28 May 2012

Monday Potpourri #nlpoli

A new poll by CROP (via Paul Wells) shows that Quebeckers support having students at Quebec’s post-secondary colleges and universities pay more for their education. 

What’s more, they think that the law which tries to force protesting students back to class is a bad idea.

Take these results together and we begin to see the wisdom of crowds — not the ones in the street, necessarily, but of the whole population. Opinions are divided, but in the main, Quebecers:

• think it is more legitimate to ask students to contribute more to their education than to say they have paid enough.

• believe Law 78 asks for things a government should be able to ask of its citizens — i.e., that it’s a legitimate law;

• don’t think Law 78 will make student refuseniks more likely to cough up their tuition money — i.e., they don’t think it’s a pertinent law.

The federal electoral boundaries commission released its draft proposal for new riding boundaries in Newfoundland and Labrador last week.

Labrador stays the same as does St. John’s South-Mount Pearl.  The others look radically different:

Nl boundaries 2012

Next for the proposal is a public consultation process and a series of public meetings.

About 66% of the people in the province lack the math skills to function successfully in our modern society. This is one of the little tidbits of information SRBP notes from time to time.

What we are talking about is not just addition, subtraction, multiplication and divisions.  We are also talking about logic and reasoning.

One of the most common claims you find from supporters of the local Conservative party is that a majority of Newfoundlanders and Labradorians supported their team in 2003, 2007 and 2011.  This idea turned up on Twitter on Sunday night when someone popped this observation to a discussion about another topic entirely:

…just so we're clear...The majority of people in NL voted PC...for the last 3 elections.



In 2003 and 2007, 43% of eligible voters cast ballots for the provincial Conservatives.  In 2011, only 32% did.  By definition, a majority is more than 50%.  Since both 43 and 32 are smaller than 50, you can see that a “majority of people in NL” did not vote for the local Tories.

Unfortunately, the Tory lads did not understand this point.  One of them insisted that “a majority is a majority”.  Another switched to seat counts.  Incidentally, the idea the boys were grasping for was “plurality”. If they had a point beyond that, it got lost as they went around in circles.

What difference does this make?  Well, for one thing it illustrates very neatly that the research is right:  lots of people in Newfoundland and Labrador don’t really have a good grasp of some pretty basic ideas. The problem cuts across all segments of our society and can affect politicians just as easily as it can affect anyone else.

For another thing, that lack of knowledge becomes more significant if the people without the knowledge are making important decisions on behalf of the rest of us.  You can miss some pretty important details  - like say the impact of federal job cuts on the province  - if you can’t do the math.  That’s bad enough if it affects you and your family.  It is really bad if the misinformation screws over hundreds of thousands of people for decades.

You can see another angle on the problem if the person without the knowledge is a politician who justifies a decision on the basis of having a majority of votes.  The way our political system works, a party can win a majority of the seats in the legislature with the support of a mere 32% of eligible voters.  More people actually didn’t vote than voted for the winner of the election, but that’s another issue.

This sort of brute rationalization is nothing more than a variation on the old idea that “might makes right.”  It’s like a statement by the finance minister about Muskrat Falls: “the opposition will get its say, said Tom Marshall, and then the government will get its way.”  You can get into a whole philosophical, anti-democratic tangle when you are acting on behalf of a majority when you aren’t.  Facts, logic, fairness and reason go out the window.  The whole discussion resolves down to nothing more elegant than:  we won.  Frig you if you don;t like what we are doing.

And if you  - the politician -  justify your own actions on the basis of having won a majority in the last election, you pretty much don’t have a leg to stand on when another bunch of politicians with the same claim do something you don’t like.

Like, say, a majority federal government that cuts employment insurance benefits and cause hardship to some of your constituents.

Not understanding math  - numbers, logic and reasoning - can really suck.