Cold Hard Wonk

No sentiment but politics

The 143-Year-Old Virgin0

Posted by JJ in Federal Elections, Bad Press, Golden Tacks (Tuesday July 13, 2010 at 11:47 pm)

The omnibus budget recently passed by the Senate has attracted some criticism, and rightly so. Bundling everything under the sun into a single piece of legislation makes sense only if you view parliament as an administrative hurdle, rather than a lawmaking body. Parliamentary committees have enough difficulties dealing with relatively narrow inquiries. They can hardly be expected to properly explore the implications of a budget (already a sizable stack of paper) further laden with detritus.

But the Globe and Mail’s editorial has made a serious error:

Loading much of the government’s agenda into one omnibus bill and then demanding its passage on threat of an election is entirely inappropriate in a mature democracy. Parliament has an obligation to carefully scrutinize all legislation. Bills with unnecessarily diverse objectives thwart this duty.

From which one might conclude that, in a mature democracy, the government should refrain from doing things which make it hard for parliament to do its job.


In a mature parliamentary democracy, parliament controls the government. How mature is a democracy if parliament won’t stand up to the government under the threat of *gasp* an election?

Maturity, it seems, will still be some time in coming.

1+1 = Sunny Skies?0

Posted by JJ in Federal Elections, Strategic Planning, Brass Tacks (Thursday April 19, 2007 at 3:52 pm)

The problem with simple math is that it’s more complex than you might think. That’s why Jason Cherniak’s recent assertion of impending Liberal success in St. Catherines is as analytically sound as a proof that 1=2.

Here’s the theory:

  • In 2006, the Liberal candidate lost by 246 votes.
  • In 2006, the Green Party candidate received 2,305 votes.
  • Therefore, if a mere 15% of the Green votes switch to Liberal in the absence of a Green candidate, the Liberal candidate wins!

Spotted the fallacy? It’s simple, really. It assumes that the Conservative candidate, now an incumbent, doesn’t gain any votes. Incumbents often do; and absent some sign of real backlash in the area in question or serious nationwide backlash, there’s no reason to suspect that he won’t do as well or better in the next election.

But there’s another one; and this is the point that leads to the serious error of judgment in Jason’s analysis, to wit: the headline:

Dion-May deal pays off in St. Catharines!

It’s wholly within the realm of possibility that 15% of would-be Green voters will trend Liberal. It’s also within the realm of possibility that the Liberals’ effort to court the left end of the spectrum will alienate more centre-right parts of their support. If so, the quasi-coalition could cost more votes than it gains. Not only has he assumed that the Conservatives gain no votes, but he also assumes that neither the Greens nor the Liberals lose any votes.

Assuming that a deal has only positive effects comes down to begging the question, because that’s precisely what you’re trying to prove. It’s as analytically sound as. . .well, thinking it won’t rain because you don’t have your umbrella. Slapping a smile across your face no matter what might help your mood, but it won’t keep you from ending up all wet.

Hopes and Dreams1

Posted by JJ in Federal Elections, Strategic Planning, Blue Nose, Warm Heart (Friday April 13, 2007 at 9:35 am)

What Stephane Dion hopes to accomplish by not running a candidate against Green Party Leader Elizabeth May in the next election:

  • Prove his committment to the environment
  • Show that he’s capable of working with others

What Stephane Dion inadvertently says by doing it:

  • The Greens are a better choice than the Liberals if you’re environmentally-minded
  • The Green Party, rather than his own party, tells him what to do

Does no one remember the last time a Liberal leader tried to look multilateral and advertised his party as a second choice? That didn’t work out quite so well.

Nevermind the fact that, in addition to his own team’s inevitable pratfalls during the coming campaign. Dion can now also be hounded for every Green Party gaffe, like Vancouver-Kingsway hopeful, Kevin Potvin, a 9/11 conspiracy theory supporter who declared the World Trade Centre’s descruction fist-pumpingly beautiful in 2002. The National Post has the jump on this by juxtaposing the two stories in today’s ‘News’ section. Naturally, M. Dion won’t be receiving credit for the Greens’ insights.

Of course, the Greens may reciprocate by not running a candidate in Dion’s riding of Saint-Laurent-Cartierville, which may be the second-safest Liberal seat in the country. In 2006, Dion won his seat with more than 50% of the total votes cast and an 18,000-vote margin over his nearest rival. Not having to face the Greens will have about as much electoral impact as sailing an unmarked paper boat down the St. Lawrence, but without any comparable aesthetic merits.

Considering all of which, one question remains:

Is the outside chance of embarrassing Peter MacKay worth any of those downsides?

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.

Tales of the Quebec Election0

Posted by JJ in Federal Elections, A House Divided (Tuesday March 27, 2007 at 10:05 am)

The most telling moment of the 2007 Quebec election?

Not the mindless eagerness of the CBC in predicting Jean Charest’s defeat with 75% of the vote counted and his opponent holding a lead amounting to no more than 2.3% of what would be the final vote count.

Not the fact that it was a former high-up in the Quebec Liberal Party who founded the ADQ.

Certainly not that the PQ’s quest for sovereignty isn’t enough of an issue to carry the province.

It was the moment, during Mario Dumont’s speech at ADQ headquarters, where a crowd closeup showed a beaming, clapping woman. On her hat? A blue-on-blue “Harper 2007″ button.

Feeling Hot, Hot, Hot0

Posted by JJ in Federal Elections, Strategic Planning, The Other America, Trillium (Monday March 26, 2007 at 11:45 am)

Warmed by recent polls which hint at a positive response to last week’s budget, Prime Minister Harper has taken the unusual step of broadcasting his next strategic move: a swing through Latin America and the Caribbean.

Canada has a longstanding and powerful connection with the Caribbean, largely as the dominant hemispheric member of the British Empire and Commonwealth. The Caribbean presence in Canada remains strong. Roughly 600,000 immigrants have come from the region since 1961, a significant portion of whom have settled in and around Toronto. The City of Toronto proper was home to nearly 170,000 new immigrants from the Caribbean as recently as 1996, and the city’s annual Caribana festival is the largest in North America.

Canada’s foreign relations record will certainly be bolstered by the trip, as has been duly noted:

“There are opportunities for people to engage,” said Mr. Dade, who has worked for the U.S. government and the World Bank in the region.

“People want to see alternatives, and we’ve got a strong alternative to the States. Now is a time more than ever where that’s popular and of interest to people.”

But the real force of the trip will be the local direction; and that’s why it’s so important.

Throughout the region, Harper will encounter governments who are eager for a good relationship with Canada and who share his vision of government. Caribbean society tends to be more socially conservative and religious than Canadian, but just as devoted to public programmes for health care and education. This combination means a warm response from political and ideological allies throughout the region, boosting the Prime Minister’s international reputation while contrasting him favorably with Bush’s protested tour of Latin America.

The importance of an improved diplomatic image for a government which dissappointed many with its previous international efforts should not be understated. But foreign trips aren’t enough to sway the public. At best, buffing the government’s diplomatic credentials is a defensive action — fortifying it against criticism on that front. Its positive purpose lies elsewhere.

That elsewhere is Toronto. The population of 170,000 Caribbean expatriates in Toronto in 1996 constituted 5% of the population, while most estimates put the proportionate population in Toronto at over 8%. Historically, Caribbeans have voted together with most other immigrant communities — for the Liberals; and the magnitude of immigrant populations in the Toronto area has as much to do with the Liberals’ successes there as it does with their selection of candidates who represent local ethnic communities. But the weakening of the diplomatic connection with the region is evident in the stalled state of trade negotiations, even as the Caribbean strengthens its integrated community and regional role with overtures to Haiti and Cuba.

A shower of attention on the region will be welcomed by Canadians of Caribbean descent. If that group can be swayed to their side, the Tories will have successfully attacked a significant bastion of Liberal support. A mere shift from, say, a 30%-50% split of such support with the Liberals (NDP etc. gets the rest) to a 40%-40% split could constitute movement of 1.5-2% of votes in the Toronto area — taking a big bite out of the Liberals’ lead for a minor investment of time and nearly no investment of budget spending. That’s an sound strategic move against a City which represents the last major Liberal fortress of support.

Which leaves only one question: why pre-announce?

For some, it might be the surest sign yet of the government’s willingness to go to an election. Consider: if an election is called before the trip, there’s no electoral payoff unless the public already knows about it. By announcing it well in advance (beginning of spring for a summer trip), the Tories secure at least some of the trip’s benefits even if it is pre-empted.

Of course, this advance notice also gives the Liberals plenty of opportunities to shore up their support in the community. With the exit of their only Caribbean-born politician in Ontario (Jean Augustine), they will have to depend on local workers and the unpredictable Hedy Fry, a Vancouverite. But given recent Liberal tactics, the Conservatives may be skeptical of Liberal strength. That would make this an excellent time for the Liberals to move to secure a strategic constituency. Failing to do so may only lead to openings on more fronts.

And absent that, Harper’s move to warmer climates will succeed, and the Tories will hot up their chances in Ontario’s seat-rich capital.

It’s 1993 All Over Again — Again0

Posted by JJ in Federal Elections, Gaia (Friday February 2, 2007 at 9:09 pm)

With Stephan Dion, Liberal Leader, crying “environment, environment, environment”, you might have been wondering whether Tory Stephen Harper would soon play the Kim Campbell to Dion’s Jean Chretien. Unless you’re a Liberal, in which case you’re either convinced that he already is or praying nightly for him to be.

Faced with Chretien’s campaign pledge of “Jobs, jobs, jobs”, Campbell denied that unemployment or the deficit could be properly remedied much before the end of the 1990s. She was eventually proven right. The deficit wasn’t reined in until 1998, and employment took off around the same time. None of that was of much consolation to a Conservative party which had come close to oblivion in that campaign.

And now, faced with a similar message from Dion, Harper has decided to state the obvious: that there is no quick fix for climate change and global warming. Few would disagree; but that’s not what matters.

The real question is: will his candour be as disastrous for his fortunes as it was for his predecessor’s?

High Stakes Over the Rockies0

Posted by JJ in Federal Elections, Strategic Planning, Gaia, Rocky Waters (Thursday February 1, 2007 at 10:10 am)

Do you know why approving $30 Million in spending in an opposition riding is a sacrifice? Of course you do. Spending usually belongs in government ridings.

What makes this particular spending worth thinking about isn’t that it’s one step in securing NDP support for the government. It’s that it increases the government’s profile in a riding which they have a shot of winning.

Consider that in 2006, the NDP took nearly 2.6 Million votes nationwide, the highest total count for them since 1988 (note: there were 30% more potential voters in 2006 than in 1988). Their candidate’s, Nathan Cullen’s, victory in this riding — Skeena-Bulkley Valley — in 2006 was by a greatly increased margin (nearly 300% larger at roughly 5,800 votes). Over whom, you may ask? That’s the important part — it’s the Tories.

It’s not just that the Conservatives are the NDP’s principal challengers in that riding. Their predecessor party — Reform — had held all three predecessor ridings (Skeena, Prince-George-Bulkley Valley, and Cariboo-Chilcotin) since 1993. Granted that the reorganization has made NDP support in the new riding stronger than it was in any of the old ones; but the 2004 margin of victory — 1,300 votes — isn’t insurmountable for a dedicated electioneer with the right candidate.

Cullen’s performance in 2006 outpaced the NDP’s nationwide upsurge in votes; but that’s not to say he’ll be perfectly safe. Remember, too, that BC voters had the last say in 2006, and were able to see the results shaping up in the Maritimes and Quebec before their polls closed. Could a chunk of Cullen’s lead have been a reaction to the Conservative’s performance elsewhere? BC was the only province where the Tories underperformed, losing five seats. The connection is worth considering.

Don’t doubt for a moment that the Tories have. A quick cash injection can be a real boost to your chances in a particular riding. That’s why the story here is about far more than pending NDP support for the Tory budget. The Conservatives and NDP are playing a very high-stakes game. The NDP may lose support in BC if the Tories look more affable; and Nathan Cullen may do better in his riding if he can bring home the political bacon.

The question in Skeena-Bulkey Valley is: who’s going to win?

Watch Closely0

Posted by JJ in Federal Elections, Strategic Planning (Sunday January 28, 2007 at 9:45 pm)

Voters in Canada have spent years either bowing out of voting or holding their breath and voting for the Liberals out of fear that the Conservatives (or the erstwhile Reform party). But now, there are workings afoot which could prove that what was laughably known as “strategic” voting may not be remotely necessary.

The theory behind strategic voting is that it is more important to keep party X from winning than it is to elect a party you want. This argument depends, in turn, that, one elected, a government will do anything it wants, without regard to future elections or public opinion.

Over time, this was a real boon for the Liberals, who relied on their role as poll-leaders to pick up voters keen to keep others out. Liberal candidates were often more likely to win than NDP candidates, meaning that boosting them could ensure the Tories’ defeat. Boosting the NDP raised the spectre of splitting the anti-Tory vote to let them come up the middle.

A potentially beneficial strategy, true; but one grounded in fear. Submitting to fear only makes your opponents’ task easier. Hope is the building block of civilization.

And what has happened of late should give hope to those who still believe in democracy.

Faced by an angry electorate and public furor over the environment, the Conservative government has begun to change its approach. They have reinstated programs they eliminated, and their opponents have not questioned the programs’ adequacy, merely the depth of the government’s commitment.

If then, public opinion and the threat of electoral loss can make a government change course; the underpinnings of strategic voting fall apart.

An interesting experiment then emerges — one to measure the mettle of voters. Will voters understand that information, and begin to make choices based on their hopes, or will they ignore it, and vote for their fears?

One-Trick Pony0

Posted by JJ in Federal Elections, Gaia (Saturday January 27, 2007 at 11:09 pm)

There’s no question that sustainable environmentalism should be one pillar of a contemporary political party’s policy structure. Most stable buildings, though, have more than just one.

Liberal Party leader Stephan Dion has suggested that the party will focus its next campaign on the environment, forcing the Tories to deal with a persistent attack on the issue.

The last time such a focused strategy was tried in Canada was in 1988, when then-Liberal leader John Turner focused his attacks on the Free Trade Agreement with the United States. It provided the Tories under Mulroney with a stable, slow-moving target to attack.

Unlike Dion’s leadership campaign pledge to “three pillars”, this proposal will focus a fight on what remains a fairly vague principle. Saying you’re pro-environment is one thing, but eyes glaze over when talk begins of specifics.

While recent polls show roughly a quarter of Canadians most concerned with the environment as an election issue, that represents virtually no increase in six years. Besides which, that twenty-five percent will be split between the NDP, Liberals and Green Party. It’s not as alluring under those conditions.

The other legs of Dion’s original plan, a sustainable economy and social justice, are still resonant issues; and there’s no reason to jettison them when they can both siphon votes from the real opponent — the government. Focusing instead on just one leg means a shakier edifice.

And if the 1988 election should have taught the Liberals anything, it’s that a one-trick pony doesn’t win many races.

Espèces de Crétin0

Posted by JJ in Federal Elections, Golden Tacks, A House Divided (Sunday January 14, 2007 at 10:03 pm)

The announcement that the federal and provincial Quebec separatist parties will be working together to fight this year’s elections was, most likely, intended to strike fear into the hearts of federalists. It shouldn’t.

There are two possibilities: that they’ve done this before; or that they haven’t.

If they have, it hasn’t yet created the surge of separatist power that tears Canada asunder.

If not, there’s just one question: why should it take fifteen years of coexistence before two non-competing parties with identical interests decide to work together on their common mission?

Is that evidence of a strategic genius that federalist forces should fear, or of a bumbling self-sabotage which should undercut this separatist boast?

For The Record0

Posted by JJ in Federal Elections, Hats Off, Gentlemen (Thursday January 11, 2007 at 6:30 pm)

Ladies and Gentlemen, the scorecard for “The Repentent Radio Host”, the “Seceded Secessionist”, Jean LaPierre. In just over two years of play since his return to federal (and federalist) politics in 2004, LaPierre managed to rack up an unimpressive record of irrelevance and failure as Quebec Lieutenant for Prime Minister Martin and Minister of Transport.

Fighting the Bloc
Bloc seats in Quebec went from 38 in 2000 to 54 in 2004 to 51 in 2006. Their vote count went from 1.37 Million to 1.67 Million to 1.55 Million. Even with the sponsorship scandal accounted for, Mr. LaPierre’s effect is, to put it politely, hard to measure.
Fighting for the Liberals
Liberal seats in Quebec went from 36 in 2000 to 21 in 2004 to 13 in 2006. Well done.
Fighting Words
Mr. LaPierre called Gilles Duceppe a “Nazi” for suggesting that the Liberals would be “eliminated” in coming elections, and a “coward” for not abandoning federal politics to run for the provincial party’s leadership. Presumably, Mr. LaPierre had already realized that the place for cowards is in federal politics.
Fighting for Canadians
Presided over Transport Canada while an open-skies agreement was concluded with the US. Signed air transport agreements with China and India. Saw increased investment in container facilities in Prince Rupert, British Columbia. Reduced fees from airports (spin-offs of the federal government) to the federal government, lest they fail and the federal government have to take over their running again.
Special Honours
*Received the fewest votes of any Liberal candidate in the ever-red riding of Outremont since a by-election in 1942.
*There were 25% more voters in Outremont in 2004 and 2006 than in 1942.

But the real question, naturally, is whether this “star candidate” qualifies as one of the most laughable seat-warmers in history? Even against competition like this, the smart money is on LaPierre.

Hats off? In celebration. Good riddance, Mr. LaPierre, and thank you for courageously leaving federal politics, just as the going gets rough for a party trying to make its way back from opposition.

The Long and the Short0

Posted by JJ in Federal Elections, Strategic Planning, Gaia (Monday January 8, 2007 at 11:40 am)

As the other shoe drops, and the Tories’ sharpest cudgel brays sweet nothings about climate change, the problem with the Liberal plan to strike hard on the environment hits its second snag.

The Liberal record of inaction yields two problems:

  • Lacking the credibility to claim that they’re environmental stewards.
  • Lacking even the credibility to call the Tories johnny-come-latelies to the issue.

Which is not to say that it’s the wrong strategy. Far from it. It just may not be the strategy to win the next election. But that doesn’t mean that it’s not the right combination of sustainability in development and environmental care that mark the long-term road to success.

If they’re smart, they’ll work just as hard, but temper their expectations with the advice of their most successful leader:

It means Conservatives for a while, then a Liberal government with a longer lease on power after.*

*William Lyon Mackenzie King, Prime Minister, 1921-1930, 1934-1948, on hearing of R.B. Bennett’s victory in the 1930 general election

Crystal Gazing 20070

Posted by JJ in Federal Elections, The Elephant, A House Divided, Trillium, Crossroads of Culture (Sunday December 31, 2006 at 6:06 pm)

The Flash-Frozen Wonk isn’t really in the prediction racket. This is a house of analysis, not divination. But that doesn’t mean he doesn’t like to think about it.

What that means is watching stories; and there are a few big ones in the coming year:

Tack to the Middle
Will Prime Minister Stephen Harper shift to dealing with middle-class ambitions in the coming year? Will that be enough to contain the opposition in a ring of suburban Tory strongholds?
Middle East
Does the US Democratic party have any way to impact the Iraqi situation? Will they bother to try, given the possibility that any improvement could still be claimed as a victory by the Republican administration?
East of Ontario
Will Quebec’s Premier get something worthwhile out of a federal government eager to secure its inroads in La Belle Province? Will the recent boost in Liberal fortunes prove as temporary as the economic boost from their convention?
Ontario at the Hustings
A government whose blunders (Health Premium) are long-behind them is headed to the polls. Will any issue large enough to rile Ontarians crop up to ruin Premier Dalton McGuinty’s hopes of a second majority?

That’s more than enough for one year, and far too much for one night. Here’s looking to the future, and a great New Year.

Running in Place0

Posted by JJ in Federal Elections, Strategic Planning, Gaia (Tuesday October 31, 2006 at 11:10 pm)

The Liberal Party of Canada, still convinced that their credibility on Kyoto is crucial to defeating the perennial also-ran New Democrats in the next election, are on the attack.

His usual two-step of borrowing others’ ideas and buffing credentials with left-wing voters has brought NDP Leader Jack Layton to his latest pas: introducing a private member’s bill (borrowed from recent Liberal successes) to establish periodic review and standards for reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

While Mr. Layton’s efforts are notable for their attempt to capitalize on recent coverage of other private member’s bills, it seems unlikely to be more than a holding action. As the Green Party’s credibility builds, the NDP will find it harder to keep their environmentally-minded constituency. Since recent events have given a lustre of positive action to the normally humdrum private member’s bill, it’s a good move for Layton.

But standing pat on the environment isn’t a strategic issue for the Liberal Party. There’s little question that the Liberals have more credibility than the Tories on environmental issues; but as it’s unlikely that those who choose based on environmental issues vote for Conservatives, there’s little to gain from the Liberals’ primary opponents by building credibility.

The only strategic hope for burnishing the party’s Kyoto credentials is therefore to swipe potential NDP votes; and that’s not a great plan. Layton has attacked the Liberals before, and Kyoto is an issue on which the Liberals have no real credibility and several weak points. Beyond the old standby of “Why didn’t you do anything while you were in office?”, Layton can now rely on the auditor-general’s report and the fact that it was under the Liberals that Canada failed to meet specific Kyoto requirements which could trigger future problems.

When your opponent has that kind of armament to wield, it’s wise not to get into that fight. It’s all well and good to trot out a government minister to buttress a point, but the Liberals no longer have Ministers at their disposal. Fighting over environmental voters with the NDP isn’t going to sway them — especially since they’re likely to be well-educated enough on the issue to be impervious to Liberal efforts to muddy the waters (like this recent attack). Besides which, it’s not clear that the small group of voters who put the environment first but know very little about environmental policies are enough to make a significant impact at the polls.

Fighting over the NDP’s polling scraps isn’t the way for the Liberals to retake the House. If it worked, it might shift a dozen or so seats, but it could let Tories come up the middle in as many seats as Liberals could win. If the Liberals really want to get into fighting trim on environmental issues, they need to stay well away from provoking the one party with the credibility and will to protect their constituency. They’re not the ones who should be struggling to stand still.

Mixed News, At Best0

Posted by JJ in Federal Elections, Golden Tacks (Wednesday October 18, 2006 at 9:10 pm)

The old line is only half true: the only poll that matters is the one on election day. As the Chilly Wonk recently pointed out, the most significant nationwide numbers aren’t necessarily relative standings. Much more significant is the absolute vote count, only partly because voter turnout can have as significant an impact on the outcome of an election; and polls taken months away from an election can’t reveal much about those numbers.

Which is why much of the analysis offered by the Globe and Mail on a poll released today isn’t particularly useful. Consider:

Until now, Conservative support has been holding steady at around 36 per cent, prompting some strategists to argue that the party now has a new and higher electoral base from which to work.

Which the article presents to imiplicitly disprove via the polling numbers. But as the Ice-Cold Wonk showed in that previous article, the change in the Conservative base came in 2004, not 2006, with the real merger of the two parties. Moreover, the Tory increase in 2006 didn’t come from tugging at Liberal voters — it could be completely accounted for by the increase in voter turnout. Base/bonus voter arguments aren’t the issue.

What is? Movement. To work with the polls, which only offer relative performance, we’d need to start with the assumption that total votes remain roughly constant — the polls tell us nothing about that. Just as importantly, movement in regions has to be closely compared with the real opportunities for seat gains to appreciate how that movement translates into electoral victory. The Globe and CTV don’t do that. Fortunately, it’s not that hard to do.

Let’s start in Quebec (since the poll, irritatingly, ignores the Maritimes as a separate category). In 2006, a rise in Tory tides resulted in a gain of 10 seats in the province, eight from the Bloc Quebecois, and two from the Liberals. A Liberal gain of 7% in Quebec, as the poll suggests comes directly from the Tories, would result in a transfer of 105,000 votes from one party to the other. That number could be swallowed entirely by a reversal of the shift in votes in the eight seats taken from the BQ, which would gain the Liberals nothing — they trailed the BQ by thousands of votes in each of those ridings, and the BQ’s numbers seem to also have risen in the polls. The Liberals lost only eight seats in Quebec in the last election. Of the six lost to the BQ, only three were lost by less than 3,000 votes. So if the movement in Quebec suggested by the poll is right, the Liberals could still wind up gaining no seats. At the least, it would suggest that the Bloc stands to regain between six and eight seats from the Tories. The Liberals might retake five seats, but it will take more than the movement this poll suggests to grow past those numbers.

The Ontario numbers have shifted primarily because of movement to the Green Party from both Liberals and Conservatives. But the Tories have lost less from the change than have the Liberals; and if the Liberal bleeding comes from continued losses on their leftist flank, it may forebode a poorer Liberal performance in the urban areas where those voters are concentrated. If so, these slight changes are unlikely to bring any real change in seat totals in the most populous province in the country.

The “West” is so diverse a region that polling covering changes in that area can mean many things. The only party shown to have lost support since the election is the Conservatives — to the tune of seven percent. The Greens have picked up five points of that, most likely in BC. The Liberals picked up four points of that (impossible, true, but as the poll shows a total of 99% at the election at 101% on October 18th, that’s the way it is). The Liberal gains probably include both a mild improvement in Saskatchewan and Manitoba and an upswing in BC.

Given those numbers, it might be reasonable to expect the Liberals to reclaim Winnipeg South and possibly retain Desnethe-Missinippi-Churchill River (taken in 2006 by a mere 70 votes). In BC, the change will be harder to predict. While Green strength largely saps the Tories’ strength in BC, only in Fleetwood-Port Kells did the Conservatives win by less than 4,000 votes. Liberal strength might lead to a recapture of Victoria from the NDP, but with a 6,800 vote lead to erase, that could prove difficult. The genuinely competitive three-way races in BC don’t allow any obvious conclusions from such vague polling data.

Which suggests Tory losses of up to twelve seats, dragging their tally down to 113, Liberal gains of up to eight seats, bringing them to 110, and Bloc gains of five seats, taking them to 56. The NDP, with no change to speak of, would remain at their present level of 29. Even if the Liberals take back every seat from the Bloc (which would mean overcoming 3,000, 4,000 and 5,000 vote leads), they would only manage to equal the Tory total, in which case the Conservatives could remain in government, still needing only Bloc support to stand pat.

What’s it all mean? If the Tory slide is due to dissatisfaction with government policies, then barring complete disasters, there isn’t much farther to go — there’s already public disclosure of those policies. That means that a Liberal attack strategy for the election can’t bring them much more than a very weak minority position. Both they and the Conservatives must come up with a strong election message to have any chance of making significant gains.

Just as importantly, it signals that Liberal plans cannot rest on Ontario. The lack of change in that province is perhaps the most significant detail for Liberal eyes. Hopes for future majorities need to rest on broadening efforts across the country. A real effort to take more BC races is crucial, as is a plan to recover lost ground in Manitoba, Saskatchewan, and the Maritimes.

For the Conservatives, it shows that they can’t rely on controlling the agenda. The need to respond to events around them prevents them from running the kind of careful, controlled campaign that brought such success in the 2006 election. While there’s a chance they can retake the momentum, it will be more difficult than taking it originally was. The good news for them is their continued strength in Ontario; but a real breakout in either the Maritimes or BC is crucial to their future hopes — they’ve nowhere else to look to.

Lest we forget, growth in Green numbers is hardly a bad sign for that party, either. What they’ll do with it is a different question.

It’s not an easy way forward to majority status for any party. That’s perhaps the best news of all — it means, whatever else the parties had in mind, a real fight for Canadians to watch.

Prologue — Bases Unloaded0

Posted by JJ in Federal Elections, Strategic Planning, Golden Tacks (Thursday September 21, 2006 at 10:57 pm)

With the first real signs of the result of the Liberal Party of Canada’s Leadership campaign imminent, there’s good reason to revisit what’s at stake. For Liberals warming to the idea that they might retake Parliament sooner than expected, it’s important to think about how to do just that; and that task demands that they know where they stand.

Electoral support comes in two flavours: base and bonus. Base supporters are groups who feel so deep a connection with a party that their support tends to follow the party from election to election. Bonus supporters are attracted to a party by the position they assume by siding with it in a given election, whether because they identify with policies or want to distinguish themselves from other parties. Elections focus on both groups, but in different ways.

It’s virtually impossible to change your base during a campaign, but it is possible to motivate them. If you can get them excited enough about your chances, they become more likely to vote and encourage others on your behalf. If you alienate them, they’re likely to sit out.

Bonus voters are where there’s an opportunity to make real gains in support during a campaign. A masterful riposte during a debate, a well-chosen policy, or serious gaffes can turn these voters quickly; and without loyal starting positions, they may shift alleigances many times before the race is run.

Obviously, it’s easier to win with a large base than with lots of bonus voters. What isn’t so easy is building a base large enough to make it that much easier. The more people you add to your supporters, the harder it becomes to reconcile some differences and put off making choices between competing groups on others. Building a base means careful work over time, both in government and out. That’s why being in “campaign mode” while in government may or may not be a valid criticism. Campaigning to motivate the base isn’t very useful in office. But campaigning to fold other groups into your base is the most politically useful thing you can do. The problem is that it’s not the same kind of campaign you fight to win them over, come election time.

But enough of the obvious. Why all the fuss? It’s crucial to understanding where the Liberals now stand. So is looking back a bit.

In two elections against Brian Mulroney, the Liberal Party took around 30% of the popular vote. In 1993, the Liberals began the election polled at around 37%, not far from either the Tory total or their performance in the previous election (31%). Most interestingly, while Tory support dwindled in polls from 35% to 16%, Liberal suport rose only to 41%. While 4% of difference, concentrated in Eastern Canada, was enough to assure them of a commanding 177 seats in the 295 seat House of Commons, the Bloc Quebecois nearly doubled and the Reform Party more than doubled that theft of support, rising by 6% and 9% respectively.

Equally telling in 1993, though, was the decline in voter turnout from previous campaigns. From 1957 onward, only two elections drew less than three quarters of voters: Trudeau’s 1974 and 1980 Liberal majority governments, both of which came within two years of the previous election. Voter turnout dropped from 75.3% in 1988 to 70.9% in 1993. Had voter turnout remained roughly constant, the Tory base should have grown by 450,000 voters. That number, 3.2% of the total votes cast, couldn’t have defeated the Liberals (even if it remained loyal), but is so close to the growth in Liberal support during the campaign that it should illustrate the significance of demotivating your base, assuming that these were mostly alienated Tory voters.

1997 saw a further 3.9% decline in voter turnout, leading to nearly 700,000 fewer votes being cast than during the previous election — nearly the precise total lost by the Liberals in going from 5,647,952 to 4,994,277. The Liberals stood pat in British Columbia (six), Prince Edward Island (four), and the Northwest Territories (two), gained six seats in Quebec, and lost seats in every other province save one. While the Liberal total increased by three seats in Ontario, that province gained four seats in that election, meaning that proportionately, the party took fewer seats than in 1993.

The 1997 losses were largely ascribed to the public outcry over the Liberals’ failure to remove the hated Goods and Services Tax — widely regarded as the most important of their 1993 campaign promises. The correlation between the decline in turnout and in Liberal support would tend to support that conclusion. Moreso when you consider that the Liberal total would have been within about 5% of the same total vote had their supporters increased in line with the general population from 1988 to 1997.

Most of the Liberals’ gains retained in 1997 could therefore be attributed to natural growth of their base, and most of their loss to the loss of bonus voters gained in 1993, attracted to a position opposing the Tories and the GST alike. This is especially likely considering that the GST question was more an incidental policy than a central aspect of the party. But notice two things. The expected growth in the base accounted for almost all of the Liberals’ retained voters from 1993, suggesting that the Liberals either took little advantage of the opportunity to expand their base, or did, and alienated part of their existing base in the process. More importantly, though, there was no indication that the 5% of voters who failed to show in 1993 had returned.

The 2000 election provided the Liberals with an excellent opportunity to regain ground. They were faced with a clownish and unskilled opposition leader, who provided significant political fodder even for non-partisan observers. The Liberal vote grew, but only by 250,000 votes or so to 5,252,031. That growth is more significant when considering that turnout declined once more, falling by 2.9%.

But capturing a larger share of a smaller pie when confronted with lackluster opposition doesn’t inspire much confidence. The Liberals gained only eleven seats from party standings just prior to the election, of which eight came from recovery of seats in the Maritimes. Only three provinces posted real seat gains — one apiece in Saskatchewan and the Yukon (not technically a province, true) and the remainder in Quebec.

Most importantly, more voters had been alienated, though not only by Liberals, and those voters frightened into voting Liberal by the prospect of a Creationist Prime Minister might just have come from the New Democrats’ stock of bonus voters. That party lost roughly 300,000 votes between elections, largely in the Maritimes, where the Liberals picked up most seats, while the combined totals of the Alliance and rump Progressive Conservatives lost 170,000.

In short, the Liberals relied on bonus voters again in 2000, showing no evidence of real growth in their base constituency over the previous twelve years. This lack of growth becomes all the more important when considering that the total number of eligible voters grew by 1.6 Million between 1997 and 2000.

And now, the interesting parts.

In 2004, voter turnout dropped to the lowest ebb in Canadian history, to 60.9%. Nevertheless, the total number of voters rose, due to the continuing growth of the electorate.

In those circumstances, and faced with the fallout of the sponsorship scandal in Quebec, the Liberals lost 33 seats and majority status, but lost only about as many votes (300,000) as they’d gained in 2000. What happened? Had the turnout been as low in 2000, 570,000 fewer votes would have been cast. Consider that the PC party was merged with the Alliance to create the new Tory party.

The PCs polled 1.6 Million votes in 2000, and the Alliance 3.2 Million. In 2004, the “combined” total came to 3.9 Million — a gain of 720,000. Combine that with the fact that the Green party gained 480,000 votes, and the possibility of alienated PC and Liberal voters sitting the campaign out helps to explain the drop in turnout. Once again, Liberal electoral support didn’t drift very far from earlier results.

Everything changed in 2006. Voter turnout rose by four percent — this was the first election to meet and exceed the number of votes cast in 1993 (by roughly 1 Million votes — exactly the growth in the Tory vote over their take in 2004), despite over a decade of population growth in the intervening three elections. And the Liberal vote total declined by nearly half a million.

It’s almost certain that the Liberals picked up few additional bonus voters in 2006 — their polls showed declining support; but more significantly, the numbers suggest little growth in the base. The voting population grew by 29.5% between 1988 and 2006. Had the Liberal numbers grown at a comparable rate, they would have taken 5.4 Million votes in 2006, a much more competitive result.

Stop for a moment and think about that. In 1988, the Liberals trailed badly and lost. Had they been only as popular among the general voting population in 2006 as they had been in 1988 (that is — losers), they would have done better by nearly a million votes. That’s not good. The increase in votes cast roughly matched the Tory gains. The rebound in voter turnout did nothing for the Liberals.

All of which is not to suggest that all 4.2 Million Liberal voters in 1988 were base support — they were, of course, a combination of base and bonus voters. The point is that the Liberals were the only party with a degree of continuity over that time, which could have been an opportunity to work on their base.

Impossible? Certainly not — Mackenzie King began an era of Liberal government in 1921 that was interrupted only twice — by a two-month Conservative government in 1926 and a narrow loss at the outset of the depression in 1930 — until it ended in 1957 — a span of 36 years over which the growth in Liberal votes regularly outperformed the growth in overall voting population.

Twice the length of time? True. But 1988-2006 was both a long enough stretch and a large enough change in the number of voters (+30%) to expect more growth in Liberal numbers than 10% or so from a fundamentally worse performance in 1988 (83 seats of 295 in 1988 versus 103 seats of 308 in 2006). The degree of stability over the 36-year span was comparable to that over the 18-year span. There is no evidence of growth in the Liberal base, and much evidence of relying on poor opposition and demonised opponents to swing bonus voters to their position. Short term, that can be a successful strategy. Long-term it’s a recipe for a drawn-out and gradual death.

And that’s what the Liberals have to worry about. The idea that drooping poll numbers for the Tories will translate into a Liberal chance at forming government will dangerously distract party members from the hard question: what should we do to grow our base?

Leadership contests aren’t good opportunities for that kind of discussion because they’re so highly focused on an appeal to the existing base. Moving from that to a snap election won’t help things any. As Liberals move towards choosing the delegates who will vote for their next leader, they need to consider how to grow the party, not simply how to attract a few bonus voters in 2007 or 2008.

Working on building the base could ultimately lead the party back to the easier dominance it had in its glory days, rather than into another sequence of lurching and desperate elections. The first question for Liberals, then, should not be changed to “how do we win the next election” in the light of favorable short-term polling. It must still be “how do we grow our base again,” if they’re serious about political power.

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.

Who’s Intimidating Whom?0

Posted by JJ in Federal Elections (Sunday January 22, 2006 at 10:03 pm)

Apparently, Elections Canada expects to have some problems in the coming election. They’ve rushed out a release reminding Canadians that if they vote, they have to vote for someone on the ballot, or else:

Spoiling your ballot is a crime

Well, it could be true.

Section 167 of the Elections Act (combined with section 489(3)(e)) makes it an offence to “alter, deface or destroy” a ballot, for which a judge can render a sentence of up to $500 in fines or 3 months in prison. Of course, that means the judge can also render a sentence of $0 in fines and no time in prison. It’s all up to what the judge thinks is proper.

Obviously, someone who eats their ballot in protest has destroyed it, and anyone who strikes out a name and writes in a new one has altered it. But does that mean that someone who fails to mark any circle has defaced it? Someone who marks every circle? Doubtful. There’s no Canadian case saying so, and it’s hard to imagine that a judge would believe that not marking off any boxes somehow means defacing a ballot. . .

So what’s Elections Canada’s problem?

They’ve sugested that spoiling your ballot is a waste of time:

Spoiling a ballot in privacy is not much of a protest, suggests Elections Canada spokesman Dana Doiron.

“Nobody gets real satisfaction out of it because nobody knows about it,” Doiron said.

Isn’t that in the nature of a secret ballot? No one else knows how you’ve voted? Isn’t satisfaction something you enjoy yourself? Does everyone in the world need to know that you’ve done a good thing for you to be satisfied by it? Does Elections Canada employ anyone a little less shallow?

If it’s an act of protest that’s never publicized, what’s the difference between spoiling a ballot and voting for a candidate who isn’t elected?


  • A sudden surge in the reported number of spoiled ballots suggests that voters were dissatisfied with the selection
  • A sudden surge in hold-your-nose and vote for one of several unacceptable choices suggests that voters support those choices

Let’s be clear. Holding your nose and voting doesn’t express anything but support for the party you’ve settled for. If you want parties to stop messing around and try to propose genuine governance (rather than cheap pandering), voting for them isn’t the way to go. Staying home is equally ineffective. If your response is to not vote, it suggests that voting isn’t important enough for you for them to care what you do — after all, if you can’t be bothered, why should they be?

Don’t let Elections Canada intimidate you: spoiled ballots are counted, they’re just not reported by news agencies. They are, however, tracked as “rejected” or “spoiled” and the fact that x number of ballots were so treated is part of the public record of the election. And believe it or not, parties are very interested in the number of voters.

Should there be another option? An option to reject the ballot? Certainly. There isn’t now, and that’s not just an oversight — it’s a failure on the part of Elections Canada and our legislators (who are doubtless happier with hold-your-nose than with the option to denounce them all). Until that’s resolved (along with countless other bits of associated foolishness — this announcement being only one of many), feel free to let them know that they need to provide choices to let Canadians effectively exercise their slender right to control their government.

For now, remember this: a little civil disobedience can be a good thing.

Short Stack0

Posted by JJ in Federal Elections, Vague Check (Saturday January 21, 2006 at 1:31 pm)

Scary stuff this: according to Liberal leader Paul Martin, Steven Harper has a secret plan to stack the court with judges favorable to “the most socially conservative agenda that has ever been this close to forming a government”.

First things first, is this even plausible? No.

While there is a vacancy on the Supreme Court at the moment (since the retirement of Justice Major in December), no more openings are expected before 2013 and 2014, well after a Conservative mandate in the 2006 election would end. If Paul Martin believes what he’s saying, it can mean only one of two things:

  • The appointment of a single judge can suddenly overwhelm the judgement of eight others
  • Paul Martin knows that several justices will die well before their 75th birthdays

The former is merely laughable, the latter absurd.

But the Liberal leader’s seeming ignorance in easily-researched matters such as the age of sitting judges falls right into line with the remainder of his claim: that the Conservative party presently represents the most right-wing agenda in the history of the country.

Surely this doesn’t include Liberal governments which prohibited immigration from China between 1927 and 1948, upheld prohibition, or the internment of Japanese Canadians during the Second World War?

Certainly not. After all, when you’re ignorant, no one can fault you for preposterous claims. The question remains: will anyone hold you to account for them?

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