Monday, July 4, 2016

Long rage post on how ignoring immigration concerns will doom us all

The above Toronto Star headline and article is probably the most dangerous thing to the political order today.

I already talked about this at some length in my last post on this blog, talking about the Brexit referendum and how liberal politicians basically ended up screwing themselves because they don't take the people with concerns about immigration seriously. The basic point for those not interested in rereading is thus: listen to people who speak up about the impact of immigration they feel, and maybe we won't end up in the mess the UK is in right now. Also, try not to call them racists for simply saying something.

Then the Toronto Star decided to put out this absolutely ludicrous headline saying that Ontario faces an "epidemic" of Islamophobia, with a subhead focusing on the fact that 70%+ of people do accept immigration, but they feel the government should take care of people already in the country - I would add a "too" to the end of the sentence, because I doubt most respondents felt it's a pure either/or proposition, but the article of course doesn't say that.

The article then goes on to summarize a 52-page report in under 700 words. The very first lines of the article are thus:
While Canada rides a wave of global praise for welcoming Syrian refugees, a new poll suggests we’re also facing a wave of something sinister — Islamophobia.

This scaremongering opener is actually ridiculous when you go through the article itself, because while there are certainly some concerning figures within the article, they don't actually point towards Islamophobia - they point towards the great immigration debate of the UK, US and Europe  that is coming to English Canada, and it may hit us like a tonne of bricks if we aren't prepared.

And who is propagating this rising concern, you ask? The bloody media currently writing clickbait headlines about it.

Let me just lay out the articles actually presented in the article for you before I go any further.
  • ~33% of Ontarians have a positive impression of Islam, and +50% feel Islam, even mainstream denominations, are violent.
  • 72% feel immigration is valuable to society, and 71% say it is a part of their cultural identity
  • ~75% feel that we need to take care of people in Canada, "instead of spending resources on refugees."
  • 46% say we admit too many immigrants, while 45% say we admit the right amount
  • ~60% say the federal government's decision to accept Syrian refugees was right, and ~20% said they participated in welcoming refugees to the country.
  • ~75% said Muslim immigrants have "fundamentally different values, largely due to perceived gender inequality."
  • Non-specified number of those with unfavourable impressions of Islam have higher opposition to Syrian refugees, and are more likely to say Canadians need help at home.
  • 53% said we should only allow immigrants with similar values, and 74% said we need to be more strict about who we accept.
The poll was conducted among 1,009 people with three point margin. And it is the only poll so far of its kind, just to note that as well.

This may or may not be unpopular to say, but each of those data points above have a reasonable motivation behind them that doesn't equal to outright racism or Islamophobia, though all of them can certainly lead to acts motivated by it. All of those people behind the above numbers are driven by a multitude of complex reasons, certainly some of it stemming from discriminatory views, but much more of it by disintegrating political discourse, by rapid change in their communities, by sensational media that inflames their anger or guilts them into submission, and by the feelings of alienation, dispossession and lack of control felt by larger-than-you-think swaths of the province and the country.

But that does not equal out to wide swaths of the province becoming virulent Islamophobes. It points to a growing trend of people feeling ignored by governments that seem more eager to tout how many refugees they're accepting than what they're doing to lower the cost of electricity or help with the cost of living.

In Ontario, and I'm sorry to say this, we have a government and leaders that are tremendously unpopular who make even more unpopular decisions, and they aren't disliked without justification. As much as I love Kathleen Wynne's commitment to combat climate change and bettering transportation and so on, my own family currently pays more out of pocket to keep our home powered than we can actually afford. It would be so easy for someone in my position to see a newly arrived family seemingly getting a better deal than I get to become a little jaded. It isn't hard to see someone with mental disabilities on the street without support, and wonder why the government is scrambling to bring in refugees from overseas but then turns around and says we can't afford to spend more on healthcare. And none of those things has to be true, remember that, because perceptions are what count in modern politics, not the truth.

Add onto it other concerns that this survey probably didn't even touch, such as how people's communities are changing faster than they can cope with. If you lived in an area your entire life, where you're used to certain people and certain surroundings, rapid changes in the demographics of those communities are going to shock you. It will create anomie between the resident and the community they've become attached to, alienating them from their surroundings in ways they never expected, such as seeing new customs like women wearing hijabs or hearing a new language dominate in the local grocery aisle. When they see the school system struggle to try to integrate newcomers who speak vastly different languages, or see in the media articles about new immigrants putting stress on the healthcare system, or hear a politician yell about how everything used to be better before we let "them" in - can you actually blame anyone for falling into negative opinions about immigration, something driven by a government often seen as uncaring and far away from the reality in which they live?

I can't find a fault in the logic, honestly. And it really hurts to say that, because I'd love to follow the Star in saying these people are racist, they're old WASPs soon to die off, but I know it isn't true. Furthermore I know how dangerous it will be to let it fester, we all do now.

The vast majority of people in the survey who responded with varying degrees of skepticism about immigration, Muslims, and the government's actions on this front aren't drooling Islamophobes - they're frustrated, and they have every right and reason to be. Society is changing and they're feeling left behind by any number of institutions and policies, and immigration and immigrants, especially those from foreign cultures (Muslims are the concern now, but before them it was Slavs and before them, the Irish, and of course throughout Canadian history, the French) make convenient boogeyman because they're so pervasive, especially in Ontario.

We tell them they all benefit from immigration and multiculturalism, which in the broad sense is absolutely true, but when was the last time someone demonstrated that to them in a substantive way? How do you do that? And in lieu of being able to do so, how do you cope with their concerns?

I'll tell you one way you don't - by calling them racists and brushing them off as such. Which is why that Toronto Star article is so damaging. Here are the final two paragraphs of that article:

Despite a generally positive view of immigrants, 53 per cent of Ontarians said we should only allow immigrants from countries that have similar values to our own while 74 per cent said we need to be more strict about what kinds of immigrants we accept.
“There are imbalances in the worth of immigrants relative to ‘the people here.’ They are seen as valuable to society but less deserving of our resources,” the poll found. “This shows that acceptance of immigrants is not without its limits.”
Of course it isn't. You cannot have massive changes in communities and societies without people on the other side of those changes saying "slow down." But as I've tried to stress throughout this post, it isn't just because the immigrants are Muslim - we've seen the same complaints about Poles and Romanians, even Germans and Spaniards, in the UK. People want to have some semblance of control over what is going on, and unfortunately a lot of them don't feel they have it. They're going to lash out at those that seem to be getting the better treatment - again, even if it isn't true, because truth is often a casualty in these kinds of arguments, the ones subject to passions rather than reason.

But the Toronto Star seemingly doesn't get that. Instead it is just going to piss off a swath of people who feel their concerns are justified but are just being called Islamophobes instead. This will not help anything, and the Star should be ashamed of that.

So what are the solutions to all of this? Because there is obviously a growing problem, and if we aren't careful, anti-immigrant sentiment will become a political tool for candidates and parties. We know when that happens, when politicians and media stoke the flames of frustration, we will actually get a wave of Islamophobia, one with tragic and earth-shattering consequences on things maybe not even related directly to such concerns, like Brexit. Some say we're already in that position, though I think we aren't even close to a true movement yet.

The top goal should be figuring out a way to demonstrate how immigration benefits people specifically, because we know it does. If we show them how immigrants enrich their lives, personally, economically and culturally, then we're taking the right steps to stop people from blaming those who, in all honesty, are just like them in many ways, with the same amount of control over their new surroundiungs as those already here. We must do this if we want to avoid the backlash seen in the United States, UK and Europe, especially among the struggling in this country.

But I am nothing if not a realist, and what I'm about to say will probably make some people mad, because unfortunately if we want to keep the province and country on a progressive track, we're going to have to make some compromises. It starts by listening.

These are your families, friends, neighbours, and ultimately they're citizens and voters, and we need to listen to the concerns they have and bring it back to the legislatures of the country and actually act upon them. The solutions will range from providing more economic access and support for those in poverty, which we all want anyway - or, to be blunt, it may even lead to discussions about limiting immigration or reexamining how newcomers are integrated into Canadian society. We will have to actually have discussions on these issues, no matter how uncomfortable they end up being, and it may lead us to things that twist progressive hearts. But at least we'll be ensuring these people have their voices heard, and we can find a way forward that doesn't lead to hate.

The alternative is that we act like toffs and condemn everyone who says immigration is having a negative impact on their lives as a racist, Islamophobe, whatever, and act like we can ignore them. We can put up all the posters we want about how that Muslim immigrant is just like you, but if we're not addressing the deeper insecurities people feel, then they will eventually find an outlet that will. The people who will ride waves of anti-immigrant populism to power are the ones we truly need to stop, and we can only do that by getting to the source before they do.

Friday, June 24, 2016

#EUref takeway

It is a sad thing to see a country tear itself as the United Kingdom has just done.

With nearly all the ballots counted, roughly 52% of 72% of voters in the UK opted to Leave the European Union,  with stark divides among demographic, geographic and political boundaries. The young - those who have to live with the decision - voted to Remain, while the old - the, to be blunt, dead and dying - voted to Leave; Scotland voted overwhelmingly to Remain while England, minus most of London and some major cities, voted to Leave; and as some of the authority results have played out, the white working class areas and old country villages voted overwhelmingly to Leave while the urbane wanted to stay.

52%. That number is incredibly close considering the impact the vote will have on the future of the UK. While there is a lot of doom and gloom about the markets right now, it will likely stabilize shortly after. Had the UK been part of the Eurozone, things would be incredibly different, but at the end of the day the UK and the EU countries will figure out a way to work everything out. Nothing will truly change on that front, simply because everyone has too much at stake to allow a total divorce to occur. Like with Quebec's "sovereignty-association" idea, the EU referendum was a lot of bark but little actual bite.

No, at the end of the day, what may truly change is the political landscape. The UK has voted itself out of what many considered an unbreakable alliance of nations, and that will have a greater impact down the road than I think any of us are willing to accept. The UK's referendum has given democratic cover to nationalists and outright fascists to gather the alienated and downtrodden masses, left behind by globalization and capitalism, and form them into a base of support the likes of which liberal democratic politicians have rarely seen and will barely be able to touch.

They're already out there, of course. They're the people who complain about "political correctness" going too far, while openly praising attacks on others. They're the ones who say it'll be a good day when institutions like the EU are gone so "the people" can get their power back, when in fact they're concentrating all of it in themselves. They're the ones who say they're going to fix everything, while causing most of the problems we see today.

The personalities who say the above are powerful because they speak to what people face in their everyday reality - that they're being called out as racist or xenophobic simply for being white, or that some bureaucrat from on high is dictating to them without concern, or that their lives are ruined because of matters out of their control. These are real concerns of real people who have just as much a right to vote as you or I do, and they feel they're no longer being heard. All it takes is for a demagogue to propose an easy fix - "Vote Leave and get your country back," or "Vote Trump and Make America Great Again," or closer to home, "Vote Ford and stop the gravy train" - and they'll listen, even if the demagogue's promised solutions can never be delivered, because at least someone cares about their problems.

When faced with the challenge of the populist demagogue and their supporters, democratic politicians often shrug. They say, "oh we'll appeal to their sense of reason," or "we'll show them how damaging it is to disrupt the way of things." They prattle on about high-minded and even justified ideals of open societies, globalized trade, and the high-tech future, but what they don't get is that those people are no longer listening. Complex explanations of how the modern world works and how it benefits them or the community cannot stand up to the simplistic call-to-arms of the demagogue, who demands everything be fixed through sheer will alone or by God they'll burn it all to the ground around them. Reason and pragmatism mean nothing when up against passion and innate anger at the system. Do the politicians and Eurocrats get that? I have my doubts.

The UK and EU will probably survive the upcoming challenges. While demagoguery now has precious cover for some of its baser and nastier instincts, there still exist an equal, if not greater half of people who resist it. But probably not since the early 20th Century have we been this close to the breaking point, where populist anger boils over into murderous rage. Some countries have already tipped over the edge, like Poland and Hungary, where growing authoritarian leaders and governments actively promote censorship, government crackdowns, and animosity between communities. Russia has been there for nearly two decades.

Could such governments be elected in democratic bastions like the US, Britain, France, and Germany? How about Canada? Why wouldn't they be? Our countries are in many ways no different from struggling Poland and tiny Hungary except in maybe the severity of the problems, but how far away is the tipping point really?

We live in dangerous times. While I believe we'll can get out on the other side better than before, we won't if we continue on as we do. The world is getting better for most people, but those left behind by forces outside their control need to know they can also come with us - we need to listen, not talk down to them.

Does that mean we give into bigotry and racism? Of course not, it doesn't have a place in the society we all want. But it does mean we have to listen to those we consider having disagreeable views, and find out why these issues are coming to the fore. Is the guy complaining about the immigrants just a racist ass, or is he seeing a new community move in with benefits that he will probably never see? Are some simply xenophobes who can't accept people of other faiths, or are they concerned about the loss of their cultural identity in a globalized world? Is the person screaming about men in women's washrooms just a bigot, or do they simply not yet understand what trans people are all about?

People don't come to conclusions based on nothing but simply being an adjective. They feel justified in their opinion based on their experiences or those of others. If we, as people committed to liberal principles, want to avoid getting swept up in a demagogic wave, we'll need to approach these people and find out why they hold these ideas, and what we can do to move forward together on solutions.

My silly concluding analogy is thus: you can continue to drive your agenda forward over all those bumps in the road, but there will come a time when the damage will add up, and not only will progress become stalled but it may even be reversed. To me, its better to lay down the pavement first before we continue on than risk having to tow it all back to the beginning, as the UK has to now.

Tuesday, April 19, 2016

The Day of Reckoning - #mbelxn 2016 Projection

One of the last two remaining NDP governments in Canada is likely to suffer one of its worst defeats ever.

That much should be clear by now, anyway. The Manitoba New Democrats, having governed practically unchallenged since 1999, are now reaping what they've sown in the form of Brian Pallister, a former Filmon-era cabinet minister, Harperite MP, and all around goof who is only marginally more popular than he is unpopular.

In almost any normal race, Pallister would be easy pickings for the efficient NDP, probably one of the best modern political machines in the country. They know how to squeeze tight to voters and successfully govern a province that, given the chance, could be unfriendly to them. Modern Manitoba is not dominated by labour any longer, so the NDP have had to essentially moderate themselves to the point of being indistinguishable from neighbouring. Red Dippers, if you will, and that strategy has been very successful - until now, obviously.

Greg Selinger, current premier, has been a disaster for the party. Shortly after winning a somewhat contested election in 2011, where he swore up and down he would never raise the PST, he did just that. The government's popularity plummeted immediately, and had the NDP been a new government forces to make "tough decisions," they may have gotten away with it. But after sixteen years in power, no one was willing to listen to their excuses.

Selinger's leadership was challenged in a way we don't often see in Canada, at least not openly. A "gang of five" ministers, mostly unnotable, swore off the government and resigned, though not from caucus. Agitators successfully campaigned for a leadership race to take place, with the hopes of toppling Selinger with a united voice - and they were close, oh so close. Selinger won by a whisker, and the man who brought the poison to the party also got to claim the chalice he put it in.

The hope for Manitobans tired of the NDP but not interested in revisiting the early '90s had another option, of course - the Liberals, led by neophyte Rana Bokhari, were waiting in the wings. Like 1988, they had an opportunity to run an effective campaign and place themselves, if not first, at least as strong challengers to the feckless Tories.

Of course, that did not come to pass. Rana Bokhari has probably been the worst leader in the party's modern history, running a campaign so terrible that they've become even more irrelevant than they were at the start. What was once a chance to attain Official Opposition has become a fight to gain even one seat. But more on that soon.

The Projection


Overall, my projection for the race tonight will be a common one - a massive PC majority, probably somewhere between 70-80% of the seats (42 to 46) which is an absolutely staggering amount. The last time a single party held that much support in the Legislature was in 1915.

This is all happening despite Pallister not necessarily being that popular. The recent Insights West poll put his approval at 45%, which is great, but he had negative momentum coming in; also while 36% said they preferred him as Premier, 53% was the actual total voting for the Tories in the same poll, showing that he lags behind his party by a rather significant amount.

However, you don't have to be popular when your rivals are tremendously less so. Selinger rocked a 25% approval rating and 16% preference, while Bokhari sat below Selinger at 20% approval and just 5% preference as Premier, behind Green leader James Beddome.

Beddome and his Greens in fact have in some ways been the surprise stars of this campaign. While not running anywhere near a full slate, the Greens have consistently been polling anywhere between 5-9% throughout the campaign, an extremely strong number for them. While I do not have the Greens winning any seats, mostly because I expect them to fall back once votes are counted, there is a better-than-average chance that in Fort Garry-Riverview, where Beddome is running, we could see a massive, massive upset.

Which brings me back to the Liberals. What the hell happened, and where will their stumbling end them up tonight?

As I outlined in a previous post, Bokhari's campaign was a mess and going nowhere fast. The one chance she had to turn it around was the CBC debate, and she absolutely blew it according to the polls. Some say she recovered in the Chamber of Commerce debate held not long after, but I have a feeling that even if it was broadcast to every single Manitoban's home, it wouldn't be enough - the narrative of the collapsing Liberal campaign had set in long ago.

As such, I do not expect the Liberals to get far beyond their 2011 results.The ray of hope, however, is that the NDP have collapsed so thoroughly throughout the province according to polls that some ridings will simply become Liberal by default.

In particular, Tyndall Park (just under 35% in 2011) and Fort Rouge (24%, and where Bokhari is running) are mathematically destined to turn red. I stress that this is based on polling, not the local factors.

In the Liberal's positives column is that Tyndall Park has a strong Filipino and immigrant presence, which past MLA and current MP Kevin Lamoureux laid the foundations for as a strong Liberal constituency. Also voters looking to turf the NDP in that riding will see the Liberals as the better option by a wide margin, at least looking to past results. They're also helped by having Filipino community organizer Aida Champagne running for them.

For Fort Rouge, the situation is trickier. This should be another pick-up without much fuss, without an NDP incumbent running and on paper a strong candidate, that being the leader. However, we know Bokhari is kind of weak, and the NDP are running Wab Kinew, a First Nations musician, broadcaster, and professor, who ostensibly should be a strong candidate - in any other year or running for any other party he would be anyway. Riding polls that have come out point to a close race, closer than it should be - but, if Bokhari can at least organize her team, it should be a Liberal win.

The other ridings where the Liberals have a strong presence are, of course, River Heights, where longtime MLA and past leader Jon Gerrard is running again; Logan, the riding stretching from Portage and Main in downtown to the CP rail yard in the north, is also a good riding for the Liberals; The Maples, part of Lamoureux's stomping grounds with a lot of immigrant communities; Flin Flon, another by-the-math Liberal riding where a town councillor is running; and Burrows, which I don't have them close to winning but Kevin Lamoureux's daughter is running there.

Long shots include Brandon East, where a municipal councillor is running, and... that's it really. If they were higher in the polls, this list would be a lot longer.

As to the NDP and PCs... what is there to say? There has been some crowing about the PCs taking the north, but this is unlikely - and yes, I know Keewatinook is blue on my projection. That is a riding that should go PCs by the math, but the NDP incumbent is still running and even during the height of the Filmon years it was never a PC target. Flin Flon will likely be a better target for the PCs due to the vote split there on the NDP side plus an on-paper strong Liberal presence.

The interlake ridings held by the NDP before should all flip. Brandon East and Selkirk should also fall. Suburban Winnipeg will be a massacre for the NDP, with probably exceptions in Saint Boniface (Selinger's riding) and Elmwood/Concordia, where the NDP are traditionally strong - then again, Elmwood by the numbers should go PC.

Dangers for Pallister's romp tonight include voters who are overly confident in his win and staying home, allowing some squeaker races to go to the NDP; also where the centre-left "change" vote goes if not to the Liberals. If they stay home for vote PC, fine, but if they decide living with Selinger is better than living with Pallister... don't expect an upset overall, but some people could easily hang on.

Thursday, April 7, 2016

New Democrats missing the point, again

The Leap Manifesto

After having a leader and a campaign that completely misread the electorate and botched their best chance at power in their history, some very smart people are deciding to do a complete 180 and start missing the point in the other direction with the support of the incredibly crazy Leap Manifesto.

Here's the thing: Canadians didn't vote Liberal because they went full on left-wing last election, they voted Liberal because they wanted a break from Harper's right-wing government. Canadians were looking for a break, but honestly it was more about a difference in style but not necessarily in substance. Yes, our government is a little more to the left than Harper's on a lot of issues, and I believe our priorities and our passions are more aligned with Canadians - but this ain't no revolution, folks, and that is what Canadians wanted. Mulcair failed because he decided to stick so closely to the Harper script that people had a hard time recognizing him, beard or no.

The Leap Manifesto though? That platform is a left swing so far out there that you'll have trouble seeing the electorate in the rear-view mirror as you speed past it. Differentiate yourselves, sure, but you don't need to fully separate yourselves from reality.

Now, I will 100% throw my support behind the NDP endorsement of the Leap Manifesto, but that is mostly because I enjoy watching Dippers immolate themselves. Current party leaders, however, like Rachel Notley and Andrea Horwath, are moderates looking to be elected (or re-elected in Notley's case) in a few years time. They will not be as amused as I.

The Leap Manifesto, if adopted, would absolutely destroy the Alberta NDP. Despite running  the most fossil fuel industry friendly government in the country, they are still constantly accused of being eco-communists who will forest over the oil sands. Federal party adopts the Leap Manifesto, in Edmonton no less? Suddenly it all seems validated, and say goodbye to your only government.

In Ontario, the provincial Liberals seem set for a reckoning, but would kill for the chance to paint the NDP with the Leap Manifesto. Horwath already has something of a reputation as someone willing to do whatever it takes to get power, suddenly the presentation of the priorities in the Leap Manifesto come forth and suddenly Kathleen Wynne and Patrick Brown start talking about the true agenda of the NDP, scaring the bejeezus out of the suburban voters who they've spent so long trying to court. Or it could go in the other direction, with Wynne pointing out how the flaky New Democrats can't seem to get their priorities straight, instead blowing to and fro based on what they perceive to be the momentum from an election several years past (an idea we Liberals are painted with all too often).

There is also an election in BC where this could come into play. The Liberals are going for a fifth term, and by all rights they should be taken out by a revitalized NDP, but John Horgan is hardly inspiring and has already decided to take stands that cost his predecessor a chance at becoming Premier. Add in the Leap Manifesto, and while a few granolas in Vancouver and Victoria might be grateful, the large majority of BCers will not be. Christy Clark re-elected, again.

Listen, Dippers, you can sit there and be the conscience of Canadians all you want, that's fine - so long as you truly are our conscience, and not the ramblings of a hipster stuck in a Marx-inspired high.

Monday, April 4, 2016

Saskatchewan Votes (today)

Today is the Saskatchewan election, and I estimate about 425,000 people will go out to cast ballots, with the majority of them voting for continuing on the conservative SaskParty government of Brad Wall.

I think we all knew that was coming. Wall has maintained a steady and impressive lead over the rival New Democrats, with his closest and lowest margin between 52-34 in late February, a margin that has only grown since then to roughly 30%, or 60-30.

If we assume that 60-30 is the result tonight, that represents a drop for both parties from 2011 (64.3% and 31.9%). This is mostly due to the renewed presence of the Saskatchewan Liberals, who only managed 0.6% in 2011 but will probably score higher than the Greens (2.9% in 2011) this go around, though not significantly higher and they will struggle to break through even to second place in any ridings. Their presence still has an effect however, with a possible spoiler role for some Liberal candidates in close margins between the SaskParty and NDP (most likely to the benefit of the SaskParty), as well as reducing the percentage of votes both the larger parties will receive because math.

However, there may indeed be some seats changing hands this election to the benefit of Cam Broten and the NDP, even if the overall numbers have not changed much. Two reasons:

1. Regina's numbers have shifted favourably towards the NDP. According to 308's aggregate, pollsters have pegged the numbers in Regina at 48.5% SaskParty to 42.2% NDP. This is not a huge movement, no, but it could put more easily into play a couple of area ridings, specifically Regina Douglas Park (about 5% margin in 2011) and, if they're lucky, Regina Pasqua (14.3% margin) and Regina University (13.9% margin) where no SaskParty incumbents are running.

2. Close races throughout. While the Liberals will probably spoil some close races, ridings like Moose Jaw Wakamow (1.2% margin in favour of the NDP) and Prince Albert Carlton (4.4% margin), where the margin is minimal or redistribution, specifically in the case of Moose Jaw Wakamow, has flipped the riding to the NDP. In Saskatoon, where the polls have painted a much less rosy picture for the NDP, there still exist some close races, specifically thinking here of Saskatoon Fairview (1.7% margin) which could easily flip if given the chance and a good candidate.

There are a lot of caveats, of course. I believe Regina Douglas Park is less likely to flip NDP than a riding like Regina University, thanks to the presence of the Green Party's leader, Victor Lau, who earned just under 6% support in 2011, as well as the marginally stronger Liberal candidate - there is no reason to expect either third party candidate to pull in any less this time around, and given that there is no precipitous drop for the SaskParty and barely a bump for the NDP, Douglas Park may be hard to flip. The Liberal Party's leader Darrin Lamoureux is running in Regina Pasqua, and we could see a similar spoiled flip for the NDP there depending upon his strength in the district.

Even if the best case scenario happens in all these ridings, it will put the NDP nowhere near government, so don't expect any head scratching tonight.

Saturday, April 2, 2016

The Manitoba Liberal campaign is a hot mess. Here's why. #mbpoli

In a campaign where one of the most unpopular governments in modern history is running for re-election, the Manitoba Liberals under leader Rana Bokhari are sure trying their darnedest to fail at capitalizing on that fact.

I have been involved and followed campaigns for eight years now, so I feel I can reliably say that the current campaign being run by the Liberals is one of the worst I've seen.

Poor vetting of candidates started off the crisis, with social media gaffes, candidates disqualified for violating election laws, candidates saying stupid things, and just fresh off the presses, a standing candidate who was allowed to run despite a 2002 conviction for assault.

Add on top of that the fact that the party failed to organize a full slate of candidates in the election, running only in 52 out of 57 constituencies, and I know that at least two prospective candidates didn't gain enough signatures to get on the ballot in time. This is not a simple issue to brush off - Bokhari insisted she would run a full slate yet failed to, despite having momentum from the federal win and having ample time to get candidates in place (the election date was well known in advance). It speaks to the lack of organization and internal momentum within the campaign, a damning enough concern without noting that the supposedly worse off NDP easily found a full slate, including some star candidates.

Worst. Platform. Ever.

Then there is the platform and the messaging that goes with it. This is probably the worst of it, and only partly because it reinforces the theme of the Liberals flailing about without cause.

"Its time for meaningful change" and "Believe in a better Manitoba" are nice sounding slogans, but they have to be backed up by something. The Liberal platform amounts to a pot luck of costly promises (some of them repeated multiple times). While, sure, they're generally all positive, they fail to form a coherent message of where the party wants to take Manitoba.

Compare and contrast the Liberal's hefty bag of policies and meaningless message of change versus the open but strict message of the NDP ("because everyone matters") and the fluffy but direct message of the PCs ("Better Plan. Better Manitoba.").

Bokhari's Liberals are trying, and failing, to mimic the federal party's campaign last October, I get it. Except "Real change" worked because the federal NDP played into the narrative. However the PCs, competing for the anti-NDP vote with the Liberals, are not. There is a lot of difference between the messages you get from "Real Change" and "Change that's ready." Not so much between "Time for meaningful change" and "Better Plan. Better Manitoba." Both basically refer to the same concept of better governance, except one simply sounds better.

Circling back, the veritable buffet of partially costed Liberal policies does not speak to "meaningful change" in any specific way. The federal Liberals stuck to core messaging - just glance at the 2015 platform and you'll get it right away- while the Manitoba Liberals are doing the exact opposite, with a scattershot approach, picking and choosing little tidbits of policies, practical or not, to put out there but with zero heft behind them.

Ask yourselves when browsing the Liberal's platform: who are they trying to target? Who is this message of "meaningful change" supposed to resonate with? Where is the quick pitch that sums up Bokhari's vision in 15 seconds or less? You'll see what I mean.

Again, I'm not saying the policies are bad... or are they? The NDP have made a point to pounce on some of the controversial or odd policies put forward by the party (plus the gaffes), and the proposed fiscal platform has not gained a lot of fans. The NDP are looking for any advantage they can get to stay alive, and while their criticisms may not hold water in reality, it matters little if your poor messaging can't counter that narrative.

At the end of the day, their policies lack direction and they're basically broadcasting their message into the void with the hope someone picks it up. And if so far you have no bites, don't you think its time to change how you're putting your message out there?

Where are the ads? Where is the money?

Part of the problem may be the fact that the Liberal Party has barely any money. It managed an anemic $220,000 haul in 2015, compared to the NDP's $736,000 and the whopping $1.7-million garnered by the PCs in 2014 (their 2015 returns aren't filed yet). 2015 was the best year for the party in a long time as well - but its a far cry from the amount needed to run an effective campaign, or certainly does not speak to any momentum the party wishes it had.

Why do political contributions matter? Simple: to run an effective campaign in Manitoba, I would say a party needs at least $1-million in the bank. For examples, the PCs spent over $1.4-million and the NDP $1.3-million in 2011, while the Liberals spent about $179K. Guessing based on the numbers so far, I think the Liberals will maybe spend about the same this year, with a maximum of $250K.

The bigger kick? In 2011, both the NDP and PCs spent more on far more on media advertising alone than the Liberals may spend for their entire campaign this year, with the PCs spending $718K and the NDP $653K, while the Liberals put up just $107K worth of advertising.

Include in other campaign expenses plus transfers to constituencies and salaries for party workers, and there is no way the Bokhari Liberals are going to compete with the NDP, let alone the PCs, in running an effective campaign.

Lack of competitive fundraising means only one thing, though: not many are interested in hearing what Bokhari or her candidates have to say.

A missed opportunity

Yes, it is a vicious circle - can't get your message out because you have no money, can't raise money because you can't get your message out, etc. - and I don't expect the Liberals to break out of in normal circumstances, but this is not a normal election.

The NDP are collapsing before everyone's eyes, and there is an obvious opening for the Liberals as a replacement on the centre-left-to-centre of the spectrum. Yet their scattershot messaging and poor organizational skills have led to stagnation at best.

They remain locked at 20-25% with the NDP with no clear breakout opportunity in the future, save the leaders debate, but Selinger and Pallister are experienced politicians and while Bokhari can definitely hold her own - you can listen/watch to some clips here of the leader's radio debate back in March - they're not likely to make any major gaffes to give her an opening. I don't know if her charm alone would be enough to gain momentum, certainly hasn't been the case so far.

Polling worse than it seems

Actually, her charm is probably more in doubt than I seem to think. Brian Pallister is not loved by the people, with a 35/34 approval/disapproval according to the last Forum poll, but Bokhari is in the negatives with numbers at 21/36 in the same poll. Not even her own party's supporters give her all that great a rating, with 46/14 but 40% "don't knows." Both Pallister and Selinger, among their party's supporters, earn marks near 60% approval. In the same poll, Bokhari only gets the nod of 10% as to the "Best Premier" question, behind Selinger.

Which all leads to an idea which I admit is my own, but I feel is correct: the Liberals may sit tied with the NDP right now, but no one is very committed to sticking with them. Many may choose to vote NDP or PC come election day, given that the Liberals have offered little but a brand and, uh, "meaningful change" or something.

That means come April 19th, I suspect the Liberal numbers to tank, maybe down to 15% or lower. I think it will benefit the NDP more but its hard to say, regardless of who it goes to though, all those wonderful seat opportunities will go flying out the window. My stated opinion is that Jon Gerrard will continue to be the sole Liberal MLA in the Legislature, at least based on what I've seen so far.

Again, it's my personal view and speculation this far out is pretty useless, but I just have a feeling that if the election were held today, the Liberals (and pollsters) would be in for a shock. For the record though, polling on the issue of "voting strength" per party says I'm wrong.

So what's to be done?

Manitoba deserves a strong Liberal Party, and it does not have that right now. This is an issue that needs to be rectified.

But what we've seen so far is not going to cut it. I'm sorry, Manitoba Liberal fans and candidates, but right now I believe your party is heading for a defeat far worse than what the polls are saying. You have no money, you have no coherent message, and your leader is unknown to most and not liked by those who do know her. Right now you're riding on the coattails of the federal party and the utter hatred Manitobans seem to have for the Selinger NDP.

Maybe that will be enough, and maybe Bokhari and the many fantastic candidates running for the party will pull off an upset. They won't, but maybe.

Things need to change. Messaging needs to be tightened up. What are the anxieties of Manitobans? Are they worried about jobs, healthcare, cuts? Focus on that and drill down on those issues hard, with three or five main platform points that address those concerns in big, bold, beautiful red and/or white lettering. The beautiful thing about having good, targeted messaging as well is that you don't need a lot of money to develop it - just slap it over your site and your literature and let the momentum build that way.

Listen, you're not likely to defeat Brian Pallister's PCs. He has this basically locked up, and while he isn't popular, the vast movement to oust Selinger is working in his favour. But you can eat into his majority and you can take advantage of the NDP's failings yourselves, just step up! Its not too late to salvage this.

And frankly, if you can't or won't, and refuse to recognize any of the points I've made here as valid criticisms, then just step aside. At least the NDP has a shot at retaining a strong opposition.

Sunday, March 27, 2016

Yurts #mbpoli


If there was ever a sign of how little hope Greg Selinger has of winning the ongoing election in Manitoba, it was with yesterday's key announcement of expanding yurt (and wi-fi) coverage across provincial parks.

Not that yurts aren't cool and all, and tourism isn't important, but in an election that should be about defining and defending the New Democrat legacy against the hordes of conservatism poised on the Legislature's door... yeah, yurts, that is what the media spent the day on.

Granted it is Easter and the messaging works out. It makes sense. Its just... "yurts," the very phrase is ridiculous to think about, and honestly it fits the Selinger and his government to a T.

 Meanwhile, Brian Pallister is eating his lunch and the Liberals are trying and, sadly, failing to be relevant. This election is so boring it yurts.