Tuesday, November 20, 2012

On competitive questions

There's been plenty of talk in recent weeks about how the Calgary Centre by-election might serve as either the time for an inter-party pact to limit voters' options opposing the Harper Cons, or a spur to future movement on the same front. But before we accept either of those arguments, let's point out that the same by-election also offers plenty of reasons to doubt the effectiveness of non-competition agreements.

Most obviously, Calgary Centre serves as an obvious case of doubt as to which opposition party is in fact best positioned to win. Two recent polls have shown a close race, but between three parties - meaning that we have very little way of even knowing who has the inside track to defeat Joan Crockatt based on their current starting point. (Keep in mind that the same problem arose in Ontario in 2011: at least some seats where "strategic voters" were admonished to vote Lib ended up as Con-NDP contests.)

And that uncertainty becomes doubly problematic given that even perfect information about which party is currently in second place may not tell us which has the best chance of winning a plurality of the vote. Is the Libs' brand toxic enough to lose Green voters who might otherwise form part of an opposition coalition? Or do the Libs have more ability to win over Red Tory voters who would see the Greens as too extreme? It's almost certainly too late to find out with any certainty - and absent some evidence that one candidate is substantially better positioned to assemble the needed number of voters to win, it's a fool's errand to try to organize votes based on guesswork.

Equally importantly, there's also the question of what a one-time pact would accomplish. The loss of a single seat won't put an end to Cons' stay in power, and Stephen Harper has never shown any inclination to move an inch off his chosen course of action based on concepts such as as "voters sending a message". Which means that even a successful attempt to translate anybody-but-Conservative votes into a by-election win will have a limited effect in practice.

And of course, the return from an added MP has to be weighed against what each other opposition party stands to lose by shedding by-election support. The NDP, Libs and Greens are all running strong candidates who would have been unlikely to pursue a nomination without some expectation that they'd receive the best support the party had to offer. And all three can justifiably see an opportunity to build off the infrastructure developed in the by-election in elections to come - even if the outcome on the 26th is another cringe-worthy trained seal in Harper's fold.

All of which is to say that I don't see a particularly compelling case to treat Calgary Centre as a scenario where parties or voters should set aside their long-term goals for the sake of a temporary celebration. Instead, far better to focus on building as much momentum as possible within each opposition party - with the goal of building opposition among Calgary's general public, rather than settling for a single MP as the be-all and end-all.


  1. Anonymous10:34 a.m.

    Losing a seat in Calgary would be for the Conservatives, to quote the Awesome Joe Biden, a big f*cking deal. Even if they outwardly pretend they don't care, fortress Blue Alberta is the heart of their support. If it shows a crack of Red (or Green, or Orange) it's a whole new ballgame.
    If ever there was a single by-election to put differences aside among opposition parties, in order to strike a blow for democracy, this would be the one. Obviously its too late for any organized, coordinated, effort, but I hope the voters who sit on the fence between the three opposition parties take a close look at recent poll results, and vote accordingly.

    1. Anonymous7:22 p.m.


      Please forgive the general nature of my response. It's just that I have seen your argument in many incarnations. For whatever reason, today is the day my bite chose to loosen its grip on my tongue.

      People like you, typically Liberals, mistakenly assume the political system is as fluid as the Liberal party. It is not, which is why "joint nominations" will not be allowed.

      The Liberals maybe a party, but they are not "political" in the traditional sense. This is what alienates them from the "significant others" who are typically proposed as "joint-nominations" partners.

      The Liberals have non-existent values. The promise of victory is their only uniting policy.

      This vagueness allows them to attract a broad cross-section of the public. So union workers will man the phones while union busters glad-hand the candidates. Environmentalists will distribute leaflets while polluters throw fund-raisers. Mirroring faith in some lottery ticket, each believes he will reap the rewards of membership.

      The Liberals believe this to be harmonious collaboration. As such, they interpret "joint nominations" as an innocent extension of their melting-pot culture.

      The opposition parties, by contrast, view the Liberals as an abomination.

      The NDP, PC's, Neo-Con's, and even Greens are parties of deep tradition & clear values. They have designs on the shape & character of the entire society.

      Rather than "harmonious collaboration", what they see in the Liberals is chaotic incoherence. Liberal policies contradict themselves & inevitably fail, explicit promises are broken on a whim, and supposed cherished allies are mercilessly punished for convenience.

      For parties with clear purpose, this is an intolerable state of affairs. Especially when the Liberals ape their cherished policies & botch/sabotage the implementation.

      The Conservatives are a threat? At least they are a party of sincere (albeit, plutocratic) values. They will rule for a long time? All parties are subject to cyclical change.

      The Liberals on the other hand are political parasites. If the "melting pot" model is allowed to thrive, the country will be condemned to perpetual incoherence and stagnation (like the United States).

      I can tell you that when any of these opposition parties do entertain the idea of "joint nominations", it is only in the context of their own growth. So the Greens who hover below ten percent nationally will sacrifice candidates to get that one extra undeserved seat. The NDP will allow Nathan Cullen to tease Liberals in an attempt to attract broader attention & membership.

      At the end of the day, the opposition understand that Liberals are fickle & weak by design. Without the promise of victory binding them, they will decompose. If they eventually re-appear, funding will dictate they exist as parasites plaguing Conservatives.

      Dan Tan

  2. Anonymous2:35 p.m.

    Harper is not good for Canada, in my view, but displacing him is problematical at this point.

    Forgive me this flight of fancy please; it is not a matter of the majority that disapprove of Harper that will relieve us from boil on the body politic . . . it will require those that have voted for the Conservative Party of Canada to reconsider what they have wrought.

    j a m e s

  3. Harper has actually been known to blink at public backlash. The Conservatives seem oddly daunted by legislation relating to the interwebz; they pulled back on copyright legislation twice after a lot of negative public reaction, before passing a bill that was as I understand it really not half as bad as their early intentions, and of course in the end didn't pass the "all of you are child pornographers" surveillance law.

  4. Dan Tan with the curdled analysis of a dyed in the wooler hypocrite. How you enjoying the Mulcair musical chairs when it comes to ol' cemented ndp policy?

    1. Anonymous1:20 p.m.


      I take 'Matthew 7:4-5' very seriously. Provide any evidence that I have actually engaged in "hypocrisy" & I will correct myself.

      Otherwise, you are merely engaging in Liberal "hasbara".

      On NDP policy, if Mulcair has given you that impression, then he has succeeded.

      Dan Tan