Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Is 2015 a Change Election?

Is 2015 a change election? I am sometimes the downer of my friends and colleagues by pointing out the fact that even though we and many people we know do not like Prime Minister Stephen Harper there is a very strong chance that he may be re-elected. To progressives and those who have carefully watched the mismanagement of the previous years, or tuned into the Duffy trial the writing seems to be on the wall.

In Canadian tradition it is unusual for a political leader to last more than ten years. If re-elected Prime Minister Harper will have been in power 10 years in January 2016. After ten years a growing number of Canadians will be growing tired of Mr. Harper and interested in looking for alternatives. Part of the reason that governments/leaders tend not to last longer than ten years is that scandals and controversies pile up around them and drain them of public support. Jean Charest in Quebec, Dalton McGuinty in Ontario and Brian Mulroney federally are all excellent examples of leader taken down by years of baggage.

However, there usually is a straw that breaks the camel's back. For McGuinty it was the gas plants; a nagging political issue that threatened to destroy his government that was in a precarious minority. The Harper Conservatives have been in trouble before. Before the 2011 election Parliament censured them for disrespect for parliament. Sadly Canadians are worried more about financial transgressions than democratic ones. Even still, Tony Clement (CPC - Parry Sound-Muskoka, ON) misspent millions of dollars for cosmetic upgrades to his riding and he was re-elected easily, as were the Conservatives. It's always shockingly strange when something like Bev Oda, a former minister, nearly brings down the government with $16 orange juices when Clement can be forgiven his callous misuse of public funds.

Critics of the Conservatives can (and do) make lists of abuses under Prime Minister Harper and provide amble evidence why it is in the best interest of the country to replace him.  But that is not the average voter. Voters, generally speaking, don't care about omnibus bills or respect for parliament (to my great and profound sadness). What might stick is fraud. If any one thing might end the premiership of Stephen Harper it is the trial of Senator Mike Duffy. Remember that politics is about perceptions and not realities. Even if Stephen Harper cannot be directly tied to any of the allegations, just like the $16 orange juice it will create a narrative. Trials are smoke and smoke mans fire.

But any fantasy that the Conservatives will be routed from power needs to be tempered with the simple fact that the electorate is strongly divided. The Conservative vote is very efficient. Rural ridings across the country and certain Western ridings will stick with them even if they drop below 30%. Even below 30% they will likely win about 100 seats. Meanwhile their opponents, the New Democrats, Liberals and Greens are all scrapping for many of the same voters in the same places. Take for example my hometown, Brampton. In 2011 the Conservatives won all of the seats here, but Brampton, like much of the 905, used to be solid Liberal territory. Even at their peak the Conservatives only narrowly beat their Liberals opponents in some ridings. In 2011 the NDP made a breakthrough in eastern Brampton. In the 2014 provincial election that strength was reaffirmed and spread westward. It's possible that 2015 will see three-way races across the city which might result in smaller margins of victory and Conservatives winning despite declining popularity.

As stated before, the electorate is divided. There are a great deal who ready to dump the Conservatives and try something new, but there is probably about 20-25% of the population who will be voting CPC no matter what. If this is a change election the opposition parties are going to have to work very hard on the ground to prove it.  

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