Thursday, March 24, 2011

Structuring the Election

Source: CTV News: Poll says Trust in Conservative Government Falling
Source: CBC News/Opinions: Scott Reid: Whose Fault is it if no one Cares?
Source: Global and Mail: NDP Leads Federal Parties Vying to Capture Quebec Imagination

A few weeks ago, I had a chance to sit down and peruse the news websites, as is my habit. Much by chance, I stumbled across the above mentioned editorial by Scott Reid; a former Liberal party strategist. Reid does an apt job of recounting the recent misfortunes of the Harper Government, the scandals and problems that have gotten them in hot water, yet draws an interesting conclusion:

Reid suggests that Canadians aren't phased by the actions of the Harper Government, or at least the voters likely to give Harper a majority aren't, and poll numbers suggest that Harper's lead will continue. Reid points a few fingers, mainly at the media, and suggests that it will take some strong electoral planning to get Canadians to care about the Harper Government's abuses of power.

Well, it now appears that Mr. Reid may have to eat his hat.

Recent poll numbers, in which the question was how much trust do you have in the current government, have been overwhelming bad for the Harper Government. 41% of Canadians say they have less trust in the government than they did a year ago. Granted, 49% trust it about the same amount, and 6% trust it more.

But, let's look at those numbers before moving on to a few others.

When Harper first came to power in 2006, the question of trust was always at the back of the minds of Canadians. This is partially due to the Liberal, and NDP, suggestions that Harper had a hidden agenda that he wasn't telling Canadians about. Even in the wake of the Sponsorship Scandal, Canadians were willing to put some trust in the Liberals and give them a minority rather than trust Harper.

Of course, that changed a few years later, when the outrage over the Sponsorship Scandal hit its high and Canadians voted the corrupt Liberals out of office. But despite the outrage, the suggestion of a hidden agenda continued to plague the Conservatives, and they were only given a minority government.

Now, we all know this, so why am I mentioning it? I'm mentioning it because 49% of Canadians saying they trust the Harper Government the same amount doesn't tell the full story. After all, what if some Canadians started off not trusting the Harper Government? As such, they would continue to not trust the Harper Government the same amount...

See what I'm getting at? The phrasing of the question is just as important as the answers. And while 49% saying they trust the government the same might sound like an endorsement for the government, if you consider the paragraph above, the seeds of doubt begin to show. So, 49% trust the Harper Government the same amount; effectively, that doesn't really mean a thing.

Now, I said we would look at some other numbers, so let's go to that.

Perhaps the most damming part of the poll, at least if you're a Conservative, is that 49.1% of respondents in Quebec said they trusted the government less. Brian Mulroney learned that key to a majority government is found in Quebec. As such, it's been no surprise that Harper has been trying since 2006 to increase Conservative fortunes in Quebec; but it seems that the support he needs will continue to elude him.

In fact, those numbers are flocking to a surprising solution: The NDP. In a recent poll, the NDP was the second choice of voters, but the first choice of Federalist parties, beating the Liberals and the Conservatives.

Now, a lot of people are saying these numbers are not likely to translate into too many seats for the NDP in Quebec; but who knows what will happen come election day if Quebecois voters distrustful of both the Liberals and Conservatives...But, that's subjective predicting and not really my forte, so we'll leave that alone.

So, what's the most important part of this poll?

Obviously, it is the stage setter. Mr. Reid suggested that Canadians have yet to care about Harper's indiscretions, which is what the Conservatives are hoping for. After all, they think they can win an election based on economic factors...

Though, in reality, there's a lot of holes in their economic 'sound' management. $15...or was it $20...or was it $30 billion for fighter jets, will become a very popular retort to 'sound financial management'. Especially the bit about it being sole-sourced/contracted.

But, back to the point I was making.

The opposition is clearly hoping to fight on the moral high road, by reminding Canadians about Harper's own scandals and his flaunting of Parliamentary power despite being elected to clean up Ottawa in the wake of the Sponsorship Scandal.

I dare say, even the Liberals could pick up seats by reminding Canadians that they were tossed out because of the Sponsorship Scandal, and now it's time to do the same to the Conservatives. Though clearly, this argument works best for the NDP: We have two parties who have held the faith and trust of the Canadian people, both in the past and at this present moment, let's not give them a future chance to mislead us and let us down.

This is a message the NDP can pick up and run with. Canadians know what they will get from the Liberals and the Conservatives, more of the same. It's a message that the Greens are attempting to use, but history shows Green support begins to evaporate come Election Day.

Some Canadians continue to cite Bob Rae as their reason for not voting NDP, and despite my best efforts to make the 'He did the job he was given with the conditions that existed at the time' argument, some people refuse to be swayed.

To that I say: Keep in mind that a report from the civil service shows that provincially speaking the NDP has the best track record of balanced budgets and running surpluses.

We're all victims of the past, in that we're beholden not only to our own choices but the choices of those who came before us. As such, some of Bob Rae's record is Bob Rae's fault; but some of it can be found in the governments who came before him.

This is also true of good things: Our economy has done so well in the face of global recession because of the work of the Liberal Governments, and even some Progressive Conservative ones, who placed regulations on our banks and developed other financial policies that created a strong economy for Canada. Yet, the Harper Government would have you believe they've done this all on their own.

And besides, federally speaking Bob Rae is a Liberal now, so saying he's the reason you can't vote NDP is like me saying Alexander Mackenzie is the reason I can't vote Liberal; it doesn't make a whole lot of sense.

Now, I've strayed a bit so let me reel this post back in line.

As it stands, the coming election is going to be an election of priorities. Instead of the staples such as health care, provincial transfer payments, the environment, and other social issues; this will instead be an election where morality is going to be weighed against financial issues. Now, I'm not saying the Conservatives have the answers for the economy, clearly I don't believe they do, but it will be the framework they will operate under.

And Canadians will have to decide whether the Conservatives actually are sound financial managers. As such, the opposition (in this blogger's humble opinion) have two things to prove to Canadians:

1.) That the Harper Government's financial record is not as iron-proof as they want Canadians to believe.

That means reminding Canadians about their calls for 'austerity' while spending $1 billion dollars on a G8 summit for a weekend; more than any other G8 and G20 summit ever held.

That means reminding Canadians that as they are scrapping stimulus measures, cutting funding to various groups (Status of Women), they went out and will spend between $15 - $30 billion dollars on stealth fighter jets; jets which were not put up for tender, or contracted through a bidding process, but were immediately awarded to Lockheed Martin.

That means reminding Canadians that they will spend untold billions on new prisons; while at the same time scrapping programs, such as the farm work program, that served as rehabilitation for the inmates contained in prisons.

And finally, by reminding Canadians that it was the work of the previous Liberal Government who helped put in the regulations and safeguards that helped prevent Canada from falling deeply into the global recession; and that while the Conservatives touted these regulations to the world, they were beginning to roll back certain regulations.


2.) That the mistrust over the Harper Government's moral issues, also goes to show that we can't trust them on financial issues either.

This is simple enough to prove as well, given the scandals, but also helped along by pointing to previous Conservative promises on spending that never came to fruition. After all, how long ago was it that the Conservatives promised to create a children's art program tax credit? And I doubt it's coincidence that it was finally included in a budget that everyone knew was dead on arrival...

After all, there's a plethora of things the Conservatives promised that they didn't deliver on, and I'm sure a lot of it will go to show just how untrustworthy the Conservatives are.

Perhaps the most exciting idea to come out of this election is the possibility of the moral highroad being the primary ballot box question. If the Harper Conservatives are re-elected, minority or majority, it is an implicit approval of the methods used by this government to circumvent the laws and procedure of Parliament, and the will of Canadians.

As such, this election could set a precedent either way: By letting politicians know just what Canadians will and will not put up with by those they put in power to represent them.

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