Roundup: Top-down incentives

To the excitement of certain federal MPs, the New Brunswick government has decided that in order to encourage more women to run for the provincial legislature (currently there are a pathetic eight out of 49 MLAs), they are going to offer richer per-vote subsidies for parties for women candidates over male ones. While there is a school of thought that insists that this is a great way to get parties to put more women on the ballot, I remain unconvinced.

Part of the problem is that this is trying to impose a top-down solution, which defeats part of the purpose of how our system is supposed to work. Candidates are supposed to come from the ground-up, and candidates should be chosen by the local grassroots, which means giving them tools to help recruit more women (and other minorities). That means removing barriers on the ground, whether it’s being persistent in asking them to run (there is research that shows that you need to ask women an average of five times before they’ll say yes – a strategy the federal Liberals successfully adopted before the last election), or arranging childcare, or ensuring that your local fundraising networks aren’t excluding them because many women candidates don’t have access to the same kinds of networks. It means organizing on the ground, not simply naming or nominating women candidates from on high and expecting people to vote for them.

I will grant you that the New Brunswick Liberals think they’re being clever by tying the increased per-vote subsidy to women as a tactic that would incentive parties to run them in ridings where they’ll get more votes rather than in no-hope ridings (because it’s true that simply offering financial incentives or penalties based on the percentage of women running often results in women carrying those no-hope ridings), but it still smacks of a top-down solution that will result in accusations of tokenism – that they’re only running women so that the party gets more money rather than because she’s the best person for the job. Top-down impositions based on perverse incentives can’t and shouldn’t be the answer. The answer should be proper grassroots engagement and understanding the barriers women face so that they can be removed at the ground level. If we can do that, combined with getting a greater number of straight white male incumbents to step aside to give more space to women and minority candidates to take their places, we’ll find a better and more sustainable engagement with the system.

Good reads:

  • The Liberals are holding a rare weekend caucus meeting, while the backbenchers are insisting that they’re totally not restless or disgruntled. Really! Swear!
  • If you’ve missed the whole Standing Orders debate and the committee filibuster, here’s a primer for you.
  • Trudeau says that a “process” is underway with regards to the alleged sexist comment made by MP Nicola Di Iorio.
  • Bill Morneau says that infrastructure money is slow to rollout by design, to avoid wasting funds.
  • The government is considering new legislation around warrantless access to digital data, despite the Supreme Court of Canada saying it was unconstitutional.
  • Overworked, underpaid, poorly equipped, morale suffering, Mounties are being poached by other police forces around the country.
  • Oh noes! Departments bought new TVs for teleconferencing! Perform some cheap outrage!
  • It sounds like Toronto will be getting an “AI Institute” (read: Deep Learning tech cluster) out of the budget.
  • New funding could reinvigorate the National Research Council.
  • Former Veterans Ombudsman Pat Stogran says he’ll run for NDP leadership, and focus on making government open-by-default.
  • Conservative leadership also-ran Andrew Saxton tries to embrace being boring by saying boring gets stuff done. Sure, Jan.
  • Jason Kirby pours some scorn over the budget and its fetishism for “superclusters.”
  • Over at Maclean’s, I talk about why we don’t need to modernize the House of Commons, and why we should in fact roll back changes made to date.

Odds and ends:

Tristin Hopper found a trove of anguished letters of immigrants bitterly disappointed with their arrival in Canada.

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