May, 2011

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Some thoughts on the the 2011 Election

Tuesday, May 3rd, 2011

This is an historic night. Everybody says so but… “plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose“. Here are a few observations I’ll put out there for perpetuity.

In the short term:
Conservative Majority, NDP Official Opposition, Liberal rump, Bloc evisceration, Green breakthrough.

Party breakdown:
Conservative Party
With a majority, the Conservatives are going to be able to implement their agenda, whatever that truly is. With 5 years of minority rule, the Tories have seen their agenda moulded- gnarled- by the pressures of the other parties.

We will see the budget passed. We will see the new fighter jets. We will see the new prisons. We will see their economic and social agenda unfold.

In truth, in all honesty, nobody except Jason Kenny, Stephen Harper and a few others really know what that is.

Liberal Party
It had to take a virtually total collapse of the party to finally get to work to clean out the rot and corruption that has accumulated over the decades. There has been for a very, very long time a sense of entitlement, a sense of glorification of the pinnacle in Canadian government- the tenure of Sussex Drive but the membership has long been ignored by the party elites.

With the rise to power of “Mr. Dithers” Paul Martin and the unprecedented McCarthy-like witch hunts to push out those who were not in agreement (lock-step) with Martin- and there are thousands of them- heavyweights all- on the sidelines making the party a mere shadow of its former self.

Ignatieff will be gone in the next six weeks while the tiny caucus scrambles around trying to figure out what the hell they can do with no money and no resources. It is going to be a very painful and quiet caucus room while they try to get their feet under themselves.

Bloc Québécois
Gilles Duceppe is gone. The BQ is in serious trouble. While the Parti Québécois just re-affirmed the leadership of Pauline Marois, I would expect that Duceppe will be shadowing her, making her life quite a challenge.

Don’t count out the separatists though…. things are calm on the separatist front for now. But the moment that the Conservatives, based in the West and Toronto start to do things that piss off Quebeckers and the NDP stumbles or fails to speak wholeheartedly for the traditional Quebec-first view, separatism will be back stronger than ever.

Green Party
The beach head has been established. The Green Party now has exactly half of the seats the Conservative Party had in 1993.

Finally, Canadians might have an opportunity to see exactly how a Green Party might look like and how it might operate. It is full to the brim of passionate but incredibly naive volunteers. Their campaign in my riding where former leader Adrienne Carr ran was hokey and completely out of synch with the electorate: Driving around on Davie Street in a glorified golf cart just doesn’t cut it with us.

The Greens sound very left-wing but I am under the understanding that elsewhere they are quite right-wing. The traditional ‘green’ and ‘labour’ vote are tied in Canada through the coalition that is the NDP- more on that in a moment. Consequently it will be very interesting to see Elizabeth May, their now sole MP and party leader begin the tightrope walk toward growth.

New Democratic Party
Declaration of Full Disclosure: I am a former provincial BC NDP candidate who ran against the now-premier of British Columbia, former federal riding association president and one who fell heavily out of the NDP when I ran and lost in the nomination race to represent the party in the 2004 election. I am not yet aligned with any political party but my stale inside view of the NDP will no doubt show itself in this commentary.

The NDP made massive, massive gains tonight in Quebec. Outsiders will view that as a huge gain for Canada and a diminishment of the sovereignty movement in Quebec. Do not fool yourselves.

The up and coming days, weeks and months will be very telling. Will the NDP be able to grow up? The heartland of the NDP lies on the Prairies where there is a natural antipathy to Quebec and its own aspirations. As a federal NDPer years ago, I long advocated that the NDP work to increase its french content in its printed materials and work to be more inclusive of the few precious francophone members we had in the party. My exhortations fell essentially on deaf ears. My sense is that not much has changed since then.

Today, there is now a huge divide in the party. The long-term base of the party resides in Ontario and the West while the overwhelming majority of the caucus now comes from Quebec. The party is now stretched literally a mile-wide and an inch-deep with its real depth in the wrong places. Kinda like having a pear-shaped body but an hourglass-shaped shadow. Somehow, this strange coalition isn’t going to work out very well.

The federal party is often considered to be the runt-child of the provincial parties and so it will be interesting to see how Jack Layton and his new team are able to muscle up and command a place at the party’s ‘grown-up’ table.

Recently in the province of British Columbia the provincial leader was pushed aside and there were a lot of hard feelings over that move. The 13 MLAs (Members of the Legislative Assembly) who forced her to step down were vilified and that reflects the naiveté that exists within the party as well. NDPers see themselves as different. They think they are better than regular politicians but in fact they are just as bad.

Dirty politics exist in the NDP too and as the federal party grows up and becomes more vulnerable to scrutiny, as it starts to make compromises in the drive to form government, self-riteous self-impressions won’t stand up to reality and there are going to be a lot of disappointed run-of-the-mill party members. The base will be shaken.

In all, I think the NDP will have peaked in this election and will drop to third-party status in the next election: there is just too much that could go wrong. It’s either, let go of the rush to be the government or else implode from the centre. The latter is unthinkable in a political movement like the NDP.

Medium to Long Term
Give Parliament nine months to two years to settle into a more predictable pattern…. where messages get rehashed over and over again… when track records start to build up and the pressures of monotony and limitations start to pen the new dynamics in.

You’ll start to see then how things will start to shake down leading up to the next election in 2015.

Here are a couple of longer-term scenarios I’ll predict now.

1. The Conservatives will entrench themselves and will become the ‘governing party’ for at least the next 15 years. It is going to take that long for the various opposition parties to either fizzle out or merge to create a behemoth large enough to take on the Conservative machine.

2. The BQ will fizzle out. No big bang… just nothing. The three BQ voices in the House of Commons will be whispers in the wilderness while the NDPs massive voice in Quebec drowns them out. But again take note: they’ll fizzle but while the flame is out, the wick… or fuse… is still there. It will take something very small to ignite that flame again. Considering Quebeckers are generally socially progressive and the new Conservative government is generally socially conservative, I expect that the sovereignty question will once again arise except this time over social values. I expect Quebec nationalism to be an issue perhaps not in the next federal election but most definitely in the subsequent one.

3. The Conservatives will start to show their Reform Party roots by about year two. Just as the Mike Harris Government showed in Ontario its “Common Sense Revolution” loses direction, the Jacobites will be at play and common sense will become ideological, rather than practical. Backbenchers will be flexing their frustrated muscle and Harper will be expending a lot of political capital to keep his wayward ducks in a row. This will feed quite naturally into the opposition parties.

Despite this, the Conservatives will win a second majority although ‘democracy’ in Ottawa will be in severely short supply. To keep all his wayward ducks in a row, Harper will have had to clamp down heavily on all aspects of government and Parliament will be on the verge of exploding.

This is not going to be a pleasant 41st Parliament. It is going to be divisive and mean spirited. Mostly because Harper will have to tightly control all information that flows through all of Parliament. The Auditor General will even have a hard time to get information needed to do audits by year three.

The $2.00 per vote subsidy to all the political parties will be discontinued, causing the opposition parties, especially the underfunded Liberals to howl and scream blood murder. But this will be the one measure that will eventually be the downfall of the Conservative run as government at about the time I retire in old age.

4. The Green Party is going to go one of two ways: it will either grow exponentially à la Barack Obama’s “We Can” campaign and radically shake the fringes of Parliament in the next election or else it will prove itself incapable of waging what will essentially be a war against the Conservatives, the NDP and the Liberals. The Conservatives with their majority are going to do things that are completely anathema to the Greens. The NDP already has a significant stake in the environmental movement in Canada and the Liberals, famous for usurping other party’s platforms, will be jockeying for any attention it can get. Elizabeth May certainly has her work cut out for her!

5. The NDP, as I mentioned, will be stretched very thin and very quickly. Tensions within the party will start to fester as the momentum near the top of the party will pull the party toward the centre while its base, tantalizingly close to power will start to demand its historic platform be brought forward. Canadians have no appetite for things like nationalized banks or having free transportation a right. Furthermore, Manitoba and Saskatchewan are the exceptions to this rule: the NDP governments in BC and in Ontario have both been thrown out for mismanagement of the economy.

Shell games are what the NDP are known for and as much as they strive to achieve gains, I have a small nagging feeling that the party will implode over these strains. The commentators are wondering if this is going to be the beginning of a long run as official opposition for the NDP…. my gut thinks not. Two Parliaments and that’s about all the electorate are going to be able to take.

The age-old question of “the Greenies” versus “the Brownies” will pull the party into horrible contortions. This debate within the party is over which takes precedence: the environment with the cost of natural resource-based jobs or employment in the forests and mines to the detriment of the environment.

It is THE question that hangs heavily over the party. With the emergence of the Green Party as a potentially real force in Canadian politics, will the environmentalists abandon the NDP and set up shop with Elizabeth May and the Greens?

Also, on a very sober note, ALL of the electoral success of the NDP tonight is as a result of the leader, Jack Layton. Unfortunately, he is not the healthiest of leaders, undergoing treatment for cancer… I expect he will either have to retire or else he will not survive more than one more election. Of course, I hope he does survive but reality is reality. Should the unthinkable happen, what then? On this point, the crystal ball goes completely dark and because of that shadow, I cannot give a completely positive prognosis of the party’s gains tonight- if nothing else but because of Mr Layton’s health.

6. The Liberals are on life support as of tonight. No question. However, the heart of the Liberal Party lies in Quebec and Quebec politics is anything but stale. As much as the base of the NDP out West will be dissatisfied with the efforts of its elected officials based in Quebec, so too will the riding associations in Quebec be at odds with the long-time traditions of the CCF-NDP. Tommy Douglas, a demi-god on the Prairies in certain quarters is simply not known in Quebec. These soft-federalist/nationalists, but resoundingly socially progressive folks will be searching out yet a new vehicle to advance their cause in Ottawa and the Liberal Party, les Rouges, will be there, with their deep history in the province ready to represent them.

As Stephen Harper continues to clamp down on information, on MPs on Parliament, there is going to be a clear desire for change leading up to the next election. But the party won’t be ready to capture that sentiment. It will regain Official Opposition status as of the next election and probably retake government in about 2020.

But let’s be honest: it’s money that talks. When the ‘coalition’ that supported Harper and the Conservatives begin to shut out all the other monied folk in the country, a country where pork-barrelling is a way of life for capitalists and industrialists, there will be a need for the Liberal Party once again. For all their moving to the centre, the NDP certainly won’t be looking to bring big-business into its bosom and so big business will be looking for someone else.

Additionally, I mentioned above that the $2.00 subsidy to political parties will be the long-term undoing of the Conservative run in government. Right now, donations to political parties are limited to very small amounts as the parties are essentially funded by the number of votes they receive in an election. This is a very serious fetter for those who could go out and get more donations.

Because the Liberals are in such a mess, there are not very many donors who are willing to give to the party so it is living off that $2.00 subsidy. The subsidy will end just as the party becomes a credible, viable force again and donations by capitalists / industrialists eager to have their moment of glory at the feeding trough and eager to keep the socialists out of government will start emptying their wallets into the Liberal party coffers….. but again that will take time.

So the Liberal Party will have to do a complete house cleaning. Much of the rot is recent: less than 10 years old. The party is going to have to renew itself genuinely and work to attract its traditional base back.

* * *

One caveat to much of this: I do not have a strong read on the ‘youth’ and its direction. The next generation of voters, is even larger than the baby-boomers and are just coming of age to get active and to vote. They will have a significant impact on the future elections- impact that my generation didn’t have because we simply weren’t big enough (I’m part of the “bust” that followed the “boom”) so I don’t even have a good grasp on their potential. They are much more ecologically sensitive on the one hand but much less ideological about how to achieve those goals on the other.

Is there such thing as an eco-Conservative? I doubt it. But then again, will they vote Green, NDP, a pro-business greenish Liberal Party, a merged NDP and Liberal parties, or a mixture of all three? Or will they go Conservative by in large to ensure economic growth and jobs for all?

Only time will tell.

For me personally, I am very disappointed in the results tonight. I am not a Conservative / conservative. I am wary of the this brand of Conservatism and would not trust Stephen Harper with my iPhone and wallet- not because he’d take the money but because he’d take the phone, have a subroutine programmed into it to monitor my absolutely everything- and use it against me for the slightest transgression…. like jaywalking… and have me thrown into the new prison he’d just built.

I am a former NDPer… but I am also a former federal Liberal. In a very strange sort of way, I take comfort in knowing that I am exactly in the NDP and Liberal divide. I am a right-leaning NDPer and a left-leaning Liberal. It is going to be a very interesting time for people like me. Will I finally have a political home or will the sands shift such that I am completely left out of either?

But the election is done. We have a majority and Stephen Harper will finally be able to shape this country with his palate of colours. Our democracy is amazing and the voters have proven once again that the pundits are just goofs most of the time. As a pundit of sorts myself, I am humbled by what I saw tonight.

Fortunately, tomorrow the cows will still produce milk.

And life goes on.