Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Canadian Federal Election Post Mortem

The Conservatives

Stephen Harper ought to get used to governing with a minority government. Canadians are never going to give him a majority. Some of the most productive or well-run governments in Canadian history were minority governments: Lester Pearson’s (federal) and Bill Davis’s (Ontario) tenures come to mind. Harper should shelve his dreams of a majority and try and make his government the best damn minority this country has ever seen.

Conservatives just don’t get Quebec. Making the dinky arts funding cut (1.5% of the overall budget) made the difference between the Tories getting a majority and a minority. That was one of the most expensive funding cuts in history. Politicians are cynics by nature and they underestimate the pride of the people. Quebecers turned away from the federal Liberal party under Paul Martin when they discovered that huge money had been spent in that province on cheap gimmicks, like flags, in the belief that they would forgo their national aspirations. One would have thought that the Liberals’ chief political opponents would have picked up on that pride issue.

The Bloc Quebecoise

It is a shame this happened because, before the Harper blunder, the Bloc Quebecoise looked like it was going down the toilet as an irrelevant political force. If any party deserves to be relegated to the ashcan of history it is the BQ.

The end of climate change

This election also proves that we have turned the corner on climate change as a gathering political force (thankfully). Dion’s carbon tax had no resonance with the voters; the Green Party did not elect a single MP, including its leader, Elizabeth May, despite the fact that she garnered enormous publicity and was a bit of a media darling throughout the campaign. As a percentage of the popular vote, Green garnered no more than 7%. I had looked forward to the Greens bleeding votes from the NDP, but the only party that bled votes was the Liberals to the NDP.

Environmental activist, David Suzuki, has said he looks forward to the day the Green Party disappears from the electoral landscape. I don’t agree with much that Suzuki says, but I do on this point.

The New Democratic Party (God, how I wish it would change its name!)

I have to hand it to Jack Layton. He ran a hell of a campaign for the NDP. I don’t care for Jack and I have twice worked for a Liberal candidate who opposed him even though I am not a Liberal, simply because it was Jack running for office. He picked up additional seats and kept the popular vote at a respectable 18%. Keeping his guns focused on Harper and ignoring Dion, except bringing up the fact that Dion kept Harper alive for so long in Parliament, was a shrewd move.

I was sorry to see that Jack’s wife, Olivia Chow, kept her seat. It was nice to see Tony Ianno’s wife, Christine Innes gave her a scare, however.

Lisa Raitt

Finally, I should give a nod to Lisa Raitt, who knocked off the bumptious Garth Turner (well named, turned from Conservative to Independent to Liberal). I chuckled when I read Lisa’s website, with her “Coal Miner's Daughter" shtick; a gentler, kinder, Sarah Palin. But, unlike Palin, Lisa is very smart and knowledgeable. She is energetic, enthusiastic, and will be a good politician and representative for the Halton riding. I hope she gets a cabinet post – Transport might be right. Harper is thin on talent, so he should take a good look at Lisa.

In my corporate career, I took pride in mentoring people. Several left the corporate nest and have done well for themselves ever since. Whether they recognize it or not their successes have something to do with the opportunities and training I endeavoured to give them in their early years. I recently had lunch with a former protege who is doing good business as a coach and motivational speaker. She had forgotten that she used to be terrified of public speaking until I trained her and put her in charge of projects that required public speaking.

Lisa was another golden find. She had a bright prospect ahead of her as a Bay Street lawyer and was leaning in that direction, but I told her that her career would be better served working in the corporation that I then ran because of the broad experience it would offer, especially the political side of the place. I remember telephoning her in London, England, when she was working at the Inns of Court to make my pitch. She took my advice and now she is a fully-fledged member of Parliament (time to start those French lessons, Lisa, in case you know what).

May she have the wind at her back.

Some day I will have to drop her a line about my favourite federal issue, reforming the odious Section 13 of the Canada Human Rights Act.

I hope somebody in Lisa's entourage takes the time to telephone CTV and inform Lloyd Robertson of the correct pronunciation of Lisa's last name. It isn't as if he never heard of Bonnie Raitt.

Democracy and low voter turnout

Finally, a word about democracy. Much hand wringing goes on at election time over the low voter turnouts. I haven't seen the stats for this election, but I have seen and heard a number of pundits and commentators suggesting that there should be some sort of skills test to license people to vote, or that informed people would have an extra vote. TVO Ontario's The Agenda, with Steve Paikin, devoted some time to this subject last night.

This is all rubbish.

One citizen and one vote is the requirement to be called a democracy in the 21st century. I see the the low voter relative to informed voters in the same light as I see high fuel prices relative to carbon taxes. Why impose carbon taxes when high fuel prices are forcing behavioural changes that a carbon tax is supposed to encourage? Similarly, the people who do not vote are also the people who are not informed about politics, politicians and social issues (otherwise they would vote). The democracy marketplace is self-regulating in that sense and requires no bureaucratic interference. Those who don't vote get to be governed by those who do -- so what is the problem?

Australia has a high turnout (95%) because it is a legal requirement to vote. You are fined $50 if you don't vote. Are the voters in Australia better informed than Canadians who vote? I haven't seen any studies that would suggest so. Is Australia better governed than Canada? I think not.

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