Friday, October 31, 2008

"The fundamentals are sound" and other Liberal self-delusions

Although I was clenching my fists on election night, praying that we wouldn't get a Conservative majority, a bit of time to watch the post-election fallout has convinced me that such an outcome might at least have been good in terms of allowing - or perhaps forcing - the other parties to rebuild and rethink their positions on several issues. With that introduction, here are some thoughts on what we've seen in the last two weeks.

Cabinet shuffle: Let's start with Canada's new new government. I think that the shuffle shows a few signs that Harper is being intelligent (at least in some limited ways). He's moved his pitbull from the sensitive Environment dossier and replaced the anti-safe-injection site crusader in Health. I'm hoping that the appointment of Jim Prentice to Environment is a sign that we're going to see some constructive action on that file. Likewise, I'm pleased to see James Moore get a promotion to Heritage. I don't know why I keep seeing commentators praise the "great wisdom" of Jason Kenney - I don't think he needs any more clout than he already has.

Liberal leadership: Anyone who thought that the pummeling of the Liberals on election day would lead to some, er, sober second thoughts will have their hopes dashed. I spent time at a political science/history conference last weekend with a number of Liberal political scientists, historians, senators and party activists (I'd call them "Liberal insiders", but I would prefer to avoid becoming the Jane Taber of the blogging world), and was very disillusioned with the general discourse of the weekend.

The gist of the collective wisdom of most delegates was that "the fundamentals are sound", both with the Liberal party and its brand, and with Canada's electoral system more broadly. Panelist after panelist decried the regionalization of Canada's political parties and the rise of minority governments. When I suggested that perhaps some form of electoral reform might be needed, the panel turned on me like a pack of wolves. Their response: "Majority governments are good and bring stability. Liberal majority governments are good for Canada. When Canadians are thinking right, and not being 'tricked', they vote the way they should - for a Liberal majority." There was no acknowledgment that our current set-up came within a hair's breadth of producing a Conservative majority.

Moreover, the consensus seemed to be that the problem with the last several years has been the personal failings of Paul Martin and Stephane Dion. People at the conference - many of whom are warriors from the Meech Lake days - seemed to think that if the party could just find the "right" leader and the "right" platform, they would be rewarded with a majority. What I didn't hear much of was discussion of how that platform should be crafted, or what values it should reflect.

Beyond the academic world, I think we're seeing this same malaise in the leadership race itself. I'm not seeing any fresh faces in the race. I don't think that a new face is necessarily what the Liberals need, or that this would be a magic bullet. But the fact that we aren't seeing these faces could be a sign of the lack of vitality and enthusiasm for the party. Domenic Leblanc is far from an injection of new blood, as the scion of an old Liberal family in New Brunswick. When the great hope and speculation is whether Frank McKenna or John "Beaker" Manley might run, you know that the party is grasping at straws.

It's time for a more serious reflection than we're seeing. It might mean that the next election is a rebuilding election which results in another minority. But the Liberals need to realize that their house of cards is tumbling.

NDP/Greens: I should probably say a word or two about the other parties. Kudos to the NDP for increasing their vote and seat share (albeit slightly) despite having the Green party nipping at their heels. I am wondering if Jack Layton has done all he can to bring his party along, and if it might be time for someone with a bit more gravitas. That being said, I'm not sure who that would be, so he may well be safe for a while longer, unless the party really wants to gamble on Thomas Mulcair. I happen to think that the path to growth runs through Western Canada, but I could be proven wrong.

As for the Greens, I think that Elizabeth May's days are numbered. I found her to be a fresh voice on the national scene. However, she demonstrated the strategic sense of a toaster on too many fronts. Specifically, she violated several of my basic rules for riding selection for a representative of an outsider party:
1) Don't run against an incumbent in the Maritimes.
2) Don't run against a cabinet minister.
3) Don't run against a favoured son of an established Maritime family.

May managed to break all these rules, and in a remarkable combination - running against an incumbent Cabinet minister in the Maritimes who is a favoured son, and moreover, the son of a former Cabinet minister from the Maritimes from the same riding. Had she chosen another riding - even my own riding of Guelph - she might well have been in the House of Commons.

We now return you to your regularly scheduled Parliamentary gong show.

Labels: , , , , ,

Recommend this Post

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Post-Election Blues - Electoral Reform needed now more than ever

Last night I attended an election gathering at a friend's house. Of the seven of us gathered there, we had people who had voted for the Liberals, NDP and Greens. None of us wanted a Conservative government. And yet each of us, on our way to the polling booth, wrestled with the question of whether or not to vote for the Liberal candidate to ensure that the Conservative did not win.

Ultimately, Liberal Frank Valeriote won the riding with 32.2% of the vote, and about an 1800 vote margin over the Conservative. Ultimately, Green candidate Mike Nagy placed third with over 12,000 votes and 21% of the vote, and NDP candidate Tom King took 9700 votes, or 16.5% of the vote. For much of the night, it was a mere 200 votes separating the two leading candidates. On the one hand, it made those of us who had voted strategically feel a bit better about voting for a candidate other than their favorite. Conversely, when the race was at its tightest, I had a feeling of dread in my stomach that my decision to vote for my preferred candidate might lead to a Conservative victory in my riding. I imagine that this scenario played out in countless households across the country.

It seems to me that something is terribly wrong with an electoral system in which millions of voters feel that they should not vote for their preferred party because that vote will be wasted in terms of returning actual seats in Parliament (the financial subsidy that the party receives is hardly adequate solace). In my riding, it wasn't even a case of the other parties being fringe parties - the 3rd and 4th place candidates took more votes combined than the winner. It is deeply disturbing to me that 940,000 or more voters could vote for the Green party, and not elect a single MP. Or that down the road from me, a switch of 412 votes could have elected two Liberal MPs rather than two Conservative MPs in Kitchener- and that the victor in both cases would still only have attracted barely more than a third of the votes. If we're going to be consigned to an era of minority governments, it would be preferable if the distribution of MPs that make up those governments at least came closer to reflecting the intentions of the voters. I don't have strong opinions about whether proportional representation, MMP or single transferable vote is the way to go, but any of them seem better than the current system.

Of course, none of that would change the fact that the Conservative party clearly won the support of more Canadian voters than any other party. That speaks to an entirely different set of issues, and when I'm feeling less disheartened about last night's results (and my loss in my election pool), I'll address those in a separate post.

Labels: , ,

Recommend this Post

Monday, October 13, 2008

Election Eve post from Guelph

It seems like the campaigning has been going on for months, and I'm fed up with it. The fact that here in Guelph we went from a seven-week by-election campaign straight into the main campaign hasn't helped. Nor has the fact that it has been such an uninspiring campaign season. None of the four major contenders in Ontario has lit a fire under me with their vision for the country. I'm tired of watching the nonstop barrage of polls. And there is something daunting about the prospect of another two or three years of minority government, with an imminent election call continuing to hang over us like a sword of Damocles. All of this is a rather feeble explanation for my poor blogging performance over the past few months.

All that whining aside, I regularly participate in an election pool with friends who are respectively Liberal, NDP and Green supporters. The pot goes to whoever predicts the most individual riding results correctly. I just filled out my answers today, and was rather relieved to come up with a result that doesn't produce a Conservative majority - and I tend to be pessimistic about whether the better angels or worst demons will win out with voters on election day. For what it's worth, I currently have the Liberals losing about 8-10 seats, with the Conservatives and NDP splitting the spoils.

My local riding is actually the hardest one for me to predict. It has been a very long, very tightly fought race here in Guelph. Although I think it will ultimately come down to a couple of thousand (or even a few hundred) votes separating the Liberals and the Conservatives (although I'm not certain which one comes out on top), I will not be surprised if all four major parties snag 20% of the vote each. The Greens have probably run the most active of the four campaigns - I can't move without tripping over one of their signs, or running into Mike Nagy's volunteers around town. I think that their support is probably going to hold through election day, particularly since the students are back. The big question is how many NDP supporters will stick with Tom King, with the party polling well across the country, and how many will bolt to the Liberal candidate Frank Valeriote once in the polling booth to block Conservative Gloria Kovach. It's quite clear that as a whole, Guelph is leaning to the left. But this will be a nasty split of the vote. It all speaks to the need for some form of electoral reform in the direction of proportional representation, a single transferable vote, or a mixed member system, as Fair Vote Canada has been advocating.

While it makes me ill to think that Stephen Harper's Conservatives could sneak out a majority win with 34-35% of the total national vote, I don't think that the solution is for everyone to blindly attempt strategic voting (although if you're thinking of this, please consult Democratic Space's Guide), or simply to throw their votes to the Liberals. As long as Canadians keep doing this, it will simply reinforce the argument that our electoral system is functional. It clearly isn't, and unfortunately it might take a few more elections where a party like the Greens win 8-10% of the vote, but fail to win a single seat in the House of Commons, before voters wake up and realize that change is necessary, and actually support a referendum vote on a new system.

Whatever your political leanings are, please vote tomorrow! Apathy only reinforces the existing problems with our political system.

Update: Democratic Space seems to be having trouble this afternoon and evening - a DoS attack, perhaps? For the left-leaning and strategic voting-minded, try Vote for Environment, which has similar advice.

Labels: , , ,

Recommend this Post

Thursday, October 02, 2008

"Where's your platform? Under the sweater?"

Whoever came up with that line for Jack Layton deserves a raise!

Recommend this Post

A superficial stache-related post

Disclaimer: I have voted NDP in the past, and will likely do so again in the future.

That being said, this post on my sister's blog made me split my side laughing. She's not the first member of my left-leaning immediate family to have commented on Jack Layton's moustache. Another family member pointed out that there hasn't been a Canadian or American leader in recent memory to win election to the government benches with their facial hair intact.

Yes, it's superficial, and yes, Canadians should be thinking about the issues, rather than being distracted by image. But politicians should also be practical. If shaving the stache will win a few more seats, isn't it worth considering? If he can shed the godawful NDP orange clothing for the Quebec leader's debates, surely a bit of sub-nasal fuzz could be trimmed as well?

I'm thinking that I should probably watch the debates about 40 minutes from now. I'm clearly becoming more and more crotchety the longer this campaign drags on, and need to re-focus on the issues. I'm just not convinced that I can stomach it if the English debate also features the "say something nice about the person to your left" question.

Labels: , , ,

Recommend this Post

Wednesday, October 01, 2008

French-language leader's debates - Some technical observations

I'm only tuning in for short bits and bites of the French-language leader's debates. But allow me a few (mostly superficial) comments.

Initially, my reaction to the round-table set up was that it created an overly low-key atmosphere - designed to minimize a sense of excitement and any interesting body language. After watching for a while longer, though, I wonder if the set-up actually favours Stephane Dion. He's probably the most comfortable of the group when speaking around a seminar table. It reminds me of the set-up for my upper year courses.

I'm incredibly grateful to be in a region where I can listen to both debates in their original languages. I always watch the debates without subtitles to get a better sense of how the candidates communicate in the language in question. Although I wouldn't say that all the candidates have equal capacities in French, they are a much more bilingual cohort than we've seen in previous debates.

I stand by my argument that May should be included in these debates. That said, I wish that there was more opportunity for one-on-one interactions, and actual "debate", as opposed to sequential responses to questions. I would like to see the candidates challenge each other directly, rather than repeating their platform statements.

I also find it highly amusing that Jack Layton, Gilles Duceppe and Stephen Harper are all dressed practically the same way. If I were writing for a fashion magazine, I'd say that baby blue shirts with blue striped ties are the new "hot" look for 2008. Where's the orange, Jack? Elizabeth May is also bringing a fresh new take on the cardigan with her vibrant green.

Labels: , ,

Recommend this Post