By Alexandre Brassard, originally posted at Le carnet d'Alexandre, translated from the French by Jamie McLennan
. © 2011 Gaston Murdock
If current trends continue, the next Ontario government will be a Conservative majority.
But with ten weeks until voting day, the election outcome is far from assured. As we’ve seen with previous Ontario and federal elections, campaigns matter, and there’s many a slip ‘twixt cup and lip. It’s still possible for the Dalton McGuinty Liberals to stage a comeback and win a third term, but they will need to rethink their strategy.
Right now, the Forum Research poll
published on July 30 reveals a strong Conservative lead. Of the 2,256 Ontarians surveyed on July 27 and 28, 38% intend to cast their ballots for the Conservatives, 28% will vote Liberal, 24% support the NDP and 7% are Green voters. These results are accurate to within 2.8%, 19 times out of 20.
How would this particular provincial poll translate into seats at Queen’s Park? The research firm doesn’t provide any answers, but we can attempt a projection based on a rough model. First, subtract current voting intentions from the election results of each party in 2007. This gives an idea of the direction opinion is moving in the province: +7.23 (NDP), +6.38 (CON), -1.02 (GP) and -14.25 (LIB). Apply these current trends to the 2007 results in each district, and voilà, we have our seat projection.
The details are available here
, and they’re pretty interesting. They predict the Conservatives in a majority government with 64 seats, the Liberals reduced to 26 seats and the New Democrats gaining 17.
According to this model, Tim Hudak and Andrea Horwath would handily win their districts, but Dalton McGuinty would have trouble getting elected. The Liberals would lose most of their current cabinet members, including Leona Dombrowsky (Education Minister), Deb Matthews (Health), Kathleen Wynn (Transport) and Sophia Aggelonitis (Revenue).
On the other hand, the Conservatives would elect four star candidates: Jack McLarren (former president of the Ontario Landowners Association), Rocco Rossi (former federal Liberal organizer and Toronto mayoral candidate), Donna Skelly (a local TV host) and Simon Nyilassi (CEO of Caldwell, an investment company).
Any Conservative win would be at the expense of the Liberals. Gains would be made:
- in the 905 region (Ajax-Pickering, Oak Ridges-Markham, Richmond Hill, Bramalea-Gore-Malton, Mississauga South, Mississauga Erindale, Brampton-Springdale, Brampton West, Etobicoke Centre, Etobicoke-Lakeshore, Pickering-Scarborough East, Scarborough Southwest, Scarborough-Guilwood);
- in the North of Toronto (Don Valley West, Eglinton-Lawrence, Willowdale, York Centre);
- in Ottawa and the East of the province (Ottawa South, Ottawa West-Nepean Ottawa-Orleans, Northumberland-Quinte West, Prince Edward-Hastings Stormont-Dundas-South Glengarry)
- in Kitchener and the Centre-West of the province (Guelph, Huron-Bruce, Kitchener Centre, Kitchener-Conestoga, Perth Wellington, Wellington-Halton Hills).
The New Democrats would retain all their current seats and gain four new districts in the North of the province (Algoma-Manitoulin, Thunder Bay-Atikokan, Thunder Bay-Superior North, Timiskaming-Cochrane). They’d pick up two more in Toronto (Davenport, South York -Weston), and could also take Ottawa Centre from the Liberals.
A majority of provincial districts would thus align with their federal riding counterparts. In Toronto, the polarization that played out in last municipal election might be repeated, with urban areas supporting centrist or progressive platforms and the suburbs voting for right-wing candidates. These projections paint a picture of a three-pronged right-wing hegemony in the Toronto, Ontario and Canadian governments.
But this model is pretty rudimentary, and it’s not perfect. It doesn’t take into account the electoral advantage usually enjoyed by party leaders, former ministers, incumbents or star candidates. In addition, the data shows a pretty narrow margin of victory (<5%) in more than a quarter of the districts. That leaves plenty of room for local conditions and plain uncertainty to have a profound influence.
Nevertheless, this analysis raises alarm bells. In Canada, all levels of government have considerable power, but federalism maintains a system of checks and balances. It allows ambition to counteract ambition and limits the abuse and corruption that inevitably results from the concentration of power. By electing three levels of government with same conservative agenda, Ontarians would drop this counterweight. They’d be putting all their eggs in the one basket.
Will Tim Hudak join Steven Harper and Rob Ford on their fishing trip
next summer? Ontario voters have until October 6 to decide.
By Alexandre Brassard, originally posted at Le carnet d'Alexandre, translated from the French by Jamie McLennan
. © 2011 Gaston Murdock
Are you a real
Canadian? If, like most voters, you didn’t vote Conservative in the last election, your values are un-Canadian.
At least, that’s what our Prime Minister thinks, if his last speech is to be believed. Addressing supporters at the Calgary Stampede, Harper said:
"Conservative values are Canadian values. Canadian values are conservative values….They always were. And Canadians are going back to the party that most closely reflects who they really are: the Conservative Party, which is Canada’s party." Globe and Mail
, July 10, 2011).
Obviously, Harper was playing to his base with these exaggerated claims. In fact, he used a similar tactic at his first caucus meeting
in May, and again at the Conservative convention
last June. This kind of slap on the back to partisan supporters is normal, and it shouldn’t be taken as a serious contribution to public discourse. Frankly, I’d love to see Harper stand up in the House of Commons and declare, with a straight face, that his party holds a monopoly on Canadian identity. Are we supposed to believe that today’s Conservative Party members are more Canadian than Wilfrid Laurier, Lester Pearson, Pierre Trudeau, Tommy Douglas, Norman Bethune, Nellie McClung, Agnes Macphail, Thérèse Casgrain, George Erasmus, André Laurendeau, Jean Lesage and David Suzuki?
In mingling national identity with party affiliation, the Conservatives seem to be targeting immigrants and exploiting their desire to integrate. The not-so-subtle message? You need to toe the Conservative Party line to be fully Canadian. But newcomers won’t be so easily fooled. Our rigorous citizenship test
pretty much guarantees that immigrants know our country’s history better than most made-in-Canada citizens. New Canadians could remind Harper that the Liberals have governed for 84 of the 144 years of Confederation. They could also point out that it’s thanks to the NDP that we have our public health system, a treasured cornerstone of our national identity. Clearly, the Canadian spirit is too vast and too rich to be contained within a single party.
If we believe certain Manning Centre polls
, Canadians are leaning to the right nowadays. But these studies should be taken with a heaping tablespoon of salt
. The poll sponsor is, of course, partisan, and the chosen indicators are neither reliable nor valid. At any rate, no one can claim to know Canada’s character after only two surveys. A country’s political culture is read in its formative events, its constitution and through its institutions. It is revealed through its cultural products and in the kind of political education citizens receive. From this angle, it’s hard to accept the Conservatives as the main architect of Canada.
That being said, I’m pleased that Harper harkened back to the values of the great late Progressive Conservative Party. If he takes this political legacy seriously, he might finally break free of the Reform Party’s narrow dogma. As heir to Macdonald and Bennett, he might remember the importance of state economic intervention, which could soften his obsession with the free market. Taking a page from Borden, he would have to concede that key infrastructure should be nationalized, that income tax is a necessary evil and that it’s a good idea to fund scientific research.
Inspired by Diefenbaker, Harper might develop an appreciation for our parliamentary traditions
. In following Robert Stanfield’s example, he’d recognize the importance of social programs, even in the context of budgetary restrictions. He could also turn to George-Étienne Cartier or Joe Clark to get a better grasp of our federation’s founding pact, which lays out Canada as a « community of communities ». This may persuade him to consult the provinces before embarking on any kind of Senate reform
. Examining the legacy of Brian Mulroney, Harper might also decide to ratify international agreements that seek to protect the environment and prevent climate disasters.
Harper should set aside Ezra Levant, and instead read some true conservative intellectuals like W.L. Morton, Northrop Frye, Donald Creighton, George Grant and Hugh Segal. Not only would he rediscover the importance of scholarship, research and critical thinking — our Prime Minister might be surprised to find multiple references to the idea of common good among these authors’ writings. He would see that Canada is more than a collection of isolated individuals and selfish taxpayers. More than an electoral clientele. Canada is a country of people who live interdependently in deeply rooted communities
Anglophone, Francophone and Aboriginal communities have all developed their own cultures and values. They have different concepts of justice and different visions of the good life. Together, they offer citizens a wide range of rich identities to choose from. But at the same time, these groups are partners within our federation, and their values often overlap. Certain ideas and objectives are shared by all the founding communities: democracy, federalism, rule of law, respect for rights and freedoms, gender equality, the protection of linguistic and cultural minorities, the welcoming and integration of immigrants, economic redistribution between communities and social solidarity.
It is here, at this convergence, where true “Canadian values” reside. These values are not the property of the Conservative Party, or of any community in particular. Or even of Canada itself for that matter. But they explain and justify our desire to live together in a single state within North America.
By Alexandre Brassard, originally posted at Le carnet d'Alexandre and in The Mark News.
A fair shake
Remember Stephen Harper’s May 2 victory speech? His face beaming, he declared: “we are intensely aware that we are and we must be the government of all Canadians, including those who did not vote for us.”
Deferring to experienced political analysts, I gave him the benefit of the doubt. I wanted to believe that Mr. Harper’s new majority would soften his partisan edge, that he’d reveal a more conciliatory side. I proclaimed on-air that the Conservatives would work to bring the country together, not because of some new openness of spirit, but because it would help them win the support of centrist voters.
Sadly, recent events have proven me wrong. With Mr. Harper’s Senate appointments and his decision to cancel the traditional debate following the Speech from the Throne, I’m now eating my words faster that I can chew. It’s all too clear this government will continue to make a mockery of our public institutions in its pursuit of partisan interests. The so-called “new era of civility and respect” has been put on hold.
The speech from the throne and the debate
The government’s decision on the use of time in the House of Commons passed almost unnoticed, but it should have raised alarm bells. The throne speech is a big part of the Canadian political process. Since the beginning of our democracy, this speech has opened every new parliamentary session, and each successive government has used it to lay out its priorities for the coming term.
The throne speech has always been followed by a debate lasting several days, in which members of Parliament had the chance to respond, offer policy alternatives and present the concerns of their constituents. In this way, the opposition was able to counter, if only for a few days, the power of the ministerial majority.
But not this time. This venerated tradition — a custom that precedes Confederation and is rooted in the long history of the Westminster system — was summarily overturned by the Prime Minister, despite the astonished protest of the four opposition parties.
An attack on democracy
Our current Prime Minister has never been accused of kowtowing to the House of Commons. Under Mr. Harper, Canadians endured two untimely prorogations. We witnessed the Speaker of the House force the government to release reports on the torture of Afghan detainees. And we watched our government fall during an unprecedented motion of contempt of Parliament. Even the most cynical among us thought we’d seen it all. But in dismissing the debate on the throne speech, Mr. Harper is not just breaching customs and procedures, he’s attacking our very democracy.
By depriving opposition members of their right to speak, the Prime Minister is effectively gagging the 60% of the electorate that voted them in. What good is an elected Parliament if our MPs are muzzled? If our Prime Minister is behaving like an autocrat, why bother keeping up the appearance of representative democracy at all? Let’s just hang out a “gone fishing” sign and let Mr. Harper govern by decree.
The importance of public debate
The Leader of the Government in the House, the Honourable Peter Van Loan, informs us that the debate is merely optional and that it should be canceled this time around due to the shortened parliamentary session. This is a weak excuse for a cynical political manoeuvre. There is no need to rush this session to its close — members have only just taken their seats.
There’s certainly no shortage of topics for them to discuss. Recent reports have uncovered instances of government negligence, porkbarelling and human rights violations during the G8 and G20 summits. Our troops in Afghanistan and Libya are risking their lives over a muddled foreign policy. The government is preparing to gut the public service to the tune of 1.8 billion dollars per year. It just scrapped public funding of political parties. And it also wants to modify the Canadian Senate, essentially altering the terms of the federal pact without the agreement of the provinces. With so much at stake, a debate on the Speech from the Throne is not a luxury, it is a necessity.
Throughout the history of parliamentary governments, first ministers have always submitted their political priorities to criticism by the opposition. If this principle was sacrosanct for the likes of Walpole and Churchill, for MacDonald and Laurier, who is Mr. Harper to brush it aside?
Translated from the original French by Jamie McLennan, © 2011 Gaston Murdock.
By Jamie McLennan. Originally posted at Re: wordingsYesterday I attended Govcamp, part of Net Change Week at the Mars Centre in downtown Toronto. The topic of the day was the latest technological hot potato in government, open data. All three levels of government in Canada are making more and more of their data available to the public online. The hope is this will lead to increased transparency and enable the private sector to use this data for some intriguing (and useful) purposes.
But some important questions came up over the course of the day.
How will the data be extracted? Government data is extensive, exhaustive, and often well buried. Bizarrely, the computer programs that store the data are sometimes incompatible with the software used to extract it. Also, government departments can be pretty proprietary when it comes to their data, and before it gets out to the public there may be more than a few regulatory hurdles to jump over. One of the sessions yesterday was all about the ‘shadowy world of the socialintrapreneur.’ A panel of four brave public servants recounted their experiences (sometimes in hushed tones) tunnelling under and pole-vaulting over rules and regulations in government in order to “help the system speak with more voices” (i.e. get things done). Open data is being touted as a way to bring the people and their government closer together. But folks in government might not always be enthusiastic about letting their data out of the warm casings of their hard drives.
And maybe with good reason. Context is everything. Yesterday, one government worker muttered into her coffee cup about how data can be easily misconstrued and misinterpreted. Last year’s scandal over the internet usage of OPS workers is a case in point (this particular public servant is online all the time for her work). Opening up data without putting it into context can be problematic, from an optics point of view of not worse.
And what about citizens with limited or no access to technology? The homeless are less likely to have Twitter accounts, and the voices of marginalized people are at risk of being silenced in this techno-happy open data dance party.
Finally (and here I go putting on my translator hat), if it’s to be useful for all Canadians, data has to be accessible across language and cultural barriers. Could the open data movement represent new opportunities for skilled translators, or will governments avoid spending the money and simply dump the data online, leaving it up to the private sector to pick and choose what the rest of us get to see?
I think the best quote of the day came from David Tallan of the OPS (one of the ‘troublemaking’ social intrapreneurs), who simply pointed out that it’s important to “focus on people, not technology.”
Hopefully Microsoft — not surprisingly, a major event sponsor — was listening.