Thursday, April 17, 2014

Schadenfreude

Nation, it's been an interesting few months to be me, politically-speaking. We'll talk more about that soon - I promise.

What hit my radar yesterday was the news that 53 Alberta Liberal constituency associations - including 2 with sitting MLA's - and 3 Wildrose associations, including that of sitting Little Bow MLA and noogie participant Ian Donovan, missed a mandatory filing deadline with Elections Alberta and were subsequently de-registered.

The partisan "dance of joy" began almost immediately on social media, with opponents (mostly PCs and New Democrats) eager to point out how utterly disorganized and amateurish these associations must be to miss a mandatory deadline from Elections Alberta, and how terribly embarrassing it must be.

Yes, I imagine it is pretty embarrassing. And you should probably shut up now.

The reality is, most constituency associations are run by well-intentioned amateurs. Regular, average people who just want to participate in the democratic process and make their province better. People like me. And you. And your parents. And their neighbours. Most of them aren't experts in board governance. Or accountants. Or lawyers. Or experts in the application of Robert's Rules of Order.

They're just doing the best they can to participate. They're doing the heavy lifting in between elections so you and I can show up on election day and vote for a candidate representing the party of our preference.

And you know what? Those amateurs - US amateurs - make mistakes. None of the associations I'm involved with missed this particular deadline, but that's not because I'm some super-genius backroom political organizer (I'm not). It just as easily COULD have been one of my associations. People miss deadlines. There are things we amateurs just flat-out don't know how to do. And if our central party office doesn't have staff who can help us keep track and get things squared away under the wire - or we don't have the time to figure it out ourselves - deadlines get missed. There might be a chance to criticize a party's paid staff as result of this situation, but even that is like scoring in the 10 point ring on "SkeeBall" - your political drinking buddies might "cheers" your Tweet, but voters don't care, and you just come across as cheap.

At the end of the day, what happened with this deadline could just as easily have happened to any association, anywhere in the province. And going out of your way to make fun of groups of volunteers who are trying their level best, with absolutely no financial return for their efforts whatsoever, is the lowest form of sleazy politics.

It's an embarrassing situation all right. But not for who you THINK should be embarrassed.

Savage: 10-35.

Thursday, January 16, 2014

Cats and Dogs Living Together

Happy New Year, Nation.

And what better way to start off the new year than with a nomination battle in the freshly-minted federal electoral district association of the Calgary Signal Hill Conservatives?

Signal Hill is a new constituency encompassing much of the current constituency of Calgary West - represented in Parliament since the Spice Girls hit "Wannabe" topped the charts by Rob Anders.

Mr. Anders' CV is readily available elsewhere on the net, and doesn't need to be repeated here.

Anders, 3 short years before being elected to represent the people of Calgary West

The recent announcement of yet another in a long line of "Oust Anders" campaigns was capped off today with the formal entry of Ron Liepert, former Alberta Cabinet Minister, as standard-bearer for the "timetodobetter.ca" movement. The argument put forth by the group is that they support Prime Minister Harper and the Conservative Party of Canada, but want a better representative for their riding than Rob Anders has been.

Anders, as he has successfully done in the past, leapt to the offensive, labeling the group disaffected "Red Tories" and accusing them of trying to sign up Liberals, New Democrats, and "fellow travelers" in an effort - orchestrated by minions of Alberta Premier Alison Redford, herself a former Anders challenger -  to take his job away as retribution for his support of the provincial Wildrose Party.

And for the better part of a week, Anders' strategy worked. Again. The entire conversation focused not on Anders and what he has or has not done for the people he represents, but rather on what a Red Tory was - and whether Ron Liepert was one. Discussions of "red vs. blue" in Alberta don't usually end up well for the person who is unsuccessful in labeling themselves as the blue candidate.

While historical Red Toryism is an entirely different kettle of fish, the reality remains that there is, and always has been, a large contingent of Red Tories in the Conservative Party of Canada. When the party was founded out of the union of the Canadian Alliance and Progressive Conservative Parties, many of the former PC's fell into this more socially moderate camp. Nationally, Red Tory has come to mean someone who is fiscally conservative, yet socially liberal. 

Now, different provinces foster different environments for people to identify themselves within, politically speaking. Someone who would be an Alberta PC might find themselves a BC Liberal, or a member of the Saskatchewan Party. Wildrose Party members who moved to Regina would likewise find themselves as SaskParty members with their former Alberta PC foes, but if they moved to BC they might be more comfortable in the BC Conservative Party. It's all a matter of what parties are available to choose from, who's been leading them, and what real estate on the political spectrum they've staked out their claim on.

In Alberta provincial politics, the distinction between "Red Tory" and "Blue Tory" comes down, usually, to 2 things: Their social politics, and their attitude towards short-term debt. Social conservatism and social liberalism are pretty self-explanatory - even in Alberta - so we don't need to beat those to death. A Red Tory, though, might find it acceptable to borrow in the short-term - say, build a badly-needed overpass and pay it back over 5 years - while an Alberta Blue Tory would smack that Red Tory in the face with his framed picture of Ralph Klein and declare that public debt is stealing from future generations.

Detractors of Red Tories in Alberta would tell you that they are "Liberals in blue shirts" - people who, if they had the courage of their convictions, would come out as small-l liberals and accept that they'll never get elected in Alberta. Red Tories, therefore, are liberals who try to sneak their way into government, watering down the "true conservative" nature of the governing PC Party.

Supporters of the Red Tories would point out that policies that have come out of supposed Red Tory governments like those of Peter Lougheed and Alison Redford would be about as far right-wing as anyone in any other province would dare tread as the government. So, Red by Alberta standards, but plenty Blue compared to the rest of the nation.

And herein lies the crux of Anders' argument: He's trying to paint Ron Liepert as being a Red Tory, because:
  • Ron Liepert was a provincial PC and was in cabinet under Alison Redford, and
  • Ron Liepert broke the First Commandment of Alberta politics and talked in public about a sales tax, and
  • Ron Liepert is socially to the left of Rob Anders.

Are all of the above things true? Sure they are. Liepert WAS in Cabinet under Redford - then again, so was Ted Morton, and Anders supported Morton for the PC Leadership. Liepert DID talk about a provincial sales tax. As a means of reducing the provincial Income Tax, so that people would be taxed on what they consume rather than being punished for their productivity - it's one of the fundamental principles of fiscal conservatism. And Liepert IS to the left of Rob Anders. Along with Attila the Hun, Genghis Khan, and the vast majority of Canadians.

But is Liepert a Red Tory?

No. No, he's not. He's about as Blue as you can get before you enter the "Anders Zone" - and that's pretty blue. Think "#0B0B3B".

Is Liepert a recent addition to the Conservative movement?

No. He started working for Peter Lougheed in 1980, when Anders was 8 years old.

Does the Red Tory/Blue Tory thing MATTER?

No, it doesn't. Political parties are the creation of their members. As such, they shift politically - sometimes slowly, and sometimes quickly. Old members leave. New members join. Members switch from one party to another, based on this issue or that issue. Many of the members of the Reform Party started off as federal PCs, before leaving that party. When they left they took their voices and viewpoints with them, and the party shifted to the left. By the time the descendant Canadian Alliance and the federal PCs merged, there wasn't much uniting the parties in common purpose except for the belief that debt was to be avoided if possible, and that they needed to come back together if they ever wanted to be able to defeat the Liberals, who had been handily winning majority governments for the past decade.

So they came together. They took away the Liberal majority government, and reduced it to a minority government. And then they won a minority government themselves. And then another. And finally a majority, in 2011. 

In the end, what we have on the right side on the spectrum in Canada is a monolithic, HUGE-tent party, called the Conservative Party of Canada. There are social moderates, and social conservatives. People who believe in a woman's right to choose, and people who believe life begins at conception. People who believe that short-term debt is acceptable, and people who will fight you if you suggest they pay for dinner with a credit card rather than cash. 

In much of the west, including most of Alberta, securing a nomination for the CPC all but guarantees a seat as an MP. What we're seeing in Calgary Signal Hill isn't an effort by a carpet-bagger to swoop in to the riding and steal the seat away from a popular incumbent. It's democracy in action - a new riding, requiring a new nominee for the party. Party members will decide who that nominee will be. And it very well may be that Anders overcomes this challenge, as he has so many times before. But every citizen in Calgary Signal Hill is entitled to join whatever political party they choose, no matter what Rob, or you, or I, think about it. There's no blood test that proves conservatism, and - contrary to Anders' argument, you CAN be a conservative, and support Stephen Harper, and STILL not support Rob Anders.

At the end of the day, the people decide.

Red or Blue, it doesn't matter. After all: We're just one big, happy Conservative Family...

Right?

Monday, October 21, 2013

It's Up To You, Calgary... #yycvote

Nation, in about 12 hours, this day is going to get pretty dark.

A lot of good people, who poured their hearts and passions into this municipal election campaign, will see themselves looking at the wrong end of a result. These people - who I believe want very much to make Calgary a better place - are going to be crushed. Trust me: I know a little bit about it. They have my sincere sympathies, and my thanks today for having the courage to step forward in the first place.

And yet, I do not despair. Because for all the good people who will NOT see their dreams of elected office come to fruition tonight, there will be 29 who DO (in fairness, 2 have already been acclaimed in the Calgary Catholic school board race).

I'm not going to say that I'll agree with the decisions they all make. I remain singularly unimpressed with the unwillingness of the CBE's elected trustees, with the exception of a small few, to embrace the idea that greater oversight needs to be exercised to ensure students are being given every opportunity to succeed. Likewise, I find some of the social engineering brainstorms to come from City Hall to be unnecessary uses of my tax dollars.

But here's the thing: This is a democracy. I don't HAVE to like who everyone else votes for. I don't have to quietly accept what these governing bodies look like - nor do I intend to - but, I have faith in my fellow citizens to make the right choice for themselves, and for all of us... whether or not it's the choice I would have made.

MY track record of making important decisions, after all, is far from perfect. I've made some poor choices in the past. If we're being fair, I think it's safe to say we ALL have. Luckily, not all of them have ended up running the city.

So here's my plea to you: Get informed. If you haven't already done so, check out your Ward Profiles or candidate interviews on CalgaryPolitics.com. Look up your candidate information of CalgaryDemocracy.ca. Read the blogs. Read the papers. Read the websites. Take in that information, and don't let anyone else tell you how to vote. Don't trust any site that gives the candidates a "grade" - that's YOUR job. Go to the polls, and make your choice. That's how the system works. That's the ONLY way the system works.

It's up to you, Calgary.


Monday, July 29, 2013

Tip Of The Hat, Wag Of The Finger...

Nation, I've spent a LOT of time over the past months sitting quietly, just... observing.

I have been astonished, inspired, and disgusted by some of the reactions I saw to recent events in this province and elsewhere. Let's take a walk down memory lane, shall we?

TIP OF THE HAT:


Calgary to Mother Nature: "You're Not The Boss Of Us!". Calgarians come together - friends, neighbours, and total strangers - and rebuild neighbourhoods. Take a breather and grab a few longnecks for the Stampede that no one thought could be pulled off. And then throw the rubber boots right back on and get back to work. I love this town.

Politicians (mostly) Hammer Their Swords Into Plowshares. In the aftermath of the Flood of 2013, most politicians of every stripe put their partisanship on the back burner, and come together to try and help the people whose lives were turned upside down. Those who try to score points are almost universally derided.

Drunk Driving Deaths Decrease. The province attributes the reduction to new provincial legislation. Critics suggest fuzzy math or random chance is responsible. Either way, fewer people are dying as a result of drinking & driving. And that's a GOOD thing.

WAG OF THE FINGER:


If It Bleeds, It Leads. Faced with an overwhelming number of "good news stories" to cover coming out of the floods, some media outlets go out of their way to find tragic stories - or try to manufacture outrage.

Darwin's Law Cannot Be Invoked in Calgary. Left with little he's allowed to say on family-friendly airwaves to describe people trying to recreate on rivers that are clearly deathtraps, Calgary Mayor Naheed Nenshi leaves the descriptions to our collective imagination, giving birth to the Twitter meme "Nenshi's Nouns".

The Edmonton Eskimos Football Club. Just because. Come on, fellas - get it together.


I'm going to be writing a lot more in the coming weeks and months, though things are going to take a decidedly municipal slant in the next while, with Election Day less than 3 months away. Keep an eye on this space - and on the juggernaut of the blogosphere, CalgaryPolitics.com - for all your Calgary Municipal Election coverage. The Mainstream Media is cutting jobs, but CP has actually EXPANDED this year, with more writers than ever providing news, commentary and opinion (from EVERY angle and spot on the political spectrum!) to help you familiarize yourself with your options ahead of October 21st.

Remember: Every vote counts, and the mission at CalgaryPolitics is to make sure every vote can be an INFORMED one.





Wednesday, June 19, 2013

You say "tow-MAY-tow", I say "tow-MAH-tow"...

Never a shortage of things to talk about, is there, Nation?

Just a shortage of time in which to do so.


  • Health Care has been a big topic of discussion in Alberta as of late (yes, bigger than usual), with the announcement (re-announcement? re-re-re-announcement?) of 24 locations for Family Care Clinics to be set up...  eventually. I'm sure there will be an announcement.
  • Cuts to programming for Persons with Developmental Disabilities (or "PDD", for people who prefer to frame those cuts as attacks against the people rather than programs) have drawn a lot of ire from opposition politicians looking to draw media attention during the dry summer months.
  • Fred Horne went all "Chuck Norris" on the board of Alberta Health for their refusal to follow his instructions regarding pay-out of contractual bonuses to non-union executives. Critics have decried this as political interference in the management of the system. My father would call it a study in "the Golden Rule": He who controls the gold, makes the rules. And since it's MY gold - and yours - I'm glad someone is finally showing a willingness to say "No. Health - you've had enough cookies. No more. You'll spoil your dinner."

The last Health Care-related bit I wanted to touch on today is the insane argument I'm hearing about whether certain services should be delivered by not-for-profit entities, for-profit corporations, local organizations, out-of-province outfits... you know the one I mean.

Are we seriously debating this?

The service should be provided by the organization that can provide the best service with the greatest value to taxpayers. All stop.

To borrow a phrase from the late Ralph Klein, I don't give a tinker's damn if it's the local Shriners club or a giant health care company with headquarters in Chicoutimi or Cincinnati... can they provide the service, and can they provide value for our tax dollars?

It's that simple.

The front-line staff - the people on the ground, providing service - live in Alberta. Nobody's driving from Kelowna to Calgary every morning to work as a nurse. So the argument about keeping tax dollars in Alberta is a red herring - the people getting paychecks to perform these tasks DO live here. Beyond which, it's also a complete and utter distraction from what the real issue should be: Are people getting the quality health care they need, as quickly as is feasible? I don't care if the money goes to Drayton Valley or Abu Dhabi... the health system isn't a wealth distribution mechanism. It's a system built to provide medical services to the people of Alberta. Where the money goes is so secondary a concern as to be laughable.

I understand that people are concerned about their jobs, and the jobs of their loved ones. I would be too. But as a province, we have to accept that the health care system is broken. The days of it swallowing up every job even remotely related to health provision and making it a full-time, salaried government position are long past.

Can you provide the service, and can you do so in a cost-effective way, respecting that every dollar spent is a dollar that belongs to the people of Alberta?

If your answer to both questions is "yes", I couldn't care less what area code your CEO's business card has on it.

Let's get to work.

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Boston

As news first trickled in, and then came as a torrent, about the bombings in Boston yesterday, my thoughts naturally turned to the morning of September 11th.

Not to the horror of those minutes and hours. And not to the feelings of fear or helplessness that I felt on that day as I watched my nice, safe, innocent naïveté disappear in clouds of fire, smoke and dust.

No, my thoughts yesterday turned to the people of the greater Boston area. In the aftermath of September 11th, the whole world saw the resilience of the people of New York as they dug out from the rubble and reclaimed their way of life. They heard the inspirational stories of New York's Finest, and New York's Bravest, and thousands of New Yorkers pulling together to make it through the dark days that followed the attacks.

One of the most touching things about that recovery was, to me, the way the people of Boston reached out and threw everything they had into helping their New York cousins. The rivalry between New York and Boston is legendary - but when New York most needed help, it was the people of Boston who jumped to their aid, without question or hesitation. "The Yankees still suck. What do you need?"

The men and women of Boston and of Massachusetts are the descendants of people who looked down the barrel of the greatest military power in the world and said "Bring it on, you're not holding us down." They took up arms against the imperial might of Great Britain, led a revolution, and won their freedom.

Cowards with gym bags and pressure cookers full of shrapnel can't hold down the people of Boston. The full weight of King George's army couldn't keep them down - and neither will this.

They'll stand up, and will keep fighting. Boston always does. They don't know how to quit, and they never have.

EDIT, 4 pm: The New York Yankees posted this photo of Yankee Stadium on Facebook earlier. Clearly, the people of New York remember how Boston helped them in their hour of need better than I. That's family: You don't always like each other, and you fight like hell - but you're still family.

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

The MacKinnon/Dial Exchange

Nation, every so often as you're surfing through the ether of social networking, you stumble across proof that it is possible to disagree about an issue without coming to blows, putting together a snotty inforgraphic or proving Godwin's Law.

This was the case for me a few weeks ago, when I saw an exchange between two University of Calgary 3rd-year Law students on Facebook regarding the Idle No More movement.

Now, I'm still working through my feelings on the movement as a whole. What's making it harder for me is the notion pushed by a small but strident segment of the activists that, as a Canadian of European descent, I am to be referred to as a "settler", and if I levy any criticism towards the movement or its leaders or tactics, I'm automatically therefore (at best) ignorant of my own racial prejudices, or (at worst) a closeted racist.

As I said, though, the morons advocating those extreme positions are but a small segment of the movement as a whole, so I'm trying not to judge their entire enterprise based on the loony-tunes opinions of a few. :)

This is the exchange between Alastair MacKinnon and Josh Dial, with notations and links to same by a fellow 3rd-year Law student. MacKinnon is, by the way, the Law School Debate Champion as of a few days ago. But I could still TOTALLY take him. ;)

MacKinnon/Dial, notations by MO, begins now.

___________________________________________________




MO: Alastair posted this link, which sparked his debate with Josh Dial.







JD: Virtually everything in the article regarding consultation is complete nonsense, and has no basis in law, despite what Professor McNeil thinks.

The Crown is not the legislative branch, despite what many think. The legislature has the power to make and unmake laws as it chooses. On this point, Hogg says, "there are no limits to legislative power; there is no fundamental law which cannot be altered by ordinary parliamentary action."

In [Re:Anti-Inflation Act, [1976] 2 SCR 373], Chief Justice Laskin wrote that "[t]he answer to this submission is simple, and it is an answer that has been consistently given by the Courts, namely, that the wisdom or expendiency or likely success of a particular policy expressed in legislation is not subject to judicial review. Hence, it is not for the Court to say in this case that because the means adopted to realize a desirable end, i.e., the containment and reduction of inflation in Canada, may not be effectual, those means are beyond the legislative power of Parliament."

Of course, Parliament and legislatures are constrained by a number of factors, including federalism, the constitutional amending process, the Charter, and Aboriginal rights under s. 35 of the Constitution Act, 1982. However, the duty to consult is not a right, but a duty.

If the Bill's effects lead to situations where the Crown fails to discharge its duty to consult, then Aboriginal groups will have an action. However, Parliament owes no such duty of consultation when drafting or proposing or voting on the legislation itself, and therefore Aboriginal groups have no justified claim in that regard. Even if the Bill specifically targeted the duty of consultation, there would still be no claim on that ground--the government would instead have to justify (and fail) the legislation as per Sparrow.

Is Parliament now to consult on every bill? Clearly things like criminal and tax legislation will have specific implications for Aboriginals.




AM: It’s a little overzealous to say that there is no basis in law... unless of course you think that decisions of the [Supreme Court of Canada (SCC)] interpreting the constitution with respect to Aboriginal rights does not amount to law... then I suppose you might be correct. But so long as we are still in a common law system, I should think that the SCC pronouncements on Aboriginal rights are binding legal authority.

There needs to be a distinction drawn between the sovereign powers of parliament to pass bills and the Crown's duty to consult. In my reading of the blog post, there is no suggestion that it was beyond Parliament's power to pass Bill C-45. Indeed there can be no doubt that Bill C-45 followed the proper legislative process to become a law in this land. The argument is that, notwithstanding that proper legislative procedure was followed, the outcome may not be constitutionally valid. In this respect, it is no different than when Parliament passes a law that violates the Charter and is subsequently struck down. The fact that a bill gets three readings in both houses does not magically turn a substantively unconstitutional law in to a constitutionally valid one.

Furthermore, the fact that bill goes through the proper legislative process does not absolve the Crown of its duty to consult. Let’s pause for a moment and remember our Hofheld: we will all recall that the correlative to a Duty is… that’s correct… a Right! If the Crown has a duty to consult, it’s because Aboriginals have a right to be consulted. It cannot be ignored that Bill C-45 was moved by Ministers of the Crown. Also, legislative enactments are acts of the Crown; the preamble of every Act reads... " Her Majesty, by and with the consent of...." and of course we are all familiar with the requirement of a Bill to receive royal assent before it becomes a law. While each Member of Parliament may not be an agent of the Crown, the outcome of the legislative process is an Act of the Crown. Parliament may pass bills without affording the Crown an opportunity to consult, but it doesn't mean that the duty disappears after Parliament has acted, nor that there are no consequences on the validity of Parliaments act as a result of the failure.

So to conclude, the quarrel does not appear to me to be between Parliament and First Nations, but between the Crown and First Nations. Because the Crown chose not to consult, and because Parliament chose to pass the bill anyways, Parliament's action may be struck down as a result of the Crown's failure. This is not unjust, or undemocratic; it is a function of constitutionalism, and the requirement that when government's act they do so in compliance with their constitutional obligations.




JD: I am in complete agreement with you on your second paragraph (which is why I confined my post to consultation). I'm pretty sure I made the necessary concessions to the constraints of law-making in my post.

However, the fact that legislation is assented to by [Her Royal Highness (HRH)], contains magical words, and may be moved by Ministers (who are the Crown) does not make legislation an action contemplated by and captured by the duty to consult. Elected members of the lower house are not the Crown (I would hasten to add that HRH and "the Crown" are not always the same thing-- it's a very fine distinction, but it's there). Members of Parliament may table, vote, defeat, and pass whatever legislation they choose, without the requirement to consult Aboriginals as to the content or effects of the legislation. Parliament's Members don't have to consult anyone else when they pass legislation-- they'll live or die at the polling station later. Why should they have to specifically consult with Aboriginals?

*Implementing* legislation will most certainly attract the duty to consult. *Drafting* and *passing* legislation does not.

Again I would ask: must Parliament consult with every Aboriginal band in all of Canada, when it wishes to pass an act potentially affecting them, such as an act regarding criminal law or taxation? If the effects would be large, is more than mere notice required? Is deep consultation?

What about appropriations bills? Must Parliament consult for every budget now if it affects an Aboriginal or treaty right (which they surely could)?

If a bill is scheduled for a vote, and no consultation has occurred or is likely to occur, can an Aboriginal group seek an injunction prohibiting the vote or rendering it ineffective?




See also R v Lefthand, 2007 ABCA 206 (leave to SCC denied), where the Court said, at para 38, "There can however be no duty to consult prior to the passage of legislation, even where aboriginal rights will be affected..."

Also at para 38: "[i]t would be an unwarranted interference with the proper functioning of the House of Commons and the Provincial Legislatures to require that they engage in any particular processes prior to the passage of legislation. The same is true of the passage of regulations and Orders in Council by the appropriate Executive Council. Enactments must stand or fall based on their compliance with the constitution, not based on the processes used to enact them."




AM: The problem isn't that parliament passed the bill, it’s that the Crown failed to consult when it proposed action which it knew would impact on actual and claimed aboriginal rights. I concede that Parliament is free to pass any bill, at any time, for any reason(s) it sees fit. But if the agents of the Crown (i.e. ministers) should have consulted and failed to do so, and parliament chooses to pass the legislation nonetheless, then Parliament takes the risk that their legislation will subsequently be struck down on judicial review. I take your point that there is a distinction to be made between passing legislation and implementing legislation. There cannot, I should think, be any constraint on the former, while there can undoubtedly be limits placed on the later.

While the House of Commons as an institution may not have the duty to itself undertake the consultations, such consultations may nevertheless be a constitutional pre-requisite. It’s trite to say that Parliament must comply with the constitution when passing laws; if it fails to abide by the constitution -- be it for jurisdictional reasons, non-compliance with the Charter, or passing legislation which will in consequence result in a violation of aboriginal rights protected by the constitution -- then it does so at its own peril. I think the issue that that the Idle No More movement takes with Bill C-45 is not that parliament exercised its legislative sovereignty to pass a Bill, but that failure to consult when the implementation can have foreseeable consequences on Aboriginal rights will not allow for any sort of meaningful consultation and accommodation when the changes are presented as a fait-accompli.

I was not previously aware of the Lefthand decision, but I would note that in para 37, the [Alberta Court of Appeal (ABCA)] says that the duty to consult is still "being hammered out on the anvils of justice." Admittedly, Lefthand appears to stands as an authority against the position that I would advocate and the position that the Idle No More movement would argue. But one decision from the ABCA hardly settles the matter, and all that can be inferred from the leave application being denied is that the SCC chose not to hear the appeal. It is at least arguable that the duty to consult should be extended to situations like Bill C-45, and there is sound legal authority upon which to make such arguments. Whether the arguments will prevail at the end of the day or not I do not know, and there can be valid debate about whether Idle No More ought to succeed.




JD: I think you are giving the Idle movement more credit than it is due, honestly--indeed your fait-accompli statement is probably more nuanced than the actual position

Every single release/petition/letter I've read (I think I'm up to about thirty, now) specifically mentions how the government (always says government, and not Crown) owes a duty to consult and accommodate (says accommodate, not "where necessary, accommodate") when it wrote, voted on, and passed the bill. Full stop.

In my opinion, if Aboriginal groups want to argue that by passing specific legislation, Parliament has effectively pre-empted effective consultation (or otherwise prevented it from occurring), they will have an action when there is a prima facie case of failure to discharge the duty (or when the legislation runs afoul of the Sparrow test, etc). If the legislation is indeed so bad, then it ought to be a very easy case to make!

In effect, if Parliament wants to make it even easier to be found in breach of the duty to consult, then it can do so, to its own detriment. I'm more than happy to cast my vote against an MP who insists on voting for such bills.

Lefthand is correct that the duty is still being hammered out, and to that end, the Aboriginal groups certainly have a right to test the law and make it do work for them. However, I stand by my view that as regards the consultation question, they are wrong both in law and policy (see my questions above for the policy implications).

Good debate though, sir! Always entertaining!




AM: Indeed, its always a pleasure!



____________________________________________________

So, what say you, Nation? Are you with Josh, who puts forth that the Idle No More assertion that no consultation on C-45 makes it invalid is, in fact, incorrect? Or do you agree with Alastair, that the failure to consult at the legislative stage impacts the ability of First Nations to be consulted during implementation?

Or, can we all just agree that Omnibus bills are fundamentally undemocratic, and lead inevitably to pork barrel spending and legislative takeovers by Special Interests, like we see in the legislatures of our friends to the South? ;)

Argue the Law, not the politics, s'il vous plait.

GO!  

Thursday, December 20, 2012

#ABLegCares... it really, really does.

Oh, what a night.

Politicos, tweeps, MLA's, and just general decent folks from all over the place pledged $4,851 last night. The anonymous donor that Shane had rounded up committed to doubling that number, bringing the total donation to Inn From The Cold up to $9,702. Add all of the items that Shane has received as donations from across the political spectrum during December, and you get more than $10,000.

Nights like last night are why I fell in love with politics in the first place.

We had a New Democrat, a Liberal, an Alberta Party member, a PC, and a Wildroser sitting down together, committing gastronomical atrocities together in the name of charity. We worked TOGETHER, and in one night raised almost $10,000 for Calgarians in need. Truly a Christmas miracle.

For those of you keeping score, or who pledged and want to know what you're on the hook for, here was the final damage:

  1. Vincent St Pierre (Alberta Liberals) - 24 tacos (yes, seriously) 
  2. Joey Oberhoffner (Progressive Conservatives) - 15 tacos (14 hours later, I still have no interest in eating)
  3. Derrick Jacobson (Wildrose) - 41 chicken wings (at 3 wings/taco, we'll round up to 14 tacos)
  4. Marc Doll (Alberta Party) - 13 tacos (at $100 in pledges PER TACO)
  5. Stephen D. Anderson (NDP) - 10 tacos (before driving back to Edmonton)

You can make your donations directly to Inn From The Cold, through this link and clicking on "Donate Now".

The largest donations came from supporters of Derrick, the Wildrose representative, who raised $1,680. Of course, it's never too late to pledge, so if you want to make a donation through the link above, PLEASE do!

The real winner here, of course, is Inn From The Cold.

I owe a huge debt of gratitude to my fellow eaters, who spent much of yesterday haranguing their personal contacts into pledging for this enterprise, which really only took solid form in my mind at around 9:30 on Tuesday night. You put your stomachs on the line for a good cause, gentlemen - thank you!

Also, big props to our official Tweeters, Kirk Schmidt and Patty MacLeod. They were keeping track of funds raised on a taco-by-taco basis, and keeping the eaters motivated. We were the number one trending topic on Twitter in Calgary for much of the night.

Another big thank-you to the Blind Monk Pub, which was extremely accommodating for us. The service and food are top notch, and we truly appreciate their support in making this thing come together the way it did.

And most importantly, a huge thank-you to YOU: The donors. Those who pledged your hard-earned money, less than a week before Christmas, and helped support a fantastic local charity. You're the real heroes of last night - and you've most definitely made Santa's "Nice" list this year.

After Christmas, we can pick up the swords again. That's politics.

But as you spend the holidays with friends and loved ones, know that by coming together as a community of passionate civic-minded citizens and friendly rivals, you all did something amazing last night.

I'm honoured to know you.

Merry Christmas.

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Put Your Money Where My Mouth Is

(edited to reflect new participants)

Politics is ugly. It's ugly, and it's nasty, and it's dirty.

But it can also be a noble and uplifting pursuit, when the right people are involved.

With the Christmas season upon us, I've been racking my brain trying to figure out how to put the weight of our weekly pan-partisan Politweet events in Calgary behind something uplifting in time for the holidays. We certainly have a great time and learn a lot by putting away our swords and commiserating as real PEOPLE instead of as faceless partisan avatars retweeting our respective caucus communications trolls... but how do we do something that makes a real difference for someone who needs a hand up?

So here's what we're going to do...

My friend Shane over at Calgary Rants has been working this December to help raise funds and donations of items for the great charity Inn From The Cold. During the course of this process, he has also received a commitment from an anonymous benefactor that all donations will be matched dollar for dollar, up to $5,000. This would make a HUGE difference to the people who need to services that Inn From The Cold offers, especially at this time of year. And we're going to help.

At the Blind Monk (918, 12th Avenue SW) on Wednesday night, Kent Hehr is hosting his regular Pints and Politics night. And at 8:00 pm, taking advantage of the fact that at least 60 politicos, if not more, will be in attendance, we are going to have ourselves a chow-a-thon. Partisans and politically involved folks from all over the province can pledge their support to any one of our designated eaters - some will be downing chicken wings, while some - myself included - will be taking advantage of "South of the Border Wednesdays" at the Monk, and will be crushing tacos instead. In the end, though, it makes no difference: While we're competing for bragging rights for our respective parties, the important thing is that every wing or taco that gets eaten will be raising money - through your pledges - for Inn From The Cold.

We're going to try and get at least one "designated eater" to represent each provincial party, if you define your support as a partisan enterprise. Pledges can be made in the comments section of this post, on Twitter using the hashtag "#ablegcares", or in person at the Monk. Each eater will collect the pledges they earn, and pass them on to Shane to be matched by the anonymous donor.

Thus far, we have the following confirmed eaters - always room for more! Just email me at joey (at) dulcetmelodies (dot) ca to be added to this list! (Eaters will be picking up their own tab, unless someone volunteers to do it for them):


  • Derrick Jacobson (@AlbertaAltruist) - Representing the Wildrose Party. Will be eating wings.
  • Joey Oberhoffner (@oberhoffner) - Representing the Progressive Conservative Party. Tacos.
  • Vincent St Pierre (@vsp) - Representing the Alberta Liberals. Tacos.
  • Marc Doll (@dollhouseyyc) - Representing the Alberta Party. Tacos.

The object here, folks, is to RAISE MONEY THROUGH PLEDGES for Inn From The Cold. While we'll appreciate any cheerleading you can do in person or via Twitter, as well, we're only actually doing any good if you can pledge. Retweet the HECK out of this post, even if you normally disagree with 99% of what I post. There's already a commitment from Jane and Cory Morgan of $2 per wing eaten by Derrick. Surely, my PC friends can do better than that? We're not going to let the far right walk away with this thing, are we? ;)

And not to talk too much trash, here, but I'm going to win this thing. It's going to be April 23rd all over again. Don't believe the polls - I was BORN for this kind of a contest. So if you're looking at making a huge difference in the lives of some of Calgary's less fortunate this Christmas, pledge at least $2 per taco on Joey Oberhoffner's plate. I won't let you down. ;)

Come on, #ableg. Let's show everyone that when the rubber hits the road, we can do more than TALK about how to make things better. Put your money where our mouths are.



UPDATE 1: Where are you, NDP? Alberta Greens? Derrick has confirmed pledges of at least $3.75 per chicken wing. I'm sitting at $4 per taco - but even a skinny guy like Derrick can eat a lot more chicken wings than tacos. I'm going to need some more pledges to defend the honour of the PC Party. Of course, if more PC's want to EAT and raise pledges themselves, that's fine too - Inn From The Cold can use all the help we can offer!

UPDATE 2: Still waiting for the NDP and Greens to get in on the action. The pledges continue to roll in, with Marc Doll having wrangled FORTY-FIVE DOLLARS to Inn From The Cold for every taco he eats tonight.  My fellow PCs, we are getting CRUSHED in the pledge department - I'm going to have to out-eat Marc 3-to-1 just to keep pace! Open your hearts and your wallets - it's Christmas, after all!

Thursday, December 13, 2012

To Merge or Not To Merge? - Guest post by Marc Doll

Note: The following is a guest post written by well-known Calgary politico, realtor, and Bishop Grandin graduate Marc Doll. We don't agree on everything, but we do agree on most things, including the evils of blind partisanship. His text begins... now. - ES

[content edited at author's request - 10:45 am, Dec. 13]

To merge or not to merge... that is not the question.

Based on the Math that may very well be the question but math in human affairs rarely adds up. In my mind the question is to be a Partisan or not to be a Partisan.

Partisanship is the cancer of today's politics.

Partisanship leads to laziness from political Parties. People who vote for or support one particular party regardless of the candidate, or shifting ideas or ideals of the party leads to most of the problems in our political system.

Would Harper have run Crockatt in Calgary Centre if he didn't rely on the blind partisanship of a significant portion of the electorate? Would he have sent his cronies out to ensure the candidate that best reflected his position instead over the general consensus of the centrist Calgary Centre was chosen?

At the moment neither the NDP, Liberalberta or the Alberta Party have put forward a strong enough position or unifying candidate to earn the vote of the forward thinking in Alberta.

So long as we put Party before all else, this will never happen.

It is my argument that those who identify themselves as Liberal, NDP, Conservative etc. are the source of the problem of a disjointed "left". They stifle discussion and do everything in their power to ensure other the other "teams", especially those relatively close to themselves on the spectrum gain no purchase. For decades the NDP has run harder against the Liberals than they did against the Conservative. The reverse can also be said to be true.

It's time we burn our banners and demand that the Parties earn our vote.

Naheed's election was our first taste of this post partisan world. Since Naheed, unlike Higgins and McIvor, did not cling or self-identify with any political brand he challenged us to do the same. He has proven by his 80% + approval rating that there is a large consensus in the centre in a post partisan world.

It is our flags and not our vision of Calgary, Alberta or Canada that divides us.

I believe there is a way to work within Partisan Politics to achieve a post partisan unified reality. The Alberta Party is an attempt to do this but to date it has not attracted the central unifying voice nor the right policy balance to be able to accomplish this. It is my hope that if any of the forward the forward thinking Parties are able to do this, we will be forward thinking enough to put down our Flags and look for consensus in the ballot box.

The Liberal President's letter that has spurred this current conversation is the manifestation of the aforementioned cancer. Defending the reinforcement of silo's and the reinforcement of walls and divisions does nothing but feed this cancer.

I'm sorry that a 22 year old blogger is fed up with this conversation. Some of us have been fighting for this post partisan conversation for longer than this blogger has been alive and will continue to do so until it comes to fruition.

There is no other path forward. 100 years of Liberal and to a lesser historical extent NDP electoral failure and bickering are the proof of this unfortunate reality.

The army of forward thinking engaged volunteers that was assembled under Nenshi and forged under Turner (and I could be convinced under Harvey) is in my view a possible game changer. For the first time in my life, I feel that there is a chance for people I generally agree with, to not only influence but decide elections in this once monolithic Conservative bastion that is Calgary. The upcoming Municipal election is a fantastic time to prove this thesis. If this army is able to identify and coalesce around 2 or 3 strong forward thinking candidates we can completely alter the composition of Council.

If we vote for or work for the candidates who self-identify under our "chosen banner" we will ensure that the DiCu's, Demongs, Hodges' etc. etc. will continue to hold our city back from where it needs to go.

The choice is ours. Partisanship or a coalition of the forward thinking.

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Dr. Strangevote or: How I learned to stop surfing and love the paper ballot

(Guest Post by Kirk Schmidt)

TeH Interwebz are all the rage these days. The kids use the twitter. The facebook is where I go to find the people that my coworkers want to know more about when they find interesting people on eHarmony.

In an age where the Internet is such an integral part of our lives, and where democracy seems to slowly be losing a battle to apathy, it makes sense to look into online voting as a potential option. You know, the same way that the invention of the telephone brought in phone-in ballots. No, wait.

What is an online ballot?

I will assume, for the purposes of the post, that the following are true. However, I want to state some things to think about with these as well.

1)      Online voting is performed through standard software such as browsers. Utilizing other platforms introduces other issues, some of which will be similar, if not identical to using browsers. Others will be the fact that software can be deconstructed, reverse engineered, and rebuilt (this is common strategy by anti-virus companies when attempting to build virus definitions)

2)      Online voting does not require additional security parameters to be set up such as VPN tunnels. The more complex the setup to vote online becomes, the less it becomes a viable option.

How do online ballots work?

Most online balloting would work this way (give or take). You are given some sort of authentication protocol to log in. This is unique to you in some way. When the ballot is submitted, a cryptographic key is given to you – theoretically this is used to verify that you voted, and can sometimes even be built to show you who you voted for, assuming you have the proper keys in place. Some online voting systems will allow you to vote multiple times, and only take the last vote.

Tenets of the Vote

Here are the basic tenets of what I see as fundamentally important here.

1)      Votes should be verifiable. There should be a way to ensure that what I clicked for is what the computer registered.

2)      Votes should be counted. There needs to be an auditable way to see which ballots were indeed counted, and to prove that some were not lost, deleted, changed, etc.

3)      One vote per voter. This does not mean that a voter cannot vote more than once, but that at the end, only one vote counts (usually the last)

4)      The voter cannot be reverse-engineered from the ballot, or the combined information on the servers.

5)      A vote cannot be “listened to” or interfered with during processing, and secure from tampering.

Issue #1: Server uptime

Election after election, servers go down. There is normally at least one point in time where the place to look up where you go to vote goes down on election day. This is often because servers typically don’t handle the massive loads that come in during an electoral period.

Let’s assume that the ONLY people connecting to the server are potential voters. We can reasonably expect that most voters do not vote during “random” times during the day – the peaks will likely be before work, upon arriving at work, during lunch, just before leaving work, just after getting home, and within a time period prior to closing of the vote. Namely, 6:00-9:00, 11:30-1:30, 4:00-6:00, and then one hour before election closes.

Now, assuming people are trying to connect within the last few minutes of the vote closing, and the system goes down from a denial of service (too many connections), what are the odds that those people can get to the polls before they close?

The other peak times may very well cause other problems, unless the server infrastructure is made robust enough.

Then, this assumes that there is no value in taking down the servers regardless. Let’s say a party knows that its voters tend to vote early – is there value in taking down the servers later in the day? Possibly. So outside of merely voters, a distributed denial of service might be a great way for someone to purposefully suppress voters.

Where this could become even more dangerous is if online connection is required to verify whether someone has voted or not. Since the counterfoil is ripped off as a paper ballot is submitted, it is impossible upon counting of paper ballots to verify whether someone has voted both online and offline. As such, that verification would need to be performed in real-time, and the counting server will need to be updated as a person makes their vote (or we’ll all need to vote online), in order to ensure tenet #3. As such, a distributed denial of service could halt not only online ballots, but offline as well.

Issue #2: The secrecy of the ballot (or, I can bank and/or submit my taxes online – why can’t I vote online)

This is a very common question, so I want to attack this in three different ways. Way number 1 is target analysis. Way number 2 is our view of security. Way number 3 is the audit trail and secrecy of the ballot.

Way #1: Target Analysis

When it comes to hacking a target, value of the target needs to be taken into account. Think of this as the “club” effect. If there are two cars of exact make and model parked besides each other, and you intend to steal one, and one has “The Club” on the wheel and the other does not, it would make sense to try to steal the one without, as it is the method with potentially least problem.

When you submit your taxes online, you are effectively submitting your income and your deductions into a centralized system. I do not care about your line 150 – I can likely get that other ways, such as analysis of your LinkedIn profile versus standard salary charts, all through public data. The only possible thing of use to me is your SIN, which again, is easier to get through other methods such as phishing attacks.

Furthermore, you have a 3 month window to submit your taxes online (assuming you owe. If you don’t, you can submit your taxes after the deadline). This means that it’s far more difficult to pinpoint when an individual is going to submit those values.

This is similar with banking – I don’t know when you are going to bank online, so any attacks on the systems would have to be based on broader methods of attacking (think keyloggers) that are far more easily detected by anti- software.

Banking of course is a much higher target because of the financial movement, but I would argue still not as big a target as determining government.

Compare this to an electoral period – fixed times when one logs in, with the centralized systems capable of determining who will be elected and form government. When you consider that some of the biggest hacks are sponsored by government entities (outside of Canada), you can see where the government of the day could be a potential target.

Also consider the monies spent in an election. With around $100,000 per riding plus a central set of coffers worth almost $20 million per party, there is plenty of money and reason to effect change within our own country.

Way #2: Security

I hear a lot of “I bank online and that’s secure,” and have to hold back laughter. Most banks allow the following to occur:

1)      Mobile banking over the airwaves/wifi

2)      Nothing more than a username and password

Many of these usernames are card numbers. Many of the passwords are required to be 8 characters, at least one capital, at least one number, and at least one miniscule letter.

Now, there are all sorts of algorithms out there for passwords because people are predictable. You will find the majority of passwords will be dictionary words with a capital letter at the front, a number at the end (which rotates when people have to change password), and simple letter substitution on words such as 3 instead of E.

In fact, the standard 8-char model has a potential 52 alpha characters, 10 numeric characters, and for argument sake, let’s say another 2 punctuation (why, because that brings us to 64 characters).

64 is 2 to the power of 6. Multiply that by 8 characters, and you have 2 to the power of 48 potential password combinations.

Now, let’s say that my password system only allows 32 characters – perhaps only miniscule and 0-6 (2 to the power of 5). By forcing that, and enforcing a password length of 10, and my password combinations are 2 to the power of 50 – effectively, my method is more secure. In fact, it’s 4 times more secure than the other method (because we multiply the complexity by 2 and by 2 again).

Furthermore, a number of these systems require you to enter answers to standard questions, but are a number of items that can be phished out of people (or investigated). In fact, it is for that reason that NONE of my answers to questions have ANYTHING to do with the question itself, and my passwords are often keyboard-smashes.

These systems are not as secure as we are often led to believe. While they do provide some level of security, it should be noted that some European banks require you to have physical RSA keys, and that there are far more complex password methods out there than what is granted to us in the seeming standard North American method.

Even if you were not to listen to me, look at the target list of Anonymous. As said by Marc Garneau, “First, who is this group called Anonymous? Put simply, it is an international cabal of criminal hackers dating back to 2003, who have shut down the websites of the U.S. Department of Justice and the F.B.I. They have hacked into the phone lines of Scotland Yard. They are responsible for attacks against MasterCard, Visa, Sony and the Governments of the U.S., U.K., Turkey, Australia, Egypt, Algeria, Libya, Iran, Chile, Colombia and New Zealand.

Not a bad rap sheet, and I would venture to guess that some of their successful attacks had far better security teams than municipalities or Elections Canada.

Security on the internet is far less than it seems.

Way #3: The audit trail

Voter suppression is a real problem. Between the alleged robocall scandal to the slashing of tires in Toronto when some voters had certain signs on their lawns, knowing who will vote for whom is going to be big business. We can assume so much from social media and other public sources, but KNOWING who votes, who doesn’t vote, and who voted for whom is key data.

Now, when I go submit my taxes and work on my bank account, I WANT those entities to know who I am. I WANT the banks to audit my trail, and CRA to continually verify that I am, indeed, me. Why? If someone were to defraud me, there’s a trail. IP addresses, usernames, passwords, etc., are all built around this system to ensure that liability is minimal for the banks and that we can audit everything.

This is something that we specifically do NOT want in an election situation. We want the system to both be able to authenticate me, but not store how I voted. We also need to attempt to make sure that someone cannot vote on my behalf (so sending out simply a key to every house without other login information is not viable).

So how do you audit this? Without IP addresses to verify location, without usernames attached to ballots, it is possible, but difficult. However, it can only audit within itself, and even that is dangerous.

What do I mean by that? I can audit that a particular key was used to make a particular vote, but all that information exists within a number of servers that are not… supposed… to talk to each other. But as a Database Admin, I would look at it this way: There are normally some few hundred people to a single poll. Now, by getting timestamps of the authentication server versus usernames, and getting a timestamp of vote with electoral district and poll, the likelihood is that internally I can reverse engineer (to some degree) who voted for whom. Add to it only a 50% turnout and a time distribution over hours, and the likelihood goes up.

Then, if someone were to claim that they did not vote, but they have a vote in the system, how is it disproven? Is it marked as invalid? Do we have to accept it? What are the protocols? All we know is that *someone* with those credentials voted and it was accepted by the system, but to ensure secrecy of the ballot, more information cannot be readily available.

So the likelihood is that we will have to give up the potential right of the secret ballot to ensure auditability. This puts tenets #1, #2, and #3 at odds.

Issue #3: Centralized systems

Paper ballots are not perfect. This is also a common argument. “Well, if paper ballots are not 100% secure, why do you worry about online ballots?”

My experience is with Elections Canada, although most voting is the same within different government levels in the country.

When you go to vote, you are marked as having voted and a counter foil number is put beside your name. You mark your ballot, fold the ballot, and the counter foil is ripped from the ballot. The ballot is then placed in the box by you (never give it to someone to put in! I’ve seen this many times as a scrutineer). Oh, yes, scrutineers – every candidate can send scrutineers to the polls to watch the vote take place, and can identify problems to the Deputy Returning Officer.

When the ballot boxes are opened, the scrutineers watch the opening, the dumping, and the counting. The counting is done by NO LESS THAN two volunteers, and up to two scrutineers PER candidate are allowed to be there.

This is a decentralized system. This happens at every polling station. It is difficult, though not impossible, to influence this system, but in order to influence an election, the election either has to be close enough that one polling station is required, or they have to perform at multiple. This decentralization provides security.

Furthermore, the counterfoils are counted and compared with the number of ballots. There are a number of checks and balances to ensure that numbers align. Anyone can ask for judicial review of the ballots (although often at a cost), but it is possible.

While the voting system online may exist on multiple servers, that does not make it decentralized. In the end, it’s one internet at play. One set of servers to attack. What makes it even scarier is that an attack on these systems, if performed properly, might still show a proper auditable trail – number of votes cast = number of votes counted. But who cast the votes?

This centralized nature adds risk.

Issue #4: Personal computers and social attacks

This is the biggest fear of all. A voting system may be secure in a black box, but there are systems at play that are not the voting servers. Your computer, your browser (or application), your router, the DNS servers, the certificate agents; These all have to be trusted in an online system.

These “trust systems” are where the risk lies. This is because phishing attacks are a proven social attack, and the attacks in between can be just as problematic.

Consider this. The SSL certificate is based on a header and a leaf, with multiple parts in between. It is possible to provide a certificate in the middle that reads the information in between. Your data is encrypted, but because of the way SSL works, it might be encrypted to me, and then re-encrypted when it goes to the Elections Authority, with my ability to see all of your data in between. Now, this requires more than simply setting up a certificate; It requires redirecting you. But how would you do this?

DNS servers. DNS is the service that tells me that google.ca is at 74.125.129.94. What happens is my computer then talks to 74.125.129.94 and says, “I want google.ca.” Being google’s servers, google has it set up that when I type “google.ca” it handles it in some way.

Now, let’s say my server is 1.2.3.4. Let’s say I make my server handle google.ca, and send it to a site. Now, when I type in google.ca, it will not direct to 1.2.3.4 unless I have set up my DNS service to redirect that way. And if it does, and I have set it up to handle google.ca, then your browser will still show google.ca, even though I’m not officially on Google’s servers.

This is a trust system, and while new technologies are coming out such as DNSSEC that are supposed to alleviate issues, in the end, attacks will continue to be viable.

So consider this. Most often your computer is set to use the router’s DNS. However, your computer can be set up to use another DNS. What if I created a DNS that pointed elections.ca to my server and set up a site to look exactly like Elections Canada. Would most users know that their DNS was comprised? Probably not.

Or consider this – in a DEFCON talk a hacker talked about changing DNS settings by using the user’s gullibility (See “How I met your girlfriend.”) So what if I changed the router’s DNS? Would people know to check?

I add a security certificate to my system. I create a voting system. You enter your information, vote, and I even give you a key that you can enter to verify that you voted. Except you didn’t vote – you merely sent all information needed to log in to me.

Or what if, not using DNS, I send you an email from Elections Canada the morning of the election, and I tell you to vote “here”. I then send you not to “vote.elections.ca” but to a subdomain on my own server – a subdomain called vote.elections.ca?id=123456789123456789123456789123456789123456789123456789123456789.1.2.3.4
Now when you look at your address bar, you see vote.elections.ca, but miss the part that it’s actually a subdomain of another server. Same deal, I take your information.

Then, with appropriate control of your router, or your computer, I then log in with your credentials, through your network, into the real elections Canada and vote on your behalf.

A few months ago there was panic over a massive DNS virus that laid dormant for years and was set to change values at a certain time – this is the type of attack I would expect on an election. Change the DNS on election day, and perhaps even change it back once you’ve voted, removing evidence.

The possibilities are endless here. These are attacks that don’t even require imagination. I would hate to see what some of the world’s best hackers could come up with.

Issue #5: Undue Influence

Let’s get away from technology a bit and talk about the social aspect. When I was scrutineering in 2012 for the provincial election, a man with Downs Syndrome came in to vote. The Returning Officer was asked to help him vote. The RO has to take an oath before being able to do this, and cannot influence the vote – they may only assist in the process.

This check and balance is gone. A person could be subject to undue influence at home, at work, etc., based on their vote. Whether through physical or emotional abuse, a vote may be made without being a free vote.
There is safety and security behind the screen at a polling station. Nobody monitors you, nobody tells you how to vote. Your ballot is secret. I could say I voted NDP but really voted Conservative, and you would not know. This is not necessarily true when one could vote at home.

What is security?

In online ballots, what do we consider to be secure? Is it that the infrastructure itself on the voting end has the latest firewalls and virus security? Do the people working on it have the highest level of clearance? Has the code that accepts the vote been properly vetted?

In India, they opened up their voting systems to hackers for a brief period of time. When hackers could not break it, they declared the systems secure. When hackers figured it out later, they were hushed and some people thrown in jail.

An online ballot might be a long con. It might not be the first, nor the second vote that is attacked – those might be for watching and creating trust. Then, when it is known how the process works, the attack happens.
Do we know it happened? The inability of a full audit is scary. It might look like the election was secure, and that it happened without incident, but was subject to a massive changing of votes through social engineering and phishing attacks. How would we know?

What is the long term risk?

We have one of the most secure systems in the world. Is it perfect? No. Do you trust that who you voted for will be counted? Generally, yes.

If that faith is destroyed, where does our democracy go?

Who is Kirk Schmidt?

I don’t have a long chain of credz after my name. It’s Kirk Schmidt, B.Math. Most of my experience in online security is, well, experience.

I am also a political hack. I follow politics like Toronto follows the Leafs.  I was an independent candidate in a federal election in 2008 – and not a single-issue independent candidate. I ran a near $20,000 campaign and gained 3% of the vote.

Does this all make me an expert? Seemingly, no. But what I do have is a range of computer skills that I have developed for almost 30 years, a degree in mathematics, and I am well-versed in politics. Hopefully from the post above you can see that I have some knowledge and experience in these areas.

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Jim McCormick for PC Party President

Nation, in response to the open invitation issues in this space last week, I got a call from Jim McCormick, who is running for the presidency of the Progressive Conservative Association of Alberta at their upcoming AGM this week-end.

The conversation appears below.




More information on Jim can be found on his website.

Thursday, November 1, 2012

Open Invitation

Nation, Alberta's 2 biggest political parties - the Progressive Conservative Association of Alberta and the Wildrose Alliance Party - are holding their Annual General Meetings this month.

The PC AGM runs November 9th and 10th, in Calgary.

The Wildrose AGM is November 23rd and 24th (Grey Cup weekend? Really???) in Edmonton.

At both meetings, those eligible to do so will be electing new Executive Committees to run the daily operations of their respective parties. Election readiness, fundraising, grassroots organization, outreach, growth...  all of these, and much more, can be balls that are carried over the goal line by a good Executive Committee... or, dropped by a bad one.

This blog is therefore issuing an Open Invitation to any candidate for the Executive Committee of either the PC's or Wildrose. If you want a chance to get your message out, drop me a line - joey (at) dulcetmelodies (dot) ca, and I'll be happy to arrange an in-person or on-line interview.

Act fast - the clock is ticking. ;)

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Zero to Hero

Nation, by now most of you are no doubt aware of the story of Edmonton high school teacher Lynden Dorval, who was fired for violating the "no zeroes" policy set forth by his school's principal. The firing was upheld by the Edmonton Public School Board in a decision last month, quoting a history of insubordinate behaviour.

Dorval - whose cause was, at one point, touted by well-intentioned but unintentionally ironic t-shirts, had his case trotted out again this week during debate about Alberta's Bill 3: the Education Act.

The Wildrose Opposition, which would oppose sunshine if Redford came out in favour of it, argued that an amendment ought to be adopted which would entrench, in provincial law, the rights of teachers to give students a grade of "zero" for work that was not completed or turned in.

And you know what? Teachers SHOULD give zeroes for work that isn't turned in. *I* got the big goose-egg a few times. There's nothing to mark - therefore, the merit of the work the teacher is marking is completely lacking. There IS no merit, because there's no work to mark. Zero.

I agree that teachers should be able to give zeroes. I think MOST Albertans agree that teachers should be able to give zeroes.

And you know who is responsible for making sure that teachers can give zeroes, without fear of getting fired by their principal?

School boards.

Remember them? The people who run the schools? The people you elect every 3 (soon to be 4) years? The folks to whom the principals answer, on behalf of the parents, students and voters of your area?

We have to let these people do their jobs. If the people want teachers to be able to give zeroes, they should elect School Board Trustees who support that position.

We spend GOBS of cash electing these people to run our school systems. In most cases, they're pretty well paid, too. Shouldn't we let them DO it?

You know... the "local decision making" we heard so much about from Wildrose in the election 6 months ago.


Government legislating on this issue would be like government legislating, through an amendment to the Highways Act, that your pizza has to arrive in 30 minutes or it's free.

Not getting the service you want from your elected school board? Don't like the policies the board is endorsing, allowing, and putting forth under their watch?

Fire them, and elect new ones.

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Motivations

Politics is a show.

I think, by now, that's something we all know. At least, those of us who are engaged enough to pay attention between elections - which is a small, SMALL minority of us. (Lucky for me, most of the people who read this blog would fall into that category, so the hatemail should be minimized)

It's a carefully scripted dance, played out for us in front of the cameras to inspire us to cheer for the "good guys", vilify the "bad guys", and - most importantly - convince us to put our cash and our ballot towards our favourites.

Don't get me wrong - the acts of governance and opposition DO matter. When the lights are on and the cops are still doing their jobs, that's a sign that the system is working, despite the fact that the way we CHOOSE our leaders is akin to the way we choose the next Canadian Idol winner - with the notable exception that a lot more of us tend to get much more excited about and more interested in the Canadian Idol contestants. The jobs these people do matter - just ask the Greeks.

But the scripted interplay and faux outrage in the political game is still just that - scripted, and put-on for the cameras.

Take one incident this week, when Danielle Smith, Leader of the Official Opposition, publicly agreed with a Twitter user who had wondered aloud why XL Foods would throw out beef that it wasn't allowed to sell, rather than cook it thoroughly and donate it to shelters and food banks.

The response - which you've no doubt heard by now - was almost immediate.

"Wildrose leader suggests feeding tainted meat to the poor!"

"'Let them eat (tainted) beef!', cries Danielle Antoinette."

"Feed the poor the meat that rich people like Danielle wouldn't touch with a 10-metre pole - what a snob!"

... and the list goes on.

The thing is...  Danielle didn't mean that at all. And nobody - not even her ideological opposite, NDP Leader Brian Mason, ACTUALLY thought she meant that. Mason started the outrage and backlash on Twitter, and other New Democrats picked up on it before it took on a life of its own, but even Mason would admit he knew exactly what Smith meant.

But this isn't about what she MEANT. It's about the APPEARANCE of what she meant. Because politics is a show, and Mason saw an opening, and he took it.

Nobody I've talked to, of any political persuasion, actually thinks Smith wants to feed tainted meat to Alberta's poor. But of course, those admissions are all off-the-record. ON-the-record, she's a reckless right-winger who doesn't understand the poor in this province. Because politics is a show. It's a game, and the object is to score points with the uninformed majority which decides elections.

The really appalling part of this for me, though, isn't that representatives of the other parties aren't willing to stand up and get Smith's back on this. It'd be the HONEST thing to do, but that's not the way politics works, and I get that (though, it SHOULD be how politics works). After all, if the shoe were on the other foot, and it had been Brian Mason or Raj Sherman or Alison Redford making the PR gaffe, the Wildrose twitter warriors would have been screaming to high heaven, with Smith at the front of the line.

The part that disturbs me the most about this is that, if the shoe WERE on the other foot, a lot of the Wildrose folks criticizing Redford would actually believe they were telling the truth.

Not ALL of them, to be sure. I'm lucky to call several long-time Wildrose members friends, and they're perfectly rational people who honestly want what's best for Alberta. I'd like to think the majority of their fellow party members are the same way.

But SOME of them - hopefully, none of the ones who successfully won election in April - honestly believe that Alison Redford wants to destroy Alberta. I've talked to some of these people, too. They actually believe that she intends to embezzle public funds, and funnel them to her friends. They believe she wants the province to take your children away, and brainwash them. They believe she wants to spend the Heritage Trust Fund on a provincial gun registry, before taking away all guns completely. They believe she wants to force your kids to attend gay weddings, and raise taxes to 60%, and that she wants to HURT Alberta so she can run for the Federal Liberal Leadership.

I don't know how you deal with someone who has so completely committed them self to drinking the kool-aid.

These are the talking points you throw at undecideds. They're the comments you post at the bottom of an article on the Sun's website. They're the toss-away lines you include in your phone call to Rutherford when you know you're the last caller and it's the top of the hour and the subject is changing after the news.

I get that. It's part of the game. And the PC's played that game just as well as - if not better than - anyone else during the provincial campaign.

But to actually BELIEVE this stuff...

THAT is the tragic inevitability of this show.

When you get so used to spewing bullcrap that you can't remember what the truth is anymore.

These are flawed humans honestly trying to improve the province. They disagree on details, and how to manage things, but they're all trying to make things better. Alison, Danielle, Raj, Brian... ALL of them.

If you're so wrapped up in the show that you start to believe what you're hearing is REAL... then you've got "Dome Disease", as Ralph called it, and you need to focus on more realistic shows.

Like professional wrestling.

And even in THAT, the performers, and most of the fans, know it's a "work".

And if you DON'T understand it's just a show, they have a word for you, too...

It's "mark". An old carny term for "sucker".


Don't be one.