Cold Hard Wonk

No sentiment but politics

La Belle Province No More0

Posted by JJ in Federal Elections, Vague Check, Strategic Planning, A House Divided, All Politics (Wednesday April 11, 2007 at 3:41 pm)

Liberal leader Stephane Dion commented yesterday on the recent Quebec election, suggesting that, contrary to many observations, the ADQ’s success in that province poses no threat to the Liberals’ hopes for federal seats.

Per M. Dion:

The votes for (ADQ Leader Mario) Mr. Dumont were in a large part protest votes. . .Mr. Harper [his federal opponent] cannot channel a protest vote because he is the government.”

An argument which could be disputed, to be certain. But that doesn’t undermine Dion’s point. After all, eight of the ten federal seats taken by the Conservatives in Quebec came at the expense of the Bloc Quebecois, not the Liberals. If the Tories continued to snag seats at that stunning pace, the Liberals would lose only one more to them, while possibly gaining a few (Papineau, par example?) back from the BQ.

The ADQ won 37 new seats in Quebec, of which 20 came from the provincial Liberals and 17 from the Parti Quebecois. Those are fairly even numbers, and they mean that, even if the ADQ got some votes from the Liberals as a protest, they could not have achieved their victory without overtaking the PQ — a feat the Liberals had not accomplished in those ridings. If the ADQ poses a worrisome threat, it seems to be more portentous for the separatist parties than for the Liberals.

But if the federal Liberals think they have nothing to fear, they’re wrong. The main reason why they might not recognize the threat is that it didn’t emerge with the recent election, even if the recent election showed some of its symptoms. The real threat is the Liberal Party of Canada’s increasing isolation within Quebec.

Consider this: from 1945 to 1980, in thirteen consecutive elections spanning thirty-five years, the Liberals took fewer than 47 (of 65-75) Quebec seats only twice: once in 1958, when John Diefenbaker swept the country, and again in 1962, when he faced off against an Anglophone Liberal leader, the short-termed Lester Pearson. Over that time, the Liberals took more than 60 seats six times and more than fifty-five nine times. They averaged roughly 53% of the vote in Quebec, hitting a low of 39.2% in 1962 when Pearson first fought Diefenbaker and a high of 68.2% in 1980, when Trudeau returned to champion constitutional repatriation.

Now consider this: from 1984 to 2006, in seven consecutive elections spanning twenty-two years, the Liberals took 36 (of 75) Quebec seats in their best showing — 2000, against Joe Clark (who never did well in Quebec), Preston Manning (who barely spoke French), and Gilles Duceppe (who was scorned for weak campaigning). In four of those campaigns, they failed to win as many as 20 seats, and broke 25 only twice. They averaged roughly 33.5% over that span, hitting a high of 44.2% in the 2000 campaign and a low of 20.7% in 2006 (the second post-sponsorship scandal campaign).

Which shows a significant dip in Liberal fortunes between 1980 and 1984. No points to those who can guess why.

But that’s not all — there’s another interesting point to consider: 21 seats in Quebec are in Montreal. In all but two of the thirteen elections before 1984, the Liberals took a majority of the seats outside of Montreal. In no election since has that happened. In 2000, the Liberals’ best showing since 1980, they managed merely 16 of the 54 seats outside of that City. In five of those seven elections, they did no better than six such seats. The Liberal Party has clearly maintained its former grip on the City of Montreal, but it has lost its strength beyond.

What the numbers show is a far more dangerous threat to the Liberals than anything posed by the ADQ. If the 1997 and 2000 election victories had as much to do with the Bloc Quebecois’s poor campaigning as it did the Liberals’ own performance, then their two positive showings had more to do with the lack of a third option than it did with any efforts of their own.

The Liberals’ best seat total in the latter elections — 36 in 2000 — was eleven seats more than their worst performance in the former — 25 in 1958; but it was achieved with virtually the same percentage of the vote (44.2% vs. 45.6%). Their worst share of the vote in the former elections — 39.2% in 1962 — was only 5% behind their 2000 peak, and better than any other performance between 1984 and 2006.

What this suggests is that the Liberals are a different party in Quebec now than they were before 1984. Before 1984, they could count on taking 50% or so of the Quebec vote and built a majority starting from the roughly 50 seats they expected there. Since then, their expectations should be for roughly 35% of the vote and far too few seats to rest easy before hearing the Ontario numbers.

Since 1984, the Liberals have had to rely on Ontario for their bedrock, and with that under serious attack since the disappearance of the Progressive Conservatives in 2004, there are no signs that this is a sustainable long-term strategy. The West of Canada still looks unwelcoming to what overtures Liberals have made; and the Maritimes hold too few seats for even dominance on the scale of 1997 to make a stand there.

Which means that the Liberals are faced with a serious problem in Quebec — they have lost their long-term stronghold without finding an alternative. If they cannot break out of Montreal in the face of what now seems a second viable alternative to the separatists, they will have to find a new and unfamiliar way to build majorities. And that strange future brings a promise of minority status at best and certain weakness for some time to come.

Foundation of Sand?0

Posted by JJ in Bad Press, Doubletake/Doubletalk, All Politics, Brass Tacks (Sunday November 12, 2006 at 10:46 pm)

The debate over the quality of voters’ choices rages on. Are they rational creatures? Can they be properly polled? Are they consistent?

At the risk of making a federal bill out of a personal choice, two recent stories may be of help towards answering these very questions.

In Toronto, 60% of those who support the construction of a garbage incinerator say they would support it in their neighbourhood. Assuming, as we must from The Star’s releases, that 91% support incineration, that comes to 54% of the community at large. Assuming, not too cynically, that a few percentage points worth of people might feel differently about an actual incinerator than the idea of an incinerator, we’re talking about roughly even numbers other either side. Given that angry voters may be likelier to vote, it hardly suggests, as The Star does, that the not-in-my-backyard phenomenon is anything less than formidable. Moreso when only around 40% of the population bothers to vote.

Lesson: Don’t assume voters are altruistic just yet.

And from Florida, news that a voter used a rare stamp worth several hundred thousand dollars to mail in his absentee ballot. Could this be a fabulous tribute to the money-wasting ploy used in Brewster’s Millions? Could it be a proud statement of how the voter values his democratic rights? Was it an attempt to boost the State of Florida’s coffers? Could it be just another example of a voter who fails to wonder at unusual things, like an old-fashioned stamp with an upside-down plane?

Lesson: Voters are either really unobservant or reckless spendthrifts.

And the debate rages on.

Disingenuity on Focus0

Posted by JJ in Vague Check, All Politics, Crossroads of Culture (Sunday October 29, 2006 at 10:48 am)

It was inevitable that protests against the Canadian mission to Afghanistan would follow a rise in casualties and the first well-publicised Canadian military action in decades. Was it inevitable that casualties would lead to intentional obfuscation?

It began with former Prime Minister Paul Martin’s critique of the mission:

“You can’t win the military war if you can’t win the hearts and minds of the people,” Martin said.

He said that he approved what military planners refer to as the “3-D” approach to the mission: diplomacy, defence and development.

“We are doing the defence,” Martin said. “In fact, we are doing the defence quite aggressively — and you can’t do it passively.

“But are we doing the amount of reconstruction, the amount of aid that I believe was part of the original mission? The answer unequivocally is that we’re not. And I believe that we should.”

Timed brilliantly to follow the loss of four Canadian soldiers to a suicide bomber while handing out aid on a tour of the southern region. Let alone that these deaths were suffered while doing what Martin claimed wasn’t being done. The attack, plainly designed to make the population fearful of Canadian aid-givers would surely be unnecessary if Canadians weren’t providing aid, would it?

But that assertion of a misguided mission is the position opponents are flocking to. In this corner, we have Jack Layton, NDP Leader, repeating the mantra of “unbalance”:

[The mission is] not well constructed, it’s unbalanced, we’re putting 10 times as much into the military side as we are into aid, and we now have famine and real problems spreading in Afghanistan,

In truth, there was a famine going on in Afghanistan before the invasion. Besides which, when the military is the body delivering aid, isn’t it disingenuous to suggest that you can separate its budget from the aid budget for comparison? How much of that “military side” is money spent on aid?

If you’re appealling to quick emotional reaction (whether anti-war or anti-Bush), that’s the kind of question you don’t want people to ask. Which is why the crucial element is suggesting that the mission’s mandate is either to carry out purely American ends or uncertain:

Brian Mason, who leads Alberta’s NDP, said military families in the province often look for “some really good reason why they’re involved in what they’re doing.

“But, I think that increasingly, some of them are starting to question why their loved ones are over there.”

This goes so far, in some cases, as to be an out-and-out lie:

Contrary to endless misleading stories in the mainstream media, the Canadian mission in Afghanistan is NOT a NATO mission, nor has it been specifically authorized by the UN. It is, in fact part of the American Operation Enduring Freedom begun in 2001. (My source? The Canadian Department of National Defense: http://www.forces.gc.ca/site/newsroo…_e.asp?id=1703 )

A quick trip to the cited source reveals the following:

More than 2000 members of the Canadian Forces (CF) are in Afghanistan today at the request of the Afghan Government, most of them as part of the UN-Sanctioned NATO-led International Stabilization Assistance Force (ISAF) mission

So why fight so hard to obfuscate the mission? After all, anyone interested in finding out more about the mission’s professed aims and objectives could do so by a simple check on NATO information? Is this a Michael-Moore style “fight disinformation with disinformation” campaign? Do Canadians really not bother to check on the most elementary of claims by their would-be leaders?

Don’t answer that last one, you might cry.

That this approach would profess to spring from genuine concern is especially baffling when it could so easily shift to something real from straw men and misdirection. As a former US soldier put it at a protest in Toronto:

We refuse to participate in an illegal and immoral war under the guise of freedom,

A position which requires more. Why is it illegal to be in Afghanistan? Why is it immoral to do what NATO is doing there? To adopt such a position would require informing Canadians and engaging them in real debate. But that, sadly, doesn’t seem to be on some to-do lists.

Andre of Arabia0

Posted by JJ in Doubletake/Doubletalk, All Politics, Crossroads of Culture (Friday October 6, 2006 at 8:37 am)

The Maginot line of fortifications has achieved such cultural cachet that ever more perplexing references to it come with little explanation. One might therefore imagine that its lessons for tacticians and strategists are scarcely worth mentioning.

What, then, to make of Saudi Arabia’s plan to defend itself from potential spillover of the Iraqi conflict with a fence along the nations’ mutual border?

Has Saudi Intelligence forgotten that they also border Jordan? Will Syria and Jordan implement similar controls, or will it be their fate to play the low countries to the Saudi’s France? Will those who fail to learn from history be doomed to repeat it?

The Kindness of Strangers0

Posted by JJ in Doubletake/Doubletalk, All Politics, Full-Timers (Thursday July 13, 2006 at 6:37 pm)

We all depend on others. No more foolish phrase was ever uttered than “self-made man”. Others are responsible for nearly everything around us; and even if we don’t like to be reminded of it often, there are times when we dearly ache for their help. The guilt of that dependency can be crushing, no matter how slight, because it carries with it a force of obligation, often from one least able to oblige. This is why, in one man’s opinion, it is better for the giver to know the recipient than the other way around. Any way you choose to put it, reminding people of their dependency can shame them.

Many things can be debated about the Guardian Angels, an anti-crime citizen’s group that’s become more of a movement since its origins in 1970’s New York; but what can’t be disputed is that they give. They give their time, their energy, and their efforts; and apparently, some people believe in what they’re giving.

This week, seniors at the William Denison Seniors’ Residence, a complex managed by the Toronto Community Housing Corporation, had offered to host a graduation ceremony for the first Guardian Angels group to come to their neighbourhood. It was an initiative of the residence’s security committee, which hoped that it might improve local safety. Perhaps it would, perhaps it wouldn’t. The Angels will definitely be patrolling the area; but the ceremony was stopped. Representatives of the TCHC, getting wind of the event, which had been reserved as a “security meeting”, refused to allow it to proceed. The patrol was asked to wait by security guards, then asked to leave by police, when the latter arrived.

In explanation of which, the TCHC’s chief operating officer offered the following:

“It was not transparent what the space was going to be used for,” Nakamura said, adding it violates the use of space policy. “TCHC does not sanction the Guardian Angels.”

It was a bit non-transparent, it’s true. And seniors, you know, are just like children. If you don’t keep firm boundaries, anything could happen. Why, if you don’t punish them today for misdescribing a ceremony on a booking form, tomorrow they’ll be offering you a rock music that’s really rock’n'roll. The use of space policy, incidentally, suffers from a similar lack of transparency. Although it’s frequently referenced and its name turns up many times in searches of the TCHC website, it just doesn’t seem to be there.

But at the last, Ms Nakamura comes to the point: the TCHC won’t sanction the Guardian Angels. Neither will the City — the mayor has refused to meet with them. And that might be politically astute. After all, if they’ll be there anyway, he can step back from opposing them and still please their detractors with a public snub. But who pays the shameful price of a public snubbing? Why should the TCHC believe that allowing its tenants to endorse the group would be seen as an endorsement of its own? Maybe if it tends not to think of them as independent people.

Which is the real problem laid bare. It’s in the nature of the response — the way it’s been expressed, that’s most distressing. It’s condescending, paternalistic, and demeaning to rely on the technicality of room-booking forms when the obvious reason for shutting down the meeting is the City’s distaste for its tenants’ activity, expressed by proxy. Sending the police to do what a manager could have done is equally ham-fisted. The response robbed the tenants who so eagerly acted together as a community of any illusion of control over their own lives and home; and reminded them that they live at someone else’s sufferance.

That to make a petty and political statement. We should hope that the TCHC’s board reconsiders this style of management at their next meeting and affirms that people’s homes and pride aren’t to be used as extensions of municipal policy.

Dim Bulbs, Big City0

Posted by JJ in Federal Elections, Strategic Planning, All Politics (Tuesday May 30, 2006 at 9:37 am)

The last Canadian federal election seemed to suggest that voters were turned on by the Conservative message. But in one area, Tory hopes of success remained a mere flicker.

They were shut out of the three largest cities in the country: Toronto, Montreal, and Vancouver. Given that, together, these three cities account for roughly sixty seats in the House of Commons (one-fifth of the total), writing them off makes an enormous difference to any bid for majority government.

But before getting carried away, bear in mind that the Conservatives didn’t do all that badly in these towns. While polling lower than they did overall, some things went very well for them.

Montreal is in a province where their leader’s mediocre French was to be a liability, and any victory a triumph. There, they finished strongly in several ridings: Hochelaga, Lac-Saint-Louis, Mount Royal, Pierrefonds-Dollard, Saint-Laurent-Cartierville, Westmount-Ville-Marie, Alfred-Pellan, Laval, Marc-Aurele-Fortin, and Saint-Leonard-Saint-Michel. In each, they came in either second or third place within striking distance at second.

In Vancouver (in a province where their fortunes dipped overall), they garnered strong levels of support outside of Vancouver East and Vancouver Kingsway, performed well (if not successfully) in a series of tight three-way races, and took narrow losses in North Vancouver and West Vancouver (whose full riding name is too ridiculous to be uttered in this place).

In Toronto (a province where the party had long-sought an electoral breakthrough), the party did lamentably badly in the core parts of the city, finishing third in most ridings (and a distant third at that), but came second in the more suburban fringe around the former cities of North York, Scarborough, and Etobicoke.

Which means that there is some good news. The Tories made a significant gain in Montreal, given that they may not have been seen by voters there as a serious federalist option. The results from the next election may yet prove their strategy there to be effective. In Vancouver, they may have had been given a harder time than usual, amid a backlash against the possibility of their reaching majority government status.

But Toronto? There’s really no excuse. Even if some of the ridings there aren’t within Conservative reach, the results are a serious blotch on an otherwise bright campaign.

Displaying the same political brightness that netted them an overall victory, they’ve devised a plan. If only the brightness were also evidenced in the plan itself.

Tory John Baird, President of the Treasury Board, is promising big things in the works for Toronto. Fighting overdevelopment of the waterfront (all those condos blocking out the view of the Gardiner Expressway), announcing millions for urban development, and shaking hands with the mayor — he’s doing it all in the hopes of improving his party’s performance in Canada’s largest city.

But it’s not likely to work. At least not the way the Tories might need it to. The problem the Tories face isn’t that they’re not doing enough for Toronto. Whether the city gets short shrift from higher levels of government or not isn’t the point — it’s that giving money to Toronto doesn’t necessarily bring home the political bacon.

First, bear in mind that the next election isn’t going to be five years off. Winter will bring a new Liberal leader, and with it, the prospect of an election within a year (a year of winter, that is). That means that big announcements can be made, but big achievements won’t be reached; and Torontonians are familiar enough with that scheme to be a little bit blasé when it comes to federal spending.

Consider the Waterfront Revitalization Corporation:

Five years ago, the city, Queen’s Park and Ottawa jointly put up $1.5 billion and unveiled a grand vision to remake 46 kilometres of Toronto’s lakefront — from Marie Curtis Park at the mouth of Etobicoke Creek in the west to Rouge Beach Park in the east — into vibrant neighbourhoods full of homes, businesses, parks and transit, with improved public access to the lake.

At present, you’ll find that they’ve prepared a great number of plans, implemented none, and involved themselves in no actual redevelopment whatsoever. In fact, their promise for this year is to:

In 2005/06, TWRC will start delivering the kind of results the public expects from revitalization, results like major parks and recreational facilities, waterside destinations and new sustainable, downtown communities that are affordable for everyone.

And that’s five years after receiving $1.5 Billion. It’s enough to make even the most cash-crazy Torontonian at least a little bit skeptical of the value of infusions.

Exhibit two? Downsview Park. The Frosty Wonk recalls a time before Jar-Jar Binks, when staring at Britney Spears was bordering on creepy for an entirely different reason, even before anyone who didn’t love wasting their time gave the double quiver of a lamb’s cauda whether computers were particularly good at chess (actually, we’re probably still ahead on that one). In that time, called 1996, a park was begun, as a great federal endeavour. And lo, a decade later, it primarily boasts a film studio and a rentable indoor facility. It’s supposed, one day, to look like this. It presently looks like this. See the park? It’s that thing under the airstrip.

Point is, Torontonians have good reason to cheer and then get back to their usual business. They’ve heard it all before.

But the problem facing the Tories is more serious than the inability to buy votes with fancy, next-generation (delivery-wise, not vision-wise) projects.

Consider the fact that Toronto voters rated crime the number one issue in 2004, yet chose the Liberals as the best party to fight crime. It’s not like that hasn’t changed slightly in the more recent election, but the deep question it raises hasn’t: why would the party most likely to be identified with law-and-order issues poll second in dealing with them?

The answer isn’t “gun-registry”, but you’re getting warm. Citified folk, such as they is, like to consider themselves to be particularly citified. That is to say, chic and cosmopolitan. It’s in the nature of cities to have a broad selection of activities, new, exciting and diversely cultured (all the way back to Plato’s Republic, if you think about what that Thracian procession really signifies).

The gun registry isn’t the real problem, but it illustrates it nicely. Many of those opposed are from outside the large cities, where owning guns (and using them for various, completely legal reasons) is simply a part of life. Getting a yuppie, born and bred in the concrete jungle, to understand why having to register rifles is seen as a profitless bureaucratic exercise is asking him to experience someone else’s life — and one that, quite possibly, he disdains. It’s not that the urbanite really doesn’t like people from outside the cosmopolis, he just doesn’t know much about them, given his lack of exposure.

What he does know, he concocts mostly from things like the gun registry. When he reads about opposition from ruralists, his cosmopolitan mindset paradoxically doesn’t allow for their way of life — it simply brands them as the parochial, small-minded and backward yin to his own chic, multicultural and progressive yang. He lumps the issue together with their perceived intolerance or ignorance of other cultures, and other stereotypes of rural life, occasionally reinforced in his own mind by news of county fairs or rodeos (which are, curiously, more foolish to him than dragon-boat races or paying a cover charge to buy drinks and dance).

But surely there are other reasons, aren’t there? Don’t policy choices matter? Aren’t Torontonians fundamentally for a vision of federalism and social programs that the Conservatives oppose?

Some of them, yes. Some of them, no. But the crucial point is that there are probably enough whose concern is primarily with the image of the party as decision-makers to make a difference to Conservative fortunes. After all, the Liberals have MPs with remarkablyregressive” platforms, too (and in Toronto, to boot). Many of them voted against Martin’s same-sex legislation (which, you’ll recall, came to a vote largely by virtue of the BQ’s efforts).

It’s not that Toronto voters won’t vote for Conservative policies. Enough could for a few seats (and that would likely be enough for a majority government). What stops them is the thought that their five or ten MPs, however urbane, will be swamped in caucus by 20 to 40 MPs from Alberta, the BC interior, and even (gasp) rural Ontario who represent all the horrors of that backward, rural stereotype. Wrongly or rightly, therefore, it’s an image problem, and that can’t be solved by throwing money at people. It’s never worked for the nouveau-riche. . .

Fortunately for the Conservatives, there is a viable solution — and it’s one they’ve used before. It’s not as though they always had a bedrock of Western support. In 1942, the Tories held their leadership convention in Winnipeg as the first step in dislodging Liberal support from the West. Diefenbaker built on that to leave a legacy of support in the West.

The solution should be obvious. Familiarize Torontonians with all them countrified folk. Let them see the other party members for what they really are — thoughtful, honest Canadians who care about many of the same issues. Shine a little light on the best asset: people, not money.