It’s following the upward path that the Japanese followed in the 19th century. (The rise, fall, and comeback of the Chinese economy over the past 800 years). Looking at another point in history, the ancestors of Iraqis had the best of everything and left a legacy of inventions that we still can’t live without: cities, writing, temples, wheeled vehicles, kings, and beer among them (Sumer). So, the superiority of European descendants in inventiveness, organization, or culture is hard to see from the facts.

How about physical superiority? Oh, there are some superb pale-skinned athletes out there, all right. How many of them can outrun this guy?

That’s Usain Bolt, if you didn’t know.

How many could out-punch this guy?

That's Muhammad Ali.

How many could out-organize a movement or out-speak this guy?

That's Martin Luther King, Jr.

Or how many could teach themselves everything from basic literacy to history, politics, and public speaking while at the same moving on an impressive theological journey, as this man did in a short life?

That's Malcolm X.

I wouldn’t put a typical white man who is convinced of his superiority against any of these extraordinary men. Do you think David Duke could match their abilities or accomplishments?

Or Craig Cobb?

Don’t make me laugh.

Someone smart once advised that we should judge people on the content of their characters, not the colour of their skins. That sounds like sensible advice to me.

Religion is a Lot Like Bouillabaise

I've been doing most of my writing for a while over on However, it can be a sad, sad day on Quora when you write what you think is a really good answer, and then the whole question gets deleted. No one will see your answer again.

So, thank heaven I have a blog.

The question is "How do mainstream Catholics defend themselves when sedevacantists and other traditionalists say this?" And the details of the question are
Catholics are supposed to try to convert other people but John Paul II and others seem to be fine with other religions and even hail them as great religions.
Here is my answer.

I’m not a Catholic, but I think I can answer the question anyway.

The Catholic Church is like a restaurant in Marseilles that makes the best Bouillabaise anywhere. Other places make fish-and-seafood soup, of course, and some of them come quite close the recipe—the one true and original recipe—that this restaurant uses. Maybe only a couple of ingredients are different, like in that Chez Lutheran place. Maybe it’s just in the seasoning, like in the Côte Anglicain. Or maybe it’s a whole different taste, like in that Mormon Place down the road, or in the Muslim Restaurant that leaves out the scorpion fish. You can’t call it bouillabaise without scorpion fish.

And this restaurant that has the best bouillabaise has the original recipe, passed down from hand to hand for time out of mind.

But here’s the thing: there’s good will among restauranteurs. Oh, a friendly rivalry, too. But come down to brass tacks and you’ll find that all of them are working their butts off for their customers every night, trying to fill them with something that is healthy and satisfying to the soul.

You don’t get on your high horse and dismiss your fellow chefs as worthless imitators, not if you have any honesty and decency in you. You might like to win some of their customers over, but if the choice is between the customers going to another restaurant and the customers going hungry, you’ll always want them to be fed.