Tuesday, January 1, 2013

Crystal Ball Gazing, 2013 Edition, Part 5: Canada's National Political Parties

In Parts 1 through 4 of this blogpost, I looked at some international and national trends and events which I expect to influence 2013.  In Part 5, I'm taking a closer look at Canada's national political parties, and what voters and supporters can expect over the next year.   The Conservative Party of Canada

2013 will be a “steady as she goes” year for the Conservative Party of Canada. Although some pundits have been looking for breaks in Stephen Harper’s iron-clad rule of his Party (and have suggested that votes on life-determining private members bills might have demonstrated such breaks in 2012), the Conservatives will not begin to turn on each other in 2013. They’ve no reason to, as their base remains strong and committed, and polling numbers will continue to place their support in the mid- to high-30s. The Conservatives know, better than the other parties, that a mid-30 percentage in a national poll is really a few points higher for their party, as national polls include both Canadians who will vote and those who won’t. Since Conservative support is heaviest amongst older Canadians, and since older Canadians are the most vote-motivated age demographic, come election day, Conservatives will find a bit of a bounce in their numbers.

However, if there is a risk for Stephen Harper moving forward, it will be found in this older age demographic. Expect seniors issues to play an increasingly important role in Ottawa in 2013, as talk of pension reform continues. Conservatives must tread lightly on these issues, as both seniors and the opposition parties will be watching closely. For all of that, though, poll after poll has consistently shown that the seniors support of the Conservatives is rock-solid, and I believe that the Conservatives will be able to continue to count on seniors throughout 2013, and indeed into the 2015 federal election.

Electoral Co-operation Amongst the Other Parties

After the 2011 federal election which handed the Conservatives a majority government with less than 40% of the popular vote, talk about electoral co-operation heated up. In 2012, NDP leadership candidate Nathan Cullen finished 3rd in the leadership race after running on a platform of the NDP working with the Liberals and Greens in a one-time effort to defeat incumbent Conservative MP’s in the 2015 election. Clearly, Cullen’s message found resonance both inside and outside of the NDP.

Along with pundits musing about some form of electoral co-operation between opposition parties, and in some cases the out-right merger of those parties, we saw past Party Leaders such as Jean Chretien wade into the discussion about the need for co-operation. In August 2012, Green Party members adopted a resolution which called on their Party to negotiate with the Liberals and NDP to find a way towards making a one-time deal where electoral reform is put on the table, to take effect in time for the first post-2015 federal election.

Across the nation, Canadians have begun expressing their desire to see the opposition parties work with one another. Concerns were raised over “centre-left vote splitting” (a term and idea which irritates me to no end, as it implies the ownership of votes by a political Party), and were especially apparent during and after the late 2012 by-elections, and specifically in Calgary Centre. In that riding, Liberal Harvey Locke repeatedly took aim at Green candidate Chris Turner for splitting the vote, and allowing Conservative Joan Crockatt to eke out a victory. The Liberals’ sense of entitlement in Calgary Centre was particularly galling (as was the lack of media scrutiny around the assertion), given that Locke started the by-election campaign polling at about 28%, while Turner started with just 11%. On e-day, Locke pulled in 32% of the vote, representing a modest gain. Turner, on the other hand, received 25% of the vote. Clearly, since Locke didn’t lose any “Liberal” votes (and in fact, managed to pick up a few more), how is it that Turner “split” the vote? If anything, what’s clear is that the Green Party succeeded in convincing enough former NDP and former Conservative supporters to cast their ballots for Turner. But in the Liberal world of spin and entitlement, I suppose those voters should have moved to the Liberals.

Interestingly, Greens in Victoria never made the case that the Liberal candidate split their vote in the by-election there. Had all Liberal supporters in Victoria cast their ballots for Green candidate Donald Galloway, the Greens would have taken the riding from the NDP. Such an argument would have been the exact same as Locke’s and the Liberals assertion of vote-splitting in Calgary Centre, but since no Green has ever felt entitled to votes (largely because Greens tend to receive so few!), the argument was never seriously made, at least to my knowledge.

But I have digressed. Significantly. My bad. Anyway, my point was that Canadians are clamouring for electoral co-operation to oust Conservatives and to change our antiquated electoral system which was responsible for getting us into this mess in the first place. Members of one Party have already told their Party executive that they want to actively pursue electoral co-operation, and former Party Leaders and other brass have stepped forward to suggest that the time is ripe for more co-operation. Surely, any Liberal or NDP-led government has got to be better than what we have today, so why not make a deal? And as Justin Trudeau takes the reigns of the Liberal Party and polls start to draw closer between the Liberals and the NDP, it will be difficult to make the case against co-operation.

But the case against working with the other parties will continue to be made by Tom Mulcair and the NDP. Mulcair is already on record nixing any form of electoral co-operation with the Liberals and Greens, nationally and at the riding level (unless, cynically, Liberals and Greens abandon their Party and join the NDP). Although many NDP supporters and members think that this is the wrong direction to take, Mulcair has been adamant that he believes that the NDP can win it all on their own in 2015. And he may be right.

But regardless of whether he proves to be right or not, what Mulcair and the NDP have shown Canadians once again is that they will put the partisan interests of their party ahead of what is good for Canada. And on that score, Mulcair and the NDP aren’t alone; they are joined by Justin Trudeau, who will almost certainly lead the Liberal Party in 2013. With two stubborn, go-it-alone partisans helming the two largest opposition parties, the hopes and dreams of Canadians for a co-operative effort to Stop Harper are dead.

We will continue to talk about electoral co-operation throughout 2013, but increasingly it will become apparent that the opposition parties won’t reach a deal, due to the intractable positions of Mulcair and Trudeau. Greens in particular will continue to play up the need for co-operation, due in part to the lack of partisanship in the Green Party, and in part due to Green pragmatism!

The Liberal Party

Justin Trudeau will surely become the next Leader of the Liberal Party of Canada in 2013. The media seems to love Trudeau, and Canadians are excited that the Liberals are to be led by a dynamic and interesting Leader. Some in the media have even begun to talk about Trudeau’s policies, which is frankly a big step. Concerns are starting to be raised that Trudeau is starting to tack a little too much to the right of the political spectrum, but I’m sure that at the end of the day, whatever Trudeau has to say about anything won’t matter anyway, even if the Liberals do form the next government. I’ve no faith in the Liberal Party to do anything that they’ve said they will do, as they’ll say whatever they think it takes to get themselves elected. The Liberal Party of Canada has devolved into a cult of personality, devoid not of ideas (as many have suggested), but of the political will to implement bold visions. In power under Chretien and Martin, Liberals proved to be micromanagers, steering the ship of state through a series of small jolts, rather than using a map to plot out a real course. I expect more of the same from Trudeau, regardless of what he says.

Unfortunately, too many Canadians will start to take Trudeau at his word. And those words won’t just be the ones that he utters in 2013. Indeed, thanks to the Conservative Party, we’ll soon be recipient to repeats to some of the more interesting things which Justin Trudeau has publicly mused about over the years (as we were in 2012 when earlier disparaging remarks about Alberta came to light near the end of the Calgary Centre by-election). While Trudeau’s words may inspire many in 2012, they will equally turn off a good number of Canadians. And since the next election will be fought riding-by-riding, you can bet to hear more of Trudeaus’s harsh words about Western Canada, played for the battleground B.C. audience, and more of Trudeau’s musing about separatism for battleground Ontario voters.

By the end of 2013, it will start to become clear that the Liberals have once again made a mistake in their choice of Leader. Although Trudeau will continue to receive significant (and fawning) media coverage, the words of his own self-destruction will have been sown, and the predicted jump in the polls for the Liberal Party won’t materialize (although they will still likely be polling tied with the NDP). In Quebec and B.C., the Liberals will hardly experience any increase in support at all, and it is in these two provinces (along with Ontario) that the Liberals must do well in 2015 if they are to have any hope of recovery.


Expect to see a steady year from the NDP, building on their successes from 2012, during which the NDP’s full team of players really began to emerge and resonate with Canadians. It’s increasingly becoming clear that the NDP is a lot more than just its Leader, and that there is real depth to their bench.

Mulcair, too, will continue to impress Canadians with reasoned discussion and debate, setting himself up not just as the anti-Harper, but as a sound steward for Canada, especially on economic issues. Thanks to Mulcair and strong NDP opposition critics, the Trudeau-tide isn’t going to rise high enough to wash the NDP’s hopes of forming government away in 2015. Which is not to say that the Liberals won’t pose a threat to the NDP.

Already during the last part of 2012, the NDP and Mulcair have largely disappeared from the media’s short eye of attention, as it has begun focusing on Trudeau, Trudeau, Trudeau. Politicians know that it’s never good to be out of the spotlight for too long (and NDP politicians in particular know this, having had to fight for most of their lives as members of the third party). In 2013, media attention will continue to focus largely on Trudeau at the expense of the NDP, but given the NDP’s Loyal Opposition status, they won’t be permanently removed from the spotlight.

When all is said and done, I believe that the NDP is going to have a pretty good year, and although “steady as she goes” will remain the theme of 2013, clearly the NDP’s longer-term plan to govern in 2015 remains on track, and we can likely expect even more from the NDP in 2014.

The Green Party

For the Green Party of Canada, it’s the little successes and setbacks which must be counted and balanced out in order to determine where things are going. In 2012, the Green Party, like the other parties, experienced both successes and setbacks, although it was the Green Party’s successes which Canadians were likely to hear the most about, even if those “success” stories were tinged with a bittersweet quality.

After having coming so close on election night to triumphing in the Victoria by-election, Green Donald Galloway was ultimately defeated by the NDP. Yet Galloway managed to garner 34% of the popular vote, a remarkable feat for a Green up against an NDP candidate. In Calgary Centre, the animated campaign of Chris Turner vaulted the Greens into third place, and propelled the Party to the centre of national media coverage for a few days, as pundits tried to figure out whether the Green Party was for real. Interestingly, most pundits seemed to have arrived at the conclusion that the Greens are for real, and can no longer be discounted, especially in Western Canada.

Interestingly, I have to agree with the pundits on this one. For regular readers of my blog, although I have always professed to be a partisan Green (and perhaps the most partisan Green in a party which prides itself on being post-partisan), I have nevertheless always been a realist when it comes to my own expectations about the Party. Therefore, for me to now wrap my head around the idea that my Party might actually be taken seriously by both voters and the media, well, that’s a little something special.

Although credit for success has to go to the local campaigns in Victoria and Calgary Centre (seriously – these campaigns were extremely local in nature, and while I’m sure that they received resources from the national party, the direction of the campaigns themselves, and the issues on which Galloway and Turner fought were local – and in one case, the execution of an aspect of one local campaign received some negative scrutiny from the Party Leader, with the proviso that her opinion doesn’t really matter, as she herself is not leading the campaign. In short, Greens do it differently from the other parties), the performance of Party Leader Elizabeth May has certainly started to turn the heads of Canadians – and catch the eye of the media.

Late in 2012, May was named Parliamentarian of the Year by her colleagues in the House of Commons. This honour has never before been bestowed on a woman, much less the Leader of the – wait a moment, I have to count this on my fingers – the fifth Party. May has made herself a force to be reckoned with in Parliament (and in the corridors outside of Parliament). May has the ability to laser-focus on specific issues, catching them well in advance of the other parties, and bringing them to the attention of Canadians and the media. In 2012, she was the first to catch the implications of the budget omnibus bills on the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act, and the Navigable Waters Protection Act. She was also the first to sound the alarm on the government’s desire to enter into the FIPPA trade agreement with China without any debate taking place first in parliament. She was later joined by some of the opposition parties on these issues, but the fact is that May seems to actually have the time to read draft legislation and make the connections all on her own, and right away.

May would sorely liked to have been joined by another Green legislator in 2012, and in 2013, I predict that she’ll get her chance. At least one more Green will join May in the back corner of the House in 2013, and Canadians will notice. With Greens elected for the first time to provincial legislatures in Ontario and B.C., it will be the best of times to be a Green.

And it will be the worst of times to be a Green. Despite the Green Party doing well on the public stage, behind the scenes it’s going to be a different story. All political parties run on money, and the Green Party has received a larger part of its income from the per-vote subsidy than the other parties. With the subsidy scheduled to run out in 2015, and with another annual reduction kicking in in 2013, the finances of the Green Party may be the biggest factor working against it. New donors will need to be actively courted throughout Canada. Donors usually follow on the heels of well-known candidates, like Galloway and Turner. Therefore, I expect to see the Green Party begin to actively recruit and nominate candidates in key ridings in 2013, in order to engage in building local popularity and fundraising.

This may appear to be at odds with the Green membership’s desire to work with other parties, but given the stated positions of the NDP and the Liberals, there really will be little opportunity for electoral co-operation anyway. The Green Party will be forced to move ahead towards candidate nomination in key ridings (read: ridings which have a healthy organization in place, and especially those where Greens think there may be a shot at winning).

Green Party supporters, expect to be asked a little bit more often than you have been to contribute to the financial success of the Party. At least now, however, you can start to feel a little bit more secure that your contribution is going towards a long-term pay-off. Greens in Canada are succeeding in influencing the national and provincial political discourse, and our voices are only going to become stronger as voters increasingly discover that the old-line parties just aren’t up to facing the challenges of the 21st Century.

Part 6

In Part 6 of my blogpost, I’ll explore some international predictions. Stay tuned.

(opinions expressed in this blog are my own and should not be interpreted as being consistent with the views and/or policies of the Green Party of Canada)

No comments: