Sunday, October 17, 2010

Dear Joe Pantalone supporters: Don't vote strategically. Do vote rationally

Strategic voting is a term that leaves a bad taste in the mouth. I get it. I'm not a big fan of it myself because I've seen it backfire. Some NDP supporters voting in the 2004 election, for instance, voted Liberal "strategically" and ended up helping a Conservative get elected.

I am a big believer in voting rationally, however, with a full understanding of how the electoral system you are participating in works.

Which brings us to the Toronto municipal election 2010. Here is a hypothetical situation I would like to ask all Joe Pantalone supporters to consider.

Imagine, please, that we had a more rational electoral system for determining the mayor of Toronto - one involving run-off elections.

In this Torontopia, all candidates would stay in the mayoral race until election day. Then, if no single candidate got more than 50% of the vote, we'd lop off the candidate(s) who got the least votes and head back to the polls. This process would be repeated until a candidate for mayor got more than 50% of the votes - and we'd have a mayor who the majority of voting Torontonians could at least stomach.

OK, now imagine we have this system in place and there was an election today and the results were exactly what the latest Nanos poll suggests:

Rob Ford: 43.9%
George Smitherman: 40.5%
Joe Pantalone: 15%

Now, in this hypothetical Toronto, Pantalone would be removed from the list of candidates for mayor and a final vote would held.

My question to Pantalone supporters is: What would you do in this situation?

Would you go and cast a vote in this final election?

Or would you stay home and not vote for either Ford or Smitherman?

Think it over.

OK, now let's return to real Toronto with its actual, unideal electoral system with your answers.

If you would not vote in Torontopia's final round of voting between Ford and Smitherman, then by all means go out and vote for Joe Pantalone on election day in real-life Toronto.

If, however, you would vote for Smitherman over Ford, or Ford over Smitherman in the Torontopia election, then you really should vote for that person - either Ford or Smitherman - in the upcoming election in real-life Toronto.

In real-life Toronto, there are no run-off elections, but we do have polls that function as unideal substitutes. They're why Rocco Rossi and Sarah Thompson have dropped out.

Polls are not 100% accurate, of course, but it's fair to say that it is almost impossible for Pantalone to actually win this election. Something really significant would have to happen between now and election day.

There's nothing wrong with parking your support with Pantalone and waiting for something really significant to happen in those days, of course.

If nothing really significant does happen, however, then treat this election as a final round of voting after a series of run-offs. You won't be voting "strategically"; you'll be voting rationally.

Now, I would never disrespect anyone who votes for Joe Pantalone fully cognizant of the limitations of our electoral system; a vote is a personal choice and you may get a personal sense of satisfaction out of casting a ballot for him. It may be a protest. It may be a performance. You may just find it more fun than staying home (or a kick in the Pants).

But if you would vote in the hypothetical vote just between Ford and Smitherman that I outlined above, then please don't vote for Pantalone. That would be a waste of your vote.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

I won't let the Sun go down on me.

The Sun's Brian Lilley wrote a blog post defending his newspaper chain's coverage of the Homegrown "story" last week against my Tweeted criticism of it. His response is fairly maddening right from the top - saying someone is "ignorant of the realities of the arts" is not the same as saying they're ignorant. To set the record straight on that point, I'm sure Mr Lilley is not ignorant about many subjects and I look forward to discovering which ones now that I've started to follow his Twitter account.

Anyway, I've been trying to post a comment to Lilley's blog post since last week and it hasn't appeared. So I'm posting it here on my long-defunct personal blog rather than my Globe one, because it's was never intended as a full-on blog post and, well, it's a bit dated now.

Mr Lilley, can you honestly tell me with a straight face that, shucks, all the Sun has been doing is reporting facts and asking questions?

The Sun's stories about Homegrown, right from that Saturday cover story titled "Sympathy for the devil", have had an obviously negative slant. They have exaggerated the extent of - and tried to incite outrage over - the trickle of government funding that may have reached Homegrown through funding for the festival that is presenting it and 41 other plays, plus a series of concerts and other events. (The only direct funding was a $6000 grant from the Toronto Arts Council for a workshop of an earlier, fictional version of the play that was never produced.)

Remember how the Sun printed a list of telephone numbers of government and corporate sponsors of SummerWorks last week so readers could let them know how they felt about a play neither they nor any Sun reporters had seen or read? Does the Sun usually provide helpful lists of contacts for the subjects of its stories? How can you deny this was a campaign against the alleged funding of this play?

Here, in this blog post, you correct note that "the federal government and a couple of banks were sponsoring, indirectly, the presentation of this play". Why did you not use the word "indirectly" in your oh-so-objective news report? The lede for the story you contributed to the Sun's coverage was: "There will be no review and no withdrawal of federal funding for a play that gives a sympathetic portrayal of convicted terrorist Shareef Abdelhaleem." Well, how could there be a review or withdrawal of federal funding for the play, where there was never any federal funding for this play?

That's one of the aspects of this "controversy" that irritates me the most. I have a certain understanding of people who say: I can't believe my tax dollars went directly to support X work of art. I've said that myself from time to time. But questioning money going directly to Young People Effing, for example, is a different thing from questioning all of the money that goes to the Toronto International Film Festival because it presented Young People Effing along with a couple hundred other films.

The Sun articles have tried to blur that distinction. At the very very most - and this is based on a no-doubt false assumption that SummerWorks's Canadian Heritage grant was divided equally among the plays - Homegrown could be said to have got $840 or so from the feds, as you've said in your blog post, indirectly.

I might as well write an outraged series of stories about how $3-million in federal tax money went to support the Sun's attack on Homegrown. Indeed, I have seen several ads for the Stratford Shakespeare Festival next to the Sun's articles about Homegrown. The SSF received $3-million dollars from Ottawa's Marquee Tourism Events Program to support its marketing initiatives. That money is what likely paid for those ads on the Sun's website, indirectly. Where's the review and withdrawal of federal funding for Toronto Sun articles?

The Sun's preemptive campaign against Homegrown was unfair from the start, taking two words from an interview with a fairly green playwright - "sympathetic portrayal" - and using them to harass her then-unseen play and impune the SummerWorks festival, one of the most vibrant theatre festivals in the country, the launching point for so many of the most exciting new plays of the past decade, and one of the few artistic endeavours in this country unafraid to take risks.

That sums up my objection to your paper's coverage. Things got a bit better once David Akin was on the story (and it actually became a story when the PMO commented).

As to what you say in this blog post, you've taken one of my tweets out of context and ascribed opinions to me that I don't hold. I certainly don't believe there's "a right to arts funding" or that "just because a play is written it should be funded". Who thinks that? That's certainly not the case right now in Canada, nor should it be.

Our democratically elected governments have chosen to help fund the arts to a limited degree and I agree with that decision - in fact I'd like us to increase funding for the arts.

If someone has a problem with funding, take it up with the politicians - don't attack artists, the vast majority of whom live in or near the poverty level, for applying and getting some of that funding. Why not go after the Prime Minister who is oh-so-concerned about funding plays that "glorify terrorism" (which Homegrown, misguided as it may be, does not), but is too afraid to actually take concrete action on that front for fear of political backlash. He, like the Sun, is just rousing the rabble. Sorry, but I expect more from journalists and politicians.