Friday, September 21, 2007

Murray Campbell is Googlestupid

(Googlestupid: "the act of looking like a complete idiot by saying something you could have realized was completely wrong by searching the internet for less than five minutes.")

Lordy, lordy, lordy. I try to be charitable (sometimes) to political disagreement, but the anti-MMP people in the upcoming Ontario referendum just keep saying incredibly stupid things, or relying on outright fantasies. First we had Liberal diehards worrying about the NDP running a decoy list -- because the NDP is known to have buckets of cash sitting around with nothing to do, and because it's certainly not the Liberal Party that's been trying to, for example, co-opt the Green Party federally. But today's example comes from a Murray Campbell column a few days ago:
It offers the same potential to rip apart Ontario's body politic as Mr. McGuinty fears financing more religious schools would.... New parties would spring up because the threshold is so low - just 3 per cent of the vote. (Rick Mercer passed that mark in four days with his 2000 spoof of Stockwell (Doris) Day and YouTube gamers would love the challenge of persuading 135,000 voters to support a spoof party.) MMP advocates say it's speculation that parties based on religion or ethnicity would be formed but, equally, it's speculation that they wouldn't. Could Mr. McGuinty have resisted the pressure to adopt sharia law if he had needed an Islamist party to govern?
Are you kidding me? Seriously? Jesus Christ...

Here's news bulletin: According to Statistics Canada, only 3.1% of Ontarians are Muslims. (And by "news", I mean of course the 2001 census.) If you type "Muslims in Ontario" in to that obscure research tool academics call "Google", you'll find the statscan link deviously hidden in 2nd place. So, even if we insultingly assume that all of them are slavering Al Qaeda recruits in waiting, they'd still need 96% unanimously voting for an Islamist party for them to get a single seat. And exactly how many Muslim women would vote that way in a country with the secret ballot? And how many of them are children ineligible to vote? Or is Murray Campbell counting on the 1.7% of Jewish Ontarians to back up the Al Qaeda Party? And even if the Ontario muslim population has doubled since 2001, will one seat ever, in the remaining history of the Province Ontario, be enough to swing the fate of a government? Wouldn't Ontarians demand a new election instead?

On and on. Just an incredibly stupid thing to write, much less to have printed in a national newspaper. And we won't go in to the fact that Campbell is creating a Muslim boogey man, when the votes of Christian fundamentalists probably outnumber Muslim fundamentalists in Ontario by at least an order of magnitude. (There's 20 Christians for every Muslim in Ontario.) The reality is that 70% of this Province is either Catholic or Protestant. Other Christians make up another 5%, and then "no religion" makes up about 15%. So between the thoroughly-conventional Christian churches, and the atheists/agnostics, you've got 90% of the population. I don't know why Campbell decided to spin a fantasy about Ontario being reduced to an Islamic Caliphate with the tyranny of 3% of the population, but it's silly and insulting to Ontarian muslims. Not to mention Mr. McGuinty, who apparently is helpless before the Muslim hordes of Ontario.

(I just want to really, really emphasize how insulting it is to assume that any significant number of Ontario Muslims would support an Islamist party. Speculating about it in a national paper does grievous harm to Campbell's cherished "body politic" by convincing Canadian Muslims they'll never be trusted, no matter how much they assimilate. Campbell's doing far worse then MMP will ever do.)

Campbell's broader point, that MMP will "tear apart the body politic" of Ontario, deserves at least a pro-forma rebuttal. First off, the system reccomended for Ontario is explicitly modelled on the German system, a country whose body politic was forcibly ripped apart, not with elections but with tanks, concrete, and razor wire. And guess what? The German system has helped reconcile the two halves of Germany, to the point where an East German woman now leads a coalition government with the SDP. (German Muslims apparently being unable to force a Caliphate on Berlin, either.) Secondly, Rick Salutin makes the excellent point here:
Under stable provincial governments for 20 years, Ontario has been a whirligig of instability: vanishing industries, degraded services, disruptive strikes, fractured communities—largely, I'd argue, due to arrogant behaviour by governments that didn't represent the majority and didn't have to worry about it. I imagine what people really want is stability in their lives and communities. You might get more of that under a more representative, more democratic system.
It's true, Salutin here is "speculating" about the positive impact of MMP, but he's at least not creating fantastical boogeymen out of whole cloth.

Look, the press in Toronto seems to be incorrigibly anti-MMP, with only a few exceptions. I don't know why (PR, when it eventually comes to Canada, will make political reporting far more interesting) but it's there. But if we're going to have a debate about this stuff, let's please stop basing the anti-MMP arguments on total, and totally crazy, fantasies.

(I read the Campbell article after reading Salutin's column, via Chet.)


Lord Kitchener's Own said...

I swear, one of the best reasons to vote for MMP is the shear stupidity of many (though not all) of those arguing against it.

And you don't even tear down his comparison to the Mercer petition. Does Campbell REALLY think that it's as easy to get 3% of the population to go out to the polls on election day to vote en masse for a party in a vote that actually matters as it is to collect the signatures of 3% of the voters on a joke petition that doesn't matter at all??? Sure Murray. Tell us another one.

Declan said...

You have a typo in your post title. You seem to have accidentally inserted the letters "google" in front of the final word.

I recall (OK, google recalls) that when Campbell wrote (back in 2004) about the STV system proposed in B.C., he argued that the system might too closely reflect the will of the people which was bad because, "the best argument against democracy is a five-minute conversation with the average voter."

With regards to his recent article you link to, which is pretty absurd, even by Campbell's high standards (for absurdity), my favourite part was the 6th paragraph:

"The complaint is that FPTP over-rewards the parties that form governments. The classic example is from 1990, when the New Democratic Party won 57 per cent of the legislative seats with just 37 per cent of the vote. In 2003, the Liberals won 70 per cent of the seats with 46 per cent of the ballots cast. It's lamentable only in a world where every student is the class scholar and every player on a sports team is an MVP. The reality is that in both those cases, voters got the change they were looking for."

I mean, it doesn't even begin to make any sense whatsoever.

The first sentence incorrectly asserts that there is only complaint about FPTP.

The second and third sentences relate the factual evidence that supports the one complaint Campbell has chosen to acknowledge the existence of.

The fourth sentence asserts that having a legislature whose composition does not reflect what people voted for is only an issue in a world in which so many awards are handed out that the awards become meaningless, and that, since we are not living in a world where awards have proliferated in this manner, therefore this is not an issue (QED).

Finally, the fifth sentence asserts that "the reality is" that voters got the change they were looking for, even though all the facts previously introduced in the paragraph (sentences 2 and 3) demonstrate irrefutably that voters did not actually get what they were voting for. Really, the whole thing is pure lunacy.

Lord Kitchener's Own - you understate the inanity of Campbell's Doris Day comparison. As you indicate, what Campbell is saying is that Mercer would have had the same chance of getting that many signatures even if signing his petition had meant foregoing your vote in the next election.

What Campbell fails to grasp (see my first paragraph) is the distinction between everyday life where people can do many things (sign a petition for Rick Mercer, link to a youtube video, join 5 facebook groups, be a Muslim, etc.) and an election in which you only get *one* choice among competing options.

There are a lot of people out there with a poor grasp of the issues, an inability to form logical arguments, a strong streak of irrationality in the positions they take, and a desire to persuade rather than inform the people they talk/write to. What discourages me is how many of these people seem to have jobs as political pundits for major media outlets.