Polygonic

That weren't no DJ, that was hazy cosmic jive

Battle Royale, Twitter style

I smile when people call this the Twitter Election. It has the air of revolution about it, doesn’t it? As though the normal political condition of the Canadian citizen is ashen-minded apathy – but now, with Twitter, we will magically become transformed into eager and fearless critics of an oppressive double-helix state-media establishment! Just like in Egypt!

Perhaps a blogger should watch his trap when it comes to balking at citizen-generated comment. But, at least for me, it seems difficult to use 140 characters to say anything more useful than “Here’s a link to something much longer and more interesting.”

I can’t guarantee this is more interesting, but it certainly is longer. I’ve decided to draw up a second instalment of an experiment last week, with 140-word reviews of each party’s performance to date. It’s like Twitter, but Mega.

Conservatives: I honestly wonder how often senior Conservatives look each other in the eye, shrug, laugh, and admit: “I have absolutely no idea how we’re staying ahead.” Indeed, enjoying a 14% lead, according to Nanos? It absolutely beggars belief. Harper does himself no favours. Antagonising the press with “five-questions-a-day” is needless and feeds into the control-freak narrative. Criminals in the employ of the PMO should be a scandal: that Harper shrugs it off is just a scandal further. They’ve been reactive and uninspired, trotting out old chestnuts on gun freedom, and dispensing with billions in dubious spending promises. Ontarians seem especially enthusiastic, which may be a consequence of the departure of Day and Strahl, and the pronounced Mike-Harrisification of Harper’s senior team? I’d like to threaten to leave the country if Harper wins a majority, but, dang it, I’m already gone.

Bloc: Duceppe’s biggest problem (if there is such a thing as a problem for the Bloc, who certainly enjoy milking our broken electoral system for every last drop) is deciding how to define the threshold of his outrage. He can turn red and scream bloody murder about Lower Churchill. He can rage that Ottawa is an anti-Quebec, imperialist, nefarious hell-spawned engine of neverending betrayal that shackles the potential of all Quebeckers. But he can not go so far as to get deep into sovereignty talk anymore. That just alienates his soft base. How do you escalate the outrage far enough to suck in wavering federalists, without scaring off wavering nationalists? He doesn’t really know. And maybe he doesn’t care. He could spend the whole campaign peeing in the road and shoplifting from corner shops, and still vacuum up 50-odd seats. Sigh.

Liberals: Still super impressed with the performance, but slightly anxious they’ve peaked too soon. Releasing the platform early is good, but it kind of gets lost in the noise of the fact they had a surprisingly solid week previous, and had introduced the heaviest-hitting policy points already. I’m sensing one of two things: either Canada is drunk, or pollsters are drunk. Why aren’t the Liberals winning? The LPC have reached dizzying highs of 32% but, as a natural consequence of their left-leaning strategy, none of this has hurt the Conservatives. There isn’t much more of the soft-left vote for them to poach, which is where LPC emphasising ethical scandal is important. They need to say “Fraud and contempt are not conservative values. Conservative voters, like all Canadians, need to punish Harper for abusing our trust and taking the country for granted.”

Greens: The biggest coverage the Greens have had so far has been through the Debate Debate, which, however bad the news is for them, it’s been an opportunity for them to feature in a fair amount of press. It’s a great shame that they’re excluded, and also that a broadcast consortium has such power to determine the format of the debate (not that any of the HoC leaders protested very hard). It’s an arbitrary logic – the GPC have no seats in the HoC, but then, the Bloc don’t have any candidates anywhere in the RoC, and have zero capacity to produce a new Prime Minister. The Greens have an opportunity to use this to their advantage. Turn the campaign into one of “the status quo,” implicating every other party as complicit in an Establishment Massive, versus the suppressed, undervalued, solitary change-makers.

NDP: I’m feeling for the NDP. Their policy points have underwhelmed, and it seems the Liberals’ collective verve has taken wind out of their sails. Jack Layton has responded as well as he could to a range of questions, but he’s stuck watching the perennial NDP nightmare unfold – Liberals campaigning like the NDP, but with the added barb of “No one can stop Conservatives but Liberals.” It happens every election, but as Harper is a particularly nasty form of Conservative, perhaps the ABC vote is a bigger factor than normal – and, in more cases, it’s gravitating to the Liberals. Ridings where NDP have been second to CPC, Layton’s employing Liberal approaches: “Only NDP can beat Harper here.” O.K. But it muddles their overall message of “strategic voting is for dupes. Vote with your heart for the Canada you want.” Oh dear.

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Filed under: Canada, Politics, , , , , , , , , , ,

It’s hard being a swinger

My girlfriend would insist that I elaborate on that.

Elections force decisions. For those in a “base” of any description, it’s not so much the case – and part of me envies it. Loyal partisans can dedicate their considerable energies to converting wavering voters to the cause, to plugging their predetermined messiahs, and they don’t have to spend quite as much time wondering to themselves who it is they want to vote for. It’s called loyalty for a reason.

I’m afraid I’m a fiercely disloyal, oscillating left-wing cruiser, who’s voted for both Labour and the Liberal Democrats in the UK, and for the NDP, Greens, and Liberals in Canada over a range of elections. It’s nice to come into a new campaign with fresh eyes. But there’s a struggle as well – perhaps I’m less disloyal, and more multiloyal. Every potential choice feels like a betrayal to the consequent non-choice. Hence a deep loathing for FPTP!

However addled I may be by indecision at this early stage, I thought I’d like to review the parties and leaders so far. Rather than Twitter’s 140 character shackles, let’s nonetheless be brief – 140 words per party! A few ruminations on how the campaign appears so far…

Greens: A funny place to start, since there’s nothing of import I’ve been able to glean about the Greens so far. Nor am I especially likely to vote for them. I feel for the party’s struggle to be heard on the national stage – a party that can command around 10% support deserves coverage. But, as they command around 0% of the seats, they just don’t get it. I fear for May’s prospects in Saanich – Gulf Islands. The hippyish Gulf Islands part I get, but Saanich? Wealthy retirees with monster homes do not strike me as fertile territory. It’s frankly a disaster of a riding for anyone. I do want to see May in the debates again, though; if she can’t demand the national stage normally, she can at least get the chance to hold her own in front of her rivals.

Liberals: I know I’m living abroad, but what I can tell, Ignatieff is actually doing brilliantly – as is the party write large. No gaffes yet. Quick, sharp rebuttals to dumb Harper policies like a “tax break for families, maybe, in five years.” He’s pouncing on Harper’s reference to “ethnics” as “you people.” He’s drumming away at key ethics slogans, and chipping away at the “prudent economic steward” garbage that Tories try to own. Liberals seem organised, serious, competitive, believeable, innovative and frank. The university grants scheme is smart. Would like to see it promote cross-provincial study, frankly. It blows my freaking mind that they aren’t yet 10 points ahead. Despair a bit at Ignatieff ruling out a coalition, but recognise his rationale. It’s just toxic in poor Canadia. If an election were held in five seconds, I’d vote for Iggy.

NDP: Layton’s the best leader of the lot, and the nicest, classiest, and most natural by far. I’m pleased he’s campaigning in Edmonton and Saskatchewan, and they need to keep it up. Would like to see other prominent NDPers taking up some campaign work too (are they?). Mulcair, Martin, Davies all out there, illustrating the “team” dynamic to contrast against Harper-authoritarianism. I feel “Jack Layton” branding on everything over-eggs his charm, and is slightly offensive to the depth/breadth of the party. Like many, I want NDP to grow, but not at expense of Liberals! Painful. Where’s it likely? Prairie urban centres, the Far North, much of B.C., and Quebec. I want them going whole hog in those areas. “CPC taking prairie voters for granted” is brilliant. Policy so far a bit middling. Credit card limits? What’s this about?

Conservatives: Regardless of Ibbitson’s praise, I honestly find the Harper campaign so far to be an embarrassment. I’m trying to see it from the perspective of loyal, or potential, CPC voters. Does yammering on about coalitions, like some sort of dysfunctional 1970s robot, when Ignatieff has gone so far as to rule it out explicitly, not reek of desperation? It’s not only dishonest, it’s pathetic. They seem to have no Plan B narrative to coalition-fear-mongering. “Ageist” and “you ethnic people” optics are nasty little bumps in the road for them. “Family tax breaks if you’re lucky in 2016” is a joke, and they know it. No convincing defense of their record so far – I thought CPC was a well-oiled machine? Doesn’t seem at ease, and will fail badly in debates, I reckon. What will “real Canadians” think, eh?

Bloc: Sigh. Ballsy and clever to trot out the 2004 coalition letter. Nice way to put Harper on the back foot. Otherwise, what can you say? No sovereigntist talk, just “Quebec is great” talk. Am frankly glad Parizeau emerged from sarcophagus to call for big separate Quebec state, as it flummoxes Duceppe plans to morph BQ into a fuzzy regionalist social democrat party without any serious separation leanings. I think he’s been a useful thorn in Harper’s Quebec ambitions, but that’s perhaps a bit of spiteful glee on my part. What I’d love to see is Duceppe campaigning cross-Canada trying to explain his vision of the universe and, specifically, the Canadian federation. Wouldn’t that be in Quebec’s interests too? To show the softer, gentler, cuddlier side of Quebec nationalism? Oh well, perhaps he is not ballsy after all. Ha ha.

O.K., the “ha ha” may not be the cleverest way to get to 140 words on the Bloc, but anyhoo, it’s no less clever than some of the analysis we’ve seen on the Globe and Mail so far.

Filed under: Canada, Politics, , , , , , , , , , , ,

Matchmaking and minefields

The Commons blog today revisits coalition or merger scenarios, and gratefully, omits the Liberal Party from the speculation. What if the NDP and Greens worked together instead?

I’ve argued the same. The Liberals already struggle with unity inside the cavernous red tent, and adding a ready-made superfaction to that mix would cause any leader difficulties for the foreseeable future. There is common ground already between the GPC and NDP on the environment, of course, and both parties attract disproportionately high numbers of young voters (those who vote, anyway) through an attractive anti-establishment discourse.

Which, in a unity scenario, is one of the problems. What if the anti-establishment party suddenly came within striking distance of becoming the establishment?

As I commented on Scott’s Commons piece, I’d have two main concerns about a GPC/NDP merger scenario.

1) Their vote wouldn’t likely be as big as their combined independent totals suggest. Though the Green and NDP combine for an apparent 27 – 29% of the electorate today, good enough for Stornoway, this would be difficult to sustain once united. They’d struggle to attract from the centre and the LPC, while some hardcore GPC and NDP partisans would feel betrayed and would peel off into the non-voting cloud somewhere. Witness the Conservatives – their support is consistently lower than the combined totals of the Alliance and PC pre-merger.

Also 2) putting the NDP and Greens in a position of real power would stir up lots of unflattering media scrutiny. They’d have to be sure they would be prepared to weather that, clean their closets in advance, and be able to reject people saying “now that they might win, they look too risky,” which would be an inevitable assertion from the galleries.

A “Progressive Party of Canada” (I’ve not trademarked that, so go ahead) would be brilliant in many respects. It would just have to watch its back a lot more carefully as it lunges into quite serious competition with the biggest parties.

Filed under: Canada, Politics, , , ,

An earthquake in Esquimalt

The political ground is set to quiver in my old stomping grounds, as Liberal MP Keith Martin won’t be seeking re-election in Esquimalt-Juan de Fuca. Some will call this a blow to Michael Ignatieff, as Martin has been an enduring figure in the riding for 17 years. To lose a stalwart is, perhaps, exactly as bad as it seems. It’s not as though he’s announcing other plans except to say that there’s a need for “fresh blood.”

Esquimalt’s affection for Martin has carried him through his career, much more than any clear local partisan bias has. He was elected as a Reform MP, elected as an Alliance MP, and elected as a Liberal MP. In some recent contests, he snuck past a close Conservative second-place challenger, in others he snuck past a close second-place NDP challenger. The nature of the riding is typically British Columbian – a genuinely fickle three-party race in which personality and timing can matter as much as ideology.

Every party has swung wildly there (in more ways than one AHEM), and though 2008’s contest was extraordinarily close, with the Tories closing to within a percentage point and the NDP appearing to have hemmoraged a 6% swing to the Greens, Martin himself remained the X Factor embodied.

Without him contesting, there is absolutely no calling the next race. The Liberals lose out on his local staying power, but have the Cons squandered too much in recent months/years to make a strong showing again? Will the Greens usurp the NDP as the next biggest challenger, to third or even second, what with neighbouring Saanich-Gulf Islands to be such a high profile contest for the Greens with Elizabeth May? (who bets that she’s spending her evening swearing at herself, wishing she’d held off from declaring Saanich and swooping into Esquimalt instead?)

Yes to all of it. Esquimalt is quite a constituency. It’s home to Canada’s Pacific fleet and houses a high proportion of navy families (the first Tim Horton’s I ever knew of in the Victoria area was in Esquimalt, precisely to feed the Nova Scotian “ex-pats”). It has poorer quarters occupied by some of Victoria’s working-class “values conservatives” as well working families under NDP economic tutelage. There are plenty of students and young Victorians with a distinctly granola edge to them, but they have a predictably unpredictable turnout rate. The mixture hardly makes it a bellwether – but it does make it interesting.

Look for each party to put up the best names they can in 2011-12… the hunt, I imagine, begins now (Michaelle? Calling Michaelle?).

UPDATE: Have just read Red Tory Liberal’s take on Martin’s resignation – interestinger and interestinger. BC Liberals will doubtlessly be looking for an “outsider” without the nasty HST taint to fill Campbell’s boots, and that means a federal politician with the Blue Liberal credentials. Hum!

Filed under: Canada, Politics, , , , , , , , ,

Lipstick on the electoral pig

The Globe’s Jane Taber is weighing in on electoral boundary reform today, arguing that adding new seats to provinces with growing populations – Ontario, B.C. and Alberta – will be the only solution to escaping the minority government deadlock.

The only solution – I suppose it is, if you take it as gospel that our electoral system is the fairest we could possibly have. That’s where she’s, sadly, missed the boat.

Une excerpt:

The key impediment to a majority is the Bloc’s strength in Quebec. Gilles Duceppe just celebrated 20 years as an MP and, were an election held today, would likely lead his party to a majority of seats in the province for the seventh straight time.

Mr. Wright is awaiting a bill introduced in the Commons in April that would create 30 new ridings, giving 18 seats to Ontario, seven to British Columbia and five to Alberta. What makes the legislation controversial is that no new seats will go to Quebec, which already has 75 in the House.

Controversial, in the sense that Québec is not advantaging by something that other provinces are. That’s not the direction our federation is supposed to tilt, is it?

But there is a point in what makes this a controversy: for example, Prince Edward Island is guaranteed four electoral ridings in the Constitution, despite the fact that all four of them combined barely have the same number of voters as an urban Toronto or Vancouver riding. That makes the Islanders four times more powerful at election-time than me.

Equally, if one were a strict egalitarian about these things, the federal ridings of Nunavut and the Western Arctic could be merged into a single, massive bi-territorial riding – it would be fairer in terms of population, as each riding as it is is pretty sparsely populated.

So, the federation isn’t allergic to “special cases.” In creating electoral districts, there’s this tacit balance between 1) districts of equal population, and 2) allowing some remote or “special” areas to retain territorial integrity, rather than be lumped into adjacent ridings like add-ons. Of course in the UK right now, the Coalition is pursuing boundary reform, and equally, remote areas of Scotland will likely retain their district sizes, despite it meaning they’ll be even more greatly over-represented.

The question in Quebec is, how shall the balance tilt? Is population equity trumping cultural and territorial specialness, and should it? Shouldn’t Quebec votes count for more, the Bloquistes are likely to argue, because we’re really rather special?

This Quebec specialness, of course, already manifests itself in taking full advantage of the electoral system to give the BQ a huge overrepresentation in the House. The FPTP electoral system is what really generates unrepresentative Parliaments, much more than untweaked riding boundaries.

You could give B.C. 50 more seats if you wanted – it wouldn’t go anywhere towards representing the popular vote any better. The Green Party will still come in third or fourth in every riding, which will still mean the same millions of supporters, but will also still mean the same zero representation in the House of Commons.

The Bloc will continue to poll well below the NDP and Greens nationally, yet will still scoop an obscenely disproportionately high number of seats. Tilting the balance of ridings westwards may, in the end, benefit the Liberals or Conservatives in their seemingly endless quests for majority government – but it won’t make Parliament more representative. I think if you’re going to risk the wrath of the Bloquistes and other advocates of Quebec rights-supremacy, which this reform inevitably will, then there should be a greater return than just polishing up our discredited electoral system.

Filed under: Canada, Politics, , , , ,

On the subject of marriage…

These are apples I could like.

…though with qualifications 🙂

As Jack Layton is the most successful NDP leader since Broadbent, and the first in yonks to poll decently in Quebec, I’ve got no reason to suggest he leave his post. Nor do I have any reason to suspect Thomas Mulcair would do a better job.

But, between the Greens and NDP, we do have a much more coherent coupling, and genuine space to end up with a progressive party that gets both votes and seats – enough, if spread right, to outgun an independent Liberal Party, no less.

Filed under: Canada, Politics, , , , , ,

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