Tag: general election

The 2011 Canadian Election: Lessons Learned and Mindless Amateur Speculation

Canadian democracy rests in this man’s hands.

Yesterday I provided a fully superficial background and survey of developments regarding the 2011 Canadian Election. The short version is 1) We’ve had a series of minority governments. 2) Stephen Harper probably thought he could get a majority, and now that does not seem likely though it is still possible. 3) The NDP has ‘surged’, probably at the Liberal’s expense, but also very much at the expense of the Quebec nationalist/separatist Bloc Party and possibly even that of the Tories (who may have expected disappointed Liberals to flock right rather than left.)

In other words – no one has any idea what is going to happen. ThreeHundredandEight has a post on what would happen if the parties achieved their ‘vote ceiling’ ie) how many seats they would get if everyone who says they are going to vote for them actually does. So a majority government for the Tories is still possible (they have a pretty dedicated party followers. One might say rabid, but that is unkind. Just don’t date any…)

So, based on the fact that we are in electoral terra incognita if the polls are right, what can we possibly say we have learned from the election?

This is a horrible lie.
  1. As I have been periodically moaning about, (and is most important for Duck readers) foreign policy does not matter in elections in Western democracies unless something has gone, really, really wrong. I posted a list of 12 questions I would like to see answered by the parties – and that still stands outside of an election. Let’s see what’s in the new Speech from the Throne (which is the government agenda which sets the tone for all policies). My fellow blogger Steve Saideman has some speculation here as to what might happen in the future. Also, James Joyner at Outside the Beltway wrote a good response to my post. 
  2. The Liberals have not been able to present themselves as a good alternative to Conservative Leader Stephen Harper. This is rather obvious considering the position they are in. But the point is that they have not really presented themselves as anything other than a less-right-wing version of the Tories. And Ignatieff has simply not been able to convince individuals that he would make a good leader. I think suspect that Iggy will be exiting stage-right (left? centre?) from Canadian politics in a few days.
    I wonder why this didn’t work out? I have a few ideas – the damage of a decade of political in-fighting to be sure. Additionally the Liberal Party is broke and does not have a lot of money to draw on to fight – and it has had to fight three times in the past five years. It just doesn’t have the resources to launch a massive against the Conservative electoral machine (affectionately known as the ‘war room’). A lot of it may have been Iggy’s inability to fight a characterization of him as a carpet-bagger or (*shock*) intellectual.
  3. Do Canadians like intellectuals? This is more of a question than a lesson learned. I had always thought that Canadians were more open to “smartypants” than their neighbours to the south, but this may be a mischaracterization on both fronts. For instance, a few years ago I had a (very partisan) Tory friend tell me that unlike that over-educated professor (I forget if it was Dion or Ignatieff – both have PhDs), Stephen Harper was a ‘real’ Canadian who could identify with him and his problems. I did have to point out to said friend that Stephen Harper has two university degrees and is writing a book on the history of hockey in his spare time. It ain’t exactly clearing brush in Texas. Yet it’s only recently that Harper has been portrayed by the Tories as a ‘trained economist’ that can help Canada grow. Harper is a smart, smart man. He may not openly pontificate like Ignatieff, but he’s clever and well educated. Why hide that fact?
    Perhaps I’m reflecting wrongly on the nature of Canadian Prime Ministers, or the legacy of Pierre Trudeau, our “philosopher king” who was a very long serving Prime Minister. I always thought his persona as an intellectual added to his mystique, which seemed very good at getting him elected over and over and over. Maybe Canada is tired of Trudeaus? Maybe not? It will be interesting to see how this pans out. As a final note here, I would just argue that I do not detect much presentation of Layton as an ‘intellectual’ in the NDP campaign. He’s running on experience, and as a career politician, he has lots of it – though not much in actual power…
  4. Canadians do not seem to care about the mis-management of government. I made this point yesterday. But the point stands. There have been so many government scandals in the past five years that I have lost track. The Tories were elected back in 2006 on the idea that they would bring transparency and ethical behaviour back to government after the sponsorship scandal affected the Liberal Party. So much for that! Yet it does not seem to bother many Canadians. How else can you explain Harper’s leadership ratings? Or the fact that despite the fact that he has literally been held in contempt of Parliament, his ministers have been caught in bare-faced lies (yet not forced to resign) and he continuously shuts down any independent monitoring of his government actions (not to mention it would appear that the G20 summit funding went insanely out of control) that his party will still likely be the government next week.
  5. Finally, there are Maclean’s writer Paul Wells’ Rules of Canadian Politics
    1. For any given situation, Canadian politics will tend toward the least exciting possible outcome.
    2. If everyone in Ottawa knows something, it’s not true.
    3. The candidate in the best mood wins.
    4. The guy who auditions for the role of opposition leader will get the job

Of these four rules, I would say number one is definitely out – I haven’t been this interested in AGES. Number two is probably true but doesn’t apply. Number three seems to be where it’s at. Is Harper in the best mood? No. Smiling would break the man’s face. Layton is in the best mood (and why wouldn’t he be? His party is doing better than it EVER has. He may not win, but he is winning.

As for number four – I’m not even sure that Michael Ignatieff is going to get that job.

Michael Ignatieff after Monday.

Finally – What We May Speculate Uselessly and Far Removed From the Situation

First, of our four national parties, three will have new leaders by the end of the year – IF:

  1. The Tories get a minority government with less seats than they presently have (possible)
  2. The Bloc fair horribly in Quebec (seems likely)
  3. The Liberals fall to third place (very possible. Likely even.)

Second, some controversial thinking: Will the NDP be like the LibDems in the UK? Possibly. I speculated a bit about this on Twitter – and got a mixed response. But I think there are a lot of similarities:

a. Popular leaders of national parties that can attract a lot of soft-left votes
b. Ability to present the party as an alternative to the mainstream
c. Will likely be responsible for a Conservative government shy of a majority.

What’s the difference here? The LibDems made the fateful decision to actually enter into power with the Conservatives. I’m pretty sure this will not be possible in a Canadian scenario – the Conservatives and NDP are very far apart on a number of issues. They are on opposite sides of the admittedly (narrow) political spectrum. And I think most NDP supporters would just rather stab their eyes out with a rusty spoon.

This leaves two options: the Liberals could form a coalition with the Tories – which would be hilarious, awful and INSANELY hypocritical concerning all of the campaigning Harper did against (perfectly legitimate) coalitions. Or the Liberals and the NDP, if they have enough seats, may try to form a coalition (or understanding) without the Bloc (who seem destined to do badly, unless they get their supporters out in a BIG way). This is what the Tories have warned though – and considering that the Liberals would (humiliatingly) be the junior partner, I think they would sit this dance out. But it’s not certain….

There have been some stories in the press that Harper will not comment on what he will do if his party does not have a majority, or if the NDP and the Liberals do decide to form a coalition. There has even been some speculation that he will not re-establish the government back to Ottawa. Given the fact that he is willing to prorogue parliament – twice – to stay in power, I think this is a possible outcome. But ultimately, I’d like to think it is an unlikely one. We don’t need Canada turning into Belgium. And I would hope that the man who puts so much emphasis on his ability to lead a ‘stable’ Canada would not do anything so foolish.

Next post on Tuesday: The fall out. Things be changing? Maybe? Possibly?!


The Johnny Foreigner’s Guide to the UK Election Part II – The Second Great Debate

I’m planning on writing a larger post on the topic after the Second Election Debate tonight – particularly since it is going to be about UK Foreign policy (and, in theory, more or less related to the topics of this blog…)

In the mean time if you haven’t been paying attention, the election has basically exploded into interestingness in the last week. The First (ever) Leader’s Debate basically jump-started the election in a way that I (and I suspect most people) never anticipated. Tonight’s debate is now pretty much mandatory watching.

The short version is that the third party candidate, Liberal Democrat Leader Nick Clegg (the guy I wrote about last week and said no one expected to win except Howard Dean) has surged in the polls after an impressive performance. While I wouldn’t call him our “White, tea-drinking, private-school-educated Obama” yet, he has shaken up British politics in a BIG way and has possibly changed the electoral map of Britain in the meantime…. if he can stay on in the polls. If you don’t believe me about “Clegg-mania” (no really, that’s what they’re calling it) – check out the polling insanity – and the effect it could have on the seat distribution here.)

In the meantime, for those of you who have access (I assume they are showing it on BBC World – and apparently CSPAN 3 – how’s that for a prime tv slot!) I highly recommend the LSE’s Election Blog. Chris Brown has a good backgrounder on the Trident Nuclear system which is up for renewal – and sure to feature in tonights debate.

As for me, I’m loading up on my cheese and onion flavoured crisps and a few pints of Old Speckled Hen to hopefully watch the sparks fly tonight.

(Who am I kidding… it’s always rice cakes…)


The Johnny Foreigner’s Guide to the UK Election (in where I demonstrate a very poor knowledge of UK politics.)

So, in Duck ex-pat news it was announced that a general election (a big national election) will be held on 6 May 2010 this week in the UK. At stake are 13 years of Labour rule, debate as to how the economic “recovery” should be protected.
Yet, despite the relative importance of the election, coming as it is during a time of insecurity, I have to say that it feels like basically no one is inspired by it. Politicians here have been hit by a year of expenses scandals (when it turned out that MPs were claiming everything from the installation of duck houses, to bath plugs and the occasional pornographic movie). It’s not really a surprise they did so, of course – MPs are paid quite poorly compared to their counterparts in Europe. But it was the fact that they seemed to bend and manipulate the rules so blatantly which have upset many people. The ongoing scandal has resulted in four MPs actually facing criminal charges.
In addition, house prices have fallen, no one can get mortgages, the government spent billions on the bailout and dramatic spending cuts are needed. Unemployment is still high, we just lost Cadburys to the Yanks (seriously – this was a huge issue) and I just think that people feel battered by the recession and dread of the knowledge of the kind of austerity years that are ahead. Where the US election in 2008 seemed (at least to me) about better days ahead, this election seems to be more about choosing between the rope, knife, pistol (and two separatist-inspired choices – let’s just use the deadly poisoned leek and kilt of terror…. ) Actually, you have a few more scary choices as well (like the BNP – who I’m not going to link to because I don’t even want to Google their name.)
So I thought that I would provide my poorly constructed guide to the UK Election this week where I thought that I would try to at least highlight some issues that other “Johnny Foreigners” may find interesting. Please consider this my comparative politics post for the year.

1.It might be a “hung parliament”

The mandatory joke here, of course, is that if it is a “hung parliament” – with whom do we start?

Right now this seems to be a huge deal for a number of reasons. First, it could give the Liberal Democrats (the third party who hasn’t been in power since the First World War) a lot of leverage as both Labour and the Tories fight to bring them into alliance or onside. For the LibDems, this could be really great (they finally get power) or really bad (internal civil war as to which side to support). For their part, the LibDems won’t say who they will support – and stick to the line that they are actually trying to win (although no one really thinks they can – except Howard Dean).

Second, there is a sense that because of the harsh measures needed for the recession, the fact that there would be a “hung parliament” seems to be unstable and would be sending the wrong message to world markets. There is only so much stock I put in this argument. Canada has had a “hung parliament” for years and they have done alright (although in full disclosure, I’m not a huge fan of the current party in power).

2.There is no UK foreign policy.

I don’t think I’ve even heard “foreign policy” mentioned since the election was called. Rather it’s all about taxes, tax breaks, cutting taxes, etc. (Oh, and of course, who will best protect the National Health Service, or NHS). Let there be no mistake, this is a very naval-gazing election (other than the scary UK Independence Party – UKIP – banging on about leaving the EU and being not-so-secretly racist). Considering the nation is fighting in a war and continues to lose troops on a near daily basis, it’s rather shocking that I don’t think I’ve even heard the word “Afghanistan” out of any of the leader’s mouths.

I wonder if this is because that there is a general consensus on the issue – or if no one really has any bright ideas?

Either way, for this election at least, the UK is less interested in its role in the world than domestic change/continuity. If you are looking for the foreign policy issues, I would suggest checking out this web page from Chatham House and scrolling through a few of their events. For now, it’s the economy, stupid (or as I like to think of it here, “By Jove! It’s the Economy, Chaps!”

3.“Step outside, posh boy”

Rightly or wrongly, growing up in Canada, I tended to view it as a rather classless country – or at least a relatively egalitarian one. Now I know this isn’t true, but I come from a blue collar family where my parents worked hard and improved their lives (stop me when I start to sound like pre-scandal John Edwards). But class IS an issue here (or at least perceived to be one) and it was something I didn’t understand it until I came to the UK. There seems to be a definite underclass here that just doesn’t seem to benefit from anything. To be honest, if you are a poor, white, working class male, you’re probably super not doing well.

On the other hand, if you do come from wealth it may be a serious liability – if you are a politician. Labour has constantly gone after Tory leader David Cameron’s wealthy upbringing (he went to Eaton, member of super-posh Oxford society, etc) as seen in this mock-campaign poster done by the Guardian which became so popular they made a t-shirt out of it.

Can you be too posh to be politically privileged? I find this so interesting because I really think it would be relatively a non-issue in North America. (Although I think it was, to a certain extent for McCain.) So long as you are seen as having the right values, you’re probably okay. And the cost of running a campaign in the US is so astronomical that I don’t see HOW you could possibly be a politician without money – or at least be of a certain socio-economic class. Anyway, it will be interesting to see to what extent Labour continues to go down this route.

4.Everybody is on the internet. Nobody seems to know what to do with it.

I think this is important because the internet played such a HUGE role in the Obama campaign. Immediately afterwards in the UK there were summits and meetings on what the lessons where with regards to how that technology, particularly for fundraising, could be used.

Unfortunately, I don’t think any of the parties really learned any of the lessons – or more correctly, how to apply the lessons to the UK context. Instead, I think everyone realized they need to be on the internet, YouTube, twitter, facebook, email, etc., but they just didn’t figure out how to link it to anything meaningful. Instead we get David Cameron’s wife on “SamCam” and the first casualty of the campaign – a 24 year old Labour candidate who thought that calling senior citizens “coffin dodgers” was a good idea (not to mention the Tourette-inspired names he called other candidates.)

So what we’re left with is a gigantic effort and amount of information put on the internet that seems to have no purpose and completely failing to engage the general public. This Financial Times piece concludes that while the internet may have an effect, this effect is likely to be accidental (ie: some politician screwing up on his iPhone – or just see the above paragraph) and that, at least in the UK, the public is still using mostly traditional sources like newspapers – even if it is on-line:

Studies in the past few weeks from the Hansard Society, the political researcher, and Ovum, a technology consultancy, both disputed that YouTube, Facebook and Twitter would form a meaningful battleground to rival TV or the humble doorstep.

The other interesting conclusion of the piece is that while political parties may not have yet best figured out how to use the internet, they cannot afford to ignore it either. Ergo, they are having to spend millions of pounds on something that they just can’t seem to figure out. (Although they do point out that Labour’s less centralized approach has resulted in success through sites that have mocked the Tories ad campaign online.

So there you have it – four issues coming out of the battle for Britain’s political future.
I confess that I too find myself among the politically uninspired – yet I wonder if I should consider myself fortunate. What a contrast with Thailand and Kyrgystan this week where most people would probably see this ennui as some kind of insane luxury. Or Afghanistan where it’s a struggle to just have the leader not fire the entire election review board.

For those of you who wish to follow further, here are some websites that you may find useful:
Useful websites:

1. BBC 2010 Election Page: A pretty comprehensive source on the election with polls, highlighted issues, candidate bios, etc. I’m not a huge fan of Nick Robinson, but he’s good and has his own blog on the site here.
2. Political Betting: “Britain’s most read political blog and the best online resource for betting on politics”. No really.
3. UK Poling Report: A poll of polls and useful polling analysis for those of you who can’t just get enough hot poll action.
4. YouGov: Polling/research company in the UK
5.Guido Fawkes: This one is kind of muck-raking, but occasionally fun.
6.Finally, I would suggest following my friend Nick Anstead’s twitter. – he wrote his PhD on the internet in the 2008 US election and has done some work on the issue in the UK. He always has great links and he’s my usual source when I have questions about all things political and British.

Anyone else have a site they could recommend? Anything with laughter at this point would probably be super welcomed.


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