Content-type: text/html ~ Stephen's Web ~ The Atlantica Party Platform

Stephen Downes

Knowledge, Learning, Community

May 25, 2009

Originally posted on Half an Hour, May 25, 2009.

In this post, I evaluate the Atlantica Party platform, as posted on the Avalon blog (I also posted the comment there; we'll see if it survives moderation). The platform doesn't fare too well. I am not sure why, but for some reason the political agenda of creating a unified Atlantic province seems to be conjoined with a poorly considered neo-conservative agenda. In total, I support 22 measures, oppose 47, and am undecided on 6.

Italics - Atlantica Party Policies May 2009

Plain Text - The Other Citizen’s Voice (ie., the person Atlantica did _not_ listen to during the policy formation process).

* Start a process to free the legislature from government manipulation.

No. One person's 'manipulation' is another person's 'process'. Parliament is governed by Parliamentary procedures, which are intended to ensure the majority can manage the process of Parliament while respecting the rights of the minority. If there are specific provisions for strengthening the rights of minorities in Parliament, I'm willing to listen. But simply referring to government in the process of governing as 'manipulation' is insufficient.

* Introduce Recall so that constituents may ‘fire’ their representative.

No, unless it requires exceptional support. Otherwise, the recall campaigns start routinely after the election count is in. A minimum of 75 percent of the electorate should be required in order to force a by-election in a riding (_not_ an outright removal of the incumbant).

* Introduce Citizen’s Initiative allowing citizens to propose and vote on their own bills.

No. Direct democracy and representative Parliament do not mix - witness the results in California where populations make unwise decisions on tax measures without also being responsible for providing services without the requisite funding. I am supportive of a wider direct democracy, but a tinkering with the legislative process is not the way to do it. The proponents of direct democracy should focus their attention on ways and means of providing people with greater control over conditions that affect their _own_ lives, rather than granting them a wider way to exert influence over others.

* Introduce true fixed election dates harmonized with municipal and school board elections.

No. In Canada, governments are elected by the support of a majority of members of Parliament, and in such a case minority Parliaments are possible (and these days, common). The possibility of the fall of a minority government, and consequent election, is what keeps them honest. We has a system that requires that elections be held no more than five years apart. More frequent elections are possible, but are not any significant burden on the population.

* Start a process to propose a written Provincial Constitution.

No. There is no need for one.

* Advocate the elimination of hate speech laws and Human Rights Commissions to strengthen free speech.

Ack! What? No! Who could be in _favour_ of hate speech? Who could be _opposed_ to human rights? Seriously off the rails here. One think that makes Canada work is diversity, and one thing that makes diversity work is tolerance and respect for other cultures. Hate speech undermines this.

* Make the legislature’s work transparent to allow easy citizen evaluation of it and their MLA including commissioning a ‘how they voted’ website.

Yes. Of course you could make a 'how they voted' website now, without being elected, because members' votes are not secret. Every single word spoken in the legislature is recorded and transcribed, made public in Hansard.

* Investigate ways to increase debate and dialogue between MLAs and their constituents (more frequent town halls, polling and internet).

Yes. But it is important to keep in mind that the management of his or her communications is the purview of each member. Many mambers now spent a great deal of time in consultations. What is wanted is not so much a way to make them more likely to consult, or to spend more time consulting, because most are already fully committed to doing so, but rather, on ways to make the consulting process more effective. It's difficult to carry on a conversation with thousands of peopole, especially when you're busy running a government.

* Create a mandatory ‘how our democratic system works’ school credit.

No. Students already learn (more or less well) how our system works, in a class called 'social studies'. Also, any addition to a curriculum requires a deletion of something else, because of time constraints. For this reason, piecemeal ('add this or that') approaches to curricula are not recommended.

* Expand the number of documents on Departmental websites.

No. Ideally, the government would reduce the number of documents while at the same time being more open.

* Waive the fee for Freedom of Information requests.

Yes. And provide free access to documents that are available online - eg. curriculum documents

Fair Voting

* Have a referendum on replacing our First-Past-The-Post (FPTP) voting system with Single Transferable Vote (STV).

No. STV - the system that is used in Australia - improves the representational nature of the legislature, but still allows parties with a minority of support to effectively form government. A wider discussion of alternative voting systems is needed.

* Introduce 100% publicly funded election campaigns to level the playing field for all candidates.

Yes. But this needs to be spelled out in some detail. For example, it follows that parties cannot raise and spend their own funds. What about special interest groups or lobbying groups? Do we make advocacy illegal during elections? Paid advocacy? It's not clear how. Additionally, does every party get the same amount? Every candidate? How is money allocated to, say, an independent running for the first time without party support?

* As part of our policy of political reform allow direct election of the Premier for a fixed term using a 50%+1 system.

No. There is no good reason to create a 'presidential' position in Canadian politics. The premier is elected by the legislature.

Atlantic Union

* Create a commission to study the union of the four Atlantic Provinces.

Yes, conditionally. Consider also the possibility of a union of the three Maritime provinces (which makes a bit more sense than a four-province union). Also, logically, the capital of such a province should be in Moncton.

* An Atlantica Party government will be a vocal advocate for proposing a multi-provincial referendum on unification of the four Atlantic Provinces.

No. Do the study first. Then decide what to advocate.

* An Atlantica Party government will propose an Atlantic Canada free trade zone.

Maybe. Technically, the provinces are already part of a free trade zone (called 'Canada'). There is scope, however, for an elimination of barriers to trade between the provinces. However, instances of such barriers need to be considered on a case by case basis.

* Make the creation of more regional agencies such as the Atlantic Lottery Corporation a priority.

No. Until a mechanism for wider governance (and accountability, which we are not seeing at all in the Lottery Corporation) is resolved, the question of regional agencies should be tabled. The Atlantic Lottery Corporation should be eliminated and government-supported gambling eliminated.

* Open discussions with stakeholders to create a plan for Atlantic Canada in the event of Quebec separation.

No. That ship has sailed, and there's no point figfhting yesterday's battles, especially if you don't have to. Should it come up, then we can talk about it.

Smart Growth

* Create a provincial venture capital fund administered by professionals, not government. Run at arm’s length by professionals with large performance incentives.

No. The financial system in the United States was "run by professionals" at "arm's length" with "large performance incentives." It was an unmitigated disaster. It proved to be thoroughly corrupt, with the drive for incentives creating distortion of markets and policy, and the creation of unsustainable and risky investments. If a venture capital fund is established by government (beyond the many that already exist, such as ACOA and the BDB) then it should be closely regulated and run by professionals working within government who are accountable for results, but who do not stand to make large personal fortunes encouraging risky enterprises.

* Create a new Ministry of Advanced Technology Industries.

No. No particular justification exists for a separate ministry, and it would be hopeless to try to sort out between those industries that are "advanced" and those that are not.

* Focus on ICT and other knowledge industries as a potential limitless industry for growth.

Yes. But some detail on what is meant by this would be needed. Simply replicating the same IT policy in place everywhere else is a bit pointless.

* Refocus to encourage Nova Scotian entrepreneurs, ideas and companies through targeted incentives, free and easy incorporation and free entrepreneur programs.

Maybe. It would be worth considering. But if it's simply a way to allow people to create shell corporations to act as a tax dodge, then it's not wortwhile. Also, some means of paying the expenses currently covered by fees needs to be considered.

* Make business entrepreneurship a mandatory credit in schools.

No. Entrepreneurship and economics is already covered in social studies. And the same comment on tinkering with curriculum applies. I would add, as well, that schools are not appropriate places for indoctrination, and students should be exposed to the virtues of all economic systems and alternatives, including non-profits, cooperatives, volunteer and community support work, public services and the professions.

* Investigate with the Federal Government a special economic zone status for Atlantic Canada.

No. Atlantic Canada is already a special economic zone, as evidenced by ACOA. If the intent is to implement some laws (like what, zero taxes?) specifically in Atlantic Canada, these measures should be described in detail and justified individually.

* Create an export development organization to develop export sales and managementing expertise.

No. The Export Development Organization already exists.

* Offer daycare to low-income families in exchange for welfare benefits.

No. Offer daycare to low income families in _addition_ to welfare benefits.

* Study allowing private power companies (solar, tidal, wind, water) to sell directly to the public.

Maybe. As I commented in another forum today, we can draw power from the system very easily, simply by plugging in an appliance. We should be able to put power _into_ the system just as easily, by plugging in a windmill or solar panel. Setting up such a system should be a priority for the government. If is worth noting that this is an initiative very unlikely to be undertaken by a private power corporation, which would much rather _sell_ power to consumers than to buy it from consumers. Therefore, management of the energy grid, and a free market in power production, will probably have to be undertaken by the government.


* Reduce corporate and personal income taxes offset by higher HST.

No. To what end? By how much? When the HST goes down (as it has recently) will corporate and personal income taxes be raised?

* Investigate flat tax.

No. Flat taxes favor the wealthy, and penalize the poor. That is why the wealthy are constantly advocating them.

* Investigate a one page provincial income tax return.

Yes. Or even better, a zero page return.

* Investigate tax-haven status.

No. Tax havens are simply a place where the wealthy can avoid taxes. What's the point of supporting that? nations that are already tax havens should be considered pariahs, and not part of the global economic system. And the wealthy should pay a significant tax, because it was the society they worked in that, after all, made their wealth possible (and if you don't believe that, try finding wealthy people in Somalia).

* Investigate very low business taxes.

No. Business taxes are already very low. Giving existing businesses even lower taxes will not provide any economic return. Rather, investment should be directed toward new business ventures and new industries, and social support (such as the energy sharing grid mentioned above).

* Use a professionally administered tax policy as incentive for growth.

No. Not only is this proposal inconsistent with the other proposals, it should be by now quite well established that lowering taxes does not produce sustainable economic growth.

* Start a process to end Federal transfers to Nova Scotia in exchange for greater provincial tax ‘room’ relative to Federal taxes.

No. This is simply a way to convince the federal government to lower federal taxes in exchange for lower federal transfers, which effectively removes the money from the provincial treasury entirely, resulting in a significant revenue shortfall.

Law and Order

* Over the next four years hire more police officers.

Yes. But more importantly, create community policing initiatives and focus on social and economic parity.

* Legalize and regulate cannabis.


* Commit new resources to dedicated squads for child pornography and organized crime.

No. It's not clear that new resources ought to be dedicated specifically to these areas as opposed to, say, juvenile crime, break-ins and property crime, street crime, etc. It would be better to manage police services by providing generalized funding and management direction, and allowing police to allocate their own resources according to these priorities and the state of affairs in the community.

* Create a ‘chronic offender’/'three strikes’ designation with much stiffer penalties.

No. The 'habitual offender' designation already exists. A 'three strikes' policy is a clumsy directive that creates injustice, both in the case of heinous crinimals with only one strike 9such as Paul Bernardo) and petty criminals with multiple offences. Moreover, the United States - which is the source of three strikes legislation - is probably the last nation we should be taking lessons in criminal policy from. It is a nation with a significantly higher crime rate than other developed nations (compare to Europe and Japan, for example) and has one of the highest incarceration rates in the world.

* Implement Canada’s first program to electronically monitor offenders.

No. Programs already exist. See

* Expand the province wide program for rewards leading to arrests and convictions in cases of unsolved crimes.

No. 'Crime Stoppers' already exists.

* Investigate the legalization and regulation of the sex trade.

Yes. But can we call it something a little more dignified than 'the sex trade'?


* Perform a comprehensive review of our health system investigating how private for-profit structures can help deal with the growing problems of the public system.

No. Canadians do not support privatized health care. And privatized health care is known to increase costs and result in poorer care. And we should consider widening public health care; a review of the system should be undertaken in order to identify (a) where more resources are needed in the public health care system (eg., MRIs and other monitoring), and (b) where inequities are being created by private providers in sectors not covered by the public system, eg. pharmacies, dental care and eye care, with consideration to extending the public system if the private system is unable to ensure affordable and professional care for all Canadians.


* The Atlantica Party affirms debt reduction is a priority.

No. The health and welfare of our citizens is a priority. Debt reduction is something we'd like to accomplish, but all things being equal, it is preferable to feed the starving than to feed the banks.

* The Atlantica Party affirms no deficit spending.

No. Similarly, deficits are not something you want to do on a regular basis, but are in some cases unavoidable. The typical person, for example, will undergo years of deficit spending in the form of student loans while earning their degree, but this is viewed as an investment. In a similar manner, people starting a business expect that the business may lose money in the first few years as it gets established; that's why they need to be financed by venture capitalists and government support, measures that were advocated above. The same is true of a province or nation. It may require deficit spending to provide an adequate social and technological infrastructure in order to produce a buoyant economy. Skimping on this investment is like cutting classes in order to save money, or cutting corners when starting upa business. It never works, and results in a great deal of wasted effort. It is far more important to spend the money wisely, to actually _invest_ the money strategically (rather than to, say, simply lower taxes to companies who will simply ship their profits to offshore tax havens).


* A comprehensive review of our educational and apprenticeship system with the aim to make it world class.

Yes. But let's not presume that 'world class' means something specific at the outset.

* Create a student debt elimination/scholarship program on a sliding performance scale for young citizens that commit to staying.

Yes. But without requiring that students stay, which violates their rights. Rather, charge full repayment of student loans, but offset those in the form of provincial tax credits designed to tailor loan repayment to income. The tax credits would, of course, only be available to those who pay provincial tax, but does not restrict a person's mobility.

* Substantive spending increases for K-12 and post-secondary education as an infrastructure investment.

Yes. But the bulk of this after after the comprehensive review of the educational system.

* Alter school funding models to make them more competitive such as a voucher system.

No. There is no case in the world where a voucher system has improved educational outcomes, and no case in which a private system has improved overall state or provincial outcomes. Much better examples of flexible and progressive education systems can be found in Canadian provinces such as Quebec, Ontario and Alberta, and internationally in places such as Finland. These systems show significant better educational outcomes; the private and mixed systems, such as are foun d in the U.S., are dropping lower and lower in international tests such as PISA (run by the OECD).

* Investigate eliminating the school board system.

No. One of the hallmarks of the systems just described is local management of educational systems.

* Create a mandatory Atlantic Canadian history credit.

No. History - including Atlantic history - is already covered in social studies. And the same remark regarding piecemeal changes to curricula apply.

* Act upon the conclusions of the Black Learners Advisory Committee Report.

Maybe. I haven't read the report and cannot comment.


* Substantially reduce government regulation to encourage private enterprise.

No. If the current economic crash has shown us anything, it is that government regulation plays a vital role in the system. It keeps our water and food safe (just ask the people of Walkerton), it keeps our roads, bridges and transportation system safe, it prevents corruption and it encourages accountability. Nobody wants more regulation or paperwork than is necessary, but the inevitable result of deregulation has always been, first, abuse, and then second, catastrophe.

* Deregulate the price of motive fuels, such as gasoline and diesel.

No. Deregulated fuel prices result in higher fuel prices, but only as a consequence of oil companies taking windfall profits (that is, they are quick to raise prices tbut slow to lower them). Fuel prices will move upward at a steady pace in the years ahead. Regulation will provide some stability, and more to the point, will prevent oil companies from collecting unreasonable profits from what may at times be panicked buying. It should be understood that regulation will not artificially lower the price of fuel, and that deregulation will not save consumers money. Quite the opposite.

* Deregulate NSLC retail and wholesale distribution.

No. Alcohol should continue to be regulated, as its consumption by children is prohibited. But it should be much more freely sold in stores and at all hours, and the government monopoly on alcohol sales should be ended. A mechanism should be put in place to offset the loss in provincial revenues.

* Eliminate provincial duplication of federal regulation, for example environment impact studies.

No. There is room for cooperation in environmental impact studies, and the same tests should not be performed twice, but no level of government should disregard its role in the oversight of environmental impact.

* Reduce spending by government by outsourcing non-core civil service functions.

No. Outsourcing civil service functions typically results in an increase in the cost of those functions to governments, and thus effectively represents a waste of taxpayer money. Moreover, centralized decisions regarding the management of various departments and operations are always misguided, as general principles rarely apply in particular cases. Hence, it makes more sense to enable such decisions to be made as close to the point of impact as possible, with professional civil service employees accountable for the overall efficiency of their departments.

* Reduce spending by unifying and rationalizing non-controversial bureaucracy with the other Atlantic provinces on.

No. There is no such thing as non-controversial bureaucracy.

* Perform a complete review of all government programs for opportunities to outsource to improve service and reduce cost.

No. The presumption is that outsourcing reduces costs. In many cases, this is simply not so. Even in cases where outsourcing reduces costs, it may result in significantly deteriorated service. For example, when the Conservative government in Manitoba outsourced the hospital food service in Winnipeg, the private firm saved money by centralizing operations, and proving frozen food to patients, to be microwaved on-site. The resulting food set new standards of awfulness for hospital food.


* Make investment in base infrastructure a priority (highways, rail & IT).

Yes. Especially rail and IT.

* Investigate expanding the toll road system.

No. Point-of-service income collection is the least efficient of all possible forms of income collection. Moreover, a toll system counters the objectives of investing in a transportation system. It's like paying money out of one pocket to make the system better, and paying money out of the other pocket to make it worse. Infrastructure is a government expense, and produces benefits for everyone, whether or not they use that particular link resource.

* Create a province wide ‘Mac-Pass‘.

No. See above.

* Work with the Federal Government and private enterprise to build a world class Symphony Hall and Conservatory in Halifax.

No. There are many more forms of public expenditure that enjoy much wider popular support.

* Work towards creation of an electrical corridor from Newfoundland to Cape Breton.

Maybe. I would need to investigate this. It's not clear that one is needed.

* Investigate the creation of research-parks at post-secondary institutions.

Yes, sort of. Research parks exist at post-secondary institutions; I work in one. Should they exist at all post-secondary institutions? That is less clear; a small liberal arts university would probably not make a good mix with a research park (but they might support a musical facility of some sort (but probably not a classical music conservatory)).

* Investigate an amalgamated container terminal for Halifax.

Yes. Assuming it does not have one (it seems to me that it does, but I could be wrong).


* Create a Green Urban Trail Initiative for Nova Scotia’s cities and towns.


* Create an Urban Forest Initiative.


* Create a province wide trail system linking our cities and towns.


* Designate ten new natural reserves.

No. Arbitrarily picking a number like that makes no sense. Where there is a need for reserves (and organizations involved in environmental issues will make this known to us) preserves should be created. In general, a few larger preserves is better than many small ones, in order to preserve the integrity of the ecosystem. Hence, for example, the party should support the expansion of Acadia National Park over the creation of a new, separate, national park.

* Acquire more environmentally significant coastal land, akin to Cape Split.

Yes. But see above.

* Investigate tough anti-pesticide legislation.

Yes. But don't call it 'tough'. Call it 'comprehensive' or 'kid and pet friendly' or some such accurate descriptor.

* Investigate expanding Nova Scotia’s recycling industry.

Yes. But specific proposals would be preferred.

* Expand Earth Day activities.


* Investigate additional benefits for veterans.

No. All people receiving a pension should receive the best possible service. The service of veterans is appreciated, but they are not some sort of super-citizen with rights and privileges that exceed those of ordinary citizens. Any extra benefits and services received should relate specifically to military service, and should not simply be some kind of 'thank you'. They are citizens, not mercenaries.

Stephen Downes Stephen Downes, Casselman, Canada

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