Sunday, December 29, 2013

Why I joined the @Liberal_Party of #Canada #LPC

I'm a swing voter. At various times, I have voted Conservative, Liberal, NDP, and Green. We swing voters keep politicians on their toes, competing with each other to serve the public interest (or at least to present themselves that way). No party can take our votes for granted.

So I had never joined a political party in my life. Until this year. Why the change?

Democratic competition is essential for making elected leaders accountable to voters. But even though our political systems feature electoral competition, that doesn't seem effective enough to keep our leaders and governments loyal to the public interest. Corruption of varying degrees seems pervasive and persistent, from the Liberals' sponsorship scandal ten years ago to the Conservatives' senate expenses scandal now.

Solving this problem has been my main occupation for the past 17 years, focusing first on corporations (where shareowners elect directors), then broadening to include democracies. As a financial economist, my main contribution is to design a system for voters to pay information providers (such as journalists), creating stronger incentives for journalists to serve the interests of a voter community. Successful tests of this system are reported in the paper Experiments in Voter Funded Media.

Designing a solution is one thing. Getting it implemented is quite another. Those in power are naturally reluctant to shift power from themselves to voters (which is what happens when voters become better informed). So it is difficult to change the system from the outside.

When a friend whom I respect asked me to help him run for election as a Liberal member of Canada's parliament, I soon agreed to do so, but did not commit to any specific type of help. It was only later, as I tried to understand the current dynamics of Canadian federal politics, that I saw a potential alignment of my public interest reform work with joining the Liberal Party of Canada (LPC) myself.

To regain Canadian voters' trust after the sponsorship scandal, the LPC needs to show they (we) are serious about reducing corruption and strengthening accountability. We also need to propose some innovative policy ideas to distinguish ourselves from the other parties (e.g. see this perspective in the Globe & Mail). A new internet-based voter information and engagement strategy could help fulfill these needs.

There are other reasons why the centrist LPC may fit my political orientation better than other parties. I was fortunate to grow up in a home where both my parents cared about politics and public policy. Best of all was their wide range of views, since Mom was NDP while Dad was Conservative. (And they stayed married for life!) I learned to appreciate that there are intelligent people in all our major political parties who are sincerely trying to serve the public interest. I see them all as colleagues in that endeavour.

The issue of democratic accountability can appeal to voters across the political spectrum. A centrist party may be in the best position to attract swing voters from other parties by taking the lead on such an issue.

Of course, voters and party members must try to ensure that an elected party actually delivers on its campaign platform. Backsliding has long been the norm:
"As soon as the new leaders have attained their ends, as soon as they have succeeded (in the name of the injured rights of the anonymous masses) in overthrowing the odious tyranny of their predecessors and in attaining to power in their turn, we see them undergo a transformation which renders them in every respect similar to the dethroned tyrants. Such metamorphoses as these are plainly recorded throughout history." (Michels [1911] p. 114)
When I quoted the above passage last year in a paper We Want Our Co-ops Back (p. 11), I added:
"Therefore in addition to supporting challengers, it is even more important to change a co-op's rules in ways that strengthen a competitive democracy, and reduce the entrenchment of the current leaders. Ideally, we members would like to elect directors that will help implement such reforms. So we should push candidates toward platforms that include reform, and hold them accountable to their promises."
As Lawrence Lessig said eloquently in his February 2013 TED talk (about 11 minutes in): It's not that democratic reform is the most important issue. But it's the first issue -- the one we need to solve in order to solve the more important issues like environmental policy. Although money-driven corruption is not as bad in Canada as in the USA, the power of well-funded narrow interests to misinform voters and influence politicians is a big problem here too.

So I'm heading for the LPC Biennial Policy Convention in Montreal, February 20-23, 2014.

BTW Canadians get tax credits for federal political donations. Your first $400 donated per calendar year only costs you $100. You can do this once by December 31, and then again in January -- donate to LPC at or call (888) 542-3725.