Tag Archives: liberals

Dissecting the Quadra By-election

The political Parties have been busy spinning Monday’s by-election outcomes. The one that is most interesting to yours truly are the stories out of Vancouver-Quadra.

The Conservatives have been successfully spinning their narrow loss as a victory in the long standing Liberal riding:

“Whether we win or lose, it’s a huge victory for the Conservatives in Vancouver Quadra,” said Meredith. “We’ve closed the gap. The fact that it’s so tight right now and we can’t say who the winner will be is a huge change from the last few elections.”

According to Elections Canada the finally tally had the Liberals at 36.1% (down 13% from last year), the Conservatives at 35.5 (up 6%), the Greens at 13.5 (up 8.5%) and the NDP at 14.4 (down 2%).

Interestingly, few people are talking about the low voter turn out. Only 27.9% of eligible voter (and 33.9% of registered voters) actually voted. This is less than half the average of the last general election.

Given that Quadra is a fairly Liberal riding a lower voter turn out rate will broadly favour challengers. Why? If the “average” voter is Liberal and opts not to turn out then the outcome will favour those who are more motivated. This tends to be voters who are challenging the incumbent or who have are issue focused. This riding has been Liberal for a while now, so they are most at risk in this situation.

Once this is factored this race takes on less meaning. Take the the Greens for example. Their voters are probably  more dedicated than the average voter (to go the poll year after year knowing your candidate isn’t going to get elected takes dedication). Because of the low turn out rate their % of the vote increased dramatically (doubling from 6% to 13.5%) even though the absolute number of people who voted for them rose only marginally.

Most interesting though was that the Conservatives almost got their perfect storm. To win they needed a very low voter turn out rate with strong low-key campaigning from themselves and a good performance out of the Greens and NDP. Indeed, the Conservatives were so intent on this strategy that Harper didn’t even campaign on behalf of the Conservative Candidate – Deborah Meredith – when he was in Vancouver last week. Having the Prime Minister campaigning would have raised the profile of the race thereby increasing voter turn out and hurting the party’s odds. It was one of those moments when having a sitting PM stump on your behalf would actually have done more harm than good.

As a result I’m not sure that anyone can claim any larger meaning out of the race. The Greens impressive % increase is an interesting story, but again, it is likely that many of the same hardcore  supporters came out as opposed to many new ones. Interestingly the NDP never really ran in Quadra, but instead had almost a city wide campaign trying to increase their profile in preparation for the general election (my understanding is that they didn’t even do door-to-door canvassing and focused their attention on city-wide media). I hope it worked because the NDP’s numbers are the real disaster story. Its % of the vote shrunk when the low voter turn out should have inflated it. Either their die hard supporters opted not to come out, or they voted Green or Liberal. Either way, that’s not a good sign for a party stuck in the polls.

Tough week for everyone in Ottawa

So the Liberals are getting lambasted for letting the Conservative Budget stand. (click on the second video)

Old Conservatives are refusing to testify (usually not a good sign) and New Conservatives have been (allegedly) caught trying to bribe an independent MP (a terribly sign).

The NDP can’t seem to get any traction.

The Bloc is still losing ground.

The Green’s still can’t get into a nationally televised debate.

Nobody is going anywhere – at least not right now.

I'm betting on a fall election

The current mania around a spring election has started to fade, especially with Dion beginning to say the Liberals might not bring down the government over the budget.

There are good strategic reasons for this.

If, as it would appear. the economy is beginning to worsen, then the Liberals have every reason to delay. Governing parties tend to do worse when the economy is poor, so if things are getting worse, better to wait and trigger an election later when the pain of a shrinking economy is more apparent.

This alone, would be a good reason to wait. But there is another related reason to wait for the fall, and it has to do with the American election.

South of the border the Democrats will also be pounding away on the fact that the economy has run aground – in their case, they’ll blame George Bush and the Republican Party. The Liberals will stand to benefit from this in two important ways. First, the general theme of “a bad economy” will be everywhere in the press – as both the Canadian and American media will be talking about it. Canadians will simply not be able to escape the issue and the framing.

But better still, the simple fact that there is a US election means that a significant amount of media “oxygen” will be sucked up by this giant event south of the border. Like it or not, Canadians get a chunk of their media from the United States. This will make it harder for the Conservatives to implement a communication strategy to combat the issue of the poor economy – particularly as the Democratic Party is working extra time to get it in the media. In a real sense the liberals will working with the wind at their backs – benefiting from the messaging out of the US – while knowing that it will be harder for the Conservatives to create a counter-narrative.

the manley inquiry into Afghanistan

Rudyard Griffiths has been calling for a blue ribbon commission into the future of Canada’s role in Afghanistan for a while. The good news is that the Prime Minister started listening to him. The bad news is that the Liberals are unhappy about it.

To date, the Conservatives have not had an inspired foreign policy. Indeed, they seem to lack confidence on this issue – something that may spring from the fact that this government is built around the old provincial Harris team who obviously didn’t have to think much about the subject. This insecurity – along with a desire to take a politically sensitive issue off the table in time for a possible fall election – has however forced them to adopt Griffiths’ advice.

This is good news for Canadian foreign policy and Canada’s mission in Afghanistan. The current debate on the Afghanistan mission has been mired in partisan battles shaped more by who can exploit the situation for political gain than by assessing what is the best option for Canada. On an issue this sensitive and important a blue ribbon panel can help establish a baseline of facts and set the terms of debate in a manner that hopefully elevate the level of discussion. This will help ensure that the country’s best interests – as opposed to those of a given political party – will be the first and foremost criteria of evaluation. In principal this should make it harder for the NDP and those like Michael Byers who advise them, to continue to call for a unilateral withdrawal without discussing the full consequences of such a choice.

In short, if the panel (John Manley, Pamela Wallin, Derek Burney, Paul Tellier and Jake Epp) does its job it can help ensure that Canadians make the best choice for Canada.

John_ManleyThe bad news is that Liberals are in a huff about the fact that John Manley’s appointment as the head of this panel insulates the conservative from a sticky issue in the lead up to an election. I can understand how one would lament the loss of a potential “wedge issue” that might have undermined Conservative support, especially in Quebec. But veiled attacks on Manley paint the party in a bad light. And for good reason. Liberals should be proud of Manley – or any Canadian – who attempts to bring coherence, clarity and a basic level of consensus to a debate of national importance.

Liberals are only mad at Manley because they know that although this commission shows the Conservatives are desperate (they are), it also exposes the shallowness of their own policy on the issue. And let’s be clear, the Liberals don’t have a coherent policy on Afghanistan. The current Liberal position of pulling our troops out after 2009 simply plays off the public’s fears. It does nothing to address the actual goals of why Canada is in Afghanistan. It’s odd to watch the party that championed Human Security and R2P argue for getting the military out of a country where the previous government had a complete disrespect for human rights, marginalized women and generally terrorized its own population. Nor is the notion that “it’s somebody else’s turn” inspiring the public. Either a) this mission is important and so if no one else will do it, we must or b) it’s not, and we should get out (and, by the way, if this was the case why did you get us in in the first place?).

Moreover, let’s talk about the costs of leaving – there are people whose lives will be in significantly greater risk if Canada pulls out and the risks of Afghanistan becoming an operational centre for global terrorism are real. Conversely, let’s talk about the costs of staying – such as the fact that Afghanistan is going to be further destabilized this winter when the Americans start spraying Opium crops with pesticides. If this is the way the US is going to behave, maybe we should leave.

But this is the type of nuanced discussion neither the Liberals nor the Conservatives (it’s not worth mentioning the NDP) are willing to have. All that has happened is that the Conservatives realized that this superficial discussion would hurt them more and so they got smart.

So rather than getting mad at Manley Liberals should start coming up with a coherent policy on Afghanistan.