Wikileaks etc: Quis custodiet ipsos custodes answered?

If I were an optimist I would write the following:

In Plato’s Republic, Socrates is asked  “quis custodiet ipsos custodes?” – who will watch the watchers and ensure the morality of those who govern? It is a question that has pervaded the construction (and dissolution) of governance mechanisms since, notably through the separation of powers between different arms of government. Yet at its heart the question frames the paradox that emerges from this question of governance: how can we ascertain who is corruptible and who is not?

Such questions have long remained sequestered to the realm of academics and philosophers, while government and governance eschewed such existentialism and instead functioned on varying notions of power and influence and the pragmatic realities they permitted. And so evolved the world from the time of Socrates to the not-so-distant past.

That all changed in the latter half of the 20th century with the advent of the Internet. Suddenly the massive information, and subsequently power, asymmetries that accrued to states were liable to be usurped. Governments’ inviolable hold on power and governance suddenly faced a purposeful challenger enabled by technology. For prior to the Internet’s arrival, the engagement of private or non-governmental actors in governance was largely defined by territory, and therein according to the legitimacy granted to these actors by the state. Very real limits existed related to the projection of ideas and the power of social movements. Where foundational change did occur, such as the 1960s civil rights movement or the earlier rise of nationalist movements for decolonization, it was largely a product of the convergence of mass civil protest and intra-class alliances, achieved over periods of years, if not decades.

Thereafter, however, technology has allowed for the democratization of participation in the processes of governance, and a dramatic shift in the temporal sequence of participation and change from years to seconds. Read the rest of this entry »


Ontario’s HST – Putting a price on the future

Much has been made of Dalton McGuinty’s Ontario Liberal government and their decision to introduce the harmonized sales tax (HST) in place of separate federal and provincial taxes. The move, according to the government, will lead to annual savings of up to $1.5 billion for Ontario businesses, savings that will not only lead to cheaper consumer prices down the road, but more important, a more competitive Ontario economy.

According to University of Calgary economist Jack Mintz, the implementation of the HST in Ontario and British Columbia will, thanks to the savings businesses will enjoy, lead to the creation of 591,000 net new jobs, increased capital investment of $47 billion, and increased annual incomes of up to 8.8 per cent, or $29.4 billion over the next ten years.

So given these distinct benefits of harmonization, why do a large majority (seventy four per cent to be exact) of Ontarians oppose its introduction? Read the rest of this entry »

Immigration as innovation

The modern world is replete with examples of how immigration from outside of a nation’s border has contributed to dramatic increases in the stock of human ingenuity within. Historically, the tolerance for diversity present in Northern Europe during the reformation is often equated as one of the factors that allowed the region to enjoy a head start economically, culturally and socially compared to their more single-minded Southern neighbours.

A tad more recently (1999), research by AnnaLee Saxenian of the University of California at Berkeley showed that foreign-born scientists and engineers were at the heart of a massive boom in jobs and wealth creation for the California economy. Her research Read the rest of this entry »

The shifting currents of globalization

The Ontario Government yesterday announced a multi-billion dollar investment deal with South Korean technology company Samsung to build wind and solar energy installations across the Province. The deal will combine Samsung’s expertise and technology with Ontario’s now very available manufacturing labour force.

The Province expects 1,400 direct manufacturing jobs and as many as 15,000 indirect jobs to be created as a result. Setting aside some controversy over the subsidies given to the South Korean company, the deal marks a reversal of fortune of sorts for Ontario, and more broadly, for North American technology. While once we exported technology and imported in-kind labour, now the reverse is occurring. We provide the labour, they provide they technology. Read the rest of this entry »

A Prorogation of Leadership

A new poll from Ekos Research shows that the Conservative Government is on the verge of seeing their once 10 point advantage over the Federal Liberals disappear. Given growing discontent over the prorogation of parliament, this latter move seems to have backfired on Harper. In fact, if, and this may be a big if, voters actually translate this discontent into action at the polls, then this could be fatal for the Conservative Party, or more likely, Harper’s leadership of the Conservative Party.

The decision to prorogue, no matter the historical (i.e. Liberal) precedents, is quite akin to John Tory’s disastrous campaign strategy in the 2006 Ontario Provincial elections re: religious schools – a bad decision made for political rather than meritocratic reasons. We all know what happened to Tory and I can only think that the Conservative base will think long and hard about what the backlash from Harper’s decision will mean for his leadership of the party.

But prorogation aside, perhaps now is the time for Canadians to think about the leadership of their country and we’re going in both the short and long-term. I write this not as an appeal for any other political party to take over, for we all know that at the present time none of the alternatives have shown themselves to provide any sort of tangible progress, but rather as a quick analysis of who leads us right now. You can make your own decisions afterwards. Read the rest of this entry »

Youth discontent: Who’s next?

Last month I wrote about the impact of recession on youth, and in particular, the impact of a severe recession on youth participation in the labour market. Will they get crowded out in the short-term as older workers choose to stay in the workforce longer?

But such immediate questions aside, growing youth unemployment, or underemployment, may have far deeper societal repercussions.

The recent events in Greece where mobs of angry youths rioted in the streets is perhaps a telling example. Triggered by the shooting of a 15-year-old boy, an estimated 8,000 Greek youths joined what soon became an all-out attack against their role in the Greek state. Read the rest of this entry »

A city that thinks like the Web

Following up on Anthony’s post about last week’s City of Toronto Web 2.0/Gov 2.0 Summit I thought I’d share this fantastic presentation by Mark Surman, executive director of the Mozilla Foundation, on how the City of Toronto “might think like the web.” In it he outlines how the structure and principles of participation that underpin Mozilla might be mimicked to create an open, transparent and participative municipal goverment.

He ends his presentation with three simple challenges to City Hall:

  1. “Open our data. transit. library catalogues. community centre schedules. maps. 311. expose it all so the people of Toronto can use it to make a better city. do it now.
  2. Crowdsource info gathering that helps the city. somebody would have up and running in a week if the Mayor promised to listen. encourage it.
  3. Ask for help creating a city that thinks like the web. copy Washington, DC’s contest strategy. launch it at BarCamp.”

The Mayor committed publicly to making many of these happen, which is great, but action will also need to come from the public… So who’s setting up Toronto’s version of FixMyStreet?