2017-06-16

Comparing BC Election 2017 with Regionalized Proportionality, part 1

I came up with an answer of how Regionalized Proportionality, as I envisioned it, might change our electoral result. The spreadsheet will follow, as promised, after a few more tweaks, but this is a comparison of
  • the actual result of our election as is (FPTP)
  • what it might look like if the Province's votes were counted to a single list across the board
  • what it might look like with Regionalized Proportionality
           Actual Result    Province Wide Proportional  Regionalized Proportionality
Liberals:       44                  36                          42
NDP:            41                  35                          35
Green:           3                  16                          10

So, the end result, either of province wide proportional representation, or of Regionalized Proportionality would probably mean that Ms. Clark would follow the same course of action as she has so far, but holding a gun to the heads of her caucus to prevent any from standing as Speaker wouldn't give her the opportunity of (legally, yes; morally, no) slow-marching us to another $44M election this year.

But I write this before pushing my spreadsheet up in order to make a few interpretive comments on my experiment.

For one thing, I was shocked at how much more population there was in Metro Vancouver than the rest of the province. Until you see "42 of 87" staring you in the face, you don't realize what's happened. Until you see that "55 of 87" members come from largely urban areas (Metro Vancovuer, Capital and Fraser Valley Regional Districts) of the province, you don't realize the cause of feelings of  isolation and neglect the rural areas of the province feel -- something easily attested anecdotally if you have any contacts in Clinton or Valemount -- or even larger towns like Prince George or Quesnel.

For another, one thing that slowed me in my tracks were allegations from various places of undue influence by the Liberals on the latest realignment of districts which prevented seats being lost by the rural areas to the urban areas. Some blamed the NDP loss on that detail, and it's possible -- even likely, if you understand how power tends to be good at maintaining itself -- that the measures taken during that process by the Liberals were calculated to retain power rather than allowing a purely just process to run its course. Someone used the word gerrymandering and suddenly many were using it. In my opinion, this was completely, utterly, annoyingly inappropriate. We haven't had a case of outright gerrymandering in BC since the retraction of "Gracie's Finger", named after the inimitable Ms. McCarthy who was so prominent in BC politics during my teen years.

I was reminded in those pieces of people blaming Ms. Clinton's loss of the 2016 election on Comey, Wikileaks, Benghazi, the E-mail-server vs. others of her own allies admitting that she wasn't a really great campaigner. Locally, blaming "gerrymandering" seemed to me to ignore that fact that there were many little places around the province to which Mr. Horgan didn't go; that perhaps he tailored his messages to appeal to urban as opposed to rural voters; that he left a few rural long-standing NDP members to twist in the wind on their own -- and they went down to defeat without commensurate gains in other parts of the same regions. Perhaps, when it comes down to it, the NDP didn't do so well because he wasn't such a good campaigner either.

The allegation of influence on the redstricting slowed me down because I had noticed that the rural areas were slightly over-represented, but I hadn't come up with some of the numbers that were being bandied about on that front, like 25% too many rural ridings, a number which would raise some alarm, and I wondered if I should go back and analyse those parts more closely. I had seen individual ridings being 5% under-populated -- and maybe that's where these numbers were coming from.

It shook me, too, because Ms. Clark's "directions" to Elections BC flew in the face of something that has been a point of pride for me in comparing a Westminster system to our southern cousins: that re-alignment of districts is largely apolitical since Elections BC is responsible to the Speaker and through the Speaker to the Crown and not to the Premier. Perhaps I've been mistaken on this point -- still we don't have anything like that "Hall of Shame" that can be constructed from the various district maps drawn by party-dominated committees.

In the end, I decided that re-examining this question was for a later date -- but by then I had dithered much longer about the results of my study than I ever intended to.

For a third point, while I consider Ms. Clark's charge to her caucus not to stand as Speaker for an NDP-Green coalition highly un-neighbourly and un-Canadian, I also bemoaned the instability of such a thin minority government -- EITHER WAY!! The level of rhetoric against minority governments in Canada is pretty astonishing because given the concentration of power in the Premier's or Prime Minister's Office since the days of Trudeau (P.E.T., not his son) majority governments are term-by-term dictatorships.

I believe that minority governments can be the best results, if only the players see their first task to be governing well, rather than maneuvering matters so that the government falls at the peak of their own popularity -- this is what seems to have played out in the Pearson-Thompson and Pearson-Douglas mandates, federally. Many of the opponents of reform and proportionality of any kind utterly ignore these historical facts, and as it stands today, a straight proportional result would give either a Liberal-Green or an NDP-Green co-mandate a lot more stability than what's been delivered by First Past the Post. Perhaps, in a world where most elections will result in minorities, penalizing all parties financially for allowing a government to fall before the four-year mandate would influence their behaviour in such a case? But perhaps if the parties understand that EVERY election will result in minorities, such a penalty might be unnecessary.

Finally, one other cause of my dithering was that I realized that there was a limit to how deeply "Regionalized Proportionality" could be applied without introducing fuzziness of its own -- but this piece is long enough already and I'll address this in the next one, in which I will also release the spreadsheet. It shouldn't take too much more time.

2017-05-10

BC Election Result -- 43-41-3

Wow. Who saw that coming?

Before last night I started working on the "party lists" and got some for Fraser Valley, and then much of Vancouver but it became ponderous and, I felt, somewhat pointless, because in reality, this sort of thing should be handled completely differently. I could share them here but it wouldn't add to the discussion really, except to point out that in a consolidated riding, "Independent" candidates are far less meaningful even than they are now.

But last night, when things still looked like ending 42-42-3, I took a look at my consolidated Okanagan riding, Kelowna + Penticton, and decided that collapsing four seats is too few. I ran the same numbers adding Vernon-Monashee and decided even five was too few. I'll present the full data set some time soon but I think, for myself, that any grouping for proportionality's sake, of less than six seats is probably too few. The result would be as arbitrary in its way as the current First-Past-the-Post results look now. It also led me to feel that it would be best to use Metro Vancouver as a single riding. If it turns out (as it may) that even Fraser Valley (six members) and Victoria (seven members) contain too few seats so that the result is too coarse to feel fair, splitting Metro Vancouver into three ridings, (18, 13 and 10 members) would do more harm than good.

Maybe it means, too, that the right way to run this is to consolidate even some of the intermediately-populous ridings together. Does a Thompson-Okanagan riding (10 members: Kelowna's 3, Penticton, Vernon-Monashee, Boundary-Similkameen, Fraser-Nicola, Kamloops' two ridings and Shuswap) make more sense? More data to run! Yum Yum.

Only let's do this on evidence. I understand (from interviews last night) that "Proportional Representation" and "Campaign Finance" are the bedrock issues that the Green's will want as conditions of co-operation. I would be flattered if my mutterings-in-a-corner contributed anything helpful to that discussion.

2017-04-19

One more thing to do before the election...

I woke up this morning realizing that there's one more thing I could do before the election comes around, and that would be to generate theoretical lists for my consolidated ridings.

I'm no party hack. I'm not on the inside of any process, so I don't know how any of the three (and more, really) parties would rank their various candidates in a given region for a list. I'm not sure what I'll do to make up for this lack of knowledge. I think, for starters, I'll rank people who have ever been elected Provincially, Federally, Municipally, in that order, ahead of others -- and current incumbents at the head of each sub-list. After that, I'll just try to be sensible. I know it won't resemble what the parties would actually do particularly closely but I'm just one guy (not quite the unshaven guy in his parents' basement -- although I have a beard, and the part of the house where I'm typing is on a cement pad, but I'm the parent in this house) not the scores or hundreds that I would hope each party would consult (their members, their executives) in generating this kind of list.

I don't know if I'll have the time to complete these list before the election but I'll start with the Fraser Valley, where I lived all my adult life until 6 years ago, and then Metro Vancouver where I live now, so that if I run out of time, I'll at least have finished one set of lists and I'll have looked at the places I know better, first. I've never lived in Victoria, nor in the Okanagan. Maybe someone who does / has could have a look at those two areas and let me know? The comments need moderation and I may not be instanter at approving them but they would be a way of getting back to me.

All Candidates Meeting -- Coquitlam-Burke Mountain

I just attended the all-candidates meeting in Coquitlam for the Provincial Election, in the riding of Coquitlam-Burke Mountain.

It's good we have the freedom to hold these things. And I'm grateful, really I am to the Real Estate Board and the Chamber of Commerce for setting it up. I even appreciate the attempt, through social media to get the pulse on the issues by asking for social media votes on the questions. You can still see the leftovers by looking at https://www.sli.do/ and entering ACD1. I don't know how long they'll be up there but as of this writing you can see the flavour and distribution of the questions that were asked from the list that's there. The ones that were asked were removed from the slido web site (as opposed to being marked "done" -- "feature request!" shouts my inner geek) so you can't see them at all.

But my Most Important Issue, electoral reform didn't come up. Oh well. It did get a few up-votes. I get it. "Meta-issues" don't bleed, so they don't lead, and as meta-issues go, this is both really, really important and really, really wonky. I get it. Maybe electoral reform is on a fringe, but if it is, I'd like to think it's a sound-mind fringe, not the lunatic variety.

As I promised from the (6 links in the next six words!) beginning, right through to the end of my series looking at how Regionalized Proportionality would work out in BC, I will analyse the results of our provincial election to see what kind of a legislature we could have had. So stay tuned...

2017-03-17

The Hon. Ron McKinnon (my MP) sets up a council for Seniors Issues

I excerpt here, the bulk of a note I sent to my MP in response to this announcement, commending him for taking an interest in what is often a very vulnerable community, and yet...

Speaking as someone just behind the bulk of the Baby Boomers as they've progressed through each demographic ahead of me (my birth year in the not-so-late 60s marks me as a "trailing edge boomer")...

It strikes me that the best way to guarantee that things will be okay for me when I get to be in that demographic, would be to turn back the clock on some of the pension off-loading that was done as a result of the governments that the current seniors voted in time after time.

The whole transition away from defined-benefit pensions to RRSPs was a great social injustice. Individuals are not set up to absorb risk well and I am looking at my impending retirement with a mixture of grim determination and thankfulness that my trade does not depend on a hale constitution but only on the retention of a sharp mind which, so far, has shown no sign of beginning to ebb. I write software.

It strikes me, further, that an annual limit on CPP contributions benefits the rich only and I would ask that this limit be removed, at least insofar as the contributions are concerned. Given that all CPP contributions are currently tax free, it would be wise to retain the limit there: to make CPP contributions up to the current limit tax free (as now) but not those above and beyond that point. This should prevent any impact on general revenue that my proposal would otherwise have.

Further, I believe it is moral and desirable to make all personal capital gains subject to a small CPP-contribution sur-tax as well. I am, in a very small way, borrowing from Piketty here, in his proposal to fund re-equalization across all of society. I'm not proposing that this sur-tax be very big. Something along the lines of 0.2% of the Capital Gains Tax already being charged would be small enough not to be odious to the individual, but potentially effective enough to make sure there'll be some CPP there for me (and my generation) to collect. This will be something we'll be thankful for in our turn, when we finally realize that we haven't been such financial wizards as we were told we could be, with a mechanism (RRSPs) that was originally crafted, in the days of highly progressive income tax (before the days of Reagan, Thatcher, Murdoch and Mulroney), to tax executive bonus schemes more gently and over the longer term. Of course, the returns of the markets of those days have gone away and it's not clear that they're ever coming back.

I admit that I may be able to retire comfortably on the proceeds of down-sizing my dwelling at some point -- but then again, maybe not. And what about my kids? This is a proposal for the long term, not just for me in a case where BC Real Estate suddenly becomes far less desirable than it currently is.

Expanding the CPP contribution base like that would be an action that I would support whole-heartedly, so that I might even vote Liberal next time. As it stands now, though, an announcement like yours strikes me, emotionally, like pandering to a large group of people other than me who have already benefited greatly from a certain set of one-time economic conditions and poisoned the well even for the long tail (me) of their own demographic. I don't begrudge them the support you are giving them as they have entered the "other" (besides infancy and early childhood) "most-vulnerable" time of their lives and desperately need more support. I just wonder if anything can be done so that something is there for me, not to mention the next generations, when we all get to be that age.

Sincerely, etc. etc.

Perhaps some of you want to propose similar things to your Liberal member of parliament? A simple idea coming from several directions has a better chance of succeeding than a single voice, no? To quote an elder statesman from the history of the current "anti-tax" political party from our large boisterous neighbour: "Taxes are the price we pay for a civilized society."

2017-03-01

The starter git project? Just a starter

Yesterday I mentioned that my git starter project had a significant gap (and closed it there) and a problem. I had noticed the gap before I posted the original, but I didn't notice the problem until, as I wrote yesterday, I tried to use the original for something else.

The problem was that the starter wasn't well laid out for further development. It showed how to bring the different pieces together in one place but not how one should lay things out for longer term ease of use. I considered laying down steps to change the project, but if a patch is a picture of a change to source code, and if a picture is worth a thousand words, then if you download this patch and execute the following commands, you'll see what I mean. (I'm assuming you saved the patch in your current working directory, beside the starter project)

========================================================================================
cd starter
git apply ../git-starter-patch.diff
========================================================================================

The result shows far more eloquently than I can briefly describe what needed to be done. Your final tool will need to use the code that you want to write and test -- but so will the tests! Putting the code next to the tool would make bringing your "test-me" code into a test as well as into the final tool awkward. After this patch, when you want to bring your library into the main tool, you can add a line to the top level CMakeLists.txt file, just after the "add_executable" line, to bring the library in there, too, thus:

target_link_libraries( starter math-primitives )

Then, everything will be compiled exactly once, available for linking in each different context (currently only two, but it could grow). Oh, and by the way, the test in the patch fails; so don't commit it yet!

2017-02-28

That starter git project? Don't stop there...

Two-and-a-half months ago, I posted a 10-step git starter. And I felt good, like I had probably made someone's life a little easier.

I also used it within a matter of weeks for the beginning of a "Coding Dojo"-ish project that my sons (one in the industry already, one about to graduate from SFU in Computer Science, one just in his first year) and I are working on together. Early on in that process, I saw a significant problem with the starter. There was also a significant gap in the how-to-use-this example script. Let me fill in that gap first, and then, later I'll show how to fix the problem.

The gap came in two parts as a result of running the example at home, where all the development boxen run Linux (arch, and fedora -- what a lot of typo-squats there are on fedora, though!). The first part of the gap came in the way I used re-directed cat to create the starting versions of all the files -- something that using Cygwin would have fixed easily enough. But the second problem, the real one, came up in the block after the 10 steps.

On Linux, I could use the default "Unix Makefiles" generator without specifying it at all. Under Cygwin, perhaps that would work as well, but for native Windows builds, especially where the system has several versions of Developer Studio installed (as my Windows development boxes at work often have), you'll want to choose a specific version under which to create solution files.

But wait, you say, I thought CMake was a build system!? Well it is, but not quite. Strictly speaking, it's more a meta-build system. You specify what's required to build what you want in CMakeLists.txt files, but then CMake generates build scripts according to the set of compilers you have on the system. It made the most sense for the project CMake was originally written to support, and given the differences in available functionality on the different platforms, with the different tool chains, it's probably the best choice. The compiler vendors know best what their build system wants. CMake knows how to build build scripts for the build systems listed here. I say call it a win and move on.

If you're building on Windows, and you're using Developer Studio 2013, and you've got both CMake and Developer Studio location on the PATH you would follow step 10 with...

----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
mkdir build
cd build
cmake -G "Visual Studio 12 2013" ..
msbuild starter.sln /p:Configuration=Release
----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

I'll verify this when I have an in-house Windows development system up and running, but even if I've messed that up, you should be able to open a ".sln" file from within the build sub-directory in Developer Studio and build and debug everything from there. Once a release version has been built, you should be able to run the resulting command line "tool" and starting "test", from within the build directory as

----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
.\Release\starter.exe
.\test\Release\testStarter.exe
----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

And you'll be able to run the resulting test with ctest, thus:

----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
ctest -C Release .
----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

The problem, which I'll address in another installment lies in where the test directory is in the example vs. where better practice might put it. Don't worry. Git and your favourite text editor will make this easy, too.

2017-02-23

Electoral Reform in BC - Regional Districts and Provincial Electoral Districts, the Lower Mainland

(the elephant in the legislature)

And so we come to the last installment -- and definitely the most complicated at the "electoral district" end of things, referring, as always, to BC's Electoral Map and the Regional District Map.

When mapping ridings to the Fraser Valley Regional District, some of its area is lost to West Vancouver-Sea to Sky (see below) and some to Fraser-Nicola (as described earlier) but it also takes in some of Metro-Vancouver's territory in filling up Abbotsford South and Abbotsford West. I have lived for significant parts of my life on the western parts of those two ridings and the aggregation isn't entirely crazy. Purists will wonder what South Otter has in common with the village of Arnold (extreme ends of Abbotsford South) but these are all rural and semi-rural areas that look to urban Abbotsford as their centre of gravity. This preference exists to some extent, even in the west, where being "in Langley" might be thought to attract attention toward that urban centre. Maple Ridge-Mission, too, takes in part of Metro-Vancouver for the Maple Ridge end of its area, but since I am sketching things, not painting them per-pixel, I will accept the current boundaries as the source for my experiment.

I propose a new "Fraser Valley" seat consolidated from the new Chilliwack-Kent, Chilliwack, Abbotsford-Mission, Maple Ridge-Mission, Abbotsford-South and Abbotsford-West ridings. It would send six members proportionately chosen to the Legislature, representing about 46,300 people per member, slightly over-represented, but not by as much as many of the really rural areas of BC.

Before proposing my final new seat, a word about West Vancouver-Sea to Sky. This riding is unique in the whole province. At the south end, it is comprised of the farthest west portions of West Vancouver, up through Howe Sound to Squamish and Whistler, on to Pemberton, Birken, D'Arcy and Mount Currie. In short it is dominated geographically by the Squamish-Lillooet Regional District but in serious danger of being dominated in regard to population by the part of Metro Vancouver that is included at the south end. Recognizing the hazard in doing so, I am going to include this riding in my Metro-Vancouver model if only because population does swamp geography. Yet if I'm wrong about the actual population counts, what little I know, guess or have been able to sniff out about people from Lions Bay to Whistler, is that this area is functioning more and more as a bedroom community and/or playground for Metro-Vancouver-centred folk, so this distortion shouldn't be enough to invalidate the results of my sketch.

My last proposal will be slightly controversial so I will be making a follow-on promise. Finally then...

I propose a new "Metro Vancouver" seat consolidated from the 42 ridings bounded by the Straight of Georgia to the southwest, and on land inclusively by Langley East, Maple Ridge-Pitt Meadows and West Vancovuer-Sea to Sky. This seat would send 42 members proportionately selected based on a single ballot cast in that greater area. Each member would represent about 56,000 people, being under-represented by about 10%.

That will be the biggest part of my experiment but I submit that some sub-divisions may be appropriate. One such scheme might be in three parts:
  • a Vancouver-Sea to Mountains riding composed of Vancouver, Richmond and the North/West Van region, (18 members)
  • a North Fraser-Suburbs riding comprising Burnaby, New Westminster, Tri-Cities and Maple Ridge-Pitt Meadows (10 members) (maybe even leaving Maple Ridge-Pitt Meadows out on its own?)
  • a South Fraser riding containing everything from Delta to Langley (13 members)
In the tradition of Thomas Piketty (who put all the data for "Capital" up on the web for others to examine), after the election is done and I've totted up my results, I will release the spreadsheet that I use for Metro-Vancouver with some sort keys in place to enable others to fiddle around and examine things further but I wouldn't recommend smaller divisions than this trio because it would tend to leave otherwise urban areas out of the anti-fragmentation effect that I look to find in Regionalized Proporitionality.

So, enough of this until May! If anyone from any other province in Canada wants to try to do something like this for their own piece of the Home and Native Land, please let me know on one of the Facebook posts and maybe we can compare notes later.

And I must get back to some matters of more immediate urgency that interrupted the gradual flow of this presentation when I first conceived of it.

Electoral Reform in BC - Regional Districts and Provincial Electoral Districts, Kelowna and Victoria

With reference, again, to BC's Electoral Map and the Regional District Map, this and the next (last) installment are the simplest at the Regional District end of things, more complicated when it comes to the ridings.

The Central Okanagan Regional district is largely "Metro Kelowna" and the immediate countryside. It boasts a population of just under 180,000 and because it only sends 3 members to the legislature, it would be significantly under-represented, except that Paradise Valley, which contains the Coquihalla 97C highway on its way out of the Okanagan, and everything south of it is part of the Penticton riding. So to make the math reflect reality a bit more closely, I'm going to lump Okanagan-Similkameen and Central Okanagan together to counter the resulting distortion. If I had location-by-location census data, I could do it that way but this is for a charcoal sketch, not a pixel-true, crystalline, exact image, so the "lumping" approach should be adequate for the purpose.

Central Okanagan's 180,000 or so plus people plus the 80,700 from Okanagan-Similkameen makes about 260,700
Central Okanagan's three ridings (Kelowna-Lake Country, Kelowna West and Kelowna-Mission) plus Okanagan-Similkameen's two (Penticton and Boundary-Similkameen) make 5
So, at 52,100 or so population per member of the legislature, there's some under-representation here, but not by the greatest disparity (see Metro-Vancouver).

I don't believe that Regionalized Proportionality should come into play where there is a collection of fewer than four seats. I don't have extensive research to back that up but call it a hunch. As I've been drawing this project to one conclusion, I've conceived of a follow-up that shouldn't be too hard to execute after the provincial election that's happening this spring. Ignoring for the moment the importance of local personalities in the urban areas and the clamor that may or may not erupt about strategic votes (voting for your least unfavourite candidate to prevent a REALLY bad option from winning), I'm going to consolidate several sets of ridings' electoral result to demonstrate, again just as a rough sketch, of how Regionalized Proportionality would have changed the outcome of this spring's election, just as an example.

And this is the place where I'll do the first consolidation. Although it breaches one of my principles (following Regional District Lines), it will honour the similar character of the whole Okanagan district with, I hope, not too sprawling a definition. I propose an "Okanagan" seat comprised of the new Penticton, Kelowna-Lake Country, Kelowna-Mission and Kelowna West ridings. It would send four members proportionally selected to the legislature in Victoria. I think I will also do a comparison that adds Vernon-Monashee to the mix, but I suspect that this will be an agglomeration too far.

My second consolidation almost perfectly follows the Capital Regional District as a single riding, except where some parts of Saanich North and the Islands may be in the Cowichan Valley Regional District. Here I propose a "Victoria" seat comprising the new Langford-Juan de Fuca, Esquimalt-Metchosin, Victoria-Beacon Hill, Victoria-Swan Lake, Oak Bay-Gordon Head, Saanich South and Saanich North and the Islands. It would send seven members to the Legislature, representing 51,400 people per member, so under-represented by about 2% (see the first post in this series for that calculation -- including my follow-on comment).

Electoral Reform in BC - Regional Districts and Provincial Electoral Districts, Kamloops the not-quite-urban

​(Again, I'm referring all through here to the Electoral Map and the Regional District Map but I don't think this installment will be confusing enough for the colorization that was required last time.)

After the last installment, I took some time to sift through what was left (the most urban parts of BC) and other than the "problem" of what to do with Whistler, and what to do about the places under consideration here, my confidence that Regionalized Proportionality would serve BC well has been unequivocally strengthened. Bear in mind that while we've dealt with the greatest part of the land area of BC, we have still only talked about 26 seats in the projected 87 seat legislature to be elected this spring. Rural BC has good reason to feel a little swamped by the urban parts in size. Hopefully their moderate over-representation softens the blow somewhat.

Outside of the long-time urban areas of Vancouver (in its largest senses) and Victoria, Kamloops and Kelowna are the other two more urban parts of BC and they represent, in my mind, the boundary between where Regionalized Proportionality would leave existing ridings as they were or consolidate them into proportional blocks. Let's take them on one at a time.

Urban Kamloops lies entirely within the Thompson-Nicola regional district. Electorally the district is split into three ridings with a large but sparsely populated additions from two other regional districts:

  • Squamish-Lillooet: north portions in the Fraser watershed, but not via Harrison Lake
  • Fraser Valley: upstream of the Harrison River around the Fraser watershed
  • And from Okanagan-Similkameen, the part of Manning Park that isn't in the Fraser watershed (and hence in the Fraser Valley regional district).
This last point reflects the difference between highway logistics (split the park on or around the summit; deal with the west slope from Hope, deal with the east from Princeton) and political concerns (people who live in Manning Park probably have more in common with each other than not, electorally speaking).

The three ridings each have their own character.

Kamloops-North Thompson follow the same pattern as the ridings around Prince George very closely: take part of the urban area (north side of Kamloops) and include its closest hinterland (the communities between there and not quite up to Valemount, following the Thompson watershed boundary, actually).

Fraser Nicola approaches "metro Kamloops" from the south but from the detail that I see, probably doesn't quite get there, so it probably represents the most south-westerly mainland riding in BC comparable with the rural ridings farther north and east. The largest community it includes would be Merritt, at about 7,100 people. The rest are names familiar from road trips in my childhood: Hope, Yale, Spuzzum, Boston Bar, Lytton, Spences Bridge, Ashcroft, Cache Creek and Clinton to name off the points within the riding that we would drive through when I was a child. Where were we going? Oh, just from the Fraser Valley and one set of relatives, to Williams Lake where my Dad's youngest sister and her family were for many years. Little places, many of those, that have lost all of their Alberta-bound through-traffic since the Coquihalla Highway opened 30 years ago.

Kamloops-South Thompson, though, while taking in the closest hinterlands to metro Kamloops, is not very vast in area, stretching from Savona to Chase and Westwold. Savona to either of Chase or Westwold takes about an hour to drive now, says google maps but travel times would be longer where significant backroads access is required. This is almost an urban/suburban mix, although outside of "metro Kamloops", the thought might be resisted. Would the people of Kamloops want to be lumped together for a regional proportional list? They should have a say but my guess would be that the ridings they have suit the population as it currently stands.

So my scheme probably wouldn't affect these places at all. Kamloops, if it were to become its own riding, even including all of what is now Kamloops-South Thompson would only have two members at current levels -- not enough to be interesting for a proportional ballot. And doing so would leave at least one hinterland -- the North Thompson, without a natural place to collect with to keep it from being too greatly over-represented. As it stands, these three ridings represent a bit more than 128,000 people at 42,800 per riding, bringing the over-all average up slightly to 42,500 per member of the legislative assembly.

Not a bad mix and for the task as it was assigned, I have no words of reproof for Elections BC.

An AI will eat my job?

One more brief interlude before I complete my series on Regionalized Proportionality as it might apply provincially to British Columbia.

This paper, as mentioned in a current slashdot post, and savaged in various ways in the comments would seem to suggest that an AI will eat my job, as a dessert following the assembly line jobs of bygone days (whose former holders are inclined to blame globalization, wrongly) and the main course under current consideration in the transport jobs that google and others are working at destroying even as we speak. Of course, the news reports aggregated with the original paper's link at slashdot, MSPowerUser and New Scientist, while interest- and attention-grabbing aren't really known for sober consideration.

Of course there's the autonomic adrenaline rush when one sees anything that may threaten one's livelihood but some of the trains of thought in slashdot's comments pointed one direction for comfort straightaway. I didn't stick around long enough to see what other comfort might be shed in the cacophony but a few other things quickly came to mind:
  1. As was pointed out by several on slashdot, now you'll just have to find people who can write specifications that the AI can understand and turn into programs. Hmm... That sounds an awful lot like programming, or rather meta-programming, I suppose. Just not the kind of Meta-Programming that Abrahams and Gurtovoy had in mind. The paper itself gives examples of what this meta-code might look like. There's a Domain-specific Language (DSL) there that reminds me, in some ways, of any highly abstracted programming language.
  2. How about user interfaces? My first thought after I turned away from the cacophony was that the space between a computer and human users is going to be harder to specify well, therefore not going to go away very soon, either.
  3. And then there's computer to machine interfaces. You're going to have to get so specific about the specifications at that end, that it's not clear to me this, at least, is ever going to go away, no matter how good the AI becomes.
The examples of what "DeepCoder", the program developed for the paper, can do, may be deep for a computer to have performed, but it's only in the nature of a very primitive moving around of some simple data. I expect the DSL would have to get prohibitively expressive to be particularly useful to the larger problem at hand, so until you develop the AI that can generate a true and clear expression of what it takes to get the problem solved, I see a lot of work that will still require a human for a long time. (I hope the reader can see a DeepJoker pattern in "until you develop...") Time will tell where this will all lead but in its current state it rather reminds me of the distance between how long it takes for Principia Mathematica to prove that one plus one equals two, and how relevant that is for the elementary pupil cutting their baby teeth on the first pages of Arithmetic. In one sense, it was important work for somebody to have done once, and we are grateful for the work Russell and Whitehead put in to achieve it. But in the sense most commonly employed by the vast majority of humanity, it has no relevance whatsoever.

But there's a cavalier attitude in the tone of the coverage of this paper (which is actually quite interesting) which implies that software developers are simple coders who take specifications and crank out code without further thought. If that were always the case, I wouldn't still be keen to continue the craft. The kind of problem being solved by DeepCoder in the paper forms only the smallest piece of the kinds of things I've done in my career. At the very least, there's the problem of making the inputs on a particular occasion that an algorithm was executed endure for the next time (persistence/serialization), and then retrieving them for that next time (deserialization, data validation), sometimes heavily constrained by choices already made by surrounding technology (adaptation). And when people (as mediated through UI devices or signals from other programs) start to affect what the program should do, that introduces another set of problems (interaction, more data validation). Then when you're solving a problem for which there aren't a lot of code snippets out there already, you'll still need to write some of it yourself, like the first code that calculates colours under PDF's Transparency model to mention one instance -- and chances are, the first code won't be good enough for all cases (non-trivial algorithms). I could go on but the themes repeat (as one already has) at the same time as new ones appear. There's a lot of work that still needs to be done before DeepCoder writes any simple app that a human might find useful.

I think I won't starve very soon, whatever my adrenaline thinks.

2017-02-15

A letter in response to a call for petition around Canadian House Motion M-103

For the text of the motion in question (words matter!) click here.

Hello Ron...

I'm still feeling bruised from the electoral reform reversal but while I'll hold that against your leader, I can't really hold it against you, nor will it prevent me speaking up in a slightly more nuanced way than I was urged to do this morning by a friend, with regard to House Motion M-103.

This friend urged signing a petition here:

which when I read it struck me as fear-mongering of a vile sort. Still, there was one point it raised that I think needs to be hammered out before this motion is adopted by the House of Commons.

In any event, I expect the Supreme Court of Canada to rule, ultimately, in favour of free speech over the more egregious possible outcomes of the motion that the petition promoters are predicting, but I still think it is a dangerous motion to allow to pass as is, for the simple reason that "Islamophobia" is not well-defined. The only widely accepted definition of Islamophobia is promulgated by a declaration which appeals and is willing to limit its impact to a body of religious law. That detail should dictate at least a little caution in adopting statements that use the term in a blanket way without further clarification as this motion does.

Those who suggest that it is the camel's nose of injecting further, Shari`a based intrusions on Canadian society are doing so based on ideas of hijra and so forth, whose ultimate success, if indeed it is in play here, I doubt very highly on other grounds. I count these warnings as those of cranks and xenophobes. Yet, as long as "Islamophobia" is well-defined only in a very religious context, and so long as it can potentially be extended to cover sensible criticism of acts past and present done by identifiable members of the larger Islamic community, this motion has the potential of going too far and some measure of the alarm being raised isn't entirely inappropriate -- and this is something that has been said by more than just cranks.

Consider, for a moment what the societal backlash would be (and ought to be! I say it though I myself identify as Christian) if various Christian leaders asked for protections that could be construed as preventing honest criticism of the acts of any groups of Christians? That would clearly be unconstitutional.

​Can I ask and urge that the motion be amended, at the very least to point out that any definition of "Islamophobia" is, a priori, limited by what would be protected under the Charter of Rights and Freedoms? I don't believe that the honourable member who raised the motion could reasonably object to that, and it SHOULD serve to satisfy at least those with reasonable doubts that this isn't what its shrillest critics claim it to be. As for those with unreasonable doubts, what can one say? Only a long record of something other than expectation has the potential (but unfortunately, that's all it has) of convincing these that there's no "there" there; yet working out that long proof is the pith of any national project, including this Canadian experiment.

​Can we agree that such a rider of reference to the Charter​ must be added to make the motion better, a true Canadian response to some deeply fearful circumstances? Clearly, some such response is required: to the mosque shooting in Qu├ębec, to the silly braying of our nearest neighbour's new leader, to the up-tick in racist and sexist violence that has occurred even in Canada since his election, is in order. But let's do it thoughtfully, sensibly, in a typically Canadian way, shall we? It may ultimately be possible, otherwise, to draw a bright line between the passing of this motion as is and the [inflaming of even worse kinds of fear and panic, leading to a reversal of any of the good this resolution is rightly intending to accomplish].

Thanks for your time, both of you. Much wisdom to you in being part of our country's governing body.

Sincerely,


Arthur N. Klassen

2017-02-02

Electoral Reform -- Canceled -- Haiku

Like father, like son.
Once again, Canada is
Betrayed by Trudeau.

I'm old enough to remember the betrayal of Canada by the father. I hoped better from his son but was not surprised to hear about yet another undone promise.

2017-01-30

Electoral Reform in BC - Regional Districts and Provincial Electoral Districts, 9 for 7

(I'm referring all through here to the Electoral Map and the Regional District Map -- I'll try to make it obvious which I'm referring to, but opening up the maps is likely to make things clearer. Maybe colouring Regional District names differently from Electoral District names will help? Maybe I'll do that in the prose but not the lists of districts.)

So, by starting on the less-populated areas in the north of BC, I dealt with the easy stuff first. This was true in more ways than one actually, because before working on the three most populous areas of BC, the Thompson-North Okanagan, the Lower Mainland and the Capital, I thought I'd deal with the Kootenays. The mapping between regional districts and electoral districts remained pretty strong for the East Kootenay region: the southernmost, most populous area forms Kootenay East, but the remaining portion is grouped with the geographically similar parts of the Columbia-Shuswap regional district to form the Columbia River-Revelstoke electoral one.

No real quibbles there: There's a natural split between the mining corridor along the eastern approach to the Crowsnest Pass and the rest of the Rocky Mountain Trench country up to Golden and over to Revelstoke, so the composition of the Columbia-Shuswap regional district makes a lot of sense in the area of snow removal and other kinds of management -- but this regional district so big that it gets carved up still more. There's a bit of a land-swap between it and Central Kootenay regional district along the Kootenay West electoral district boundary: some of Central Kootenay regional district is included north in Columbia River-Revelstoke electoral district, while some of Columbia-Shuswap regional district is included in the other direction to make Kootenay West electoral district.

Logistics also push Trail into the Kootenay Boundary regional district while it's included (quite sensibly) in the Kootenay West electoral district.

I'm in danger of getting lost in the weeds here, I know, so I'll skip to the thorniest bits of this chunk, which relate to the most populous bits of the Columbia-Shuswap and Okanagan-Similkameen regional districts. The Shuswap lake area of Columbia-Shuswap regional district plus the northwest half of North Okanagan regional district form the Shuswap electoral district. And in the south, while combining all the less urban parts of the Kootenay Boundary and Okanagan-Similkameen regional districts into the Boundary-Similkameen electoral district, urban Penticton, the administrative town for the Okanagan-Similkameen regional district is carved off with additions from elsewhere) into its own Penticton electoral district.

So, one of the mis-givings I had about my scheme -- that it might be messy in parts of the province where there is lots of empty land with a sharp concentration of population in one place -- is borne out. Even in the areas around Metro Vancouver this holds true as electoral districts on the northern edge take in swathes of nearly-unpopulated areas, just so as, you'd think, to put them somewhere.

The statistical over-representation I noticed in the first tranche of Regional and Electoral Districts still holds, mostly, but not in Penticton and Cowichan Valley which are included here. Also, as I was adding these seven regional districts to "what I'd looked at":

North Okanagan, Columbia-Shuswap, Central Kootenay, East Kootenay, Kootenay Boundary, Okanagan-Similkameen, and Cowichan Valley

represented by nine MLAs from the Electoral Districts:


Vernon-Monashee, Shuswap, Columbia River-Revelstoke, Kootenay West, Nelson-Creston, Kootenay East, Boundary-Similkameen, Penticton, and Cowichan Valley

I realized that I had missed a detail around the Mid Island-Pacific Rim electoral district in the first group. The western (most remote) part of Cowichan Valley regional district is included (again, very appropriately) in the much larger Mid Island-Pacific Rim electoral district. So, the over-all average 

Regionalized Proportionality wouldn't affect this part yet, but let me untangle the rest of the map.

2017-01-27

Electoral Reform in BC - Regional Districts and Provincial Electoral Districts, 17 for 16

After the last article, I've been looking more closely at the ways in which BC's Regional Districts and Provincial Electoral Districts relate to one another. BC has made significant use of Google Maps in publishing a map of the regional districts and another one of the electoral districts. This, together with the facts about BC from Wikipedia and the (sortable! detailed!) list of regional districts also there have been my main sources.

​I have started here, because my Regionalized Proportionality idea rests on clumping electoral districts from a single regional district together. In a widely distributed province like BC (or even more, in a country like Canada), straight proportional representation is not a good fit since the urban clumps that would swamp the rural areas around them in pure proportional representation could swamp or be swamped by other, distant urban areas with very different needs and political priorities.

Right away, I was pulled up short because the edges of the urban ridings in Greater Vancouver overlap the boundaries of what used to be called the "Greater Vancouver Regional District" but now seems to be called "Metro Vancouver", so I decided to work my way around the map to get to it.

To summarize the over-all electoral/regional data in BC...

Population 4,400,056


Number of regional districts 29
Population per Regional District (100s) 151,700
Number of Electoral Districts 85
Population per Electoral District 51,800

I've gone through the 16 northernmost Regional Districts and mapped out their relationship to their local Electoral Districts. In summary, the 663,575 people living in these 16 Regional Districts:

Alberni-Clayoquot, Bulkley-Nechako, Cariboo, Central Coast, Comox Valley, Fraser-Fort George, Kitimat-Stikine, Mount Waddington, Nanaimo, Northern Rockies, Peace River, Powell River, Skeena-Queen Charlotte, Stikine Region, Strathcona, and Sunshine Coast

are represented by 17 MLAs from the Electoral Districts (a near 1:1 correspondence that I was surprised by):

Cariboo-Chilcotin, Cariboo North, Courtenay-Comox, Mid Island-Pacific Rim, Nanaimo, Nanaimo-Cowichan, Nechako Lakes, North Coast, North Island, Parksville-Qualicum, Peace River North, Peace River South, Powell River-Sunshine Coast, Prince George-Mackenzie, Prince George-Valemount, Skeena, and Stikine

These districts are (statistically) over-represented slightly, at 39,900 people per MLA, leaving 68 MLAs to represent the remaining 3,736,481 in the other 12 Regional Districts, at about 55,000 per MLA. I believe it possible that the way Fraser-Fort George is divided, with about half of Prince George placed in each of Prince George-Mackenzie and Prince George-Valemount disadvantages the rural voters of the rest of the Regional District but so far, it has seemed to be a reasonable solution and I commend the folks at Elections BC (a non-partisan office of the BC Legislature, responsible through the Speaker to the Lieutenant-Governor, embodying the Crown) for doing their jobs as well as this: we don't seem to have a problem with gerrymandering so far.

2017-01-25

Electoral Reform in BC

It wouldn't take a referendum. It doesn't need a lot of study. The result wouldn't be complicated but would reflect the will of the BC voter far better than the hate-filled mud-slinging we've seen since I became a voter. Elections that result in four year majority mandates from 45% or less (usually lots less) of an ever-dwindling turnout.

I've plugged this idea as much as I can federally, as an individual citizen, because the Liberals opened it up -- though they seem to be circling the wagons again so as to avoid real change, but why not do this provincially?

I have an on-again, off-again relationship with blogging but I'm going to try to put up a concrete case for my favourite form of electoral reform applying it to this province alone. Regionalized Proportionality would work in BC -- I think really well. I am convinced that it would rejuvenate our democracy by making the governments we send to Victoria reflect who we are more closely and more simply than any other system I've seen.

No offence to the STV guys -- they're smart, they're the brains... and unfortunately, while I understand its strengths, its details are just too complicated for most voters to care enough to spend the time to look at it closely enough not be confused by it. Especially not while we (at least in some of the metro areas) are trying to afford living in what Fotheringham often called "Lotus Land" and "British California" -- as if we're that sunny (except for the Okanagan in summer), as if we can spend all that time on leisure (but many of us do).

In brief, my idea is to coalesce the ridings that sprawl across individual metro areas into single districts that elect as many members as the seats that were coalesced, but does so from a single ballot proportional list. The rural people still get "their local MLA" but the not-very-marginal but not-big-enough-to-command-local-majorities blocs that exist in the metro areas might actually send MLAs to Victoria that reflect what they want to see happen.

Okay, I nearly typed it: "what we want to see happen". Neither the NDP nor the BC Liberals reflect what I want to see happen and I have had it up to my eyebrows and above with the hate-and-fear filled campaigns I've seen nearly all of my adult life, stretching back certainly to Mr. Vander Zalm's campaigns, and imbibed in by both parties up until the present day. My vote has been parked with one particular party because I view them as the least impossible, least dubious other option.

Minority governments are not scary. The best policies in Canada were brought in under minority parliaments. If the parties know that they'll never get a majority but will always have to play nice, perhaps we'll see more constructive policy synergy and less playing off fear. Perhaps money will have less of an influence in the outcome. Perhaps not.

But this is what I want. Politically, this is what I think is worth working toward and I'm going to put out a few more articles over the next few week/months analysing for instance how my proposal might change our current electoral map. It will only be marginally interesting to see what electoral outcomes under such a situation would be but I'll put that out too as I can manage it. But it's only marginally relevant because I believe it will raise voter turn out and change other aspects of the campaigns significantly so that voting patterns will change in ways I cannot foresee.

Still listening?

2017-01-17

Haiku #36 -- Haikus in tension

What is politics?
Real work. Making society
better day by day.

What is politics?
Distraction from the real work
of daily kindness.