Polygonic

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

Behold, the CDN Fed-Elxn Predictometer 3000

O.K., it’s not got quite as fun a name as that, to its shame. Nonetheless, Hill and Knowlton have launched their 2011 Canadian federal election interactive swing-o-meter map predictor thingy! If you find yourself with some time this morning, it turns out that playing god is surprisingly fun.

I’ve run through a prediction, based in part on some of the more inspiring poll results we’ve seen of late, and based also on my optimistic take of voter turnout. You have to be optimistic to see the new NDP support in Québec moving from soft sympathy to a hard black X on the ballot… but optimistic I am. I’ve given the NDP a hearty but reasonable swing, most from LPC, but from BQ and Greens in a big way too, and some CPC for the heck of it.

The Predictor employs uniform swing, unfortunately, which is kind of half-meaningless (I lie – it does appear to allow you to make provincial and regional predictions and variations in swing and split, but it’s unclear to me how you can assemble these into the national picture).

Despite all the flaws of prediction through uniform swing, I was nevertheless intrigued by the result I got. Indeed, within reason and considering my full respect for the laws of reality, you could say I love the result. CPC on 137 seats, LPC on 72 seats, NDP on 68 seats, BQ on 30 seats, and Greens on 0. It allows for LPC/NDP overruling the diminished Reformer minority, while also avoiding allegations of consorting with hellspawned Bloquistes to do it.

Applying my swings to the Predictor, I’ve turned more of the Prairies orange than I expected to, as well as more of Québec (on current figures, they’re lined up for six seats), but British Columbia has only turned a bit more orange than before. The Liberals are the West Coast losers extraordinaire, capturing Vancouver Quadra, and nothing else.

Give it a go yourself. Any thoughts on utility, fun-factor, improvements to be made?

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

How’s your democracy?

Apologies for an absence from the blog – euphoria at the NDP surge, and of course the impending Royal Wedding, has left me somewhat dumbfounded (as if I needed to find any new dumbness).

It’s ironic to have been kept from writing here during a federal election campaign – now, more than ever, the bumps and twists of political life are more than simple Sunday afternoon amusements. As three out of four federal parties assert, nothing less than the viability of Canadian democracy itself is at stake here!

What hyperbole, right? The health of our democracy is not exactly under threat just because we have a government that bends some of the more obscure rules of parliamentary procedure. Just because they’ve fudged a number or two. Just because they might favour some of their friends with budget goodies. Nothing new with any of that, is there?

Such tepid shruggery at Conservative abuses is itself the clearest signal that Canada’s democracy is not healthy. It isn’t just the abuses, the cronyism, the criminality, and the corruption at the level of government – it’s the public apathy that, in too great a measure, forgives it. Too easily, we’ve been sucked into the pageant politics of our telegenic neighbours to the south. Harper might have his faults, but Ignatieff’s smile is just too weird – it’s a logic that flows from a collective political mind that’s easily twisted in the dark mechanics of spin and populism, and twisted away from healthy debates about fact and vision.

I compare Canada to the UK, and I see more reasons to feel all woe-be-gone. In Britain, there is absolutely no way that a character like Stephen Harper, or his manner of politics, would survive a single Westminster afternoon. Politics in Britain is obviously just as brutal a game as it is in Canada, but its players do not tolerate bullshit. The press are told they must sit 40 feet away from the PM, and can ask a maximum of five questions? The UK press would eat him alive. Deficit has spiralled into historic proportions while the details of actual expenditures are treated as state secrets? Watchdogs would bark throughout the night, and the taxpaying public would absolutely roar against such patronising diffidence. Conservative candidates don’t show up for constituency debates? A national outrage. Parliament is told that the Opposition isn’t just an Opposition, but it is actually a functioning socialist/separatist coalition? Please! British opposition parties would have dealt such an incisive retaliatory hammerblow, Harper would be left eating his words through a straw.

But all is not lost in dear old Canadia. The thriving heartbeat of our democracy can be heard, if nowhere else, than in the surging fortunes of the NDP. True! What else explains their newfound competitiveness, but the fact that Canadians do retain their critical faculties?

Anti-incumbency is a healthy thing. People sometimes point out that Rob Ford’s success in T.O. indicates Canada’s growing conservatism, while omitting the fact that Naheed Nenshi won the mayor’s seat in Calgary at the same time. Neither of these electoral results owe very much to the appeal of straightforward left or right wing dogmas. They were about voters dealing black eyes to the status quo. A “turf ’em out” disenchantment with established systems. An active, engaged mass protest against being taken for granted.

The counterargument is that, well, if Canada was in such anti-incumbency mood, then Harper would be in serious trouble. I’ve hoped the same, as have most of us. The problem lies in the fact that the Liberals don’t appear to have renewed themselves enough to benefit from anti-incumbency. They still smell, to a lot of people, like a kind of silent incumbent. Out of power they may be, but too recently, and they are nevertheless an establishment. This perceived lack of good, new options has turned people off, but it hasn’t made them care less, nor has it made them more conservative.

Ignatieff, in Chretien’s words, has done “not bad” in the past few weeks – especially in the campaign’s early days. But the LPC don’t seem to be the bright sparks Canadians are looking for right now, not yet. And what Canada wants is something new they can have confidence in.

I feel for the Liberals. They’ve run about as good a campaign as they can, while Harper’s run one of his worst. But the NDP numbers suggest that it will be they who capture the vote of the disenchanted.

I wouldn’t predict that NDP fortunes will necessarily hold. Even if they do, they always suffer terribly from an electoral system that punishes parties with broad-based support: their popular support will certainly outstrip the seats they can capture.

All the same, to see Canadians warming to the hitherto “alternative” option shows they aren’t just swallowing conventional wisdom in the way a truly apathetic body politic would. There’s a restlessness which is, in and of itself, a good sign.

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The little blue fortress

It’s a funny way to run a campaign. Stephen Harper is talking up the need for his coveted majority, but his campaign approach – banning, and forcibly kicking out, undecided voters and non-partisan onlookers from his Conservative rallies – seems very strange. What are rallies for, if not to generate new party enthusiasm? And what use is any such enthusiasm if it doesn’t reach contagion in the wider world? Hard-core CPC cheerleaders won’t get to vote twice – how much more excitable do they need to be?

It seems like a dumb approach, but it’s of course a tactical decision. Harper wants his majority, not through bringing new votes onside, but through simply getting his entire existing base out to vote on 2 May. He wants to whip up all the sworn-allies into such a state of anti-Ignatieff frenzy that they’ll simply out-participate the majority of Canadians – you know, non-Conservatives – on election day.

Canny, if only the Canadian arithmetic worked in his favour. Regardless of whether 100% of Harper’s hard-base come to vote, it’s probably not enough. In Facebook speak, Stephen Harper simply doesn’t have enough friends.

This is not, of course, a new thing for the Cons – it’s at the heart of how they communicate and conduct themselves. Last summer, in effort to be a little better informed (about communication styles, if not about actual policy!) I thought I’d subscribe to all the federal parties’ online newsletters (except, to my shame, the Greens. Sorry Elizabeth!).

It’s a simple process – you visit the party website, you register the email address to which you prefer receiving what I call “useful spam,” and rub your eager hands in anticipation of lots of new political bumpf to fill your inbox.

And so it is that I get lots of emails from Michael Ignatieff and team – today, he says:

How Stephen Harper’s Conservatives decide to do a Facebook background check on everyone at their rallies, while ignoring the criminal past of a senior advisor like Bruce Carson is a mystery to me.

But I’ll tell you what. We’ve had thousands and thousands of Canadians show up at Liberal rallies from Vancouver to St. John’s. And all they hear at the door is “Come on in to the Big Red Tent.”

I also get messages from Jack Layton and team. Tons, in fact. Today, he says:

For years, your priorities have been pushed aside in Ottawa.

Your life is getting more expensive. Your health care services are being ignored. And the Liberal-style scandals are pushing your family’s priorities aside.

Ottawa is broken – and it’s time to fix it.

I have a team that’s ready to fight for you.

And yes, I get messages from Gilles Duceppe and company. The Bloc is apparently so excited to communicate with a voter registered at a B.C. postal code, that today, they even bothered to email me about their new campaign theme song:

Le Bloc Québécois a récemment dévoilé la ritournelle de sa campagne électorale. Écrite et interprétée par Jason Hudon, les arrangements musicaux sont l’œuvre de Mike Sawatzky, le guitariste principal du légendaire groupe québécois Les Colocs.

Anyone want to wager a guess how many messages I’ve received from Team Harper?

*crickets* *sagebrush drifting over the arid valley bed*

I always found this odd. Here I am, a Canadian voter, signing up to their website, asking them to spam me with all manner of propaganda, and they never so much as said hello. The only reason I could deduce, given that they cannot be accused of being relaxed and disorganised on the PR front, is that they inferred through running my email address against Facebook and what have you, that I was not a serious Conservative voter. I was an imposter. I might use their newsletters in dark socialist rituals of some kind. In short, they wrote me off.

In a manner, they were right. I am more likely to grow bat wings out of my shoulder blades than support a CPC candidate in the year 2011. But the fact they simply do not give a rat’s ass about seducing new, moderate, curious Canadians into their fold, speaks to me of a single-minded (and, frankly deluded) get-out-the-base strategy, and nothing more.

Have at it, I say. But, as David McGuinty told them so recently: too bad, so sad – you don’t got the numbers.

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

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.

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, , , , , , , , , , , ,

Beautiful day

Happy Friday, Canada – here’s the soundtrack to a collapsing Conservative government 🙂

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

♪ ♪ It’s now or never ♪ ♪

The tension is incredible. Even from across the big salty pond, I can hear the soundtrack to Canada’s Election-That-Might-Be ringing in my ears like so many high-strung violins.

Lots of things to watch between now and tomorrow morning. Much attention focusses on Jack Layton, though I find it unfair that, simply because he didn’t choose to nail the NDP’s flag to the mast before the budget was even produced, the media now portrays him as ultimately responsible as to whether or not the writ is dropped. Conservative obstinance? Liberal ambition? These haven’t contributed as much to the development of a 2011 election as NDP budget considerations?

Like it or not, the optics have conspired to put the NDP in the hot seat. Whatever the details of the budget, their main consideration has to be: Is now a good time for an election? And if not now, when?

It’s incredibly hard to read. On the one hand, there appears to be a perfect storm of scandal and abuse, whirling the narrative out of Conservative control. Contempt is a big word, and CPC complaints that the Commons committee was stacked with Opposition members only calls further attention to a democratic fact: the Opposition is the majority.

Couple the ethical transgressions and the abuse of power characterisations with a seat-of-the-pants economic plan (how on earth the “fiscal conservative” and “prudent economic manager” labels stick to Harper is head-slapping stuff. Is it simply because he speaks in calm monotones? Is it the glasses?), and one would think the Conservatives are in about the most dangerous electoral territory they’ve been in since coming to power.

On the other hand – the Cons continue to defy gravity, despite everything. None of their ethical or economic disasters have produced a significant quotient of outrage outside Official Ottawa. It leads some pundits to opine that Canadians mustn’t be paying attention to politics if Conservative support can possibly rise under these circumstances. I can’t help but think along Rick Mercer’s lines: it’s not that Canadians aren’t paying attention – it’s that nothing surprises us anymore:

Apparently our opinion of politics and the people who practice the art is now so low that no matter what the behaviour we’re no longer surprised. It’s like going to a family wedding. Why bother getting upset because uncle Jerry has too much to drink and makes a holy show of himself out on the dance floor? It’s uncle Jerry, that’s what he does.

And so, if Harper abuses that cynicism, he does not necessarily do so at his peril. Infuriating as it may be.

Where does that leave decisions on whether to provoke and election, or not to? Clearly, Harper’s comfortable poll position must be a source of infinite frustration for the Opposition parties. But there are three convictions that stand out to me:

1) These circumstances may be as good as they get. Why wait for even more scandals to amass, while running the real risk that the existing scandals will then have time to fade into the abyss of forgotten yesterdays?

2) The cut and thrust of a campaign may well render the whole of the last year’s polling obsolete as parties and their policies get serious attention. Ignatieff may be who he is, and his leadership indices are not enviable, but he’ll draw a sharp contrast with Harper on the campaign trail, as will Layton (and, as an aside, LPC/NDP vote-splitting is not a new thing, and an election later rather than now doesn’t diminish that age-old danger, unless Big Things Happen).

3) Progressive voters (and we’re a big group, eh?) are so eager to get the chance to have a kick at the electoral can that, should one of either the NDP or the Liberals’ decide to deny an election and support the CPC now, you would hear the stampede of support rumbling away to the other federalist Opposition party in an instant. Neither Ignatieff nor Layton want to see that.

Top it off with bittersweet memories of the NDP “rewriting” Paul Martin’s budget five years ago. It was a source of triumphalism at the time, but all for nought when that hung parliament fell, taking that NDP budget with it. What of a repeat? Layton could support this Flaherty budget today (tomorrow), and come to Canadians afterwards, saying he’s made Parliament work, he’s got some good initiatives locked in for everyday families, the NDP have punched above their weight again, etc. All fine. But who’s betting such measures will see actual light of day? Jack would be naive in the extreme, I think, to accept half-measured promises which the PMO will almost certainly forget about from next week.

An election won’t simply feel good: it’s deserved, and it just might work. If not now, when?

Recommend this post atProgressive Bloggers

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

Québec discovering its options

Sure, I actively try to shut my eyes to polls these days. What progressive dude wouldn’t, in a world where the HarperCons continue to defy gravity despite their overflowing ballast of rancid bullcrap?

That’s right, bullcrap.

But there is a spark of amazing news. The NDP currently appearing top of the federalist pops in Québec.

It’s one poll. And we’ve had the NDP topping the Tories in Québec in past polls, only to plummet to the 13% range they are used to there. So, it’s far too early for them to celebrate.

But to be in the position where it’s even conceivable that the New Democrats can place second to the BQ is remarkable. It’s the kind of example that Layton should (and does, to be fair) trumpet whenever he can. It was once unthinkable they’d ever win a single seat in Alberta, or in Québec, but then they did it. Then it was unthinkable they could ever top the Liberals and Cons in Québec to become a premier federalist option, but they’re now at that stage. What unthinkables are left? That they could ever become the Official Opposition, or even take government?

Why not, they should say. New Democrats eat unthinkables for breakfast.

The trick for Dippers in Québec for years now is that they’ve been torn two ways. People who identify principally as social democrats have tended to side with the Bloc, as that makes strategic sense in most ridings. People who identify principally as federalists have tended to side with one of the big two federalist parties, as it makes strategic sense for them. Québec’s federalist social democrats have, ironically, rarely turned to the NDP – Canada’s federalist social democratic party.

But when people like Thomas Mulcair talk like this, it helps their cause enormously:

Mr. Mulcair added that unlike the Bloc, the NDP not only expresses its opposition to the oil industry in the West, but can do something about it with MPs all over the country.

“The Bloc can only talk about the tar sands in Quebec,” Mr. Mulcair said, comparing that party to a hockey team made up entirely of defencemen. “That’s the difference with the NDP, which is a social-democratic, pan-Canadian party, with a strong track record that is attracting more and more people in Quebec.”

Mulcair’s already helped to “normalise” the idea of the NPD* in the province, but he helps more when he draws the political landscape in this way. If you want a social democratic federal system with real muscle, you’re going to need to look beyond the Bloc.

Combine that smart message with Layton’s perennial magnetism, and what seems to me to be a general appetite for anti-incumbency (growth of Québec Solidaire as an example), and there is big space for the NDP to move. Downsides, of course, are that seat translations are always going to be very tricky. It’s reasonable to suspect that much of the new (and old, for that matter) NDP support is trapped in safe, stalwart BQ ridings – we just don’t know.

To have steady popular support, at least, is encouraging. I’ve hoped this might come about for a long while – to sustain it, Jack best have Lac-St-Jean and Gaspésie on his travel itinerary.

I just might keep my beady, squinted eye on the polls after all.

* Québec friends, a dumb question for you. Is there any French nickname for New Democrats (ones that aren’t rude, of course) that play off the acronym? Enpédistes, maybe, in the vein of Péquistes? And, if there isn’t, can we start?

Recommend this post atProgressive Bloggers

Filed under: Canada, Politics, , , , ,

Election time: a right and a wrong

Jeffrey Simpson can get it very right, and very wrong, depending on the day of the week and the subject he’s writing about. Today, he’s done both.

Very right:

Here’s one suggestion for a red-blooded leftist party. The NDP wants to cushion people from rising home heating bills? Pay for the cushion with an excess profits tax on the oil industry because when international oil prices rise above, say, $90 (U.S.) a barrel, their profits are going to soar. The NDP, after all, has only one seat in Alberta and isn’t going to win another one. Moreover, bashing rich oil companies while consumers feel the pinch isn’t bad populist politics.

It’s more than good advice for the NDP, it’s good advice for Liberals, too. Tangible, costed, bold policies. We have this problem whereby Jack Layton speaks rather vaguely of “expanding” the Canada Pension Plan, while Ignatieff talks equally vaguely about “health care when you need it.” Until these warm fuzzies lock into “actionable” policies, Harper isn’t going to come down to earth.

There are hints of boldness in the NDP’s wider position – the proposed referendum on Senate abolition, for example. It’s good to be provocative with a vision, as opposed to withering timidly before the prospect of constitutional reform, as Rob Silver prefers. But grand, visionary concepts too often founder on the details. Both the left and the centrist parties need to back up broad visions with step-by-step, costed, failsafe plans.

Very wrong:

It would appear the New Democrats will have the most to say about whether Canadians will experience another election.

“Experience another election!” He makes it sound as though it’s a flood, or a plague. Passing a bladder stone. I thought the masses were generally supposed to be excited by the chance to activate our common democratic power. But, no, there is no love for experiencing democracy at the moment, apparently.

Hence the mutual distancing from responsibility that we see across Parliament. It’s a common thing to cast the blame for causing the tumult of an election on the intransigence of our enemies. Liberals will blame the NDP, the Tories will blame the Liberals, and the NDP the Tories.

Hung parliaments don’t lend themselves to such easy characterisations, however. A majority decision on anything right now is, by its very nature, a cross-party decision. It has to be when no one’s got a majority.

If any single party could be pinned with “causing” an election, though, then it would have to be the odd one out. If 3/4 of the parties say salt, and 1/4 say pepper, and pepper is what we get, then it’s fair to say it’s the fault of the 1/4. As regards confidence measures, this puts all responsibility on the party of government. Not any one of the opposition parties. You can “blame” the NDP for bailing the Tories out, if they do indeed buckle on the budget vote. But no single party in Opposition can force an election. The only single party that can is, by coincidence, the most single-minded of them all – Team Harper. So if they do it, on balance, it’s because they want it.

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, , , ,

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