The Prognosticator Weighs In

After 18 months, the debilitated 38th parliament has come to its long-anticipated and tiresome end. What should voting Canadians expect next as they crowd around politically charged and festive dinner tables?

A few of the usual electoral trimmings: a marked increase in front page pie charts, ugly talking-heads to explain the pie charts, nasty campaign rhetoric, empty promises, bad photo-ops, more ugly talking heads to explain the nasty emptiness. It should be a lot like 2004’s election campaign – same leaders, same issues, same support levels.

Should we expect the same outcome? This is the question on everyone’s mind. No one can answer this question yet. At least, I wouldn’t believe anyone who said they could tell you the election’s outcome. They would be lying and probably campaigning. I’ll tell you what I suspect we can expect this election, without claiming the victor. It’s the best anyone can do right now.

  1. First off, this is Stephen Harper’s election to lose. The Conservatives have presumably learned from the mistakes they made in the last campaign. They are the only party expected to have a significantly re-tooled campaign message for Canadians. They are they only party who can replace the Liberals as a national government. If Harper can project a positive persona, convincingly and with optimism, it is possible that he is the man to beat.

    Expect to see more of Harper’s wife and kids in this campaign. The Tory strategy is going to be about differentiating Harper, without outright attacking Martin. “Harper as a family man, a hard working, honest, Canadian everyman.” There will be plenty of Liberal corruption rhetoric, but the Tories are less likely than the Liberals to wage personal attacks on the leader, and that may resonate well with Canadians at Christmas time.

  2. The Liberal party will not stray far from the successful 2004 election message. Paul “The Deficit Slayer” Martin will be branded as a confident leader, a statesman, the only true Prime Minister. Their Liberal message will be to ask Canadians to reflect on the one poll question that Paul Martin continuously dominates: Which party leader do Canadians trust most to be Prime Minister? It is a simple message that won the 2004 election. With the party brand still in some disrepair, the focus will be on Paul Martin. Liberal campaign signs were re-branded in 2004 with the ‘Team Martin’ logo. Expect to see more of the same.

    Also, similar to 2004, expect a strong fear campaign aimed at Harper and the Conservative ‘hidden agenda.’ American republicanism has not done any favors for Canadian Tories, who (rightly or wrongly) in some minds are a similar political stripe. The Liberals will try to emphasize that Canadians don’t know what to expect from a Harper government. Of course, the flip side to this is that they know exactly what to expect from the Martin government – for better or worse.

  3. The NDP, try as they might, are going to have a hard time being heard in this campaign. It’s not that they are unimportant, but rather that this is not an election they are equipped for. This campaign will occur on television, in living rooms, over dinner, while people are on vacation, while Canadians are generally distracted with other pursuits. It is going to be all about compact messaging, visual appeals, negative attacks, and fast, easy-to-digest dialogues about the kind of Canada Canadians want.

    The NDP do not have any fast or easy-to-digest message, nor do they speak well in visual terms. They don’t have a clear enemy, and they aren’t about to attack anyone’s credibility. Although these statements may endear them to some, the NDP are not going to be able to deliver a compact mass-message that influences voters. This is my hunch. I could be wrong. In 1988, under Ed Broadbent, the NDP polled similarly at 19% popularity before the election – they won 43 seats. Who knows? Vote splitting is going to be a factor, and anything is possible.

  4. Pollsters are going to drive us all crazy. Pollsters view this election as the biggest Christmas gift ever. It is a tight race, people are busy, and the issues require summary. They are going to poll the shit out of this thing. Look at the front of the Globe this morning. However, the wealth of data will only make the numbers less credible. The simple fact about polls is this: there is no story if the Liberals are doing well. Pollsters will find a way to make the story compelling. Expect an early dip in Liberal poll numbers, maybe even a long-term dip. This will rebound in January. I suspect, if Harper manages to keep an even-keel campaign, that the Jan. 22 numbers will be very, very, very close.

Enjoy this holiday election Canada. With voter non-participation rising above 40%, you’ve earned it.

This article was written by alevo

32 Responses to “The Prognosticator Weighs In”
  1. Iliafer:

    ahem – what about the Green Party?

    On another note, I think you’re wrong about the NDP. Its just a hunch I have, but I think many liberal voters may be fed up with the party’s slithering ways, but find the Conservatives even slimier. I think we’ll see a boom in NDP support. My impression is that the NDP will be campaigning on their ability to affect change, just as they did during the 38th parliament. That is what they will build on.

    But then again, I’m no political enthusiast – in fact, most politics bore the shit out of me.

  2. alevo:

    Still, in terms of tactical voting, in swing ridings where the Liberal candidate is in trouble, support levels for the Tory/NDP candidate are likely to be very similar. Given we accept this, then the winner will be the candidate who gets more of their respective supporters to the polls – it becomes a numbers game between the Tory/NDP candidate. I would argue that it is more likely (in this election) that there will be a wealth of optomistic Tory voters, more than there will be disenchanted Liberals voting NDP. Further, I think that true NDP voters are the most likely to stay home this election and not vote at all. Green voters will also take a pass.

    On another note, I heard Harper on the CBC this morning talking about gay marriage. He may be tripping out of the gate. If he entertains long-winded media discussions around social issues, then his campaign may start to tank early. I would then predict greater fortunes for the NDP. However, as long as Harper can look moderate, the NDP are in trouble.

    I would be very surprised to see one Green seat in the next House of Commons. Their issues, in fact, bore the shit out of mostly everyone.

  3. Ade:

    I agree with Ilia that the NDP might do okay this election. In spite of being irritated with some of Layton’s decisions, at this point they represent a party with progressive values and none of the taint. We all know that the Liberals commonly run on an NDP-like platform, but we’re catching on to the fact that they shed it as soon as they arrive in office. Among other things, the Libs have a credibility problem, and that should help the NDP.

    However, I don’t sense that NDP-voters are fired up exactly, and this is probably why alevo is predicting many will stay home. It’s hard to be excited about voting for a party whose goal is to be the swing vote in a minority government. Perhaps they would do better if they would come out swinging a little more, or if they were to fly the Liberal flag, painted orange. The whole “we’re above the fray” thing is getting old.

    As far as the Green Party goes, I don’t think they’re a realistic alternative at this point. I think it would be better for the country if the people in the Green Party put their efforts into a nationally recognized party and tried to influence that party from the inside. Although I don’t know a great deal about the Green ideology, since I forgot most of what I read last election, the NDP might be a good place to stick a lot of them. Stop the vote-splitting fellas…

    So, Harper. Is he a hardcore right-wing ideologue? I’m not sure that question is as important as: are his supporters hardcore right-wing ideologues? The more I read on the Internet from the people who want Harper in office, the more I think it’s a bad idea. Wondering what he’d do to Canada’s social programs? Well, his supporters seem to like to call Canada a “nanny state” because we have them, so that should give you some idea. A similar host of contemptuous terms are tossed like smelly little hand-grenades at gay marriage, abortion rights, Canada’s withholding of support for the war in Iraq, people who aren’t sure the US has our best interests in mind, Quebecers, people who vote Liberal or NDP, etc.

    More on that later.

  4. alevo:

    I had another thought. If, contrary to my suspicion, the Green Party does attract a small proportion of voters to the polls, in certain swing ridings it could also be bad news for the NDP. This would take away the votes required for an NDP candidate to win against an incumbent Liberal or a moderate Tory.

    Basically, NDP and Green supporters are cut from the same cloth, so they share the same vote base.

  5. alevo:

    Another thought why the NDP are in trouble – this election is not going to be as focused on social issues. At least not as much as the last election. In 2004, the dialogue around National Child Care, Health Care, and Post-Secondary Education was much more intense. These are good NDP issues. They can speak easily to these issues. The only real NDP-worthy electoral issue this time around (so far as I can tell before the platforms are released) is The Environment and Kyoto, and maybe a minor focus on sustaining public health care.

  6. Ade:

    In an election where people are sick of politics, I wonder if issues like health care and the economy, which come up every single time, are going to have the same impact. I know I’m tired of hearing it. I suspect that a lot of this election is going to revolve around issues of accountability (a Conservative fave, for sure), change (we all want it), and the ability to get things done.

  7. Ade wrote: “The Liberals will try to emphasize that Canadians don’t know what to expect from a Harper government. Of course, the flip side to this is that they know exactly what to expect from the Martin government – for better or worse.”

    There’s a reason the Conservatives are focused much more heavily on Liberal corruption than on their own platform.

    We know exactly what to expect from a Harper government. The Conservatives were in power for eight years (1985 to 1993) and they burned their way through such a huge swath of lies, corruption, pork-barreling, scandals, shame-faced resignations, etc. that voters ultimately reduced them to a tiny fraction of their former power – but not before they did major, long-term damage.

    I still remember the continentalist fiasco – the about-face after being elected, the leaked internal memos, the wholesale trashing of Canada’s made-at-home industrial policy, the $40+ billion deficits, the gargantuan corporate (BCNI) propaganda campaign – and the thought of those Canada-hating corporate assholes getting back into power fills me with loathing and revulsion.

    Many of Harper’s advisors are Mulroney’s advisors (and Harris’s advisors, too – that’s Mike “get those f***ing Indians out of the park” Harris). His donors and sponsors are Mulroney’s and Harris’s donors and sponsors – the same colonial overseers, hangers-on, and bought priesthood who are absolutely dying to get the chance to finish what they started.

    If they get that chance, Canada won’t be recognizable when they’re done. No, I’m not being hyperbolic, but to be fair I’m not convinced a Conservative minority will afford them that chance. It may, however, give them a chance to play nicey nicey with voters and give them a shot at a majority.

    The Liberals have had 13 years to undo the Mulroney Tories’ damage, and they pissed it away maintaining the status quo and consolidating Mulroney’s sweeping reforms. They’ve administered a thousand small cuts to the political manifestation of Canada’s unique identity, but the Tories want nothing more than to deliver the killing blow and finish the job of rolling Canada into a U.S. protectorate.

    Both parties disgust me.

    The Greens have been struggling through internal upheavals since the last election as they try to decide how to win seats. I don’t think they’re ready for the big leagues yet.

    The NDP aren’t perfect, but they are the only major party that believes Canada should stand for something more than being a nice place to park your money.

  8. Ade:

    Bravo! This is what I meant when I said “come out swinging”. One correction though: I didn’t write the paragraph you attribute to me. That was alevo, who writes on this blog occasionally (he wrote the entire article).

  9. alevo:

    I think those will be broad themes Ade, but once the platforms come out (by most accounts shortly before Christmas), we will likely see some unique policy promises. There has been so much spending on the ‘big ticket’ priorities – health, taxes, innovation – that many of the elctorate are feeling a bit glossed-over like yourself. The parties could be expected to have some rather intricate policy proposals in their respective platforms. Harper will definately play up his accountability & ethics package.

  10. alevo:

    Ryan, sorry to say, but you are flat out wrong on some of your points. Harper has little to do with the Mulroney era. His insiders are all mainly Calgary School, reformist types hand picked by his principle confident (and campaign head) Tom Flanagan. His ideology is far more reformist and populist (Straussian) than it is Red Tory. Mulroney aides, and Harris supporters banked heavily on Belinda in the last leadership race. Many of them have little love for the Harper version of the Canadian right. The current Conservative Party is not at all like its Progressive Conservative predecessor.

    As for the hyperbole – “the same colonial overseers, hangers-on, and bought priesthood who are absolutely dying to get the chance to finish what they started.” – wow! You have taken the hidden agend myth to holy new heights.

  11. Alevo, I disagree heartily. Harper’s political philosphy is a distillation of the neoconservative, continentalist philosophy that the Mulroney era introducted, not a departure from it.

    Mulroney was by no means a Red Tory. He was a neoconservative akin to Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher. The Mulroney era was chacterized by the erosion of made-in-Canada industrial, economic, and social policy.

    The replacement of FIRA with Investment Canada, the forging (in secret) of the Free Trade Agreement and its subsequent ramming through Parliament and the Senate, the Bank of Canada’s ill-fated war on modest inflation, which drove up the Canadian dollar and decimated Canadian industry, and the many concessions Canada made to US foreign and domestic policy were major steps to remake Canada as a minor player in a continental market dominated by the United States.

    The Conservatives and their Calgary School economists, analysts, and wonks endorse continentalism even more fully than the Mulroney Tories did. This is because the party has finally been purged of the Red (or “Progressive”) Tory elements that stuck through the Mulroney government, most of whom, like Stronach, ultimately bailed to the Liberals or simply retired from politics.

    I agree that the Calgary School is Straussian; they adore US neoconservatism. But Straussian political philosophy is “populist” only in the particular sense that it espouses a modern version of Plato’s Noble Lie – those philosopher-kings with the wit and wisdom to govern must do so, and tell the rabble whatever will keep them stupid and passive.

    Here’s a quote from Leo Strauss: “Because mankind [sic] is intrinsically wicked he has to be governed: Such governance can only be established, however, when men are united – and they can only be united against other people.”

    Does that sound like a foundation for the foreign policy of any parties we know?

    Senior Neocon Irving Kristol expands on Straussian ‘populism’:

    “Strauss was an intellectual aristocrat who thought that the truth could make *some* [emphasis Kristol’s] minds free, but he was convinced that there was an inherent conflict between philosophic truth and political order, and that the popularization and vulgarization of these truths might import unease, turmoil and the release of popular passions hitherto held in check by tradition and religion with utterly unpredictable, but mostly negative, consequences.”

    Also spake Kristol, “There are truths appropriate for children; truths that are appropriate for students; truths that are appropriate for educated adults; and truths that are appropriate for highly educated adults, and the notion that there should be one set of truths available to everyone is a modern democratic fallacy. It doesn’t work.”

    I’ve never claimed that Harper’s agenda is hidden. All you have to do is read the Conservative Platform from the 2004 election cycle to see where he wants to take Canada. However, the Conservatives will be very careful to downplay their own plans, keep the focus on Liberal corruption, and hope not too many Canadians bother to read their 2005/6 platform that closely.

    I call them “colonial overseers, hangers on, and bought priesthood” because they are just that: intellectually, philosophically, and ethically beholden to the neoconservative imperial power to the south, eager to dismantle what they consider the illegitimate products of Canadian governance (single payer public health care, well-funded public education, a foreign policy based around internationalism rather than deference to U.S. imperial objectives, etc.) and merge Canada in all but name into the economic engine to the south.

    That’s not hyperbole: that’s policy.

  12. alevo:

    Ryan – My apologies for the Red Tory remark. Clearly, Mulroney was not of this stripe, I misspoke. You make a very detailed account of philosophical underpinnings at work in the neo-con policy model being advocated by the Conservative Party. I still disagree on the issue of Harper’s insiders, but that is irrelevant given the direction this conversation has gone. I would tend to agree that the Conservative Party’s economic model is beholden to some of the neo-con groundwork laid by Mulroney, but I’m not as willing as you to lump the two parties together. I believe that there is a ‘made in Alberta’ continentalism at work in the current Tory braintrust. I know it is a disconcerting vision of Canada’s political future – one with decentralized Provinces working to pursue economic interests south of the border. If this vision is gaining popularity, one has to wonder what that says about Canadian federalism. Or maybe it says more about Canadian voters. I was shocked to see my blue-collar hometown of Oshawa (Ed Broadbent country) go to the Tories in 2004. I am told the incumbent will hold on to his seat, even with the recent GM plant closures. The fact is, Canadians are quite ready to equate poor industrial performance with the current administration, almost as readily as you are to blame neoconservative ideology in general.

    I have a question: do you think the foreign trade decisions made by the Mulroney government would have been avoided by subsequent Liberal administrations?

  13. Hi Alevo,

    You write, “I still disagree on the issue of Harper’s insiders, but that is irrelevant given the direction this conversation has gone.” I’m happy to carry more than one thread of the discussion and would be interested to read your thoughts on this.

    FWIW, you’re right that Harper’s insiders come from a specific ‘brand’ of neoconservatism – the so-called Calgary School – but I’d argue that as far as their philosophy concerns Canada as a whole, their provincial chauvinism is less relevant than the underlying neoconservatism that nourishes their chauvinism.

    Decentralization is simply Canada’s answer to “States’ Rights” south of the border, which is applied strategically to undermine federal initiatives that challenge neoconservative ideas, and ignored strategically when the federal government acts as an agent for neoconservative ideas.

    In Canada, decentralization forces regional economies to orient North-South and integrate more fully into a U.S. led continental economy, rather than the politically-encouraged East-West orientation that has traditionally represented nationalist macroeconomics. This is exactly what the Mulroney Tories wanted, and it’s also what the Calgary School Conservatives want.

    But moving on: you ask whether Mulroney’s foreign trade decisions would have been avoided by subsequent Liberal administrations. We don’t need to speculate for an answer. The Chretien Liberals, having been blindsided by the US launching bilateral negotiations with Mexico as FTA came into effect, agreed to expand the Free Trade Agreement toward a NAFTA soon after taking power.

    The Liberals were also early champions of the OECD-based Multilateral Agreement on Investments, which was negotiated in secret and collapsed only after a draft was leaked to the public and generated massive public opposition, particularly in Europe.

    The Liberals also championed the FTAA, which would extend NAFTA to the entire hemisphere and is currently stagnated due to opposition from a recent coalition of left-leaning South American governments led by Venezuela.

    You write, “The fact is, Canadians are quite ready to equate poor industrial performance with the current administration, almost as readily as you are to blame neoconservative ideology in general.”

    The fact is that the Liberals, despite the lingering progressive, nationalist legacy that was left by the Pearson/Trudeau era and given a bump by Chretien’s last-minute posturing to ratify Kyoto and oppose sending troops to Iraq, are continentalist through and through.

    The Liberals are not necessarily neoconservative, but their politics of accommodation, like those of Tony Blair’s “Labour” Party in the UK, amount to a capitulation to the dominant neoconservativism of the hegemon to which both countries defer.

  14. I wrote, “The Chretien Liberals, having been blindsided by the US launching bilateral negotiations with Mexico as FTA came into effect, agreed to expand the Free Trade Agreement toward a NAFTA soon after taking power.” This isn’t quite correct.

    In fact, the US launched bilateral negotiations with Mexico while the Mulroney Tories were still in power. The Tories jumped into NAFTA talks, not the Liberals.

    The Liberals campaigned during the 1993 election campaign that they would renegotiate NAFTA before signing it – a departure, at least publicly, from their opposition to FTA in 1988. (However, I seem to recall a leaked internal memo from the 1988 election suggesting the Liberals would have ratified FTA if they had been elected.)

    The so-called renegotiations amounted to non-binding sidebar agreements on environmental and labour issues that made no practical difference to the way NAFTA has been applied.

  15. alevo:

    Some good points here Ryan. I am in complete agreeance with you on the north-south integration of ‘provincial to state’ trade economies. This poses a distinct challenge to the economic nationalist dialogue – perhaps even making such a dialogue redundant. This has been the core challenge to the Martin Liberals as they try to craft their economic vision (one which has a national appeal). They have resorted to blanket investments in nebulous projects under the title ‘innovation’. Whatever that means specifically, no one knows. As an aside – I attended a speech delivered by the Program Director of the Canada Foundation for Innovation, which is an arms-length body set up with an enormous budget to distribute federal and private donation funds to ‘innovative’ national projects. It was a very confusing and rhetorical talk. It made me wonder if the Foundation’s mandate wasn’t designed to be sufficiently confusing to allow political abuse, but I digress (somewhat).

    I am always wary of the sort of discussion we have embarked on. It seems incredibly pessismistic, but I understand it’s importance. I think political discussions need to address power-structures, and I am willing to accept your view that one pervasive economic model has (in the last three decades) shaped the agenda of a rather elitist national governing system. I am willing to engage in a dialogue on hegemonic and bellicose continental trade policy because I feel betrayed by some of these policies too. More to the point, I am often enraged when these policies are called ‘national achievments.’ Achievements for whom? It’s a scary view of the world we live in, but a more realistic view of politics than many people I know are willing to accept.

    For myself, I believe there is a great deal of social importance for policy that is designed to promote an egalitarean state. We can reflect on the images from New Orleans and think long and hard about the reality of class and race. The Canadian natioanl project should always be about fostering a more egalitarean state. It is a tempering influence on latent colonial rage. Given this, I accept the perspectives you and Ade have shared on the NDP.

    However, I have to take exception to a conversation that poses no solutions. I know that we have taken one step. We challenge complicit attitudes by sharing information on this blog. Fair enough. I’m wondering where we go next?

    This conversation started with my prognostication. It was a real politik assessment of the coming electoral campaign. I made no mention of ‘right or wrong.’ We then took some time to consider Conservative party ideology(s), neo-con hegemony, provincial nationalism, and the Liberal and Conservative records on trade policy.

    Along the way we have made some fairly pessismitic remarks about some Canadian political parties. I am trying to reconcile our shared views on these subjects with my ballot decision. Clealry, the parties on offer provide an unappealing menu. Since our conversation has one foot planted in electoral politics and the other planted in political philosophy, I think it is a valid to ask how much currency we can place in electoral politics? I feel more empowered writting on this blog than I do voting.

    I hope others will contribute.

  16. Ade:

    One of the things that scares me so much about this upcoming election is the weariness and apathy of Canadian voters. Unlike some, who throw this fact into our faces as an affront to what our veterans fought for in WWII, claiming it is our “duty” to vote, I don’t really blame Canadians. The way we have been excluded from policy-making and the elitist attitudes of not just our leaders in government, but also our leaders in business and media – who seem to excel at distracting Canadians from real issues instead of focusing us on them – could not have more effectively reduced Canadian participation in government and society if it was engineered.

    The reason this is scary is because as much as politics may bore and annoy, it’s hugely important, especially right now. It’s not just about Canada’s situation, it’s about the international situation: I think we have entered one of the most important and challenging times that humanity has ever found itself. Climate change, the supply of energy and fresh water, the ongoing destruction of the environment, the proliferation of WMDs and the threat of global pandemics like bird flu, don’t just threaten the way of life of Canadians. I think they are matters of global survival.

    Because of this, we need to have a strong and unified country that is making the right decisions, for us as Canadians but also as global citizens. I know this sounds like hokey activist claptrap. I think the reason it sounds that way is because, by refusing to properly act upon or even acknowledge these issues, our elites leave us with marginalized activists who sound ineffectual because our elites make them that way. But remember: the environmentalists who cried wolf about the New Orleans levees sounded just as crazy, but they were right.

    The bottom-line for me is that not only are these issues hugely important, they are time-sensitive. I don’t think we can waste another year-and-a-half if we get a minority government, let alone four years if we end up with a majority.

    I agree that our relationship with the United States is one of those important issues, because that relationship affects many of the other important issues we need to face. We are seeing already how treaties with the US affect our supply of energy, for example. One of the worrying things about the Conservatives is their lack of nationalism. I would feel less worried about the Conservatives if they were strongly nationalistic, if they were standing up and saying, “We’re going to do what’s right for Canada, regardless of what the US thinks, and regardless of how it affects our relationship with them. Our loyalty is to this country.”

    As noted here, this North-South bond that seems so important to them is a challenge to Canadian federalism. I wonder how many people who vote Conservative this election will see that. It seems as though a moment of reckoning is approaching, when Canada will find itself at a crossroads: unify as a single strong nation and reverse decentralization, or separate. As absurd as the idea of pulling power back from the provinces might seem now, there is nothing like clear and present danger to remind people of the strength to be found in unity, and if there’s one thing we’ll find this century, I think its danger.

    How do we distill such a complicated situation into an X on a ballot, as alevo wondered? I don’t think we can, although there are clearly some choices that are better than others. Joining Kyoto and refraining from the war in Iraq may have been rare exceptions in Canadian policy, but they were still momentously good decisions. We all know things would have been different if Stockwell Day was in charge.

    Putting too much currency into electoral politics right now would be a bad investment, but there is still the possibility for a groundswell in our society that changes that. In the here-and-now, I think we need to wage war on the battlefield of public opinion. We’ve got a month-and-a-half to make sure the people we really don’t want in power don’t get there.

  17. Alevo writes, “I’m wondering where we go next?”

    Ade writes, “We’ve got a month-and-a-half to make sure the people we really don’t want in power don’t get there.”

    It’s not enough to make sure the wrong guys stay out. That kind of thinking will get the Conservatives in power.

    We need to make sure the right people get in. I happen to think the NDP have by far the most credible platform of the mainstream parties. They’re oriented toward: an independent domestic and foreign policy (as opposed to capitulation to American interests); investments in education, health care, and sustainable transportation and energy infrastructures (after over a decade of slow starvation); and a Canadian nationalism based on shared values and cooperation (as opposed to graft and pork-barreling).

    There is room for debate about some of their recent tactics, but throughout this minority Parliament, they’ve shown themselves to be the only opposition party demonstrably interested in making government work and achieving policy objectives that most Canadians support.

    Realpolitik aside (since it is ultimately cynical and self-fulfilling), the only reason everyone believes the NDP couldn’t possibly form a government is that the mainstream media say so, and the mainstream media say so because they’re eager to ensure that government remains in the hands of the Liberals and/or Conservatives.

    My suggestion is to persuade as many people as possible to vote NDP. Imagine what Parliament would be like with a Liberal minority and an NDP opposition big enough to deliver or withold a majority vote on any Liberal bill.

    No more robe-dirtying deals with the Conservatives and BQ; just good policy for the next few years.

  18. Iliafer:

    Man, I would love to contribute to this very intelligent conversation, but it is all over my head. I am the average Canadian – how the heck are we supposed to be able to vote intelligently without devoting our every waking moment to studying the political history of the world, and its current state? Literally, the vast majority of political terms you guys are throwing around are all going over my head. How about a glossary? :P

    To Ryan: no need to convince me. I am ready to punish the Liberals for their deceit and broken campaign promises. I do not trust our country in the hands of the conservatives, I do not trust it to remain OUR country. I can’t stand Steven Harper and his back room deals with the Bloc, providing them with the opportunities they need to help drive this country apart. I have decided that its time to give the NDP a chance.

    So, if I may, I’d like to direct this conversation more towards the NDP. You guys have bantered aplenty over the Liberals and Conservatives, lets hash out the only party I have any shred of hope in. Maybe I’ll understand 1/4 of the conversation, but I’ll be learning something.

  19. Iliafer:

    Another interesting aside: I can’t explain it, but I just don’t trust Steven Harper. There is just something about the guy, maybe its his demeanor, his voice, his look, I don’t know. But he comes off as an utter sleaze to me, ingenuine, the ultimate untrustworthy politician. I can’t shake it, I can’t look at the guy objectively.

    Does anyone else get this feeling/vibe?

  20. Tim:

    It’s his eyes. Those pale blue eyes. They just give me the willies. He’s got hitman eyes.

  21. An anecdote may help to explain why Harper gives people the willies.

    Twenty years ago my maternal grandmother died in England, and my mother and I flew back to attend her funeral. At the airport, my mother pointed across the concourse and said, “Look, there’s Pierre Trudeau. Come with me and I’ll introduce you.”

    My mother had met him only once – and briefly – at a Provincial Liberal fundraising event at least a decade before (she did some accounting work for the party), but when she strode over with me in starstruck tow (yes, I was a teenaged politics nerd), he turned, recognized her immediately, and called her by name, embracing her warmly and asking detailed questions about her family and work.

    They exchanged a moment of friendly banter that could have passed between two old friends. When she introduced me, I mumbled something unintelligible but he took my hand in a strong grip and said, “I’m very pleased to meet you,” with a warm smile, “and I’m glad to hear that you take an interest in politics. It’s important for young people to be engaged.”

    Whatever you may think of his politics or his legacy, Trudeau was a true politician: a high self-monitor with a genuinely warm disposition, an encyclopaedic memory for names, faces, and personal details, and a clear and erudite political philosophy.

    Harper, by contrast, is a policy wonk, not a people person. To borrow a phrase from Tolkien, he has a mind of metal and wheels. Where a politican picks up on non-verbal cues, reaches out to listeners, and communicates in terms to which they can relate, Harper only knows how to calculate and machinate.

    He and his advisors know that Canadians don’t want what they advocate, so their strategy is to hammer the Liberals on “ethics” and make vague noises about integrity and accountability. However, on an interpersonal level, Harper has no idea how to translate that into giving people the warm fuzzies that might otherwise ignite a huge shift in voters.

    He’s getting better, of course. He has a team of trainers, image consultants, etc., who are teaching him to fake it. He looks a bit softer, more confident and relaxed on TV. But in close-up shots and in person, you can see he’s still machivellian at heart.

    His popularity, such as it is, comes from a) the hard core of Canadian conservatives who would vote Conservative if they ran a flying squirrel as party leader, and b) moderate voters who are sick of the Liberals, have forgotten how bad the Conservatives were last time, and don’t have the time or inclination to investigate Conservative policy too closely.

  22. alevo:

    Might I add a third category of Conservative supporter? c) Albertan reformers who would vote for any Albertan flying squirrel, so long as it promised to hate Ontario.

    I have an anecdotal story to share too.

    As a political science student at Carleton University, I completed a history course with Canadian political historian Norman Hilmer. He was an entertaining lecturer; one who spoke without notes, and told stories to our class more than he did lecture to us. I enjoyed it immensely.

    His survey course on Canadian-American relations was organized chronologically, and by the late winter of that year our subject matter had become the politics of the late 70’s and early 80’s. We were hearing stories about Trudeau and Mulroney, their egos, the tumult of Can-Am relations and the legacy that each man hoped to leave behind. Both Trudeau and Mulroney made some wildly unpopular decisions as Prime Minister. Upon leaving the post, they knew that these decisions would be recanted and framed by historians like Hilmer, solidifying their legacy as PM.

    In the early 1990’s Hilmer teamed up with his frequent co-author Jack Granatstein to research and write a book that would rank Canadian Prime Ministers. The book intended to place each PM in his or her contemporary context and assess the merit of their performance. More than anything, this was a book about Canadian leaders, for posterity, written by two prominent Canadian historians. The two authors set about interviewing all manner of former staffers, bureaucrats, and onetime Ottawa-political denizons. They also tried to schedule interviews with Trudeau and Mulroney. It was a chance, if only a small chance, for a living PM to have their say – to add to the telling of their own legacy. With both men in their twilight years, it was thought that they would jump at the opportunity to speak to Hilmer about the past, their administration, and the book he was writing. Well, that’s partly the case.

    My professor started with Mulroney. He tried for months, calling aides, leaving messages, networking with friends – to no avail. Many insiders said Mulroney wasn’t interested. He didn’t give a damn what anyone thought about his actions as PM. While in office, he did what he did and that was that. Historians could judge him any way they saw fit, but he was going to add fuel to the fire by speaking to them personally. My professor was dismayed.

    As the talks with Mulroney’s people dragged on. Hilmer managed to get a hold of Trudeau. Speaking to him at his Montreal office, the hisotrian pleaded his case for an interview, and Trudeau graciously accepted. Grateful, but surprised, my professor asked why Trudeau was so eager to meet with him. The former Prime Minister said that he cared very much for his legacy. He said that men like Hilmer would memorlialize his achievements in their writing, and that he wanted to make sure they knew what they were writing about. They planned to meet for dinner the following month.

    Shortly before the dinner with Trudeau, Hilmer received a call from Mulroney’s prinicple assistant. The meeting was possible. Mr. Mulroney would arrange to host Mr. Hilmer and his fellow researcher in Toronto the following week provided the historians understood that Mr. Mulroney was not proselytizing them. This was a frank chat, nothing more.

    So, as it stood, my professor was set to interview two of Canada’s most important 20th century leaders – in the same week. One in Montreal, the other in Toronto. One who cared, one who didn’t give a damn. One loved by most, the other reviled by many.

    My professor met Trudeau in a small, un-assuming Montreal lunch cafe. They dined sparingly. Trudeau was not rushed, but he was not attentive either. He was abrupt, even aggitated. He wore a his over-coat at the table. Perhaps his age was showing, but for man who cared so deeply about his legacy, the interview was a failure. Trudeau launched into tirades. He was condescending. He questioned my professor’s acuity. He swore. He did eveything to prove that his legacy was no more a concern to him than the sandwich he didn’t bother to eat. He was Pierre Trudeau and Canadians loved Pierre Trudeau.

    Later that week in Toronto, my professor met with Brain Mulroney. He was escorted to a swanky private dinner club. He was escorted to a swanky private waiting romm in the dinner club. He was then escorted into a swanky private dining room adjacent the waiting room. All told, my professor spent over two hours waiting before Mr. Mulroney arrived. My professor described his entrance: “He floated into the room on a cloud of cologne. An enormous presence. His chisel-block chin, finely tailored suit. He had perfect hair.” Mulroney walked directly up to my professor, so close you could taste the cologne. He looked him hard in the eye, reached out and grabbed Hilmer’s hand. “How yah do’in? So glad you could make it.” The two chatted for hours. Mulroney told stories. He made them laugh. He was direly serious about certain matters. He did everything to prove that his legacy was the most important thing he had. He cared deeply what Canadians thought of him. He knew he was not well liked, and to some degree, he was sad that there was little he could do about it.

    That’s it. Two Prime Ministers. Two ideologues. Two egos. Two legacies.

  23. Hi Alevo,

    I suspect that my category b and your category c have a larg overlap, although I agree that Alberta reformers probably do represent a distinct society – no pun intended.

    Thanks for sharing an engaging story that turns popular perceptions of two notable Canadian leaders upside down.

    I expect the difference in perceptions on Trudeau stems from encountering him at different times in his life. When I read Trudeau’s Memoirs years after meeting him, the book’s narrative voice reminded me of the elegant, cocky politician I met in the airport. (Of course, any autobiography is likely to catch the subject at his best.)

    In any case, we digress from the purpose of this discussion, which you summarized by writing, “I have to take exception to a conversation that poses no solutions. I know that we have taken one step. We challenge complicit attitudes by sharing information on this blog. Fair enough. I’m wondering where we go next?”

    Iliafer wrote, “You guys have bantered aplenty over the Liberals and Conservatives, lets hash out the only party I have any shred of hope in.”

    So let’s hash. The NDP are an anomaly: a party that stands for just about exactly what a large majority of Canadians profess to want, but can’t seem to get elected.

    I’ve written that the Liberals borrow liberally from the NDP platform during election campaigns and then borrow liberally from the Conservative platform while in power. I guess that’s called “moderation”, but it represents mendacity on a grand scale.

    When the Liberals crow about the Conservatives’ hidden agenda, they undermine their argument fatally by demonstrating a hidden agenda of their own – in fact, the same agenda.

    So how can the NDP respond effectively? I had a debate today with an acquaintance who is normally quite perceptive, but is perfectly willing to “give the Conservatives a chance” to prove whether they’ve really moderated their politics even as he accepts carte blanche that the NDP are just tax-and-spend socialists.

    I argued that the best way to judge politicians is to assess what they write and say when they’re not campaigning, and that a review of the Harper/Flanagan literature shows a radical agenda that surely won’t evaporate if they suddenly find themselves in a position with the power to make policy.

    My acquaintance railed against the Martin Liberals for – wait for it – being beholden to big business, reneging on their promise to honour Kyoto, starving our public infrastructure, undermining public health care and education, corruption, cronyism, and so on, but refused to consider that the Conservatives would be a purer manifestation of the very things he hates about the Liberals.

    He said, “Do you think the Conservatives are going to get power only to throw it all away by trashing the country? Of course not. And if they do, then we throw them out, too.”

    I felt like banging my head against a wall. How can the NDP get past this? Few people will read 5,100 word essays in The Walrus.

    Any ideas?

  24. Thanks Ryan. You make a very good point re: disatisfaction with the liberals for acting like conservatives. So few people see this though!

    Given the state of Canada’s infrastructure and international presence, what we need right now is a strong dose of NDP. They might not be what is needed in the long-term, in fact I think that each party has a role to play in Canada’s political and economic future. But right now, I’d be happy with a party that will put money back into the lives of the average Canadian.

    Would it be helpful for the NDP to expose the Conservatives for who they really are (quite frankly I’m amazed at how quickly Canadian’s forget)? To draw out the very inconsistencies in Liberal campaigning as you’ve pointed out? I think that would be a good start. I also think its very important to highlight the bloc-conservative connection. There are many Canadians who feel strongly about that, and it hasn’t been tapped at all as a campaign issue (well, except by the Liberals, but the NDP can use it to their advantage as well).

    OK, lets keep talking about the NDP!

  25. alevo:

    It’s funny you should mention the Walrus. I sent Ade an article from the magazine when we started this discussion; the article was about the Calgary school and Tom Flanagan, entitled “The Man Behind Stephen Harper.” Your friend should read it.

    It’s a scary thought indeed that some votes are cast on the expectation that either the Tories will moderate, or that the Liberals will clean up their act. Like yourself, I suspect that neither change will occur. No matter, both parties are trying to appeal to people in the same fashion – saying: we’re not as bad as you think – and that means that they are both just as bad as we think, maybe worse. Chantal Hebert wrote a column in late November that suggested both parties are striving to fulfill the politcal dimensions of the old Progressive Conservative Party. I tend to agree.

    On to the NDP. You raise an importatn question. You write: The NDP are an anomaly: a party that stands for just about exactly what a large majority of Canadians profess to want, but can’t seem to get elected.

    Here’s one thought. The NDP has a few distinct challenges when speaking to Canadians. These are impediments that, as I see it, are holding them back from more widespread credibility. I say “credibility” with some trepidation because I think the point I want to make has more to do with marketing – the perception of credibility – than it does with their legitimacy.

    The NDP has a hard time speaking in a nationalistic voice to Canadians. They really need to take a lesson from their competitors on this point. Please hear me out. This has more to do with the kind of political dialogue Canadians respond to than it does what the parties are saying. Canadians are generally a very patriotic lot, and the average person likes to see that reflected in the federal political dialogue. Canadians, particularly those of the age group with the highest voter participation, like to hear patriotic politics. I’m not saying that the NDP is un-Canadian, or less patriotic than other parties, but that the party’s marketing is more issue-first than it is Canadian-first. For the average voter, this makes it hard for them to reconcile the NDP as a substantial and well-rounded political option. Canadian voters are steeped in nationalistic rhetoric at election time. The Liberals always do well in this sense. No matter what the Liberal policy is, they are always “fighting for Canada.” They have done an outstanding job equating Liberal values with Canadian values (mythic or substantiated). Some might call this shameless, or phony, but it wins hearts and minds. In my view there are two political realities: issue-politics and electoral politics. The NDP would do well to focus more on the latter. Their current campaign slogan: “getting results for people” – brutal. What people? CANADIANS.

    Mind you, they have made significant gains in marketability under Layton’s leadership. The party had more seats in 1997 under McDonough, and much less media recognition. My point is that they need to speak to Canadians often and with a simple (slightly nationalistic) message. I know it’s not a very philosophical answer but it’s how I see it.

    Speaking to people like your friend is hard. I would be interested to know why they don’t consider voting NDP. I think many folks might have weak candidates in their riding, which doesn’t help matters. Any thoughts on the above?

  26. Ade:

    I have more to say but I’ll wait until I’m a little more coherent. However, I just read this story, about how Buzz Hargrove, leader of the Canadian Auto Workers union, has signed on to the Liberals:

    During a campaign stop in Toronto, Martin warned union members that there is “a fundamental clash of values” between Liberals and Conservatives and that they have to make a realistic choice.

    “Now I know many of you in this audience have supported the NDP, but I also know this: Liberals or Conservatives, one of us will form the next government,” said Martin.

    Liberals employed the same tactic in the last campaign in 2004, urging NDP supporters to vote strategically for Liberals to ensure a Conservative loss.

    I’m sick of this cynicism. That the Liberals have to rely on people who want the NDP but will settle for them is damning. Is it too much to ask that strategic voting be thrown out in favour of honest democracy: voting for those who best represent you?

  27. Ade wrote, “That the Liberals have to rely on people who want the NDP but will settle for them is damning.”

    You’ve nailed it. Even Martin admits many of the people who vote Liberal would prefer the NDP.

    So why the hell don’t the Liberals actually give Canadians what they want? Because they’re just as beholden to big business as the Conservatives – possibly more so, since most elites in Canada tend to be socially liberal rather than socially conservative.

    For example, I recall an editorial in the Globe and Mail when William Thorsell, a continental big business apologist if there ever was one, was still the editor. He argued in favour of legalizing pot, strongly hinting that he and all his friends and acquaintances have enjoyed the weed at one time or another.

    Alevo wrote, “The NDP has a hard time speaking in a nationalistic voice to Canadians.”

    You make an excellent point. Ironically, most of the organizations most likely to support the NDP (I’m thinking, for example, of Maude Barlow’s excellent Council of Canadians, Judy Rebick’s Rabble website, most unions – Buzz frickin’ Hargrove notwithstanding) speak very strongly in pro-Canadian language. The huge debate over free trade, after all, was between nationalists and continentalists.

    It’s ironic that the Liberals, historically the most cosmopolitan of the parties and responsible for the Reciprocity Treaty in the late 1800s and a trend toward free trade ever since, have managed to co-opt the language of nationalism so completely. How galling that Martin can stand up and talk about the “clash of values” between his party and Harper’s even as he sponges votes from people who would rather have a government that actually believes in a strong and independent country that makes decisions at arms’ length from the elephant to the south.

    So here’s my challenge: write letters to Jack Layton, to your local NDP candidate, and to the NDP campaign team imploring them to position themselves as the one party really prepared to adopt made-in-Canada solutions to our problems (instead of caving into US policy), to protect and enhance the programs that support our distinct values (instead of starving or slaying them), and to promote those values in our international dealings (instead of embarrassing us with hypocritical double-talk like bragging about Kyoto but refusing to commit polluting businesses to clean up their act, or talking tough about poverty but refusing to commit adequate development funds or forgive the bogus debts that shackle the “developing” world.)

    What think ye all?

  28. JD:

    Woe for the fall of western culture.
    Woe for we children who can only dream of democracy.

    I’ve got to say that reading through this thread has been enough to glaze my eyes and burn my mind.

    It doesn’t take much of a memmory or of a critical eye to realise that we canadians are playing a dangerous game. Our approach to, and understanding of what democracy (as a conceptual construct) is has been sliding into the turbid waters that have flooded our southerly neighbours for many a decade. To wit:

    In the states people vote for parties. Try sorting these into pairs:

    A) We like Prosperity, Compassion, Humanism, Egalitarian secular direction of progress.
    B) We believe in Money, Power, American Pride, Economic Know-how, one nation under God.

    I bet that we could do the same with most Canadian’s mime’s and a list of parties, but does it have even a whiff of reality? Do the flat, barely differentiated sketches of belief that are fed Like Pablam to the citizen’s of our sister to the south any better that the FancyFeast we’re served up here?

    Voting for, and ultimately debating around party flags and flyers is counter-constructive. All I’ve seen so far in this early campaign has been the same snyde bullshit being flung from side to side in an arena that’s filled with clowns… (welcome to the circus) as we see at every election (and thanks to a minority government, for the last eighteen months.) We’re sitting like cats watching the ball get tossed back and forth, unfortunately while we’re tripped out our pockets are being picked, our friends and families placed into a compromised future. Unfortunately the media has to throw the ball… if they get into the meat we tend to flip the channel… (maybe it’s our politicians questing for our attentions that so debilitates our government).

    We need to vote for the people who will represent us. Represent our ideas. If they’ll start doing their jobs, then maybe we’ll have a chance. Strategic voting and other approaches to our selection of our representatives gives no real feedback to the powers that be than bullshit polls. Even if the candidate you want to win doesn’t, then at least your opinion about the issues that matter to you will have been registered.

    But we don’t have time. We can’t be bothered to do our homework… or are we just busy? How many of us have actually gone and read the party platforms? How many of us have looked into our local candidates to see what -their- track records are… where their interests and allegiances lie? Maybe even to ask where they were raised, educated, employed and enshrined. When we don’t then we only have ourselves to blame for the variety of objects being inserted into our nethers.

    Strong democracy requires us to elect people who will represent us… our communities… the values and hopes of those communities. Before we can have this we have to define these things ourselves, and be ready to fight for them… because if we keep playing in the sand, by the time we look up all we’ll see is desert.

    We know we need democratic reform. We know that our system needs work. We all see the things that we use to define ourselves as a people sliding into obscurity. Education, Healthcare, Environmental Health… essentialy all best parts of living as a compassionate, rational, progressive society. The only start we have is here. Through voice and type are the keys turned, and our future unlocked. (Nearly all of our political stars are dicks, and they’re just waiting to fuck us. Because dicks fuck pussies [us]. Unfortunately these dicks seem to associate with ass-holes… and that just makes them shitty;) Party politics, and the current party system leaves an arbitrary subsection (party members) to decide on the essential head of the beast. We vote for the head and miss our on the particular little cancers that are right in front of us.

    I personally see one fucking long tunnel ahead of us. If you squint just a
    little, then maybe you’ll be able to see the pinprick of light at the end. I just hope that the fact that we’re all driving doesn’t get us turned around, ’cause that’d make for a miserable trip.


    It’s the blog generation that is saddled with the responsibility of reform. We are a nation of technophiles, and we need to use the technology to our advantage… to enhance the participatory nature of our politic… to amplify the national conciousness.

    Career politicians piss me off. Steven Harper IS the fucking antichrist. Paul’s a smug shithead. Layton’s an innocuous boob. So tell me, where Have all the cowboys gone?

    Sorry for the psycosis of this particular rant…

  29. “Where have all the cowboys gone?” Apparently, to the Conservative Party.

  30. alevo:

    JD – Yee-haw.

    Ryan – I’m writting a letter. Will post it later.

    Ade – start a new string soon.

  31. Ade:

    Yup, look for it by 10:30 or 11:00. Don’t post your letter just yet.

  32. Ade:

    “But we don’t have time. We can’t be bothered to do our homework… or are we just busy? How many of us have actually gone and read the party platforms? How many of us have looked into our local candidates to see what -their- track records are… where their interests and allegiances lie? Maybe even to ask where they were raised, educated, employed and enshrined. When we don’t then we only have ourselves to blame for the variety of objects being inserted into our nethers.”

    I think I missed that last sentence when I first read your post, unfortunately. ;) You know, I haven’t actually taken the time to read the party platforms myself. It’s getting late so maybe I’ll do that in lieu of a nightcap. You make a good point, though I wonder if one of the reasons we skip the platforms is because the actual governing seems to seldom bear a resemblance to the campaigning.