Liberals Surge to Parliamentary Majority in Canadian Election

After a lengthy 78 day election campaign that saw the Conservatives, Liberals, and New Democrats swapping positions in the polls throughout, Canadian voters at last went to the polls on Monday. The polls, which had shown a slight lead for the Liberal Party over Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s Conservatives, appear to have built on the last-minute momentum the Liberals and Justin Trudeau gained to push the Liberals across the line to 184 seats and a majority government. Trudeau’s stewardship of the Liberals allowed them bounded back from a historic collapse in 2011 that left them with just 34 seats in Canada’s House of Commons and ousted Prime Minister Stephen Harper and the Conservatives after nine years.

Throughout the campaign, the fatigue of nine years of Stephen Harper showed itself again and again. The Conservatives were almost consistently in second place since the beginning of the election campaign on August 4. For almost the entirety of the first week of September, the Conservatives had even dropped to third place in the polling averages as the distances between the three parties narrowed. The only time the Conservatives were leading in the polls was a two week period at the end of September. The Conservative campaign were beset with a number of controversies surrounding individual candidates, but Harper’s tenure as Prime Minister was also under scrutiny from Canadians. In particular, popular backlash over the passage of the antiterrorism Bill C-51 that expanded the Canadian intelligence services as well as a stagnant economy that continued emphasis on resource extraction in the Prairie Provinces hurt Harper during the campaign. The economic issues worsened at the beginning of September when Canada officially entered a recession after a second quarter of GDP contraction, placing two recessions under Stephen Harper’s tenure.

In contrast, the New Democratic Party had been surging throughout the beginning of the election campaign. Normally a perennial third party, the traditionally left wing NDP had reached historic standing in the House of Commons after the 2011 election when they surpassed the Liberal Party to become Official Opposition. Under leader Thomas Mulcair, the NDP was hoping to maintain or expand this record representation in Parliament, and for a while it appeared they would. The New Democrats led in the polls until mid-September, even edging on polling numbers that may have placed them within sight of an unprecedented majority. However, support for the New Democratic Party began slipping away midway through the campaign, especially among in their 2011 base of support in Quebec. The recovery of the separatist Bloc Quebecois from their near wipeout in 2011 was a major factor in the fall of the NDP in much of the province. Other factors in the NDP’s return to third party status likely include strategic voting against Conservative candidates in many ridings and Mulcair’s principled stance opposing a ban on wearing the niqab in citizenship ceremonies. Harper’s government ignited an intense debate when it supported a ban on the niqab and other face coverings when taking the oath of citizenship. The Canadian federal appeals court overturned the ban, but many in Quebec supported the ban and this may have hurt the NDP’s chances in the province. Ultimately, Mulcair and the New Democrats did not fall too far in the election. While they went from winning 30.6% of the vote and 103 seats in 2011 to 19.7% and 44 seats in 2015, the NDP still won more seats in Parliament than they have ever received outside of the 2011 election. The New Democrats still are in a solid position with over a quarter of the vote in British Columbia, Saskatchewan, and Quebec, and if they keep this base of support could feasibly reach Official Opposition status again in the next couple elections.

The Liberal Party, meanwhile, was entering the campaign off of a disastrous performance in 2011. The Liberal Party won just 34 seats in Parliament in 2011, the least number of seats they had ever won in an election and the first time they fell to third place in the seat count. In the 2013 party leadership election, the Liberal Party chose Justin Trudeau to lead them. Justin was aided by his family name. His father, Pierre Trudeau, was Prime Minister of Canada for almost the entire period of 1968 to 1984, with less than a year’s interruption by Joe Clark from June 1979 to March 1980. In the early days of the campaign, the Liberal position was tenuous as they stayed mired in third place. Trudeau faced criticism from both the right and the left. The Conservatives attacked him for his inexperience and only running on his father’s legacy, repeating the refrain that Justin was “just not ready.” Meanwhile, the NDP criticized Trudeau for his support of Bill C-51 and positioned themselves as the true party of the left in Canada. The metric of the NDP on the left, the Liberals in the center, and the Conservatives on the right became complicated later in the campaign when economic issues took the forefront. Tom Mulcair agreed with Harper in maintaining the budget surpluses that Harper had run in 2014 and 2015, while Trudeau argued for minor deficits to invest in Canada’s struggling economy.

With the New Democrats tacking to the center on some issues, the Liberals were seen once again as the party of the left. Additionally, strategic voting in many ridings to oust Harper led to voters to turn to the Liberals rather than the New Democrats as the best chance to defeat the Conservative candidate in many seats. With all of this coinciding right at the end of the campaign, it led to a Liberal surge during the advanced voting days and on election night that pushed Trudeau into the Prime Ministership with a slight majority. This is even more evident in the regional breakdown of the 2015 election. In Atlantic Canada – the provinces of New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, Prince Edward Island, and Newfoundland and Labrador – the Liberals completely swept the region, winning all 32 seats in the four provinces. Some seats, such as St. John’s East in Newfoundland, had incredible swings. The NDP incumbent MP Jack Harris had won the riding with over 71% in 2011. In 2015, however, Harris lost to Liberal Nick Whalen, with a 39 percent swing from the NDP to the Liberals. In 2011, Newfoundland and Labrador was the only province where the Liberals came in first in the popular vote. On Monday, the Liberals came first in every province and territory except for Alberta and Saskatchewan. Additionally, several of Harper’s cabinet ministers lost their ridings, including Minister of Finance Joe Oliver.

Now that the election is over, each party will have some challenges ahead. The Conservatives will be facing a battle for the party leadership as Stephen Harper, while not stepping down as an MP, has stated he will step down as leader of the Conservative Party. For Tom Mulcair and the New Democrats, while this election is perhaps not as bad as it could have been, they will undoubtedly have some contemplation over how they let a sizable lead slip away so much. The smaller parties will also have some interesting takeaways from this election. The Bloc Quebecois earned 10 seats in Quebec, a recovery from their near wipeout in 2011 that left them with only 4 seats. However, on the vote numbers, they actually received 70,000 fewer votes and almost 3% less of Quebec voters than in 2011. The main reason they held any seats this go around was the more divided electorate among the three major parties. LIke the Bloc, the Green Party also saw a drop in votes from 2011, but they will be more optimistic in their outlook. Elizabeth May increased her share of the vote in Saanich-Gulf Islands to a majority, keeping the leader of the Green Party in Parliament. The Green Party did considerably well in British Columbia and especially in the Vancouver Island ridings. In addition to holding Saanich-Gulf Islands, Green Party candidate Jo-Ann Roberts came in second in Victoria with 32%, tripling their performance in Victoria and coming in less than ten points behind NDP MP Murray Rankin. In the rest of Vancouver Island, the Greens doubled their vote share in nearly every riding and could potentially now have a solid support base to elect more MPs in the next election. And finally, the Liberal Party is now faced with governing again for the first time in nearly a decade. Justin Trudeau is preparing for the transition of power and will swear in the country’s new cabinet on November 4.

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History of the City of Strasbourg

Today, the city of Strasbourg, France is mostly known for being the location of the European Parliament and is frequently used as a symbol of the European Union secondary only to Brussels. However, Strasbourg has a much richer history than this. From its beginning as a Roman outpost, Strasbourg has been one of the most important cities in the Upper Rhine.basin.

Strasbourg’s city center sits on the Grand Ile in the middle of the Ill River, five kilometres west of the Rhine. Prior to the Roman invasion of Gaul, the area had a significant Celtic settlement. The Romans arrived some time between 50 BCE and 10 BCE as the Empire’s conquest of Gaul pushed its frontier to the western bank of the Rhine River. The Rhine formed the natural border of the Roman Empire in the west, and around this time the settlement of Argentoratum was founded as a military border outpost to protect Gaul from the Germanic tribes east of the Rhine.

Shortly afterward during the reign of Emperor Hadrian in the 2nd century CE, the Roman Empire reached its maximum extent. Argentoratum remained the main legionary base on the upper Rhine, though it was no longer on the Roman border. Argentoratum, along with Mogontiacum, later to become the city of Mainz, operated as the two headquarters for the Roman Legion in the province of Germania Superior on the Upper Rhine. However, the Roman presence on the Rhine would only last a few centuries. One of the most significant events in Strasbourg’s early history was the Battle of Argentoratum in 357 CE. The Western Roman Empire was beset by successive invasions from Germanic tribes. The Alemanni confederation under King Chnodomar had settled on the eastern bank of the Rhine in what is now Baden-Wurttemberg in Germany. Chnodomar attacked across the Rhine into Gaul near Argentoratum. The Roman general Julian, who later became Emperor Julian the Apostate, crushed the Alemanni at Argentoratum driving Chnodomar back across the Rhine in one of the greatest victories of the Romans over the Germanic tribes of that time. Despite this, however, the Western Roman Empire continued to collapse, culminating in its disestablishment in 476 CE.

In the immediate period following the collapse of the Roman Empire, Strasbourg was occupied successively by the Alemanni, the Huns, and finally the Franks. By 800, Strasbourg was part of the Carolingian Empire under Charlemagne. Strasbourg continued to be the major trading center on this segment of the Rhine, though Mainz to the north had eclipsed it in importance as a commercial city. However, Strasbourg’s more central location within the Carolingian Empire made it an important city again after Charlemagne’s death. Charlemagne’s empire was divided among his grandsons, with Charles the Bald receiving West Francia comprising most of what is now France, Louis the German receiving East Francia comprising much of what is now southern Germany and Austria, and Lothair I, who received Middle Francia, comprising much of the Rhine and Rhone River basins and Italy as well as being crowned Holy Roman Emperor. Charles and Louis were unhappy with this division, seeing Lothair as unfit for the office of Holy Roman Emperor and disputing his succession to the title. In 842, Charles and Louis met in Strasbourg. In the city’s marketplace, they signed an alliance against Lothair called the Oaths of Strasbourg. The Oaths not only set out this alliance between the two brothers, but is also one of the first documents that demonstrates the splitting of France and Germany into two distinct cultural identities. Each brother spoke the Oaths in the language of the other. Charles spoke the Oath in the Germanic language, the predecessor of German, while Louis spoke in the Romance language, the predecessor of French. Thus, on February 14, 842, the French and German languages and nationalities were laid out in diverging directions in Strasbourg.

Strasbourg’s medieval history is dominated by its role as both a religious and commercial center within the Holy Roman Empire. Strasbourg joined the Holy Roman Empire around 900 when the entire region of Alsace was annexed from Lotharingia into the Empire. The Catholic Church made the city the see of a bishopric at least as early as 982. One of the more prominent early bishops was Werner I of the House of Habsburg, appointed by Emperor Otto III in 1001. Werner was the brother of Radbot von Habsburg, one of the forefathers of the counts of Habsburg and the entire Habsburg dynasty. Werner, who served as bishop from 1001 to his death in 1028, began construction on the Strasbourg Cathedral in 1015. The cathedral, blending Romanesque and Gothic architecture and bearing a unique red hue from the use of sandstone from the Vosges Mountains to the west, dominates the island Strasbourg’s old town sits on and is the most recognizable landmark in the city. It took over four centuries to construct and was finally completed in 1439. At 466 feet high, the Strasbourg Cathedral was the world’s tallest building for over two centuries. The cathedral received this distinction after the taller belltower of Saint Mary’s Church in Stralsund was struck by lightning and burned down in 1647, and was only surpassed again in 1874 by Saint Nicholas’ Church in Hamburg.

During the Middle Ages, Strasbourg also sought to elevate its role within the Holy Roman Empire. In 1262, the city of Strasbourg was granted rights as a fully independent entity within the Empire as an Imperial Free City. In the 1300s, Strasbourg asserted these rights further and declared itself a free republic. At the same time, Strasbourg led an alliance between several Imperial Free Cities in Alsace called the Decapole. The Decapole was signed by Emperor Charles IV in 1354, uniting ten free cities in alliance with each other. Strasbourg was the site of court proceedings for the Decapole, which lasted until the late 1600s when Alsace was annexed into France.

Strasbourg’s most important historical period is probably the 16th and 17th century, as the city became renowned for its role in the Protestant Reformation. Even by 1500, Strasbourg was already destined to become an early center for the budding movement, as it was one of the first cities in Europe with a printing press. Indeed, Johannes Gutenberg perfected and unveiled the movable type press in Strasbourg in 1440, and a printing office was opened in Strasbourg by 1460. Strasbourg also later became the first city with a published regular newspaper. The World Association of Newspapers now recognizes the Relation, first published by Johann Carolus in Strasbourg as 1605, as the world’s first newspaper.

As a center of knowledge and by the Reformation the seat of an archbishop, Strasbourg’s role as a contentious city for the feuding Church movements was almost assured. Many of the churches in Strasbourg have complicated histories relating to the Reformation. Strasbourg was one of the earliest cities to side with the Protestants, and the Strasbourg Cathedral was declared a Protestant church by the city council in 1524. Reformer and minister John Calvin stayed in Strasbourg from 1538 to 1541 while in exile from Geneva. During those three years, Calvin preached at the Saint-Nicholas Church on the outskirts of the city and at the Temple Neuf in the middle of the Grand Ile. Organist and theological historian was also the pastor of the Saint-Nicholas Church from 1900 to 1913. The Saint-Thomas Church on the Rue Martin Luther at the southern point of the Grand Ile was one of the main Lutheran churches in Strasbourg. Reformer Martin Bucer served as pastor there in the early years of the Reformation. After the cathedral returned to a Catholic doctrine in the 1680s, the Saint-Thomas Church became the city’s main Lutheran church.

Strasbourg remained part of the Holy Roman Empire through the Thirty Years’ War when it was a strategic crossing point for Imperial armies crossing the Rhine. Its location made it a primary objective for Louis XIV in his wars to expand French borders. Louis XIV occupied Strasbourg in 1681, and formally annexed the city into France with the Treaty of Ryswick in 1697. The city remained part of France until the Franco-Prussian War. As the largest city in Alsace and just across the Rhine from Germany, Strasbourg was a key objective for the Prussian army. The Siege of Strasbourg from August to September of 1870 saw the Prussians heavily bombard the city. Many historical structures were damaged or destroyed by the bombardment, including the former Dominican Church where the Temple Neuf is now located, and the Prussians entered Strasbourg in late September. Prussia decisively won the Franco-Prussian War, and in 1871 Strasbourg became part of Germany, adopting its German spelling of Strassburg.

The twentieth century has been a period of both turbulence and prosperity for Strasbourg. With much of the active combat on the Western Front taking place in Belgium, Strasbourg and Alsace were luckily spared much of the fighting during the war. Strasbourg was still in German control when the armistice was signed on November 11, 1918. However, with the Treaty of Versailles, Alsace was returned to France. For about a month after the armistice, Alsace became a self-declared independent country with Strasbourg at its capital as a legal vacuum developed between the armistice and the arrival of the French army. A number of cities, beginning with Strasbourg, declared themselves Soviet republics, run by workers’ or soldiers’ councils as part of a nationwide protest calling for the overthrow of the German monarchy. French forces under Henri Gouraud arrived in Strasbourg on November 22, and the Alsace Soviet Republic was dissolved by December 5. Between the two world wars, Strasbourg became part of the buildup of defensive structures along the French-German border known as the Maginot Line. Fortifications were constructed around the city, but this did not slow the German army down during the invasion of France in 1940. Strasbourg was occupied again for over four years during World War II. The city was liberated by Allied forces on November 23, 1944.

After World War II, Western European countries strove for increased cooperation and interconnection between them as a counter to the Soviet bloc and as a move toward greater European integration. With France and West Germany leading the way in this cooperation, Strasbourg’s location made it an excellent city for the location and symbol of this integration. The Council of Europe first met in Strasbourg in 1949, and is now housed in its own building, the Palais de L’Europe, where it has met yearly since 1977. The European Parliament has also met every year in Strasbourg in a building across the River Ill from the Palais de L’Europe. This area of Strasbourg northeast of the city center is known as the European Quarter due to the concentration of Europe-wide institutions there. Along with the Council of Europe and the European Parliament, the European Court of Human Rights and several other continental institutions are located in Strasbourg. This concentration of organizations makes Strasbourg second only to Brussels as the claimant for the title of “capital of Europe.”

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Canadian Election Still a Three Way Race as Campaign Passes Midpoint

Barely a month remains until the next Canadian election, and the campaign has reached its halfway point. While early in the campaign it appeared as if the New Democratic Party would continue its slight lead in the polls, recent weeks have proved otherwise. Both the Liberals and Conservatives have clawed back from dipping below the thirty percent mark. The polls as they stand show very conflicting results, with the race between Harper, Trudeau, and Mulcair becoming increasingly tighter. Individual polls in the past week have shown all three parties in the lead, and the riding projections could very well result in a party winning the most seats but not winning a plurality of the popular vote.

The campaign started out with trouble looming for Prime Minister Harper and the Conservatives. The onset of the election campaign was somewhat overshadowed by the ongoing trial of former Senator Mike Duffy as part of the Senate expenses scandal. The scandal cites Duffy as one of several Senators who claimed their primary residence outside of Ottawa in order to claim living expenses for working in the capital when they actually did live in Ottawa. Duffy has been further charged with bribery and fraud after he repaid the expenses he owed the Canadian government in 2013. Coincidentally, Duffy received an equal amount of money from Nigel Wright, then Stephen Harper’s Chief of Staff, shortly before the repayment. .The trial was a spectre for the Harper campaign in the early weeks of the campaign as Harper’s involvement and knowledge relating to the scandal came into question. While nothing conclusive related to Harper was uncovered, it hurt the public’s trust in Harper and set a tone for the campaign.

The Conservatives have since been dogged by numerous scandals relating to candidates and poor economic news. On September 1, Statistics Canada released the numbers for the Canadian economy in the second quarter of 2015. Canada’s GDP shrank by 0.5% between April and June of this year. Compounding on a 0.8% decrease in the first quarter of 2015, the recent numbers signaled Canada’s official entry into recession for the first time since the 2008-2010 global financial crisis. While the recession is likely to be brief as Canada’s trade deficit shrank significantly in June, the public perception that the country is in a recession could hurt Harper on the economy. Both Mulcair and Trudeau hammered Harper on the issue of the recession during the first televised debate in early August.

Additionally, several individual Conservative candidates have already been dropped due to a number of embarrassing incidents involving them. Jerry Bance, who was running in the Toronto riding of Scarborough-Rouge Park, was dropped after video surfaced of the candidate urinating into a mug in a homeowner’s kitchen in 2012 while Bance was an appliance repairman. Tory candidates Tim Dutaud in Toronto-Danforth and Blair Dale in the Bonavista-Burin-Trinity riding in Newfoundland were dropped in the last week after controversy erupted over video and comments they made on Youtube. While the odd controversy of a candidate being dropped due to offensive statements is unavoidable, it will likely become increasingly common as more and more potential candidates have a history of making public statements on the Internet. Former Liberal candidate for Calgary Nose Hill, 21 year old Ala Burzeba, was dropped as a candidate and apologized after offensive tweets she made four years ago as a teenager were dug up. This could be a symptom of improper vetting of candidates, but it is more likely a symptom of greater use of the internet and social media among the public in general. As more candidates use social media and millennials begin to enter into political activism, more and more incidences like these can be expected to surface.

Despite the trouble for the Conservatives, they still have a strong committed support base that put the floor of their support at the highest of the major parties. With the race condensing into a struggle that could end up with any of the three parties on top, the Liberals and the New Democrats have increasingly begun attacking each other to try and swing the anti-Conservative support into their camp. Trudeau and Mulcair have attacked each other in campaign stops over the party leaders’ economic plans. Trudeau has criticized Mulcair for his promise to restore the budget surplus that languished under Harper, connecting Mulcair’s promise to Harper’s similar promise if he is reelected. Trudeau’s assertion carries some weight with the recession announcement, as Keynesian economic knowledge points to deficit spending during rough times to keep economic investment steady. However, Mulcair has claimed that Trudeau’s jump back into deficit spending is reckless and that a measured path is needed during the next years, with the possibility of a deficit only in the later years of a Mulcair administration.

In Trudeau’s criticism of Mulcair, there is also a hint of the Liberals and NDP attempting to connect each other with Stephen Harper’s policies and play off of Harper’s unpopularity among voters undecided between the Liberals and the NDP. Trudeau has criticized Mulcair for supporting Harper’s plan for a surplus and that a balanced budget will hurt the Canadian economy in the coming years. For its part, the New Democrats have hit back at Trudeau on the Liberal Party’s support for the passage of Bill C-51, a controversial anti-terrorism bill pushed hard by Harper. Bill C-51 expanded the Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS) mandate to take action against potential terrorists and made it much easier for many government departments to share information with each other including the Canadian Revenue Agency. Mulcair and the NDP opposed the bill during its passage including filibustering it in the House of Commons, but the bill was passed with support from the Conservatives and Liberals in June of this year. Mulcair still opposes the bill and has attacked Trudeau for his support for it several times. The NDP claims it is a major infringement on citizens’ privacy with how much information can be collected by the CSIS, especially tax and detailed travel information. Mulcair also claimed that Trudeau supported the bill for fear of being criticized by Harper, and reiterated his vow to repeal C-51 if he becomes Prime Minister.

With the issues of the economy, national security, and individual candidacies at stake, the 2015 election is quickly shaping up to be the first true three party federal election in recent Canadian history. The unhappiness in Canada over the Harper administration manifested itself in the polls recently as the Conservatives briefly dipped into third place, an unprecedented slide for Harper’s party. This was the first sign of the recovery of the Liberals in the last week as they and now the Conservatives have closed the gap with the New Democrats. As the polls sit now, the three parties are at the closest they have been in some time. Just 1.3% separates first and third place in the polls at the moment. The NDP leads with 31.2% while the Liberals are in the back at 29.9%. The Conservatives are slightly ahead of the Liberals at an even 30%. However, this does not translate to a similar outcome in the riding projections. The Conservatives have undoubtedly benefited from the redrawing of riding boundaries during the expansion of the House of Commons from 308 to 338 seats. While the Tories are almost third in the popular vote currently, they lead the riding projections with 122 seats to the NDP’s 113 and the Liberals’ 102 seats. Whichever party comes first in the number of seats after the October election, talks of a government formation will be very interesting. Canada has traditionally shunned coalition governments although many of its parliaments have been governed without majorities. The only formal coalition since Confederation in 1867 was during World War I. After the 2008 election, the Liberals and NDP came close to forming a coalition government, but in December 2008 Governor-General Michaelle Jean issued a prorogation of the current parliament until the new year, delaying a motion of non-confidence. By the time parliament reconvened, a change in Liberal Party leadership distanced them from the idea of a coalition. Instead, the Harper government’s 2009 budget met most of the issues brought up by the Liberals and they supplied the Tories with a mandate for the time being.

As such, the result of the 2015 election largely depends on who gets the most seats of any of the three major parties. With Canada’s preference for minority governments with ad hoc support from other parties over formal coalitions, it is likely that whichever party gets a plurality of seats will form the next government. Considering the Liberals and NDP are now attacking each other on various issues to sway the anti-Harper vote, the prospect of a Liberal-NDP coalition to oust Harper is growing increasingly slim. It is unlikely that the NDP would support another term for Harper, so if the Conservatives get any consistent support from another party it would most likely come from the Liberals. However, if the election outcome brings an unprecedented NDP plurality in the House of Commons, the Liberals may swallow their pride (or find a leader more willing than Trudeau to do so) and usher in an Orange-led government for the first time in Canadian history.

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Euro 2016 Qualification in Final Stretch

At the end of today, only two matches remain for most of the teams in the qualification for next year’s Euro 2016 in France. Already # countries have successfully qualified, and several more have assured themselves of at least making the playoff spots. With the expansion from sixteen to twenty-four teams for Euro 2016, some newcomers and lesser teams qualifying are to be expected. This does not lessen their qualification though. This rings especially true for a few teams such as Iceland, who have had spectacular qualification runs and would still be on track to qualify even without the greater number of teams. Here are how the qualification prospects for each group stand after the latest matches.

We begin with Group A, which was set to be one of the toughest groups but has produced one of the most spectacular upsets in recent football history. The group, consisting of the Netherlands, the Czech Republic, Turkey, Iceland, Latvia, and Kazakhstan, was all set to have the Netherlands sail through while the Czechs and Turks battle for second and third. However, the tables quickly turned in a manner reminiscent of Costa Rica’s success in the 2014 World Cup group stage. Plucky Iceland continued the impressive form of their 2014 World Cup qualifying playoff run under the helm of manager Lars Lagerback and proceeded to top the group for nearly all the qualification round thus far. Iceland has only let in 3 goals throughout the campaign and shut out the Dutch both in Reykjavik and Amsterdam. The Dutch have also struggled against the Czechs and Turkey, and now find themselves in a dangerous fourth place. The Czech Republic has also qualified after 8 matches and are tied with Iceland on points, leaving the playoff spot to either Turkey or the Netherlands. The Czech Republic play both teams in their final matches, so two difficult games await both teams currently on the brink of elimination.

Group B with Bosnia, Belgium, Israel, Wales, Cyprus, and Andorra has been more predictable, but there have still been a few surprises. While Belgium was expected to perform well in this group and sits second with a playoff assurance, Wales has played well on the back of striker Gareth Bale to top the group one point ahead of Belgium. Bosnia, while they were the pot A draw for the group, stumbled throughout the qualifying campaign. However, Belgium’s victory over Cyprus with a late goal by Eden Hazard coupled with Bosnia’s 3-0 victory over Andorra on September 6 kept Bosnia’s dreams alive. Israel currently sits third in the group and would go to the playoff right now, but both Bosnia and Cyprus can still reach third place in the group. Bosnia and Cyprus are set to play each other on the final matchday, which if the third place spot is still in contention is sure to have both teams giving their all and could produce a thrilling match.

Group C has had some of the fewest surprises so far of the qualifying groups. Except for a shock 2-1 defeat of Spain by Slovakia early in the qualifying process, the group has shaped up fairly normal for what the relative strength of the teams would suggest. The three top teams were already decided before the latest matchday, so now it only remains to be seen who will have to go to the third place playoff. The ranking as it stands is Spain at the top with 21 points, Slovakia in second with 19 points, and Ukraine in third with 16 points. The biggest deciding match of the final two matchdays will be Spain’s final match, which is against Ukraine in Kiev. If Ukraine can upset Spain and notch another win to their tally, they might have a chance of getting second in the group. Otherwise, it seems pretty likely that Spain will top the group and Slovakia will get second to reach their first ever European championship.

In Group D, Germany has done very well and leads the group, which is to be expected. The defending World Cup champions have already ensured themselves at least third place in the group. Their only stumbling blocks so far were a 1-1 draw to Ireland and a historic 2-0 loss to Poland. With Poland and Ireland scoring wins on the 7th, Germany almost found themselves in trouble during a touch battle against a spirited Scottish side. While Thomas Müller scored twice in the first half, Scotland tied it up by the end of the 45 minutes. Only a goal from Ìlkay Gündoğan in the 54th minute separated the two. Scotland has had a spirited qualifying run, but has been plagued by unfortunately one goal losses that have set them back to fourth place, with only a slim hope of making the third place playoff. Also in this group are Gibraltar, who are making their debut appearance in an international tournament qualification round after being accepted into UEFA in 2013. They are last in the group and have lost all their games so far, but Gibraltar was able to score a goal each against Poland and Scotland.

Group E, like group C, has had few surprises throughout the qualifying round. England already became the first country other than hosts France to qualify for Euro 2016 after the seventh matchday, and remain the only team that has won all their qualifying games thus far. This is a much needed rebound for an England team that finished last in their group in the 2014 World Cup with only one point. Rounding off the group, Switzerland, Slovenia, and Estonia are all fighting for second and third place. However, Slovenia’s win over Estonia today will make it difficult for Estonia to reach third. Estonia could still potentially make it, but as their final two matches are against Switzerland and England, it will definitely be a tough road. Lithuania, coming off a narrow win over San Marino in injury time, saved themselves from elimination and could still conceivably make the playoff round, but this is extremely unlikely.

In Group F, the biggest shocks have come at the top and bottom of the group. Greece, who won the European championship in 2004, began qualification coming off of a high note from the 2014 World Cup where they advanced to the round of 16 for the first time. However, Greece’s qualification hopes quickly soured as they took only 1 point from their first four games; a 1-1 draw to Finland. As the group stands now, Greece sits last in the group having already been eliminated. To make the humiliation even worse, Greece is currently below the Faeroe Islands, whose only wins are from beating Greece twice. At the top of the group sit another potential newcomer to the European championship. Northern Ireland have, like Iceland and Wales, had a superb qualifying run and after a draw with Hungary are assured of at least reaching the playoff round. Romania and Finland are also in contention to qualify for the tournament from this group, though Finland’s hopes at advancing are slim.

At the outset, group G was probably the most even group when it came to which teams had a chance to qualify. Russia, Sweden, Austria, and Montenegro all had the potential to advance as part of the top two in the group. Even with only two matches left for each team, the difference between second and fourth in the group is only 3 points, meaning any of Russia, Sweden, or Montenegro has a decent chance at qualifying. However, the surprise runaway team in group G has been Austria. Today, Austria defeated a struggling Swedish side 4-1 to secure their Euro 2016 qualification berth. While Austria has participated in the European championship in 2008 automatically qualifying as host, this is the first time Austria has made it through the qualification round.

Group H is another group where the fate of all the teams has for the most part already been determined. Bulgaria, Azerbaijan, and Malta have already been eliminated. However, which of Italy, Norway, and Croatia will have to go to the playoff round to secure qualification is yet to be seen, and any of the three could end up in third place in the group. Both Croatia and Norway have matches against Malta coming up, which they should expect to win. However, Norway also has its final match of the qualifier against Italy on October 13. That match will probably be critical for how the teams are positioned in the group and which two teams will qualify automatically.

Lastly, we have group I. Due to the uneven number of teams attempting to qualify for the tournament, group I only has five teams instead of six. With Portugal, Denmark, Serbia, Armenia, and Albania in this group, it was expected that Portugal would qualify and likely Denmark and Serbia fight for third. However, while Portugal and Denmark currently lead the group as expected, Albania is the team bringing up third place. Albania has always been one of the worst teams in Europe, but recently they had a good run in the 2014 World Cup qualification. While they earned 11 points in a good run that included wins over Slovenia and Norway, the group was tight enough that those 11 points still placed Albania fifth in the group. Now, however, they are looking at possibly making it to their first major tournament. While Albania lost to Portugal on the 7th, this was their first loss in a qualifying campaign that began with a stunning win over Portugal exactly one year before. As the table stands now, Portugal, Denmark, and Albania are all assured of at least making the third place playoff while Armenia and Serbia have been eliminated.

There are only two matches left for most teams in the qualifying round, and just over a month before the teams qualifying directly from the groups will be decided. So far, five of the 24 teams have already qualified for Euro 2016: France as hosts and England, the Czech Republic, Iceland, and Austria. So far, Iceland is the only country making its debut next year, however there is potential for several more countries to make their debuts. Wales, Northern Ireland, and Slovakia are all likely to qualify. In addition, Albania, Montenegro, Finland, Estonia, Lithuania, Bosnia, Cyprus, and Israel have not yet been eliminated and each country could still make it to the final tournament. The final matchdays look to be exciting as we whittle our way down to the 24 qualifying teams.

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On Raising the Minimum Wage

One of the most extraordinary parts of the United States presidential primaries has been the highlight of economic inequality and the minimum wage as an issue in the race for the Democratic nomination. Slowly but surely, the idea of a $15 minimum wage has gained ground, with self-declared democratic socialist Bernie Sanders, a Vermont Senator with no official party affiliation, making it one of his core campaign promises. Sanders’ rise in the polls in the early states of Iowa and New Hampshire have brought a lot of coverage to the minimum wage as a national issue, especially as there are increasing doubts over whether front-runner Hillary Clinton has the momentum to win the nomination amid the rising popularity of Bernie Sanders. As the United States continues to recover from the Great Recession, the minimum wage is very much an important issue that needs to be addressed.

Because of the United States’ federal structure, the minimum wage can vary wildly across the states. However, the usual base metric for the country’s wages is the federal minimum wage, which applies to any employee of a firm that falls under the jurisdiction of the Fair Labor Standards Act. This generally means any business that makes gross yearly revenues of over $500,000 or engages in interstate commerce, transportation, or communications. There are exemptions to this, primarily for tipped service workers. As of publication of this post, the federal minimum wage is $7.25 an hour. Fourteen states have minimum wages set to equal the federal minimum. Five states, all in the South, have no state minimum wage. Two states, Wyoming and Georgia, have a $5.15 minimum wage, over a dollar an hour less than the federal minimum. The remaining 29 states have minimum wages higher than the federal minimum, in which case the state minimum supersedes the federal minimum. Washington state currently has the highest minimum wage in the United States at $9.47 an hour.

With the wage in many states at $7.25 an hour and the highest at only $9.47, proposals to increase the minimum wage to $15 may seem very drastic at first glance. Even more moderate proposals such as the Raise the Wage Act proposed by Senator Patty Murray and Congressman Robert Scott would raise the wage to $12; still a rather steep raise at face value. This becomes especially apparent when the old argument is brought out that the cost of living ranges so wildly throughout the United States. This is, of course, the reason why the minimum wage, beyond the federal minimum, is devolved entirely to the states and even to local communities within states. Several cities in fact have already voted to eventually bring the minimum wage up to $15 an hour, including Los Angeles, New York City, and Seattle. However, this argument falls apart when it comes under scrutiny.

Firstly and most simply, the federal minimum wage, and even most state minimum wages, are not livable for most people anywhere in the United States. Certainly, in the more expensive cities like San Francisco it isn’t. However, even in the more average areas of the United States, the minimum wage is not close to a living wage, and in a country where more and more people are working into middle age at lower wage jobs, we need to make sure that wages are as close to a livable wage as possible. The best cost of living metric I’ve found is the Living Wage Calculator put together by MIT. It demonstrates that even in the cheaper areas of the United States, a common living wage is going to require a steep jump in the minimum wage. For instance, in Bibb County, Georgia which includes the city of Macon, the living wage for a single adult is $10.01 an hour. This is nearly double Georgia’s minimum wage, and nearly $3 an hour more than the current federal minimum wage. For a family of two adults and a child, even if both parents are working, the living wage is $11.27/hr. That jumps up to $16.51/hr if only one parent is working. That means for a family with one parent working and one parent staying at home with the child, they would need to make over triple Georgia’s minimum wage and over double the current federal minimum wage to afford things like food, rent, medical care, and childcare. In Highland County, Ohio, one of the cheapest counties I could find, the living wage for a single adult is still $8.85 an hour. Two parents and a child are $10.70/hr, jumping up to $14.87/hr if only one parent is working. While Ohio’s minimum wage is at least greater than the federal wage, it is still only $8.10 an hour, not even enough for a single adult to live off of in Highland County. Based on these numbers, it’s pretty clear something needs to be done about the minimum wage.

Secondly, unlike what many people arguing against a wage increase would like you to believe, the increase of the federal minimum wage, to $12 or $15 an hour would not be done all at once. Almost all proposals to increase the minimum wage have a gradual increase, with the full increase being achieved by 2020 at the earliest. Even the Raise the Wage Act I mentioned earlier would only raise the federal minimum by $1 an hour every year until it reached $12/hr by 2020. With a staggered increase, however, claiming the resulting minimum wage will be $12 or $15 an hour is still somewhat misleading because of inflation. If inflation continues steadily over the next five years, as it is likely to do, the $15 minimum wage in 2020 would only be worth $13.75 in today’s dollars. The more realistic $12 minimum wage would be equivalent to just $10.63 in today’s dollars. That’s not very far above the $10.10 that is currently the minimum wage set by President Obama for federal public sector workers. And this still does not take into account any increase in the cost of living index over the rest of the decade.

Even with these figures, many opponents to raising the minimum wage will claim that such an increase is too high for the productivity of lower earning workers, who tend to be less skilled, and that it will hurt businesses and the economy. However, once again the numbers to not lend this argument any weight. The problem with the federal minimum wage since its inception is that because it is only raised in occasional jumps, it is always subject to depreciating value due to inflation. If you take the real value of the federal minimum wage instead of the nominal value, the minimum wage has been roughly stagnant since the late 1980s. In fact, the highest real value of the minimum wage was in 1968. The nominal minimum wage may have only been $1.60 an hour, but the purchasing power of that wage was equivalent to $10.88 an hour in today’s dollars. The worker productivity argument does not hold water either. Since that high mark of 1968, average labor productivity of the American worker has increased by 135 percent. When you take both inflation and worker productivity into account, the federal minimum wage for 2015 should be $25.50 an hour!

Based on all these factors, something clearly needs to be done to rectify the gap between the minimum wage and the living wage throughout the United States. The Raise the Wage Act and proposals of a $15 wage are good first steps, and will certainly help more people toward making a decent living, especially in the more expensive cities in the country. However, it is evident that much more work needs to be done if we are to address the issue of poverty and income inequality in the US to make everyone truly better off. A nationwide or even statewide adoption of a $15 minimum wage will go a long way toward solving the problem, but it is only a partial fix and may not be a long-term solution. Even so, it is good to see the Democratic Party adopt a $15 minimum wage as part of its platform, and hopefully the United States can move toward elevating the wage sooner rather than later.

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The Peculiarity of Island Cities

One of the constants of urbanism and the foundation and growth of cities is that cities are almost always located at or near a water source. The reasons for this are fairly obvious; water is necessary for human survival and irrigation. Most commonly this means cities being founded at a narrow stream crossing or on the bank of a river. Interestingly, however, there are many cities that were started on islands. The most well known cities are those such as Venice and Singapore, that are defined by their nature as island cities. However, other cities also began on islands but have possibly since expanded beyond the physical borders of their beginnings, or only began as cities on parts of larger islands but have since filled the island they are on..

What reasons do some cities have for beginning the core of their settlement on islands, whether they be in the middle of rivers or often just offshore of the a larger mainland. The main reason for this especially in older island cities was usually as an easily defensible location. Islands are much easier to defend as they are completely surrounded by a natural barrier that is difficult to reach with a land army. For instance, the ancient city of Tye in what is now Lebanon was famed for its position as an island city. The city itself was located on an island just off the Lebanese coast, and had survived many sieges in ancient times. Most notable was the siege of the city by Alexander the Great in 332 BCE during his invasion of Persia. As the Phoenicians held naval superiority, Alexander could not attack from the sea. Alexander won the siege through a great feat of engineering and constructed a causeway from the coast out to Tyre and marched his army across. That causeway remains to this day, and the Tyre now sits at the end of a peninsula. With more modern warfare developments such as aerial bombings an island city has become more vulnerable, but for a naval power a city surrounded entirely by water could be a formidable defensive position.

The other major reason why a city might be founded on an island is that it provides a strategic location for trade. This is especially the case if the island the city is built on is at a narrow strait or in the middle of a river. The most successful example of this today is probably Singapore, which has built its success on its position as a city-state in the Straits of Malacca. However, other cities that are not often thought of as island cities also began for this reason as well. Paris, France, for example, originally consisted of just the Ile de la Cite in the middle of the Seine. Even before Julius Caesar expanded the Roman Empire into Gaul, the Parisii tribe frequented the island as a convenient location for crossing the Seine. In 885, Count Odo of Paris warded off a Viking invasion up the River Seine using the island as a great defensive fortification. The Ile de la Cite now is only a minor part of the city of Paris, but it remains a symbolic center of the city as the site of the Cathedral of Notre Dame.

Two other cities across the Atlantic also blossomed as trade hubs, but began as only parts of the islands they are situated on. One of these cities, also founded by the French, is Montreal, Canada. The other is more well known – the island of Manhattan. Both Montreal and Manhattan began on just small sections of their eponymous islands. Montreal started out as a fur trading post founded by explorer Samuel de Champlain in 1611 on the southeastern edge of the Island of Montreal. Likewise, New York City began on the very southern tip of Manhattan in what is today Battery Park. Both cities were advantageous trading locations from the very beginning. Montreal was one of the main settlements on the fur trade from the interior of North America down the Saint Lawrence River. Manhattan grew as a sheltered harbor and as the Dutch and later the English expanded and traded further inland in the Hudson River Valley. Both cities soon exhausted the respective lands on their islands and developed suburbs on the coasts opposite them. Montreal at 1.65 million people is the second largest city in Canada and one of its neighboring cities, Laval, is also situated on an island. New York City is the largest city in the United States, and even if Manhattan was separate, it would still be the fifth largest city in the country at 1.64 million people.

While an island city can be very advantageous, there are also many potential dangers that come with building a large city on an island. As mentioned before, in times of warfare an island, while more defensible, is also more easily blockaded and if the city relies on imports are farming from the mainland for its food, it could be easily blockaded. The more extreme threat to an island city, however, is from the climate and natural disasters. Venice, built on islands in a shallow lagoon, is slowly sinking due to the soft soil of the lagoon, and frequently becomes flooded during unusually high tides. While Italy is currently testing a seawall that should help mitigate tidal flooding in Venice, the sandy soil in the Venetian Lagoon will likely remain a problem. Additionally, while Venice has found a way to hopefully solve its flooding issues, other island cities have not been so lucky. The city of Galveston, Texas, built on a barrier island in the Gulf of Mexico, became one of the busiest ports in the United States in the 19th century rivaling New Orleans, and for much of the century was one of the largest cities in Texas. Sadly, in 1900 a hurricane passed directly over the island and devastated the city. The 1900 Galveston Hurricane is still the deadliest hurricane in United States history. Over 8,000 people or a fifth of Galveston’s population died as a result of the hurricane. The city recovered somewhat, but its golden age was over as nearby Houston quickly overtook Galveston in prominence as Texas’s main port. More recently, climate change and rising sea levels have threatened to engulf some island cities. The most in danger is Male, the capital of the Maldives. Situated in the chain of islands off the southwest coast of India, Male has a population of 153,000 people. However, the highest elevation of Male is just eight feet above sea level, making it one of the cities most threatened by rising sea levels. Potential solutions to rising sea levels are difficult to figure out, especially for a city like Male, and there might not be one. Male and all of the Maldives could have its very existence threatened by climate change in the next century.

Despite these environmental dangers, many cities have been settled on islands throughout history. It is clear that for many island cities, the economic and defensive benefits far outweigh the potential danger of being isolated through disaster or blockade. Some of the greatest economic centers of the modern world including Manhattan and Singapore owe much of their success to their positions on islands and their ability to capture trade from nearby shipping lanes. There are many clear advantages to building a city on an island, and it’s no wonder such a peculiar geographical feature is found in urban centers around the world.

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Canada’s Upcoming Election Could Lead to Political Realignment

In just about two months on October 19, Canada will go to the polls to decide on the next Parliament. The 2015 election will be very different from past elections for several reasons. For one, the campaign will be the longest Canadian election campaign in over a century. In fact, when Prime Minister Harper called the election on August 2, he initiated the second longest election campaign in Canadian history. The 1872 election was the only one to surpass 2015, and in the 1872 election the campaign was only that long due to staggered voting and the distance of the newly admitted provinces of British Columbia and Manitoba. For 2015, however, the reasons for the longer campaign are less practical and more a strategy by Harper and the Conservative Party. A 2007 amendment to the Canadian Elections Act mandated fixed election dates no matter when the election is called, so the actual day of voting would be in October no matter what. Additionally, the Fair Elections Act passed by the Conservatives in 2014 changed campaign finance laws to lift the strict limit on campaign spending and institute a flexible limit depending on the length of the campaign. As such, a longer election campaign means a higher spending limit. With the amount raised by each party, the new campaign finance rules will almost solely benefit the Conservative Party.

Moving on from the length of the campaign, the 2015 Canadian election promises to be one of the most interesting and competitive federal election in recent times as the current party system of Canadian politics is being upended. Previous governments have almost always had the Liberal Party on the broad left and either the Conservatives or their predecessors the Progressive-Conservatives on the broad right as the top two parties in parliament. Meanwhile, the New Democratic Party, which lies further to the left in policy than the Liberals, had been a fairly consistent third or fourth party, usually netting between 20 and 40 of Canada’s parliamentary seats. The nationalist Bloc Quebecois emerged in the 1990s as a fourth party and could be counted on to have around fifty seats in Quebec. This balance had largely held steady since the 1990s and the eventual formation of the modern Conservative Party under Stephen Harper in 2003. However, a number of shocking results in the 2011 federal election seems to have signaled the beginning of a transition period in Canada’s political makeup going into the 2015 election.

The 2011 election was very contentious and unprecedented in the events that led to the writ being dropped. Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s minority Conservative government proposed a budget in March of 2011, but all three opposition parties (the Liberals, the NDP, and the BQ) rejected Harper’s proposed budget. Days later, the House of Commons passed a motion of no confidence against the Harper government and found the Cabinet to be in contempt of Parliament. Canada’s Governor General David Johnston issued the writs of election on March 26, with election day being held on May 2, 2011. After a strong campaign from the NDP and leader Jack Layton and a disappointing campaign by Michael Ignatieff’s Liberals, the results of the election were surprising. Layton’s NDP surged to over 100 seats in Parliament for the first time and replaced the Liberals as the official opposition. Harper’s Conservatives actually increased their number of seats, going from a shaky minority government to a full majority of 166 seats. The Liberals, meanwhile, fell to third place for the first time in their 150 year history, reaching a historic low of only 34 seats. The rise of the NDP built heavily on a shocking collapse of the Bloc Quebecois in Quebec, with the BQ falling to just four seats. The Green Party led by Elizabeth May also won their first seat in Parliament, with May’s victory in the Vancouver Island riding of Saanich-Gulf Islands.

While this year’s election campaign is only in its early stages, some trends have already become clear. Most notable is the continued rise of the New Democrats under federal leader Thomas Mulcair. The NDP has been further boosted by an upset victory at the provincial level earlier this year. In staunchly Conservative Alberta, the NDP scored an unexpected majority in the province’s assembly in May of this year. NDP leader Rachel Notley became Albert’s Premier with 54 seats in the provincial assembly. Fueled by discontent over Conservative Premier Jim Prentice and a split in the right wing vote between the Conservatives and the province’s Wildrose Party, the NDP won all the seats in Edmonton and even won many of the seats in rural northwestern Alberta. Federally, this has helped the NDP revise their image to a plausible party of government, and spurred the party’s lead in the national polls. Currently, the NDP leads the national polls with about 32% while both the Conservatives and Liberals are polling under 30%. The Bloc Quebecois also continue to be in trouble in Quebec. While the return of leader Gilles Duceppe sparked a brief rise in popularity of the party in Quebec, as of July they have dropped back to under 20% in Quebec. Additionally, the seat projections for the BQ do not look like much of a recovery. The Bloc are only projected to get a maximum of 8 seats, with under 5 seats the most likely outcome.

On the other hand, the Green Party could experience a relative surge in their representation in the House of Commons. Elizabeth May will almost certainly retain her seat. Focused campaigning by the Greens has also made journalist Jo-Ann Roberts competitive as a Green candidate against NDP incumbent Murray Rankin in the Victoria, BC riding. Further experienced candidates make the Greens potentially competitive in two other ridings. MP Bruce Hyer changed his party registration from NDP to the Green Party in 2013 and is seeking reelection as a Green Party candidate in the western Ontario riding of Thunder Bay-Superior North. Lastly, in a new suburban Montreal riding, former NDP MP Jose Nunez-Melo is running for the Greens after he criticized the NDP’s candidate nomination process. With these ridings in play, the Green Party could win up to four seats in the 2015 election – possibly pushing them past the Bloc Quebecois in terms of representation – and will certainly remain a fixture in Canadian politics for the time being.

While there is still two months until the voters go to the polls, it seems that a new balance of power in the Canadian political system is gradually solidifying. For the time being, a three-way tug of war between the NDP, the Liberals, and the Conservatives will likely continue. With Canada having recently entered another recession, the NDP will probably gain their first national plurality in the October election. The Liberal Party, however, are in a precarious situation. If Justin Trudeau proves a capable party leader like his father, the Liberals could stay competitive and either regain their place as the opposition or at least stay competitive with the NDP and the Conservatives. However, if Trudeau’s leadership is not effective enough at recovering from the disastrous leadership of Ingatieff, the Liberals could find themselves permanently reduced to the third party. If that happens, the Canadian political system could end up similar to the United Kingdom with the Conservatives representing the broad right, the New Democrats representing the broad left, and the Liberals as a lesser but significant third party occupying the center of the spectrum.

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