Monday, November 8, 2010

Traditional parties should be wary of times ahead

It's struck me that at this point in Canadian political history, none of the four major political parties are making any waves among the electorate. The fact that we're mired in constant minorities with fairly unstable government is an obvious sign. That the two traditional government parties can't seem to rise above 35% or 30% in the polls respectively, because the minor parties (NDP, Bloc, and Greens - especially the last one) all take up strong positions, is another sign of this. Generally low turnout across the board in provincial, municipal, and federal elections (with some exceptions), and disinterest by the electorate to the issues politicians say are important, but no one ever really cares about. Even taxation is a relatively "meh" topic I find.

People are disillusioned with the leaders of all the parties, because none of them present something new, different, or exciting. There's a basic stalemate going on right now, and the smaller parties are not helping to break it, because they're taking their own share of votes, protest or not. What does this say about the future of Canadian politics?

One obvious thing a lot of politicos point out is that the electorate is simply waiting for a "messiah," someone that can get them excited and will inject some fascination and sensibility back into their politics. Obama is an obvious example of this, but Nenshi, Ford, even Bob Bratina are domestic examples. They break the mold, not seemingly apart of the old establishment, and say they'll change the way things work in government, usually after years of stagnant, boring, and sometimes pointless politics and policies. People see someone like Nenshi or Ford, compare them against people like McIver or Smitherman, and vote for the guy they think that will provide something new, someone to shake up City Hall. Obama received the sentiment down south.

Some of this can be blamed on a poor economy, some of it on the idea of tired, old dynasties, and some of it on corruption. Almost every election features some sort of charismatic figure, but not every election is one where they get support from the electorate. Only in tough times, when people see the establishment is not enough or not doing its job, do these figures rise up like some sort of rockstar. The same can apply to parties, where back in 1935, MacKenzie King's Liberals were re-elected, but both the CCF and the Socreds arrived on the scene, taking huge bites out of Western support for the Conservatives. Or, obviously, we can look to the 1993 election, with its huge Liberal majority, but the collapse of the Conservatives and the arrival of the Reformers and the Bloc. Then there's 1921, which would have regulated the Conservatives to third-party status, if not for the fact that the Progressives didn't want to be the Official Opposition. If you can detect a pattern here, it's usually the Conservatives that end up collapsing and splintering, while the Liberals maintain themselves for the most part.

But now we see in 2010, both the Liberals and the Conservatives are more or less holding their support, as are the other main parties. Until a big, big scandal hits the Conservatives, its likely to stay this way. The Greens are polling big, but they're not overtaking anyone, and Lizzy May is out of the news a lot more than she is ever in it. Layton is charismatic, but he can't lead his party to better than 20% in polls, even when the Liberals are feeling the pinch. Heck, he's having a hard time staying over 16% sometimes.

This is a prime situation for something new to pop up and overshadow the traditional parties and leaders. Much like Quebec or Alberta, where it's a reality, or BC, where it could very well be, the parties are stale and old, with uninspiring leaders. Voters are looking for something, anything, new to park their votes with. The Greens are the obvious beneficiaries of this right now. But they're still underwhelming in terms of support and even ideas. Like the NDP, they'll quickly become part of the establishment sooner rather than later, and we'll be right back to where we started.

Where does this leave us? It may not be the next election, but something is going to happen eventually to cause the rise of another party, or group, or figure, that will severely challenge the traditional parties in this country. It may be a Tea Party, it may be an Obama, but something will happen to change how Canadians look at their federal parties. History shows us that its usually the Conservatives that break apart when something like this happens, however there's no guarantee of that. It may even be that one of the traditional parties gets a boost, or is torn apart, after all, the next election is more likely than not to be the last for at least three of the five main parties. Layton and Duceppe are the oldest leaders, and after 4 and 6 elections respectively, are going to resign fairly soon. And depending upon who gains or loses in the next election, Harper or Ignatieff are going to be replaced. Maybe even both. It's prime ground for someone new to come out of the woodwork, to either lead the party to victory, or tear it apart on ideological or tribal grounds.

So that's my basic prediction: things will be shaken up, somehow, some way. It's going to hurt the traditional parties, though, in some way. The establishment is not going to be the same after it occurs. It could be another 1993 with the Conservatives torn apart, or the Liberals could end up being the ones who collapse. Or, maybe, Duceppe really will be the last notable Bloc leader, and Quebec will rejoin the rest of Canada politically. I'm not sure, but something is going to happen. The conditions are just too right for it not to. History shows us that every single time there's a similar time, someone or something new arrives on the scene. That's almost every decade, too. Heck, you can list them - Progressives in the 1920's, CCF and Socred in the 1930's, PCs in the 40's, Dief in the 50's, Pearson/Douglas in the 60's, Trudeau in the 70's, Mulroney in the 80's, Reform/Bloc in the 90's, Greens in the 00's. What will it be this decade?


  1. We could have shaken things up with the Liberal Democrats. After all, when people like Chretien and Broadbent talk, we should listen. Instead everyone is so preoccupied with petty differences that Harper will have perpetual minorities. This conversation will happen and it's just delaying the inevitable. But right now, we have a liberal party that only may get a minority and an NDP that just whines about liberals not voting for them.

  2. The Lib Dems is a good idea, insofar that it's actually feasible. It's not, at least not at this point. Both parties are just so entrenched with their members, their ideology, and their organizations that any merger would be impossible at this point. Until one or the other falls by the wayside both federally and provincially, like the NDP were back in 1990's, then it's not going to happen.

    Because I'll tell you something right now: the BC, Ontario, Nova Scotia, Alberta, and Prairie NDP are not going to want to join up with their respective Liberal parties. We'll have completely effed up organizations federally and provincially, especially on the NDP's side, whose provincial organizations are all attached to the federal party.

  3. Good points! It's a shame that all your reasons are what's stopping the majority of Canadians from actually ruling their own country.

  4. I'm not pro-merger by any means. I'd rather see the NDP be whittled away than join up with them. But you are right: more Canadians vote for the two combined parties on a consistent basis. The results, however, just don't reflect that.

    I think if the Liberals, NDP, Greens and maybe the Bloc pushed it, we could see electoral reform at the forefront. Most Liberals I know are fence-sitters, but generally support the idea of some sort of proportional representation. If we had something like IRV, what Australia has, then Canadians could have their voice heard much better than it is under FPTP. But, alas...

  5. I'm not necessarily pro-merger either. But the conversation should at least happen. Then again, maybe I'm just being idealistic. I should know better. By the way, thank you for intelligent debate. I've been making the mistake of arguing with Canadian teabaggers lately that just call me "idiot" for not agreeing with them on everything.

  6. I relish debate, so no worries. Mind you, you're not exactly going up against total opposition, aye.

    How many Canuck teabaggers are out there, anyways?

  7. I like the idea of cooperation between the parties, but a formal "merger" is dangerous. Rather than taking away votes from the Cons, it would pull votes from the (former) Liberal grouping. The election results of the NDP and Libs right now still aren't enough to "out-seat" the Cons. Merging would have a net negative effect. We'd also probably see the HarperCons win another minority or two, jumping up and down crying, "coalition!"...

    The other reason why I hate the idea of a merger is the idea of giving up my favored political ground: the center. I would rather see 3/4 of a decade go Liberal, while 1/4 (barely) ends up conservative (as we've experienced in Canadian history). This is because the Liberals - in our "centrist" position are in a better position to soak up support from either side of us WHEN WE HAVE A STRONG LEADER and some GOOD IDEAS. Better to have a leaning towards more constant moderate/progressive government (even for NDP supporters) than the US-style swing back and forth between Dems and Republicans. I don't think I could live with the idea of the "inevitable" conservative return to power. Rather see years of progressive governments building a nation. Not "gridlock" and people only being elected to get themselves re-elected.

  8. I can't argue with that logic, WG. Excellent points.

    However, the fact remains that right now, we're facing somewhat of a crisis of identity, insofar that the Liberals are not quite sure what to do. We're faced with a Teflon government, with everything we throw at them bouncing right back off, and these minor parties biting into our traditional areas of support (NDP - left, Bloc - Quebec, Greens - environment). I mean, hell, any chance of a majority government is completely off the table, and a minority government is pretty far off on the horizon. We can hold the centre, but without the ability to build a coalition of voters and interests, that's all we'll hold. And really, is it enough?

  9. Another deeply flawed analysis. Are the Socreds the Bloc? Are the CCF the NDP?

    You jump the shark like most progressives and view 1993 as a success for Liberals.

    The Reform Party, Canadian Alliance, Progressive Conservative Party are not on the ballot in 2011 or registered according to Elections Canada.

    Populist movements have impacted American and Canadian politics.

    Dismissing the energy from CAGW alarmists for Democrats or tea partiers for incumbents is a mistake.

    The financial health and ballot support are tangible. Liberals have been in a decline since 2000 in both. June 2004 was the last time they won a mandate from the ballot and 2003 was the last time they had the financial health to compete or dominate financially.

    The new rules from the Liberals have removed Big money and grassroots donations are now more important than ever. Your party has failed to close the gap. You need to dramatically improve both.

  10. CS,

    What in the fuck are you talking about? You've said nothing relating to what I mentioned.

  11. Your definition of traditional party is incorrect.

    The Conservative Party of Canada is not traditional. They were formed in Dec 2003, leadership May 2004. General Election Martin wins last general election for Liberals in June 2004.

    Two years later the political landscape has changed. CPC are unique with ballot support and financial strength unmatched by all other "traditional" political parties.

    Many don't grasp the significance of the fundraising changes by Chretien Liberals in 2004 followed up in 2006 by the CPC.

    Grassroots donations have become the litmus test in Canada unlike the US. We don't allow Big money from third parties (Business Union) to shape our politics.

    You along with many have others have failed to grasp the new metrics for a successful political party.

  12. CS,

    The Conservatives are a "traditional" political party, don't fool yourself. They may have been formed in their current organization in 2003, but they were formed between two groups who have been around for decades, one that was the traditional conservative party in Canada since Confederation, the other that was a mix of former SoCreds and PCers, and had been around for 15 years beforehand.

    Yeah, totally not "traditional." I don't know how ignorant you have to be to think that the CPC just popped out of nothingness in 2003. It was built upon existing organizations and their "grassroots donations" came from the Reform/Alliance base which was so successful at harnessing that power.

    Then again, CS, the more you talk, the less I am surprised by some of things you say.

  13. It appears when facts don't match up with your talking points you feel it necessary to throw personal insults.
    It would be easy to discount an opinion if you provided some factual information. You don't.

    The leadership of the Reform are not in power and the leadership of PC don't have control of the newly forged party.
    Preston Manning, was not a PC. Joe Clark and Brian Mulroney vs Trudeau, Chretien Martin.
    Think about the voters of each party and if the platforms from each party.
    It is amusing to ignore your "tax and spend" complaints of this new party from conservatives, this new party is too Liberal and Liberals call it too right wing.

    I remember for years being told these "neo-cons" are not old PC's from Liberals like yourself. These are radical old white guys that are too religious.

    I don't remember seeing the elder statesman from the PC party embracing the new party in 2006-2009. Do you?