Wednesday, December 07, 2011

Harper Tories arrogantly skating on thin ice

On June 30, 2013, we will look back over the past 18 months are realize that the month of November in the year 2011 showed the high tide of one political party, the ebbing of the tide of another, and the coming high tide of another.

The Tory Achilles Heel:

We will be able to confirm Bob Rae's views of the Achilles heel of Stephen Harper's new Tories, as reported in the Ottawa Citizen:

The lack of civility and democratic debate in Parliament has become a major problem — and ultimately it will come back and bite the Conservative government, says Liberal interim leader Bob Rae. "I think it's going to turn out to be a very, very deep Achilles heel on the part of this government," Rae said in an exclusive interview with Postmedia News on Tuesday. "I think it's going to be a quality of this government which ultimately will be to its demise."

The Ebbing of the Orange Tide:

The Orange Tide in the province of Quebec is now starting to ebb, as Chantal Hebert has sketched so eloquently:
By focusing on leaping to government rather than on consolidating its second-place position, the party may have gotten dangerously ahead of itself. In hindsight, the party’s strategists made two extraordinarily short-sighted calls on the way to select a successor to Jack Layton.

The first was to maintain Nycole Turmel as interim leader once a summer gig turned into a long-term assignment...

The second error was to decline to take the time to rethink the rules by which the next leader will be chosen so that every province including Quebec has a voice proportionate to its weight in the federation.

Last summer, some NDP strategists were apparently more concerned with putting spokes in Thomas Mulcair’s leadership wheels than with keeping the party on track in Quebec.

With a formula that ensures that the leadership cannot be won or lost in Quebec, the campaign is now largely taking place in the regions of the country where the party has a well-established base.

As a result, the NDP has slipped from the radar of the province that propelled it to second place last May.

A lack of strategic thinkers had doomed many a political party, so the NDP is simply following a well-worn path of political losers with its myopic approach to the Quebec beachhead what Jack Layton won on May 2, 2011.

The Coming High Tide of the Liberal Party of Canada:

May 2, 2011 will be seen as the low tide of Liberal fortunes. 

Since then, we have seen a stunning change in the way the LPC is going about its business.

Not only is the Roadmap to Renewal (along with the remarkable background paper prepared by President Alfred Apps) indeed a roadmap to redemption, it also sets sights on remedying a major democratic deficit which has lead to 4 in 10 Canadian voters not voting (the 7.5 million Canadians who sat on their hands on May 2).

The Roadmap – if implemented at the January Convention in Ottawa – will cement the turning of the tide, and ensure the defeat of Stephen Harper in the next election, whether he calls it in 2015, or – more likely – in late 2013 or mid-2014.

Because the seeds of Tory defeat have been sown with the May 2 results.

The Birddog 14 and Tory Cockiness:

Tories are strutting the political stage as if they have a guaranteed majority of seats in the House under their lock and key.

But this is demonstrably untrue.
They have a majority of seats, due to the antiquated election system of first past the post that we still suffer under.

But they are highly vulnerable, as I pointed out in two recent posts – here, about the Birddog 14, and here about how Nathan Cullen's electoral ceasefire will strike a blow right at the heart of the Birddog 14 seats.

The thin ice the cocky Harper Tories are skating on is demonstrated in this image:

The 14 ridings where the Tory majority is incredibly low are set out in this blog post by rabble.


Now compare that 6,000 margin underlying the Tory cockiness to the 7.5 million (40%) who did not vote on May 2, 2011.

Can the ice get any thinner than that? The Cat can hear the cracking from way out on the west coast of this sprawling land we call Canada.

Why did those 7.5 million Canadians not bother to vote?

That's where the recent Samara Democracy Report: The Real Outsiders, comes into our discussion of thin ice.

The Samara Report – Can we convince voters to vote?

The Vancouver Sun reports on the focus groups used by Samara:

The Samara report suggests there is more going on. They set up eight small focus groups, seven with people who didn't vote and an eighth with people who did as a control. The seven groups who didn't vote were organized around groups that traditionally have had a low turnout: lower-income Canadians, less-educated young people, women in Quebec, urban aboriginals, recent immigrants and rural Canadians.

Here is an extract of the Samara report:

Note that: More voters did not vote than voted for any party! They voted with their feet for the None of the Above Party.

The Link between the Roadmap to Renewal and the Samara Report:

The reason the tide is coming in for our party is  because the Renewal plan is targeted at many of the causes of the apathy on the part of the 40% who did not vote in May.

The main thrust of the Roadmap is to change – in a dramatic and exciting way – the manner in which the LPC chooses its leader, and the candidate to represent the party in the 308 ridings to become the MP in our House of Commons.

The second main thrust of the Roadmap is to change – in a significant way – the manner in which the LPC communicates with all voters, through a totally revamped Liberalist electronic voters list.

The Primary system for electing both the leader and candidates for MP in each riding seems designed to overcome the obstacles identified by the Samara study to voters actually voting.

Consider this finding, for example:

Participation is the third aspect of concern. No matter how responsive or inclusive agovernment is, citizen participation is required to make it a democracy... We heard from our focus groups that participation in the political system should be made easier.
 The primary system – allowing not just members of the party but also the new category of Supporters (who are not members but sign a Declaration of Principles indicating they agree with Liberal values and are not members of another federal political party) – is a pretty good example of making participation in the political system much easier, not so?

And this one:

Our focus groups also said that the lack of observable accountability in the political system was a problem. In a healthy democracy, the political system will respond to the issues the public cares about, in part because the public has the ability to hold politicians to account for their actions. Instead, we heard about untrustworthy politicians and an unresponsive bureaucracy. Notably, the people we spoke to did not think this requirement of accountability was unreasonable or unachievable... They simply wanted more transparency in order to better understand political outcomes. But on this basic requirement of democracy, our participants thought politics fell short.

Now match that up against the Roadmap proposal that every sitting LPC MP has to compete against other candidates in each election (unlike the current rule which exempts all sitting MPs from doing so), and that members and supporters will qualify to vote for the candidate for MP. Is that not a high level of accountability? If an MP does not perform, he or she faces the wider group come the next election. That is designed to improve accountability if anything is!

And finally, this one:

In the words of one engaged woman, “I’m voting for you. You work for me.” This belief stands in stark contrast to the disengaged, who never spoke about the political system as something in which they had an ownership stake.

In the UK, many observed that the primary system used in two constituencies by the Conservative Party was very successful when the general election was held, as many of those who participated in the open primary system by voting for a candidate to run for MP, had a sense of ownership in the successful candidate when the general election rolled around.

And ownership overcomes inertia, and promotes engagement – two necessary conditions to move voters out of the massive 7.7 million non-voting block into the voting block.

The thickness of the Tory thin ice:

What are the chances that the primary system in the Liberal renewal system breaks down obstacles to voting in, say, at least 100,000 of the 7,500,000 who did not vote on May 2? Pretty high, I think.

And the depth of the ice the cocky Tories are skating on?

Six thousand votes in 14 birddog seats.

Methinks we are heading for a change of government come the next election.

The Second Wave in Liberal reform:

Another Samara observation:

Conversely, the engaged told stories of interacting with the political system and experiencing relatively positive outcomes.They did not always get what they wanted, but their interactions with politics reinforced the idea that engagement is a useful pursuit.

Imagine that - Engagement in politics is a useful pursuit!

This Ottawa convention in January is the first wave of major change in our political landscape.

The second wave must be the Liberal Party addressing the democratic deficits in our electoral system, and changing them so that for citizens of Canada "engagement in politics is a useful pursuit".

One such remedy is to grapple with this observation of the disengaged – per the Samara study:

Disengaged participants also described how the issues discussed in political circles, even at election time, had little to do with what they  valued.

Now imagine if the Liberal Party introduced a Canadian equivalent of the European Citizens' Initiative (EMI) due to be launched in 2012, as described in this earlier post.

That would allow the disengaged to work with others to ensure tht the issues discussed were linked to the ones they valued!


  1. The author Peter Newman predicts that the Liberals are finished, I think that is a bit harsh but I cannot see the Liberals becoming a strong force.
    The Liberal Party reminds me of Occupy Toronto movement, OT wants to correct the faults in the system but they lack strong leadership and they focused their efforts on occupying the park rather than trying to make everyone aware of the faults in the system.
    The Liberal Party has good values but are focused on playing the political game of gaining power, I think they should focus methods of repairing our system, instead of the same old. Give us something new.
    Harper is not popular, why can't the Liberals defeat him, please do not try to shift the blame to the NDP splitting the vote. Face reality and show us why we should vote Liberal.

  2. Malcolm, your assessment of the state of the Liberal Party is six months out of date.

    The Roadmap to Renwal is a paradigm shift in Canadian politics, with few precedents.

    There is renewed life in the party; andecdotal evidence from across the country bears this out. The Renewal process is the beginning of a total overhaul of a failed party, with substantive changes coming early next year.

    And we will get to electoral changes - our system is broken - with a little time.

  3. I hope you are correct


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