Saturday, August 27, 2016

Mauril Bélanger was my reminder of the importance of public service

I spent the morning being reminded of the importance of public service.  I first met in Mauril Bélanger in 1996 the context of the Defence Fund for the Montreal Rally (Rally during the Quebec referendum of 1995), and SOS Montfort. When I moved into his riding in 1997 I wrote him a letter.

This was a point of transition in my life.  I wasn't involved in politics until the early 1990's, and at first all I saw in government was corruption.  I was very much at what I now call my "smash the state" phase where I felt the whole lot of current politicians needed to go.   Mauril was someone who gave me a different impression, of someone who even from within government was visibly trying to do the right thing.  While he knew I didn't vote for him or his party, he still listened to me and offered feedback and help. This continued each time we met, where he was always extremely friendly and gave helpful advise on how to move forward on those ares of policy that concerned me the most.

It was with his encouragement and advise that I stepped up in the summer of 2001 and the decade that followed to help defend technology property rights from changes to "copyright" law being proposed.  I have met in person with a couple dozen sitting MPs, hope to meet with more in the future, and this was all largely due to my experience with Mauril.

While I moved to Ottawa-South in 2003, this didn't change how he would greet me the remaining times we spoke with each other.  He wasn't just an MP for the people who voted for him in his riding, but an MP for everyone.  He was a public servant in the most true sense, and I know anyone who knew him will miss him.

Friday, August 12, 2016

Discussion of BDS movement toxic to mainstream politics

As a member of the Green Party of Canada, I am being asked by the party about my views on the recent resolution passed in support of the BSD movement.

Short answer

  • I do not support g16-p006, and believe the resolution should be repealed. I felt embarrassed as a party member to hear that the resolution was tabled and passed.
  • I do not support the motion of the Canadian Parliament that called upon the government to condemn those who promote the movement, and believe the motion should be repealed.  As a Canadian I felt embarrassed to hear that motion was tabled and passed.
I believe Mr. Clement's motion was trolling, and unfortunately some members of the Green Party decided to feed the troll.  This is a no-win scenario for the Green Party and Canadians generally, and the only way to minimize the loss is to exit the conversation quickly.

Longer answer

Having given my own thinking on these and related topic some thought, I came to realize I am part of the Freethought movement.  This goes beyond a support for a strong separation of church and state, which is the issue here, but also to my support for evidence for democracy, open government, and other related movements.

While I support people having their own beliefs, including religious, as part of their own personal lives, I don't believe that this has any place in governance.  Political decisions should be made "on the basis of logic, reason, and empiricism, rather than authority, tradition, revelation, or other dogma" (quote from Wikipedia on Freethought).  I don't believe religious states are legitimate states, and am uncomfortable when dogma (religious or otherwise) is used in decision making in self-called secular countries like Canada (which is more honestly understood as a Christian country that happens to be liberal and tolerant of other religious groups).

Boycott, divestiture and sanctions are all commonly used techniques to influence a political entity from the outside, and is nearly always understood as a better option than waging war.  It has a long history of being used by both individuals and countries in the west.

The fatal problem with what is now called the "BDS" movement is that it is focused on Israel.  As a freethinker I treat religious states equally, but western society does not.  This special treatment of Israel is most pronounced in North America. There is a strong emotional history when it comes to Israel and the guilt that western (and primarily white Christians) have when it comes to what was done to Jewish people during the second world war.   You can disagree with the emotion, but ignorance of it makes it impossible for you to have political influence.

There is a political technique of equating Israel with the Jewish faith, and equating any critique or either as antisemitism.  While there is no logic or reason to this political technique, it is a highly effective one.  Your logic or reason for being critical of policies of Israel simply don't matter, as the antisemitic label can be thrown at you and you are silenced.  You can disagree with this reality, but ignorance of it makes it impossible for you to have political influence.

I consider the arguments for or against boycotting, divesting, or sanctioning Israel to be largely irrelevant.  Please don't try to "convince" me of your particular position this topic in the comments. The mere discussion of any criticism of Israel will condemn you in the eyes of mainstream North American politics, and make it impossible for you to have political influence.


No matter what your emotions, the most logical course of action is to leave the hornets nest alone, not beat it with some form of moral indignation and then be surprised when you get stung.

The resolution needs to be repealed and the discussion within the Green Party needs to cease, other than for members to become more aware of why this debate should be left out of party politics.  I left the Green Party in the early 2000's for a while the last time the party (involving both the GPO and the GPC leadership) decided to involve themselves in this politically toxic discussion.  That time it was trying to boycott "David Icke" which had the predictable outcome of promoting this mentally unhealthy person's ideas both within and outside the party, and causing many members to leave the party.


Thursday, August 11, 2016

The Canadiana preservation network and access platform

Canadiana is sending me to Access 2016.  While I expect to learn quite a bit and meet new people, I wanted to make an additional introduction online ahead of time.

I have participated in many changes to the technical platform at Canadiana since I started in January 2011.  As always, what I write is my own thoughts and isn't an official statement from my employer.

Software platform

In early 2011 Canadiana was in transition from an access platform simply called "ECO" for Early Canadiana Online.  This was a mod-perl 1 application that was tightly tied to a legacy version of Apache, was written by an outside consultant, and was in need of upgrading.  I did my best to keep that running as long as possible while keeping our machines secure by having the mod-perl1 application running within a chroot() environment within a newer version of Debian which no longer supported mod-perl1.  This is something we would use linux containers for today, but that wasn't ready in 2011.


The new platform called CAP (Canadiana Access Platform) was also written in Perl, but based on the Catalyst Perl MVC framework, and written by Canadiana staff.  The new platform allowed for multiple "portals" which had their own access theme and content collections (subsets of the full set of AIPs in our repository). CAP used MySQL for most indexes (users and institutions, logging, content metadata) and Solr for search.

Early Canadiana Online remains an important collection, but now shares a platform with other collections.

Between 2012 and 2015 there were major upgrades to the back-end software to allow us to become a CRL certified Trustworthy Digital Repository (TDR).  My part was to upgrade and implement new processes for the automated validation and replication of our file repository.  When I started we were using rsync to copy a comparatively small (A few hundred GB) cmr/ (Canadiana Metadata Repository) directory to a few machines.  The size grew to the point where rsync took a large portion of the day just to realize that no AIPs had been updated. We also ran into a bug in rsync where it can't handle the number of files we were trying to synchronize.

A MySQL based TDR metadata system had been started by a colleague, which I moved to CouchDB to allow the data about our AIPs to be reliably replicated across data centers.  It was now the database that indicted that an AIP needed to be replicated to a specific repository, with rsync only used to reliably transfer all the contents of a specifically identified AIP.  We created processes where a subset of the AIPs would have full md5 checks of their contents, so over time we had validation of every AIP copy that had been replicated to each individual server.

Around this time we also moved from LVM over hardware raid to using ZFS for the TDR file repository, supporting multiple ZFS disk pools individually managed in the TDR file metadata database to optimize storage usage and speed of validation (reduce SAS cabling being a bottleneck).

The new repository system allows us flexibility in how we manage storage, as disk pools can be of any size. A given repository node can be instructed to only store a subset of AIPs as disk space allows, with other nodes having much more storage.  We are not locked in like other systems which only allow storage in a repository up to the size of the smallest node.


In late July 2016 we deployed a major upgrade to CAP to make use of a more Service Oriented Architecture (SOA) for metadata processing, something we call our "metadata bus".  While working closely with the lead developer and our metadata architect, I was the primary on design and implementation of the metadata bus, allowing our lead developer to focus on the upgrades to CAP required to integrate.  While I can write back-end software, I am poor when it comes to front-end and user interface software.

The core of the metadata bus is a series of CouchDB databases, building on the one we created for TDR replication and validation, which we run  microservices against to transform and combine data.  This allows individual microservices to be more easily designed, implemented  and tested than the more monolithic and manual processing we did previously.  This also allows us to easily precompute data which our access platform requires, increasing performance for access.  We continue to use Solr for search, but are now able to harness features we weren't able to with the older revision of the platform.

With this major upgrade fully deployed, I expect smaller incremental upgrades to be deployed more often.

Hardware


In 2011 all our servers were in Ottawa, with some on Wellington where we work and some at a commercial hosting service on Baseline Road.

During the transition from the "ECO" platform we had 2 servers (primary and backup) for ECO and 2 servers (primary and backup) for CAP.  While at the same co-location company, they were in two different cabinets (I only showed one in image, in Green, as this was the publicly accessible server).

On Wellington we had a workflow server (where we processed images from scanning to ingesting into our file repository), a backup server (Black), and a CMR/TDR server (Red)


In 2012 we moved the servers from Baseline Road to a commercial service in Montreal. We had 2 copies of our image data in Montreal (green for publicly accessible, red for standby), and 2 copies in Ottawa (red for standby, and as part of the backup server marked in black).

In 2014/2015 we added a publicly accessible TDR image data at partner University of Toronto, and an additional working copy of the TDR on Wellington (1 publicly accessible copy, 3 standby copies, and 1 copy part of the backup server).


In 2015 we added University of Alberta as a partner, first shipping a copy of the TDR image data and later in 2016 adding an application server.

We also added an application server and a custom project server to our partner at University of Toronto.

This year we separated the hardware configuration for an application server (which needed RAM, CPU and fast disk for database access and search) and the TDR image data/content server (which needed a large amount of storage, and CPU/RAM for making image derivatives). At the same time we designed and documented a WIP (Work In Progress - marked Orange in Ottawa) server to replace the older workflow concepts, and the concept of a "custom projects" server for special things (Marked blue. In Ottawa that houses development and operations tools such as Redmine, Subversion, and Icinga. In Toronto that houses the CHIN Artefacts Canada linked open data project, the legacy Canadiana Discovery Portal which is no longer part of our platform, the one-off Aboriginal Veterans mini-site, and the Drupal-based corporate site we plan to integrate into our platform)



Most recently we decided to move away from commercial hosting providers, and to rely entirely on partners. We picked up the copy of the TDR file repository that remained in the Montreal commercial provider and it waits in Ottawa as we plan for our next partner joining the preservation network.

If you are at a member institution that would like to join the preservation network, please get in touch. While we are interested to hear from any potential partner, ideal is if we can have more provinces represented in the network.  BANQ?  UVic? Memorial University of Newfoundland?

I just spent some vacation time in Québec, and would love another excuse to visit Université Laval!  :-)

There are some conversations underway about a new partner, and I am excited to see how things move forward.




Friday, July 15, 2016

I work at Canadiana because I believe what they do is important (not other way around)

My article discussing why I believe a Canadiana.org and CRKN.ca merger could be great has received more page hits than my article discussing why "Copyright-free" material is not edging out Canadian educational texts. I consider this to be great news that interest is high.

For anyone dropping in on my blog for the first time, I should clarify who I am.  I've been involved in the Free/Libre and Open Source Software  (FLOSS) movement since 1992 when it was simply known as Free Software. From this I grew to become active in the related Open Access, Open Education, Open Government, and related Open * movements.  I increased my policy work in 2001 due to a consultation on Copyright which included "technological protection measures", and spent more than a decade speaking with fellow authors (software and non-software) as well as some of our political opponents (often representatives of intermediaries who in my opinion falsely claim to represent the interests of authors, etc).

Citizens having access to our history is important -- for personal and family reasons for genealogists, but also for bigger-picture politics and governance reasons.  We learn about ourselves from the digital humanities, and we learn about our past political and societal decisions from government documents, historical newspapers, and other documentation that is held by a variety of memory institutions.  I consider it self-evident that open government isn't only about the current government but historic governments as well.  Learning from past successes and failures requires we have access to that documentary heritage.

As we move to a digital world we need to move our research tools and data with us.  This is something that needs to be done quickly as material that doesn't get referenced may end up being forgotten in the new world of data abundance.  The days of scarcity are over, but that means we need to remove any and all barriers to documentary history -- not allow it to fade away.

My relationship with Canadiana.org

I work at Canadiana.org because I believe what they do is important.  It is not a matter of me believing what they do is important because I work there.  I am a worker bee that does system administration and software development work, and I am not involved in the organisational structure. I am not a manager, not on the executive, not on the board, and not on the working group that is exploring a closer relationship between Canadiana.org and CRKN.  In anything I write publicly I am offering my personal views as an activist and not representing my employer.

If you are a student or staff at a Canadian educational institution then there is a high probability that your institution is a member of CRKN, a subset of which are also members of Canadiana (Along with LAC, BANQ, CARL, Toronto Public Library, and the University of Western Ontario which aren't listed members of CRKN).  If you are at one of these educational and/or memory institutions, then you may want to get engaged with these organisations and the discussion about the relationship they have with each other.

The announcement on July 4 was about setting up a joint Canadiana and CRKN working group to further explore a closer relationship over the next three months.  If you have input into their work, make yourself known.  As someone who isn't staff at either Canadiana or CRKN, but at one of the member institutions, your views will quite likely have greater influence than my own.

I know I'm excited about the possibilities, and hope others will be as well.

My relationship with educational community

I work at Canadiana, my wife is a high school teacher, and many of our friends are in the educational profession.  This includes teaching staff and students that contribute to textbooks and other educational works.

This has greatly influenced the bulk of my writing which has been in the context of copyright.  I have a good idea of how much money the educational sector is spending on royalty-bearing online databases and building Open Access sources of educational and other material, which if why I'm so critical of the nonsense narrative from Access Copyright on "educational fair dealings". Knowing some of the internal organisational problems within the sector is also why I'm sometimes even more critical of the policies of educational institutions.

While I'm a technical person for a living, I'm often thought of as part of the educational community within my policy work.  This became obvious in 2005 when the educational community invited me to join them when they were meeting with Joy Smith and Steven Harper (they were in the official opposition at the time).  My policy work connections with the educational community pre-dates my being hired by Canadiana by more than a decade.

Unglue pages of Canada's documentary heritge

One of the many projects I follow is the Unglue.it project.  The concept is simple: some fans sponsor the funding of books, an author gets paid a fixed amount up front for their creativity, and then the book is made royalty-free for distribution globally.

From before I started at Canadiana there has been a Save A Page (Sauvez Une Page) campaign to encourage people to make charitable donations to Canadiana to help fund the digitisation, preservation and access work.  There is a "Donate Now" button on the left-side of Canadiana's homepage.

I don't know how many donations are made from this campaign, but I believe that Unglue.it and other similar projects have demonstrated that people are willing to offer to pay for work that is then made publicly available.  I am aware of our subscribers to ECO, where individual and institutional subscriptions are a critical part of the revenue stream that allows for new digitisation, preservation and access work to happen. As indicated under "Why these fees?", "As a non-profit and charitable organization, Canadiana.org relies on its supporters – whether individuals or major research centres – to help build this collection and the hardware that preserves it. Our ultimate goal is open and sustainable access to Canadian heritage."

If there is a large community of people who would be willing to contribute (financially or with volunteering metadata creation/enhancement) if the results were made freely available worldwide, then this might be useful for the working group to know as they explore new relationships.

I have made the connection between a closer relationship with CRKN and Open Access.  CARL (one of our founders) participated in CRKN's Open Access working group.  The new working group which will be exploring Canadiana.org and CRKN's relationship may want the report from the OA working group to feed into their discussions.  My linking to OA is more of a wish on my part than a guaranteed outcome.  The OA working group discussed in a context of OA publications being third party organisations, while Canadiana increasing OA publishing with a closer relationship to CRKN would bring CRKN closer to being an OA publisher.

One way or the other the charity aspects of Canadiana and funding models for Canadiana's work (subscription vs OA, etc) will be discussed by the working group.

Friday, July 8, 2016

Claims that Alternate-Vote exaggerates false majorities not plausible

As part of the discussion of how electoral modernization is hard, but worth it, I want to discuss the claims that alternate-vote exaggerates false majorities.

As mentioned, there are individuals that are most concerned about geographic representation and others demographic representation.  Of those focused on demographic representation, most believe that political parties are an appropriate proxy for demographic representation.

In short there are two groups who believe:

  • MPs should represent riding constituents, and they may be a member of a party for convenience (subject to change)
  • MPs should represent political parties, and they may be assigned a geographic constituency for convenience or because of a historical requirement of how parliament is structured
I've found a number of interesting ideas that come from those focused on political parties.

A belief that after electoral reform the parties we see today will likely remain intact.

This appears to be the basis of this "exaggerated false majorities" claim : It you take a snapshot in time of our current political parties with a recently created coalition Conservative party (that doesn't have all conservatives supporting them) and big-tent Liberal party, the big-tent Liberals would be so many people's "second choice" that they would remain in power forever.

I don't consider this remotely plausible.

Whether it is the "unite the right", "unite the left" or other such movements, the vote-splitting feature of First Past The Post (FPTP) has caused the attempted merging of otherwise dissimilar groups.  This has had the effect of stifling many (most) political views as these "coalition parties" have to maintain fear and strong party discipline in order to keep these different representatives "united".

Uber-partisanship has been growing under FPTP, and I believe the inevitable outcome will be what we see in the United States with a (barely) 2-party system where how the parties are presented are a caricature that is distant from the views of the elected representatives.

Any type of electoral modernisation, whether it is focused on political parties, individual representatives, or some hybrid, will over time radically change what types of political parties exist in Canada and be represented in the House of Commons.

While most of us will consider this a great thing, there will be those who disagree.  There are a lot of back-room manipulators in political parties who have been able to manipulate the "big tent"/"coalition" parties into doing things which a more representative political structure wouldn't allow.  Those people have an obvious bias towards the current less-representative system.  I believe that much of the "we need a referendum" rhetoric we hear from the Conservative party is this type of back-room manipulation.  If they actually wanted citizens to have direct input into critical harder-to-fix issues they would start with treaties and trade agreements, not easy to fix electoral reform.

With the inevitable proliferation of parties that represent the diversity of political views that Canadians have will come into parliament some "fringe" representatives.  These will be people on the far-right, the far-left, or that have other controversial or even divisive views.  The closest we have seen of this in Canada was the Bloc that was first formed by some existing MPs crossing the floor, with MPs later elected under that party. This type of expression of diversity will become more common.   I consider this to be a good thing: the reality is that there are political views that only a minority of Canadians share, and it is simply a matter of a healthy democracy that these views be represented in the HoC.  There will be other people who consider this to be a bad thing, and would prefer that Canadians they are uncomfortable with don't have representation in parliament.


In any parliament that represents Canadians there will be coalition governments made up of representatives of the wider spectrum of political views that Canadians hold.  In my mind the forming of a majority government is an indication of failure of the democratic process as Canadians have far wider political views than can be adequately represented within a single political party.  Some would prefer a strong, decisive government to a representative government, and consider representative coalitions to be a bad thing.

A belief that floor-crossing is undemocratic, and should be outlawed


You will mostly hear this from NDP supporters in the context of our current electoral system, but it is something that comes up in discussion of any type of PR where people are voting for parties (Like MMP) compared to non-PR (AV) or PR where people are voting for individual representatives (Like STV).   Along with voting for parties always comes the suggestion that floor-crossing should be outlawed, and that the only way an MP can change party is to win in a by-election.

For those of us who believe it is individuals that represent us rather than parties, any diminishing of this critical check on the power of political parties will be seen as harmful to democracy.  In our mind MPs are elected by constituents and that if our representative no longer feels that being aligned with a specific political party serves their constituents interests then they should cross the floor.  It is based on the idea that political parties are a convenience and that we need to be electing the right *people* to represent us -- and that it is these people, not their temporary political allegiances, that represent us.

That political parties can be seen to "represent" constituents

As discussed in the previous article, I arrived at my focus on individual representatives from  meeting many sitting MPs.  I recognise that many of the people in this debate haven't done that, or have only met with MPs and candidates from a specific party.  I highly recommend all Canadians take any opportunity they can to meet with a wider variety of candidates and MPs and form your own opinions, rather than repeat talking points being pushed out by the political parties.

I've met with great MPs from every party that could represent the diversity of views in their ridings, as well as poor ones that were loyal only to their parties and not to their constituents (a lot of "I represent only those who voted for me", and parroting party talking points).   The great MPs I met from all the major parties had more in common with each other than any of them did to the caricatures that are presented of them as representatives of political parties. They are the ones able to work together across partisanship to get the real work of parliament done.

There really were MPs who represented constituents and MPs that only attempted to represent political parties, and in my view the ones that represented parties were the poorest performers.

One of the fortunate things I have seen in the debate in Canada is that a pure-PR system has never been up for consideration.  This would fill all seats up with partisan people who only represent their party and have no motivation to understand and represent a diversity of Canadians.  I don't consider this to be healthy for our democracy, and creates incentives for the type of tunnel-vision and divisiveness that most electoral reform advocates want to move us away from.

Unfortunately there are what I consider to be "partisans" when it comes to PR that act just like political parties.  They claim their view is the only one that is right, and anyone with different views are wrong.   While they may claim they want a parliament where "every vote counts", they only mean the votes of people who agree with them and are voting for parties.  They don't want to even consider people who want to vote for individual representatives (despite, not because of, their ephemeral party affiliations).

If these partisans were interested in the type of diversity they claim they want represented in the house they would be looking for compromise with all reformers who agree that FPTP is harmful.  In my mind STV is the obvious alternative as it passes the criteria for both groups of reformers just as FPTP fails.  The problem will come with what to do about sparse populations and if they are represented by single-member districts (as proposed with BC-STV), merged into multi-member districts, or handled with a hybrid (AV+MMP).

It is hard to remain unbiased.. the more I see false claims about AV the harder it is for me to remain supportive of PR (IMHO the lesser of the evils when compared to FPTP).  As the uber-partisanship of the PR supporters grows, will I eventually be driven to the "no" camp?

Monday, July 4, 2016

Why a Canadiana.org and CRKN.ca merger could be great

A press release from CRKN launches a dialog about the potential of a closer relationship between CRKN and Canadiana.org.

I've been at Canadiana for 5 years, starting in January 2011 as a consultant and then September as staff (See photo of me receiving 5 year recognition from our previous board president Leslie Weir) .

My beliefs come more from my personal political advocacy work on Free/Libre and Open Source Software (FLOSS), Open Access, and Open Government than it does from being a staff person.  As staff I can can clarify what Canadiana.org is doing from a FLOSS/OA perspective if there are misinterpretations (See: Good News Canadiana & LAC project spun into bad news? ,Why is a license required for a Canadiana project built from public domain material?)

What I believe to be the source of some of the potential benefits.

For funding reasons, Canadiana has had a bit of a dual identity (Alter Ego?) between being a charity created by the Library, Archive and Museum (LAM) community and having to supplement our funding with commercial work.

What we do would work best if we had base funding for operations and all of what we offered was open access. For reasons out of our control we have needed to create subscription services like Early Canadiana Online and our ongoing work to add premium subscription services on top of Heritage.  We also do digitization work that isn't deposited into our Trustworthy Digital Repository or made accessible via our access platform.

The Canadian Research Knowledge Network (CRKN) is already one of our largest single funding sources, but thus far primarily in their roll as a "buyers club" of some of our services for Canadian universities.  Reading their Mission,Vision, Values page you can see that they have far more in common with Canadian than should ever be thought of in the context of a "buyers club" or commercial services.

At this time the boards are exploring a closer relationship.  While merger is one possibility, I believe any type of closer relationship would be quite positive.

Thinking about this a few ideas come to mind.

CRKN is libraries - what about Archives and Museums?

This is a good question which I hope the boards will think about.

Since our funding has come from libraries, it is this community that we have been most focused on.  While this is the case, we have always tried to keep the interests of the archivist and museum community in mind.

As a technical person involved in the team that designed and implemented the technology behind our trustworthy digital preservation network, we have always tried to keep the design agnostic to any particular view someone might have of the repository. We've tried to keep the technical policies behind the software we use for digitization, preservation and access modular. New types of data can be preserved in the repository even if it is unlike anything we have processed previously, or that our current access platform thus far can't offer access to.   This means that the repository could be used by archivists to preserve any digital data, even data that isn't in a format able to be easily accessed via a web access platform.

A stronger relationship between Canadiana.org and CRKN might greatly improve our relationship with archivists and museums.  If it allowed us to finally move access to the repository to open access, and get rid of the subscription services, our trustworthiness within those communities might increase.

Would Canadiana still do commercial work?

There is commercial work that fits well within what we would already be doing, and commercial work that has created confusion about our identity.

An organization that isn't already a CRKN member institution that wanted to make use of our digitization, preservation and/or access services wouldn't expect CRKN members to pay for any custom work.  These types of services make sense to continue, with funding coming from the depositing institution.

It is the subscription services that create the identity confusion and thus would be great to see go away.  It really requires buy-in from the libraries to fund this as open access, and stop believing there is a free-rider problem with open access to this type of preservation and access work.  This change has always been possible, but a closer relationship with CRKN might allow this to finally happen.

We need the institutions which are members of CRKN (many of which which overlap with Canadiana.org, CARL, etc) to stop thinking of us as a vendor.  There isn't a conflict of interest when a board or other member wants us to collaborate with their institutions on a project, and there isn't a need to "compete" a contract to collaborate with a partner.

Could this expand the preservation network?

Our preservation network currently has three partners: University of Alberta and University of Toronto that offer co-location for servers (rack space, power, network, "hands", etc), and Library and Archives Canada that offers office space.   A closer relationship to CRKN may make our relationship with the universities more clear, and encourage more partnerships.  The less we are thought of as a vendor, and the more we are thought of as a partner, the better.

More partners would allow us to get rid of our commercial hosting in Montreal, and hopefully move additional services out of our Ottawa office which uses a commercial ISP for connectivity.

The design of the preservation network is quite flexible.  While we retain a minimum of 5 copies (including one dark offline copy) of every AIP, this does not limit us to having only 5 hosts.  The architecture allows us to spread resources among many more partners, with each host potentially having a subset of all the AIPs.  There is no minimum or maximum size for hosts.

Images to Data?

An area we have been discussing for quite some time is growing from providing access to images to collaborating on data.  The work that researchers in the digital humanities will need goes far beyond needing access to images of documents to requiring linked data derived from those documents.  Research is also less restricted (or sometimes only made possible) when that data is open (Linked Open Data) and allows for linking between multiple data sources.

A barrier to being able to create data from these images has been the subscription services.  Researchers are less likely to deposit data they built from or otherwise linked to the images if the images or their data will have restricted access.  This is also true of volunteer contributions, who would be willing to volunteer for something open but wouldn't have interest in contributing for free to a subscription service.   These images and resulting data being behind a subscription service has considerable costs -- far beyond the small costs of managing the service as open access.

Your thoughts?

While the boards of Canadiana.org and CRKN discuss this, there should also be discussion within the community.  I want to do what I can to avoid any of the type of misconceptions that happened with the launch of the Heritage project derailing a closer relationship. I believe that closer relationship will benefit far more than the institutions that make up the CRKN membership.

I'll do my best to ensure that any comments that are made to this article make it to board members as well.

Friday, July 1, 2016

Electoral Modernization is hard, but worth it!

As a long-time advocate for electoral modernization, I was happy to hear the commitment from the Justin Trudeau Liberals that they "are committed to ensuring that 2015 will be the last federal election conducted under the first-past-the-post voting system" (Liberal party website).  There is near consensus from those who have given voting systems much thought that First Past the Post (FPTP) doesn't work for votes where there are more than two choices.

While this is true, there are disagreements about what the best alternative would be.  It is useful to be aware of why there are disagreements, and why there is a need for compromise if we are ever to get away from the flawed system we have now.

Criteria for success

I've observed two common ways people evaluate voting systems:

Geographic Representation

The focus is that from each geographic region (riding, electoral district, etc) the candidate that can best represent the views and interests of that region is sent to parliament to represent them.

What matters is if the individual would represent their riding, regardless of any specific political affiliations (parties, etc) , their race, gender, etc.

Demographic Representation

The focus is on the makeup of the resulting parliament, and if it represents the diversity of all citizens regardless of their geographic region.  What matters is not the individuals that make up parliament or what riding they may be from, but their political affiliations (parties, etc), their race, gender, etc.

Compromise needed to move forward

One of the things you will hear from anyone interested in electoral reform is that with reform can come better decisions which take the diversity of citizens into consideration.  Like-minded individuals from across political affiliations are better able to work together for common goals.

While this is an ideal for electoral reformers, it isn't always represented in the way they advocate for their preferred voting system.

You will hear people focused on geographic representation talking about how proportional representation, a system often preferred by those focused on demographic representation, will harm democracy by allowing party hacks into parliament who are only accountable to political parties and not citizens.

You will hear people focused on demographic representation suggesting that any system that doesn't consider large geographic areas (multiple districts, province or country-wide) are inherently undemocratic.

We saw this in both the Ontario and BC referendums on electoral reform.   On the "no" side of each referendum were people who agreed that FPTP is a bad system, but were so unwilling to compromise on their preferred system that they fought against change.

My political story

I became political and started voting in the 1990's.  I quickly became involved in party politics, being a member of the Green Party for many of the years and the Progressive Conservative party in the late 1990's.

I joined the Progressive Conservative party in the late 1990's to support David Orchard as he spoke to the type of conservatism that I felt I belonged in.   While Joe Clark called us tourists in the party, I saw something very interesting in the 2000 election under Clark which was that the PC party platform was much closer to the Green Party platform than it was to the Canadian Alliance Party (what the Reform party had renamed itself at that point).  The elements in the PC party which didn't attract me had been attracted to the Alliance party.

I felt a great sadness when Peter MacKay broke his deal with David Orchard and instead agreed to "merge" the PC party with the Alliance party in 2003.  For many of us this was the unforgivable destruction of a political party, with Progressive Conservatives being spread outward: some joined the Conservative party, some the Liberals, some the Green Party (there was considerable growth at this time, especially with experienced organizers), some formed the Progressive Canadian party, and some disengaged from politics.

Already in the 1990's I was involved in electoral reform, at that time an advocate for Proportional Representation as I was active within political parties.  While I have no respect for dishonest politicians like Peter MacKay, the real villain in the destruction of the Progressive Conservative party was FPTP.  It was vote splitting between the PC party and the Reform party over a few elections that created the "unite the right" movement which eventually created a single Conservative party.  This did not in any way "unite the right", but created yet another big-tent party that had many of the same flaws that made conservatives dislike the Liberal party.

In the 2000's a few things happened to clarify my beliefs on electoral reform.  At the same time as the "unite the right" movement, I became heavily involved in Copyright policy. As I met MPs over that policy I started to realize that outside the high profile partisan issues often discussed in the media that the experiences and beliefs of the individual MPs were more important than their party affiliations. I saw backward facing views and progressive views from different MPs across all the political parties.

While I had been a strong supporter of PR in the past, I came to see that as a lesser system to one that would deliver better individual representatives from each riding.  I also came to the realization that the perfect was the enemy of the good, and that compromise was always needed to move forward positive political change.

British Columbia electoral reform referendum, 2005

A BC citizens assembly chose a hybrid system to recommend to BC citizens.  All voters would make use of a ranked ballot.  In less populated rural areas where the districts would be large a single member would be elected, and areas with greater population multiple members would be elected from districts that would be much larger than previous districts.  They called this BC-STV.

While I wasn't in the province, I was a "yes" supporter that did whatever I could from home.

During the education campaign some advocates tried to reduce confusion by saying that this was an STV system that sometimes returned a single person per district and sometimes returned multiple people.   Unfortunately those who were non-compromising advocates for proportional representation disagreed with any use of single member districts and were quick to try to "correct" the language by saying it was instant runoff voting (IRV) which in their mind was no different than FPTP.  Some of these electoral reformers campaigned on the "no" side, even though for the vast majority of the population they were getting a proportional system (multi-member district).

In my opinion the BC Liberal government of the day rigged the election to fail by requiring a super-majority: 60% of votes cast, and a win in 60% of the districts.  While the initiative received 58% "yes" votes, the system was not modernized.   There was a second referendum in 2009 with the same rigged super-majority requirement, and with awareness of the referendum low few were aware of the question until they saw the ballot.  Given "no change" is an obvious answer when no time was given to the question, FPTP was kept.

Ontario electoral reform referendum, 2007

An Ontario citizens assembly chose a hybrid system different than BC for Ontario.  Ontario voters would cast two votes: one for the local representative of their choice, one for the party of their choice. 70% of the legislature would be allocated or riding representatives using the existing FPTP, and then 30% based on province-wide party votes with those MPPs coming from party lists.  This system is called Mixed-Member Proportional (MMP).

The Ontario Liberal government was accused of rigging the campaign by causing confusion on education.  Funding for education was promised, but not delivered (at all, or not in time).  There were also reports province wide of misinformation or uncertainty being spread by elections Ontario staff, such as claims in Northern Ontario that the existing over-representation they have would be abolished by MMP (There are more ridings in Northern Ontario provincially than there is federally, where most of the province has the same ridings provincially and federally).

While the appeal for supporters of Proportional Representation is obvious, the appeal for for those who were looking for geographic representation isn't.   On the surface the system retains the FPTP voting system for the vast majority of seats (IE: no improvement), and then allocates 30% of the legislature to "party hacks".

In Ontario I was still a strong advocate on the "yes" side, even though I was most interested in geographic representation and didn't want to retain FPTP for any seats.  While I didn't believe that MMP was a good system, and wished Ontario had proposed BC-STV, I strongly believed this was a major improvement over the existing pure-FPTP system.

  • There were two ballot questions: Those who were only interested in parties could be encouraged to only vote for the party to influence the 30% of the seats, leaving the local riding to those focused on the local riding
  • There would no longer be a "unite the X" movement in Ontario, as vote splitting would not impact the party vote (even though with FPTP being kept it would impact riding representation).
  • I saw this as a "foot in the door" to further enhancements to democratic institutions.  Unlike those who believed that we only had only one chance to get it right, I felt that moving away from pure-FPTP allowed Ontario and Canadian citizens to become more informed on the benefits of electoral modernization generally.

Cancelling my Fair Vote Canada membership/donation

Since some time close to its founding in 2000 I had been a member of Fair Vote Canada, including having a $10/month automatic donation. In January 2013 I cancelled by membership and donation. I felt a need to distance myself from FVC for the sake of the electoral modernization movement in Canada.

While I believed they were agnostic to voting system alternatives to FPTP, it became clear that they had no interest in representing or even respecting those of us who believe in geographic representation.  In their mind any system that wasn't proportional wasn't democratic, and they were opposing municipal electoral reform movements such as 123 Ontario,  Merging and making larger wards in a municipality in order to have multi-member districts, or allowing political parties for some sort of MMP top-up is entirely inappropriate for municipal elections, making proportionality inappropriate.  Unfortunately FVC is so stuck on proportional representation that they ignore any other considerations and are unwilling to even discuss the harm that their proposals would cause.

This can be seen in some of the language.  The phrase "making every vote count" means ranked ballots for someone looking for geographic representation, and it means proportional representation (PR, MMP, STV only in multi-member districts) for those looking for demographic representation.

This is not to say that collaboration isn't possible at a provincial or federal level between those who have different criteria for success, but that it is increasingly important to ensure that politicians and citizens only starting their research realize that FVC does not represent everyone who believes in fair voting, electoral reform, or even "making every vote count".

Skeptical but optimistic about Liberal promise to rid of us FPTP

During the 2015 federal election I was campaigning against the Liberals via social media (Harper promoting Liberal Brand as: A vote for the Liberals is a vote for Harper, Why I don't consider what most call "strategic voting" to be strategic).  This was largely because of electoral reform.  Provincial Liberal governments had rigged referendum votes, and the Liberal party has generally been the only beneficiary of the vote splitting (and thus "strategic voting") feature of FPTP.

I was also disgusted by the self-called "unite the left" movement who seemed to want to destroy the left-leaning parties (more accurately, anyone not Conservative) the way the "unite the right" movement had already mangled the right-leaning parties.

This brings me to some of the more ludicrous claims from some of the PR supporters, as well as from the current Conservative party.

Claim: a ranked ballot in single member districts would benefit the Liberals the most (CPC, FVC)
Response:  While it is true that the Liberals are many peoples second or third choice, they are currently unfairly winning seats based on fear of vote splitting and people giving them their only ballot.

It is naive to believe that the political parties would remain the same under any type of electoral modernization as there would no longer be fear mongering around "vote splitting" to keep big-tent parties or "unite the X" movements together.  We would end up with more parties that would more closely represent the views of Canadians.  While there may still be a "Liberal" party with seats in the house, we may also have parties with seats in the house such as: Reform Party, Progressive Conservative, Wildrose, Green Party, Pirate Party, Canadian Labour Party, etc.

I believe that the Liberal party federally and provincially has the most to lose from ranked ballots. Obviously their coalition in BC would end and conservatives provincially would be able to vote for candidates that better represent their views (with their own party or parties).  People would be able to vote *for* something rather than against something.

Why would the Liberals propose such a system if it wouldn't specifically beneficial to their party?

It is the simplest modernization to explain to that majority of voters who haven't given voting systems much thought, and thus more likely to be supported by those fearful of change.  Nearly every other alternative requires the shape and size of ridings (multi-member districts) or the number of representatives in parliament to change (top-ups for MMP).  The simple change from FPTP to instant runoff would eradicate some of the worst flaws in FPTP without other harder to explain changes.

A ranked ballot changes a single "x" to being the same question but now with numbers -- as simple as 1 2 3.

Claim: ranked ballots in single member districts would be worse than FPTP (FVC supporters)
Response: This is an even more angry and emotionally driven version of the above, with the suggestion being that Alternate Vote (Instant Runoff, whatever name you want to use) would guarantee only a Liberal government could ever form.

This is a problem I've seen with too many electoral reform advocates: they have been so focused on how votes are counted that they start to believe this is the only change that would happen.

I've seen so much change in Canadian politics in the last 25 years that I've been politically active that has roots in the failings of FPTP (and I don't just mean changes to the parties on the right).  I know that under any type of electoral reform system that other changes would happen, and that it is simply not reasonable to believe that the political parties as we see them today would remain intact for long. While this may be a bad thing for those skulking in the back rooms of those parties who gain power from the fear that vote splitting offers, I consider the changes to the political landscape from any movement away from FPTP to be positive.

I've never been comfortable with the "how parliament would look if PR were in place" charts done after every election.  The presumption some incorrectly make is that people would vote the same regardless of voting system, and it is only how they are counted that would change.  I don't understand why anyone would believe this to be the case as there is no logic in it.  Those charts are a good tool to clearly demonstrate how flawed FPTP is, but are pretty useless for predicting what the makeup of parliament would be under any modernized electoral system.

Claim: electoral reform will ensure successive Liberal governments for years to come (CPC)
Response: Without vote splitting and the harm the "unite the right" movement had on the Canadian conservative movement, I wouldn't be surprised if most Federal governments would be a coalition of conservative parties.  I suspect the current Conservative party knows this and is far more concerned with keeping their coalition party intact (and keeping their supporters stifled) than in keeping the Liberals out of office.   Like the current big-tent Liberal party, it is most likely that the big-tent CPC party will be greatly diminished with any type of electoral modernization.

Claim: referendum the only legitimate way to reform the electoral system (CPC)
Response:  On the surface this sounds good, but doesn't hold up to any scrutiny.

  • The fact the system can be changed with legislation is proof that fixing any flaws in the future will be equally easy to do.  A change to the electoral system made via simple legislation does not lock us in.
  • Governments, even minority governments, make decisions all the time which are far harder to change. Trade agreements are an obvious example.  It is dishonest for the Conservative party to claim that the Liberals don't have a mandate to make comparatively minor changes to our voting system even though the Conservatives were actively negotiating the TPP during the election period when they should have been a caretaker government.  The TPP is a massive omnibus treaty where many (some say most) of the clauses have nothing to do with or even oppose what people might traditionally call a "free trade" agreement.
All the arguments I've heard on why a referendum is the only legitimate way to change the electoral system applies far more to trade and other multinational agreements than they do to the electoral system. I'll take those comments seriously only once I've seen passed irreversible legislation that states that Canada cannot ratify a trade agreement or treaty without a binding referendum.

I'm definitely on the "yes" side to saying that controversial policy such as we saw in CETA or the TPP should require a super-majority (60% of votes in 60% of the regions across Canada).

All evidence I've seen is that those who are pushing for a referendum have observed how previous referendums in Canada have been gamed, and they are using it as part of their campaign for the status quo.  There is nothing legitimate about this dishonesty.


Happy Canada Day

Today is a great day to not only think about what makes us proud to be Canadian, but also ways to make Canada even better in the future.   You owe it to yourself and fellow Canadians to give electoral reform some time in your thinking.  Please don't just blindly trust what some lobby group, political party, or individual like me has to say.  Learn about the alternatives and the countries that use them. Canada is one of 4 remaining democracies still using FPTP for federal elections, and it is well past time for us to grow out of that horse-and-buggy past.