Thursday, July 15, 2010

Politics: No Party in Touch

TORONTO, ONTARIO - Last week's excellent program "The House Goes to Quebec" on CBC Radio One made an interesting and potentially very important point--the majority of the population of Quebec supports the general position of more autonomy but not independence for the province, and no Federal party supports this position. The Bloc Québécois (BQ) officially supports full sovereignty for Quebec, while the Liberals, Conservatives, and New Democrats (NPD in French) all officially support the current constitutional arrangement.

While there are a variety of reasons why the current situation exists, and exactly what elements of "increased autonomy" would be a tenable political position is somewhat debatable, what this clearly represents is an opportunity. A party willing to take into its platform the unrepresented position has the potential to make serious inroads, in large part by blunting the appeal of the BQ. On the surface, it would seem that the opportunity is open most to the Conservatives--the main risk of taking on this position would be backlash in the west, and it seems unlikely that an Albertan or British Columbian would run from the Conservatives over increased rights for Quebec. Furthermore, once the Conservatives take on such a position, the risk for the Liberals or New Democrats to follow suit would be greatly reduced, and very rapidly the unrepresented position could suddenly be represented by the three national parties. Personally, I'll be watching for the Conservatives to potentially make such a move after the BQ has already weakened--perhaps after current popular leader Gilles Duceppe steps down.

It might seem unlikely, but some are making the case that a similar situation exists in the United States. Amongst others, Matthew Dowd has argued that voters want collective solutions to current economic problems, but do not trust the Federal government. Thus, the collective solutions must come from what might be called activist government at the local and community levels. Personally, I think this is a ridiculous idea from a pragmatic perspective--how exactly are local governments going to solve the immigration problem?--but he has a point that no political party supports this position. The Democrats have been pushing Federal-level solutions, and the Republicans have been trying to reduce the involvement of government at all levels, even state and municipal levels.

Again, the opportunity here seems to be on the right-wing side of the ideological spectrum. It would not be hard for Republicans to drop their current anti-government position and return to their more tradition position of favoring local government over the Federal government. At most, they would be alienating the TEA party faction of their coalition, and these voters realistically would not be likely to run to the Democrats. By emphasizing "community" in their rhetoric and a platform of empowering local government, they could attract independent voters that essentially share Dowd's vision (however misguided it might be). In fact, I daresay they could decimate the Democrats for a generation if they did this and managed to implement it effectively.

However, I don't see this happening. The Republicans lack leadership in general and are dead-set on attracting the TEA party supporters. Likely, they will have enough success in doing so that there will be no incentive to change course, no matter how much more successful another course might be in the long term. Quebec might have its actual preferences reflected the conceivable political future, but community-focused and Federal-mistrusting citizens in the United States probably will not.

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