Monday, September 8, 2008

Politics: Canadian Election Expectations

TORONTO, ONTARIO - This post may read to some as advocacy of the NDP or the Greens, but I believe that misses the point. What I'm really talking about is rejecting expectations--usually set by rival parties--and actually looking at what a party may do in the future. Fundamentally, elections are supposed to be about the future, are they not?

Nothing frustrates me more than to hear someone say "the NDP will never form a government" or "the Greens will never form a government." The odds might be quite long, and perhaps there are good reasons to not want them to form a government, but dismissing the possibility of any party running candidates all across Canada taking power is not healthy thinking, in my opinion.

In a general election, every seat in the House of Commons is up for grabs. If a party is running candidates in each riding, they conceivably can form a government. Believing that they cannot just makes it more likely that they won't--and results in defeatist, US-style politics.

Canada doesn't suffer from nearly the incumbent inertia experienced in the United States. Canadians actually "throw the bums out" when desired, and there should be pride in this ability and tradition--and a recognition that this means anything can happen.

If the NDP didn't believe this, could they have recruited Thomas Mulcair to win in Outremont?

I am not saying that the history of a party does not matter. I hold my suspicions of the Liberals and the Conservatives based on their past governments (I'd cite other parties, but they haven't formed governments lately) just like everyone else. If you believe Stephen Harper lied egregiously in this past minority government, that St├ęphane Dion broke a promise by proposing a carbon tax, that Jack Layton hasn't shown adequate leadership in parliament, or that Elizabeth May engaged in back-room dealing the the Liberals, then those might be good reasons not to vote for their parties. The past performance of individuals does matter, and the people that they bring with them does matter.

But, I don't understand why many Liberals didn't give St├ęphane Dion a chance. Sure, he had some baggage, especially in Quebec. Yet, I listened to the candidate speeches during the 2006 Liberal Party convention, and I found that Dion--and, indeed, most of the Liberal candidates--articulated a cohesive, electable vision. Just the same, since he won that leadership race all we hear are complaints about him being too professorial, too weak, unable to win, and so on. The pre-conceived notions of Dion have dominated the media. Almost nobody has seemed to care about what he could do moving forward.

Yet, I look at the actual record and don't see the evidence. Many fault me for being too tolerant of pragmatic practicing of Machiavellian politics, but did it really make sense for Dion to show "strength" by bringing down the Conservatives in 2007 when the appetite for an election was even lower than it is now? Is an energy policy not all that different than what Al Gore wanted to propose in the early Clinton administration really too "professorial"?

Lest this seem like a defense of the left-wing parties, Stephen Harper has clearly been a victim of perception and expectations in the past. Who believed that he could govern the country from a minority position for more than two years? Even within the Conservative party, there seemed to be skepticism of his ability to be viewed as a leader. Now, every poll seems to show him regarded as the strongest leader. If all voters believed the nay-saying, would Harper have gotten the chance he has received to prove these expectations wrong?

Elections need to be about the future, not the past. I advocate throwing away the common perceptions and expectations, taking a careful look at what the candidates (and by that, I mean in a riding as well as at the party leadership level) are saying, evaluating their ability to deliver what they promise in the future, and then making a decision. It might not be the same decision made based on what "everyone" is saying.

If each Canadian actually did that, there might be a lot of expectations proved false and perceptions changed in Canada. Furthermore, I'm not so certain the beneficiaries would be the NDP and the Greens--it might well be the Liberals or even the Conservatives. After all, having expectations would be contrary to this post.

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