Saturday, May 07, 2011

Saturday Afternoon Links

Miscellaneous material for your weekend reading.

- Catherine Porter offers another defence of the NDP's wave of new MPs, with a particular focus on the group elected from McGill:
They don’t know everything yet. They all seem to know that they don’t know everything yet — a big advantage over first-time middle age politicians, who feel they have to “hit the ground running,” which is code for faking it. They’re bound to ask questions and listen to answers. That is a trait we all miss in politicians. Experience brings wisdom, but it also often breeds contempt.
(T)hey are young, when the world still seems black and white and the noble causes are not dimmed by bills and midnight trips to the emergency ward, sick babe in panicked arms. Most of them were members of the McGill NDP club. They must be passionate about big causes like poverty and climate change. We’ll need their untarnished idealism to wrestle the heavy boom of a Conservative majority.
- Meanwhile, Chantal Hebert notes that based on the precedent of previous waves in the province, there's little reason to think the NDP can't maintain its success in Quebec for some time to come:
Over the past forty years, every Quebec federal fling has ended in a spectacular breakup. But the province’s political love affairs have also amounted to more than a string of one-night stands.

Under Pierre Trudeau, the Liberals owned Quebec for the better part of 15 years.

Brian Mulroney dominated the province for a decade.

It took seven elections before the Bloc finally hit the wall.

That is not to say that the NDP will necessarily be able to repeat Monday’s stunning Quebec feat in four years’ time.

The next election will likely bring a correction of sorts.

The Liberals usually alternate between francophone and anglophone leaders.

Under a francophone leader, they might become more competitive and regain some of their traditional Quebec clientele.

But both the NDP’s track record and the province’s past voting patterns suggest that the New Democrat presence in Quebec is not going to be a mere transient phenomenon.
- Sixth Estate is duly skeptical about a Con-friendly interest group declaring that Stephen Harper has free rein to dismantle public delivery of health services.

- But Lana Payne is optimistic that the trial balloon and other efforts to further attack Canada's social programs will run into stronger opposition than ever:
For Canadians, the choices are about to become very clear and quite stark as we are presented with two completely opposing visions for our country.

Jack Layton and the NDP will put forward a vision of Canada that really does talk about people’s issues — like the high costs of medicines and how we can collectively do something about it. We can expect ideas and policies that lean towards how we can collectively work together so everyone benefits.
I fear the social fabric of my country is in danger. I fear all of the things I believe in are about to be under siege. I fear for the damage the Conservatives will inflict on our great nation.

But mixed with that fear is a burst of hope. Hope that the progressive forces elected in such large numbers to our Parliament will be able to temper the carnage and build for tomorrow.
- Finally, Erin offers his take on the problems with strategic voting:
Among progressives, the Canadian Auto Workers union has probably been the most prominent and consistent advocate of strategic voting. Outside of Quebec, it has been endorsing NDP incumbents and NDP candidates deemed to have a sufficient chance of winning. But two days before the vote, the Auto Workers also reaffirmed “supporting 34 Liberal candidates in identified close ridings, where they have the best chance of defeating the Conservative.”

In fact, many of these ridings were not especially close and six were actually NDP-Conservative races: Esquimalt-Juan de Fuca, Bramalea-Gore-Malton, Brant, Kenora, Miramichi and Saint John (where PEF-member Rob Moir doubled the NDP vote!)
Another anti-Conservative effort, Catch 22, advised voting Liberal or Bloc in Brant, Huron-Bruce, Simcoe-Grey, Montmagny-L’Islet-Kamouraska-Rivière-du-Loup, Roberval-Lac-Saint-Jean, Fredericton, Miramichi and Saint John, all of which ended up being NDP-Conservative races. (It also advised voting for the Liberal incumbent in Newton-North Delta, where the NDP won.)

Of course, this election was extremely volatile, so some incorrect projections are no surprise. But that’s the point: electoral politics are inherently unpredictable. Uncertainly about when and where a breakthrough might occur was, or should have been, a strategic rationale for progressive organizations to support the NDP.

The good news is that there should be much less confusion next time. In the great majority of ridings, the NDP will be both the most progressive option and the strategic anti-Conservative choice. Building a left majority is now clearly a matter of rallying progressives around the NDP and chipping away at Conservative support through effective opposition.

On leadership

Gerald Caplan's election post-mortem is worth a read. But I can't help but to think he's utterly missed one factor that gives the NDP a far better chance of overtaking the Harper Cons than any recent incarnation of the Libs:
Then there’s the less high-falutin business of down-and-dirty politics. Progressives of all stripes must never underestimate this little caper of Jack’s massage. The smear of Jack Layton by the powerful the Sun Media chain is only the tiniest tip of the iceberg of garbage that would be thrown at any liberal party that had the slightest chance of forming a government. The history of the Rae government is the model to study – a systematic, relentless gang-up of various media, businesses of all sizes, government-relations firms, bond-rating agencies, many professionals, and lots of insubordinate cops, including senior ones. Even respectable sources can be expected to join the fray, as shown by the recent story in this very paper agreeing that Mr. Layton was smeared by the Sun but insisting that, after all, it was a true smear.

The other side plays for keeps. They believe they’re in a war and act accordingly. They smear, lie, malign, distort, divide, terrify, destroy. They play it the American Way, as Michael Ignatieff can testify. It’s like Jon Stewart versus the Tea Party. He’s clever, knowledgeable and adorable and wins debating points. They’re vicious and unscrupulous and win the war.
While there's no doubt that the Cons and their media cronies can be counted on to leave no mud unflung, there's a key difference between their attempts to smear Layton and their ruthless campaigns against the last couple of Lib leaders.

Unlike the Libs' new leaders (including whoever they end up choosing next), Layton isn't starting from a position where he's largely undefined with the Canadian public. Instead, he's been the most positively-perceived leader in Canadian politics for the better part of the past decade. And his position only seems to have been strengthened as Layton won more public attention through this year's campaign:
Marzolini was gobsmacked. “I’ve never seen in 580 election campaigns anybody as popular as Jack Layton ... Basically, he was on a par with Don Cherry in the eyes of Canadians. He was right up there with David Suzuki and Canadians think Suzuki walks on water.”
Which isn't to say that I'd expect Layton's stratospheric positive impressions to stay entirely in place now and 2015 as he becomes the chief focus of the Cons' attacks.

But Layton's stature as a well-defined and well-respected leader among the general public gives him a far better chance of weathering the storm than any new leader facing the Cons' usual attack-ad blitz - as Layton himself demonstrated as he came under attack at the end of the election campaign. And the fact that the Cons will have a much tougher time getting negative impressions to stick to Layton makes for reason to see the NDP's rise as a plus for the chances of toppling Harper next time out.

On reason for optimism

Not that it matters all that much now that the Harper Cons have a majority government. But perhaps the most interesting part of Linda Diebel's campaign followup is the fact that Michael Ignatieff had apparently come to the right answer to the open question as to what the Libs would do if faced with the choice between supporting Harper or Jack Layton's NDP in a minority Parliament:
(O)n election night, addressing the Sheraton Centre crowd before the vote, Ignatieff promised: “I will play whatever part that the party wishes me to play as we go forward to rebuild, to renew, to reform.”

The senior adviser says Ignatieff meant he would stay. That coincides with scuttlebutt among Liberals that Ignatieff was still reasonably upbeat because he’d been told they’d win 65 seats and still believed a minority Conservative government and a coalition with the NDP were possible when he hit the stage on election night.
Mind you, we might well have reached the result Ignatieff apparently wanted if he and his party hadn't spent virtually the entire campaign reinforcing the Cons' spin as to why it was unacceptable.

But at the very least, we now have direct evidence that even the Libs' leader who destroyed the previous coalition eventually came around to the idea that an NDP-led government was the best outcome for Canada. And hopefully that recognition will spread to enough historical Lib supporters to ensure that an NDP government comes to pass in 2015.

Friday, May 06, 2011

Musical interlude

Alpha 9 - Come Home

Post-Election Questions: The Liberals

From what I've seen, all indications are that the Liberals plan to take some time to rebuild before starting a leadership race or otherwise making any significant moves. And it certainly makes sense for a party which has been trapped in short-term thinking for half a decade to take the opportunity to take a step back to consider its future.

But there's one major question about the plan to put off the big decisions that look like they'll be left for a year or two.

Can the Liberals stay relevant while putting off any definition of their direction or values?

Granted, it sounds well and good to focus on organization-building, fund-raising and other structural work. And there's no doubt the Libs have some catching up to do on those fronts.

But in order to rebuild to any significant degree, the Libs will need to extend their appeal beyond the limited cadre of party insiders that's proven less and less effective with each passing election. And as long as the Libs are on autopilot, unable to take strong positions which might not fit with future leadership and policy choices, it'll be awfully tough to motivate the donors and volunteers the Libs need to rebuild.

Indeed, it's entirely possible that an overly long interim leadership period will only exacerbate what's already been a weakness in limiting themselves to reactive questioning of Con scandals. And there's less reason than ever to think the Libs will be the beneficiaries to the extent they're able to make any dirt stick.

What's more, the Libs' competitors aren't going to have any incentive to leave the most promising ground for future growth unclaimed in the meantime.

The NDP has already become more trusted than the Libs on issues like health care, the environment and government services - and it'll surely be working to entrench that position with its new wave of MPs. Meanwhile, the Cons will presumably plan to line up corporate Canada behind their government and further pitch an economic message as part of Harper's long-standing plan to become Canada's establishment party. And the more both parties do to own those issues, the less opening there will be for the Libs to try to retake them once they've held a leadership race.

So while it makes sense for the Libs to take some time to consider their options, they'll also need to confront the reality that those options may only become more limited if they wait too long. And if that happens, the tasks of leading and rebuilding the party will look even more daunting and less worthwhile than they appear already.

Friday Morning Links

Assorted content to end your week.

- Susan Riley highlights the fact that we'll only move past the narrow view of politics that's dominated Canada's federal scene for too long if the media is willing to play its part:
'This is going to change so many things," veteran New Democrat Libby Davies said in the aftermath of her party's breakthrough on election night. "I think it's a whole new ball game. It's going to be a whole new kind of politics."

That could be true (please let it be true), but a number of things have to change radically, starting with the way the media leap on every unscripted comment, from every politician, declare it a gaffe, then set about finding other politicians to denounce it.
The most distressing element of the just-ended campaign was the reluctance of so many candidates (including talented newcomers such as former diplomat Chris Alexander, now a Conservative MP) to appear at all-candidates meetings, talk to the media or stray even slightly from the careful banalities of the official platform.

No wonder politics is boring to so many people. No wonder the turnout (61.4 per cent) is still distressingly low. You also wonder why accomplished individuals, such as Alexander, submit to the intellectual editing.
To recap, what would Davies' "new kind of politics" look like? Interesting, sometimes outrageous, sometimes offensive, ideas from ordinary MPs. Opposition leaders (including Rae and the estimable Elizabeth May) focused on issues, not insults. A more relaxed prime minister. And many bright newcomers to challenge, not succumb to, the deadening cynicism of our politics.

As for a more responsible, less excitable media? OK, that will be harder.
- But the Globe and Mail offers at least one example worth following in defending the NDP's wide range of new Quebec MPs:
The election to Parliament of students and twentysomethings has been a source of bemusement for some political elites. Not all of these accidental NDP MPs expected to win. But to hold them up to ridicule, before they have exercised any of their public duties, is to be contemptuous of democracy itself.
No one is entitled to public office, and why should students be taken any less seriously than, say, rookie MPs whose background is in farming or medicine? Voters were drawn to the NDP (particularly in Quebec), and so they elected NDP candidates, disappointing many – including “star” candidates of many partisan stripes, assured of success by the party brass, and those aspirants, old and young, who have plotted every phase of their political careers. That’s the magic of representative democracy.

Quebec’s new NDP MPs are not there just to represent the young. Yet the voices of young people should be heard. And we should heed both youth issues – the fiscal and environmental deficits they will inherit; the quality of the educational system – and the manner in which youth raise them. The most skilled among them will bring suppleness, strength and new ways of communicating to the Commons, reinvigorating a chamber that the public clearly thought could use some new energy. So rather than heaping scorn on these new MPs, let us wish them well.
- Erica Alini points out an OECD report showing that inequality has been worsening around the world, with at least one of the mooted causes figuring to be relatively easily remedied if there's the political will to do so:
(c) Across the board, governments have been withdrawing from the markets, leading to lower minimum wages compared to average wages, sinking union membership, and fewer state-owned enterprises. Though these changes raised employment levels, they also likely weakened the redistributive mechanisms that used to restrain the gap between rich and poor.
- Finally, Sheila Pratt shines a spotlight on the Alberta PCs' cone of silence. And it's not hard to find evidence of that type of refusal to listen to anybody who doesn't cheerlead for a governing party being imposed in Saskatchewan as well.

Thursday, May 05, 2011

Thursday Afternoon Links

Miscellaneous material for your afternoon reading.

- Alice examines how vote splits actually played out in the Greater Toronto Area and concludes that areas which wanted to elected NDP MPs generally managed the feat, while the Cons' wins are generally traceable to Lib-to-Con switches.

- Paul Wells' campaign story continues, featuring this from a Con staffer:
Hence the “somewhat imbecilic” Ignatieff’s-a-Liberal ad, this staffer said. “That summarizes our appeal. It is, ‘You may even consider yourself a Liberal, but if you vote Liberal you’re voting for that guy.’ And if Canadians are thinking that, that does more to move votes in our corner than any other question.”
Or barely out of context, "somewhat imbecilic...summarizes our appeal". From one of the Cons' own staffers. And for once, there's little reason not to trust their analysis.

- Brian Topp comments on what the NDP has to work with now, while also noting that it took some brave choices to move the party to the point of having new resources at its fingertips:
To their eternal credit, Mr. Lavigne and the NDP campaign team didn’t try to rerun an old playbook in this campaign. They wrote a new one – a brave thing to do in politics. There were voices in our tribe insisting that it is a fundamental mistake for a federal NDP leader to say he is running to be prime minister; or to say he would like to lead the federal government; or to argue he has the better plan for the economy as well as for social programs; or to take on the Bloc Québécois in Quebec; or to build a new fundraising system; or to build a new organizing network; or to reach out to some of the best communication and advertising professionals in both English and French; or to do many of the other things this campaign did.

But the 2011 election proved something that I think New Democrats will never forget: If you leave behind your old playbook and write a new one, you just might leave behind your old results and get new ones, too.
- Finally, Frances Russell expresses her own hope that a majority Con government will be somewhat less repressive than its minority counterpart - while noting why how Harper has operated so far has to change.

On increased influence

Let's take a moment to challenge one of the more bizarre memes being pushed by Lib supporters to criticize the NDP for once again having the nerve to run a successful campaign - that being the theory that the NDP will somehow have less influence as the Official Opposition for the next for years than it did as the fourth party to date.

Keep in mind that Harper has seldom had any need to turn to the NDP for support even in a minority parliament, as both the Bloc and Libs regularly waved through budgets and confidence measures. And while the NDP managed to get some results (EI improvements in 2009 and a couple of budget baubles which weren't enough to justify supporting the Cons this year), the Cons have generally refused to even provide the perception of cooperation with any other party - making it particularly difficult to find common ground with the party most distant from it on the political spectrum.

So the NDP's ability to secure legislative gains with the balance of power has been severely limited due to both the Harper Cons' refusal to cooperate, and the fact that they've normally found willing supporters or accomplices without even having to pay attention to the NDP's position.

Meanwhile, the political scene with a Lib official opposition has been dominated by day-to-day scandalmongering rather than any real challenge to the Cons on values. Indeed, as pointed out during the campaign, the Libs have utterly neglected health care despite the fact that it's regularly at the top of voters' concerns. And that's to say nothing of their failure to raise awareness of poverty, First Nations issues, the environment (post-Dion) and other areas where the Cons have failed miserably.

Naturally, the NDP has tried to pick up the slack. But its questions later on in question period have mostly been ignored since they haven't reflected the preferred storyline of a clash between the two leading parties in Parliament.

Now, the NDP will get to set the agenda every day at the point when the media is paying the most attention. And so, we can expect the Cons to face far closer scrutiny - in the House of Commons and beyond - in the areas where their values are most obviously out of touch with Canadians.

Of course, it remains to be seen whether they'll actually change course as a result. But at the very least, an NDP official opposition can raise far more awareness of the gap between the Cons and the country they govern than the Libs ever bothered to do. And it's hard to see how that can be a negative outcome in the long run.

Post-Election Questions: The NDP

For all the justified excitement about the NDP's national results, it's well worth looking at the outcome in terms of two separate developments.

Outside Quebec, the party continued its steady growth from the past few election campaigns, increasing its share of the popular vote in every province (other than Newfoundland and Labrador where it held nearly all of its vote share despite the absence of Danny Williams' ABC campaign) and narrowly eclipsing its previous high with 44 seats.

Inside Quebec, the NDP boosted its share of the vote by 30 points to soar from a single elected MP to a 58-seat romp.

Nationally, then, the way forward looks to involve continuing the progress the party has made under Jack Layton - this time, with four years to make it clear that anti-Harper voters across the country should unite behind the party with the strongest base in our most progressive province (a message which unfortunately didn't spread as far as would have been ideal during the campaign). But that means the big question is:

What kind of roots can the NDP set down in Quebec?

As the 2011 campaign turned out, the NDP seems to have nicely timed its strongest approach to Quebec ever: while it's been working on developing grassroots support for years, its national opponents seem to have mostly written off the province even as the Bloc lost any trace of energy or popular connection. And the NDP candidates who participated in that effort over the past few years should have an excellent chance of creating a base for the longer term.

But in order to hold and build on its current seat count, the NDP will need to fortify itself against a similar wave in somebody else's favour. And in addition to the points made by Marcus McCann as to how to fit in once they arrive in Ottawa, the surest way for the newly-elected Quebec MPs to accomplish that will be to ensure that they live up to the party's longstanding national brand as the hardest-working caucus in Parliament.

As some commentators have pointed out, the NDP has plenty of strong MPs from across the country to set positive examples for the new crop of elected representatives. And they'll have every motivation to put plenty of time and effort into mentoring their new colleagues - not just out of a sense of caucus solidarity, but also because any plan for an NDP government in 2015 will rely on at least holding the party's current position in Quebec. Not to mention that the young group of MPs would seem to have every opportunity to help shape the national debate for decades to come.

Which isn't to say there won't be some opportunity to replace members who don't meet the party's standards. (This would be the major plus in having an open nomination process, as potential candidates who may not have been willing to run before the NDP showed it could win seats will still have a chance to jump into the fray if a local MP can't match up to the party's expectations.)

In sum, the NDP now needs to convert its "travaillons ensemble" slogan from a popular pitch into a mantra for its new Quebec caucus. And if the party can firm up its Quebec support while continuing its progress elsewhere, then it should be in the lead position heading into the 2015 election campaign.

Thursday Morning Links

This and that for your Thursday reading.

- Maude Barlow comments on what's needed to rein in the worst instincts of the Cons' new majority government:
What is needed now is a coming together of progressive forces in civil society and the labour movement as never before in our country's history. Social and trade justice groups, First Nations people, labour unions, women, environmentalists, faith-based organizations, the cultural community, farmers, public health care coalitions, front line public sector workers, and many others must come together to protect and promote the values that the majority of Canadians hold dear. And we must work with, and demand the active representation of, the opposition forces in the House of Commons. In particular, the NDP must oppose the Harper agenda with the full weight of its new power and the Liberals must redeem themselves by working alongside the NDP in defending the interests of the people of Canada.
(S)upport for the Harper agenda is paper-thin, as most Canadians do not share the values of this agenda. This then is our task: to work hard over the next four years to protect the laws, rights and services that generations of Canadians have fought for from being dismantled; fight the corporate-friendly, anti-environmental, security obsessed agenda that will come at us; and prepare the way for the kind of government in four years that does in fact, express the will of the people -- one with an agenda of justice and respect, of care for the earth, of the more equitable sharing of our incredible bounty.

This will be hard work and will take a great deal of courage and commitment. But really, what more important thing do we have to do?
- Paul Wells' review of the campaign is of course a must-read. But I'll take particular note of this observation:
When Ignatieff hired them, Donolo and Sorbara had asked for a year to get ready for the next election. By the fall of 2010, the year was up. Liberals started to tell one another it would soon be time for an election, and then, being Liberals, they began to tell reporters. Late last fall, La Presse ran a column by Vincent Marissal in which he quoted senior Liberals who said they didn’t intend to let the next Harper budget pass a confidence vote if they could help it.

The Conservatives took Marissal’s column as gospel, and pounced. “If the Conservative party wins again, I think the single biggest strategic mistake the Liberal party made was telegraphing their intentions to bring down the government in the fall of 2010,” a senior Harper strategist said. “This basically gave the Conservative party and the operatives and the people who control the money licence to do two things: one, delay the budget as long as possible; and two, start an attack-ad campaign as early as possible and run it as long as possible.”

Jim Flaherty had delivered the 2009 budget on Jan. 27, a not unusual time. This year he waited and waited before finally admitting he would deliver one on March 23. The Conservatives filled the space with by far the longest and heaviest anti-Ignatieff advertising barrage they had ever run. Earlier campaigns had run a few weeks. “This one went on for part of January, all of February and almost all of March,” the Harper strategist said. “And the Grits actually did that to themselves.”
- Of course voters weren't allowed to find out about a massive oil spill which by all rights should have constituted a major late-campaign discussion point until after the election was done with. After all, who can accept having such an inconvenient disaster influence public opinion when it counts most?

- Just a thought, but if a party is at the point where it has six steps to pass through before getting to "finding a purpose for existing", doesn't that speak rather poorly for the likelihood it's worth anybody's time?

- Finally, Glen Pearson's post-mortem is well worth a read in general. But I'd highlight in particular how Pearson's late-campaign revelation about the Cons' tactics fits with Stephen Harper's view of politics as a one-way flow of information:
At doors I canvassed I kept hearing certain stories about how I spent too much time in Africa, or that my voting presence in the House wasn’t too impressive. When I informed them that I only spent one week a year on that continent (Sudan), and that I take it on my holiday time over New Years and on my own dime, I could sense the hesitation in their voice. “Oh … that’s not what we heard when the Conservatives phoned us last night.” Something that hadn’t been an issue heretofore was suddenly looming large in the final days. It was frustrating, but I didn’t know who to talk to. It was only when the election was over that a good Conservative friend informed me that they had actually been utilizing a central office for phone calls and that none of them emanated from London itself. They had poured big money from afar into influencing my riding. What I had thought to be a local campaign had suddenly taken on national dimensions.

I should have figured it out earlier. While the opponents from the other parties were front and centre in the campaign, the Conservative candidate had been AWOL, appearing at only one televised debate in the entire five weeks. Instead, the Conservatives opted for phone calls and signs – no replacement for flesh and blood candidates, but they were looking to win from a distance.

It’s hard to describe this. Across the country, news trickled in that Conservative candidates refused to be present at debates; what was supposed to be an exercise in local democracy had become a faceless excuse for a campaign. It’s never easy being so accessible, but all the other candidates believed it to be their democratic duty. Not the Conservatives, however.
Now, I'd hope that most candidates (Pearson included) would see direct public engagement as more than just a matter of duty, but also as an essential opportunity to interact with constituents and potential supporters. And while the Cons unfortunately managed to win by launching smears at as many opponents as possible through mechanisms which left no opportunity for correction or accountability, there's surely some reason for hope that a concerted effort to cultivate real and direct links to voters over the next four years will beat out any attempt to replicate their campaign.

[Edit: fixed link.]

New column day

Here, featuring my (perhaps unsurprising) take on how the Harper Cons should deal with their biggest question arising out of Monday's election.

Wednesday, May 04, 2011

Post-Election Questions: The Conservatives

As promised, let's take a look at what looks to be the biggest question facing each of Canada's political parties after Monday's election, starting with the one which will now have a majority government:

What happens as Stephen Harper moves past a siege mentality?

So far, many of the defining characteristics of the Harper Cons' time in government have been inextricably tied to the perception that in a minority Parliament, any misstep could be Stephen Harper's last. That culture of fear within the Cons has served as much of the explanation for both their extreme attacks on other parties, and Harper's obsessive need to control the message at all times.

Now, though, Harper too will need to start planning for a majority-based election cycle rather than focusing quite so much attention on clamping down from day to day. And he'll face a choice in how he prioritizes any instinct to try to match Canada's existing values for political benefit compared to his desire to persuade the public to shift to the right.

If Harper's priority is indeed to establish the Cons as the natural governing party in Canada's current political system, then he'll need to try to make the case that he and his party can fit comfortably into the government apparatus rather than spending four more years railing against anybody who wanders within shouting distance. Such a strategy would entail putting at least a modicum of effort into building positive relationships with the civil service, taking a less adversarial tone with non-partisan institutions, and offering up at least some policies which are perceived as outflanking one or more parties to Harper's left in the hope that voters will develop a more positive perception of Harper and his party in elections to come based on the perception that he's moving toward their values.

On the other hand, Harper may prefer to try to drag the range of acceptable political discussion as far to the right as he can in a four-year term on the theory that his electoral prospects will benefit as a result even if he has to suffer some setbacks in the meantime. That would likely involve taking the reins off of his party's more colourful back-benchers to try to shift the window of political discussion to the right, while putting even more work into trying to de-fund and delegitimize dissenting views in the hope that another four years will be long enough to push them off the scene entirely.

This week, Harper is looking to send the message that he's aiming for the former. But since we know better than to believe a Con message of post-election detente, we'll have to reserve judgment as to which he'll ultimately choose - and that decision will set the tone for the next four years.

On majorities

I'll post later about the main questions facing each Canadian political party after Monday's election. But with pundits like Andrew Steele declaring that we should assume the NDP can't put together a majority coalition, let's set the record straight as to exactly how much hope there is to unite Canada's left behind the NDP as it stands (rather than mucking around with mergers or other structural changes).

Throughout the election campaign, EKOS regularly ran second-choice polling. And every time it did from the moment the NDP emerged as the second-place party nationally, the NDP's support as a first or second choice was between about 50% and 54% of voters - compared to numbers in the low 40s for the Harper Conservatives.

Which means that if we're indeed seeing polarization into a two-party system in which the Libs and Bloc are relatively inconsequential, the default assumption should be that the NDP has the upper hand as matters stand now.

Granted, that doesn't mean we can assume the same will be true by 2015. After all, the Harper Cons have obviously tailored their message to what they perceived to be the share of the vote they'd need to win, and we have to figure that their strategy will change if they face a more polarized choice rather than being able to rely on vote-splitting.

But we already have plenty of evidence available that the NDP's message appeals at least somewhat both to a majority of Canadians, and to substantially more voters than the Cons have managed to reach to date. And that would seem to offer ample reason to continue with the party structure that's working.

Wednesday Afternoon Links

Miscellaneous material for your mid-week reading.

- Greg picks up on some of the positives of the NDP's youthful new caucus. But the appeal should be broader than campus outreach: after all, what better contrast could one build to a theme of "tired old politics" than to be able to point to plenty of bright, young MPs as the future of both the NDP and the country?

- Meanwhile, in the department of old and outdated politics, Brigitte Alepin notes how tax laws have utterly failed to keep up with widespread evasion techniques. And the answer is to coordinate on laws and enforcement mechanisms, not to buy the corporatist line that we should instead give up on taxing wealthy individuals or businesses or entirely.

- Have you prostrated yourself sufficiently before your Conservative overlords? Apparently Michael Ignatieff hasn't.

- Finally, while I don't agree with all of Sixth Estate's analysis, I'll heartily endorse this suggestion as to how we can put the wave of interest in politics to good use:
For the moment the Internet is considerably more democratic than the rest of the media. That gives us some room to move, and about the only good thing about a majority is that we can say for certain we have time to work with. There will be at least one more election in Canada — contrary to what some scared people are saying, there will probably be many more. This is good, because the core Harper team is so demonstrably, inexplicably corrupt and incompetent (batting one for three against the weakest Liberal leaders in generations) that there is a very real chance this party will spectacularly self-destruct in the future, much like the Tories did in 1993 and in 1935. We’ve got until that happens to change the political climate of this country so that whoever replaces him is forced to make real reforms, not just mouth platitudes and turn his back on the electorate like, say, Barack Obama.

I don’t want to understate the magnitude of the problem. It’s very serious. The media are openly arrayed in favour of Conservative government because it is pro-business and because it has mastered the art of simple, misleading, headline-driven stories. The polling system makes coordination vital, to an extent that progressive and centrist Canadians are going to have extreme difficulty. And we’re running out of time, probably no matter what Canada does...

But I also think it would be wrong to underestimate the tools we have available to us. Right now it is a trivial matter for me or another blogger to build a site that could be read by every politically conscious Canadian on a regular basis. Not that every politically conscious Canadian would want to, of course. But it could be done. When it comes to information and communication, the technical disparity between elites and dissidents is now lower than it has been in literally thousands of years. The revolutions in Egypt and Tunisia, and the failed revolutions in Iran, Bahrain, and several other countries, are a testament to this. And we don’t have to worry about the army shooting at us, like they did. The problem we have is coordinating our efforts and getting people to notice. Those are big problems, but not as big as the problem the Internet solved for us in the first place.

On trade-offs

Unfortunately, it wasn't much of an issue during the federal election campaign. But word is getting out that a new wave of trade agreements and regulatory "harmonization" to further handcuff all levels of Canadian government will likely be a top priority for the Harper Cons.

Fortunately, we do now have an Official Opposition which can credibly question whether such agreements actually serve anybody's interests other than those of businesses looking to shift all governments to the lowest possible standards. And while it's not hard to see how Harper might view the issue as a priority in reaching his goal of a neutered state, the issue may also serve to help unite Canada's progressive forces in short order.

Tuesday, May 03, 2011

Tuesday Night Cat Blogging

Bubble-wrapped cats.

Update: Let's add a side of electoral reform cats:

Tuesday Evening Links

This and that for your post-election reading.

- Erin recognizes the long-term positives to be drawn from yesterday's election results:
The NDP replacing the Liberals as one of the two predominant parties is hugely positive. Canadian social democrats have been striving for this realignment since they founded the CCF in 1932.
In the next election, progressives should no longer feel that they must choose between voting NDP because it is progressive and voting Liberal to stop Conservatives. The resulting concentration of progressive votes for the NDP would produce substantial gains in English Canada. If the NDP can gain as many seats there as it just gained in Quebec, it would form a majority government.

The next four years will be tough. But there is a bright orange light at the end of the tunnel.
- Andrew Steele also hopes for positive results out of the election campaign, including this possibility which seems a lot more likely now that the next trip in the polls is years down the road:
4. The lessons of a long-term plan. The NDP was executing a long-term plan in this election. Jack Layton consciously chose to target francophone Quebec over the past four elections.
His party continued to work in Quebec, and Mr. Layton clearly was focused on winning over Quebec francophones during segments of both debates. This time, the long-term plan paid off, and Mr. Layton and the NDP will be rewarded by a fundamental breakthrough.

It is a good lesson that politics is not won today or tomorrow but over the course of years. Deciding on a strategic course, sticking to the plan and adjusting tactically as you move forward is critical.

The good news is other parties will hopefully follow this methodology, getting out of the insular hyper-caffeinated world of Question Period and back into thinking about the big picture.
- Scott Stinson suggests that the media should be able to learn from the campaign as well:
More debates would help. Had there been one debate specifically on the economy, there’s a chance the leaders would have had to spend time defending their visions -and their platforms. Mr. Layton never faced serious questions about his economic plan during the two debates, a fact Mr. Ignatieff could only lament as he spent the campaign’s final week belatedly attacking the NDP’s “fantasy” numbers. It’s too bad: that exchange would have made for good TV.

It would be interesting to see what would happen if the national media decided en masse to stop paying more than $10,000 a week for the right to join the leaders’ tours -a move that would essentially defund the highly scripted operations. It would be nice to see more -and more fulsome -debates. And it would be something if parties had to subject their economic plans to some sort of outside audit -one that compared Conservative apples to Liberal apples to NDP apples.

Is that expecting too much change? Is unrealistic to expect such radical reforms before the next campaign?

Perhaps. But change could happen. This was supposed to be an election about nothing.
- But then, pogge notes that the media itself was a major problem in its utter disconnect from the values of voters.

- Finally, Webb offers up what's probably the safest prediction coming out of the election results:
I'm going to make a prediction right here and now: Canadians will regret giving so much power to someone who was learning how to abuse it for the last five years. I'll give it two years for the grumblings to begin and three years before the sweat is really on. This is how I see it going, more or less:

The cost of the crime bill will skyrocket, especially for provincial governments. The economic pressure it creates will increase until it becomes unaffordable for either provinces or the country as a whole, and people will seek alternative measures for law and order. This will pit the provinces against the feds, and it will also pit Canadians against the possibility that their province and their country may go bankrupt. Austerity measures will be introduced and as a result taxes will go up. This will all go on against a backdrop of the energy industry making unprecedented profits each quarter with unbelievable subsidies. There will be a critical mass of discontent and that's about when the 'jets' will become another economic crisis we can ill-afford.

Egged on

Gerry Ritz describes the Cons' standard as to what kind of resistance it'll take to get their attention:
Ritz's Conservative Party won a majority government on Monday, giving it for the first time the legislative clout to strip the board's monopoly as it has long intended.

"I was not shy about raising this at every whistle stop that I made in Saskatchewan in eight different (electoral districts), plus my own," Ritz said. "No one threw eggs at me. There's some concern we're going to throw out the baby with the bathwater (but) I told everyone not a chance."
Needless to say, now might be the time to invest in egg futures.

So close and yet so far

For NDP supporters in Saskatchewan, last night's results were particularly painful as the party was once again shut out in its birthplace. But let's note exactly how that shutout happened.

By all accounts, the NDP had three main target ridings in the province: Palliser, Saskatoon-Rosetown-Biggar and Desnethé—Missinippi—Churchill River.

And in all three, the NDP posted a higher vote count than ever before, topping both its previous bests and the Cons' winning vote totals from 2008. (Indeed, the NDP's totals in Palliser and Saskatoon-Rosetown-Biggar would have beaten all comers in every election since the current ridings were drawn in 1996.)

What's more, the NDP's share of the vote increased from 25.5% to 32.3% province-wide and pulled to within striking distance in several new potential target ridings - even as the province's premier spent substantial political capital to echo the Cons' spin at two key points in the campaign.

So the issue for the NDP looks to have been based largely on the continued decline of the Libs which has eliminated sometimes-favourable vote splits, along with some failure to anticipate increased turnout generally - not any problem in identifying and pulling a significant amount of new support.

Of course, a different set of riding boundaries in 2015 will reset plenty of the electoral math. But for now, the NDP's Saskatchewan campaigns should be proud to have brought out as much new support as they did - and should be thinking about how to turn that into some long-awaited seats four years from now.

Hopeful signs

On Sunday, I posted this:
(T)he biggest reason why the Cons are in trouble now is that they've tried to re-fight the 2008 campaign while Canadians' preferences have changed in the meantime. And it would be downright tragic if Harper is able to win his desired majority thanks to progressive voters who make the same mistake.
And Alice is in the process of documenting just how many ridings saw "strategic" appeals go horribly awry - possibly leading to exactly that outcome.

But I'll take a moment to start a bit of a project of my own - for which I'll be glad for reader input. And that's to document the ridings where positive messages won out in the face of the dirtiest political tricks of the 2011 campaign.

So let's start with the first example I identified in pointing out the potential for just that result.

In Gatineau, NDP candidate Francoise Boivin was both publicly outed and smeared in an apparent effort to stop the NDP's progress in one of its longtime Quebec targets.

Boivin won by a tidy 46 points.

Dirty smears lost. Positive politics won.

[Edit: Fixed wording.]

The aftermath

When Stephen Harper first approached the possibility of a majority government in 2006, he tried to reassure Canadians that they could afford to vote for him since the civil service, courts and Senate would all serve as counterweights.

Now, Harper will have his majority - but only after the civil service has been thoroughly silenced and the latter two institutions made subject to five years of Harper appointments. Which raises the question of what can be done to keep Harper and his party from doubling down on the damage they've already done in a minority government.

Fortunately, there's at least a modicum of good news on that front.

To start with, the NDP has not only won official opposition status, but has managed to put together a particularly strong base of opposition in the process.

On my quick look, only once has an opposition to a majority government held more seats than the NDP's 102. And that was the result of a government losing power (Joe Clark's PCs in 1980) rather than a party demonstrating growth from one election to the next.

And that stronger, more activist opposition party looks to have plenty of opportunity to tap into broader public interest. We've seen both protest movements and positive surges of support develop over the past couple of years - and if some of the outpouring of interest from the campaign can be channelled into visible popular opposition, then it may be harder for Harper to reshape the country in his image than he may assume.

Of course, none of the above is to say that we should be happy with the results of an election which nearly resulted in real change for the better, but instead handed absolute institutional power to a leader who's done nothing but abuse every opportunity he's received. And I'll look at the big questions for each Canadian party going forward in the next couple of days.

But now is the time to take stock of our best means to combat Harper's plans, rather than giving up or looking to point fingers when the public's mood toward Harper is about to set the tone for the next four years. And the combination of a true clash of values and an engaged citizenry could go a long way toward avoiding the worst.

Monday, May 02, 2011

An election compendium

For Election Day, let's take a brief stroll through the campaign that was as documented on this blog.

Few may have seen the NDP's surge into a dead heat for first place nationally coming. But it's difficult to say the party itself wasn't prepared, as its strong ads have managed to attract attention without turning off voters, while its messages about the need for change have managed to last through the length of the campaign.

Once the NDP started to rise in the polls, it of course faced more challenges as competitors realized they couldn't simply call for strategic voting to wave away the competition. But Jack Layton offered strong responses to the challenges to its platform, and the NDP was able to defuse the trumped-up distractions that inevitably popped up. And so the NDP is in a position to rise above the trench warfare that so many expected to dominate the campaign.

But of course, that was assisted by the weak responses from the NDP's opponents to the developing orange wave.

The Bloc was the first to notice something was happening, as evidenced by Gilles Duceppe's attempts to challenge Layton during the debates. But once voters stopped believing the line that they shouldn't aspire to vote for a party which could build a better Canada, Duceppe quickly ran out of useful material. And soon, the Quebec wave started developing into a nation-wide orange crush.

The Libs were the next to react to that development, going so far as to briefly abandon their campaign plan). But the results ranged from the counterproductive to the increasingly desperate. And that has to leave plenty of Libs wondering not just about the campaign, but about their earlier mistakes which helped the NDP to build strength.

Finally, after providing a regular supply of examples of what's broken in Ottawa as matters stand now and seemingly missing what was happening from inside their partisan bubble, the Cons scrambled to incorporate the shifting electoral landscape into a campaign planned to be run without deviation. But that too didn't always turn out as expected, with the result that the NDP ends the campaign within striking distance of first place nationally.

All of which leaves us asking what comes next. So let's once again take note of the warning signs that Stephen Harper won't accept defeat either in the election results or in the House of Commons - as well as the obvious opportunities for cooperation between the NDP and the Libs if today turns out as hoped.

That said, I'll call once again for voters to vote for what they believe in rather than falling into "strategic" traps or buying the obviously-flawed argument that an unaccountable majority is somehow a desirable outcome. And hopefully we'll be well on our way to a better Canada by this time tomorrow.

Election Day Links

Assorted content for your reading (and voting!).

- There are plenty of rumours going around about robo-calls trying to direct voters to the wrong place in a final, desperate attempt to stifle the vote. So if there's any doubt, go to the Elections Canada's website for definitive information as to where and how to vote.

- I'm surprised to see seat projections fitting into as narrow a range as seems to have happened, particularly in an election that's seen as many massive shifts in public opinion as this one. But most seem to agree that the NDP will double or even triple its seat count on its way to second place in the party standings, while a Con majority is a relatively unlikely outcome.

- After having been summarily removed from a Con event for the crime of having had her picture taken with Michael Ignatieff, Awish Aslam found out the hard way that Stephen Harper apologizes for nothing. Though I'm not sure anybody should have expected anything different.

- For all the NDP's rightful pride in doing more than other parties even while at a disadvantage in seat count, I'll have to acknowledge there's at least one area where NDP MPs don't rank at the top of the list:
Under the House of Commons rules, MPs are allowed to spend up to 3 per cent of their office budget on hospitality, which means the maximum ranges from $8,541 to $10,734.

The hospitality category includes meals when accompanied by guests, tickets for meals with non-partisan service groups or community events, food and beverages for meetings and non-partisan events, small token items such as buttons, pins and ribbons and gifts not exceeding $100 for people, events or organizations that have contributed positively to the MPs community.
The list of the top 50 highest spending MPs is dominated by the Conservatives and the Bloc Québécois. The analysis found the top 50 include 22 Bloc MPs, 21 Conservative MPs, six Liberals and one independent. Portneuf-Jacques Cartier MP André Arthur — who has often bragged about how little he spends as an MP — had the 42nd highest hospitality tab, $8,946.

No NDP MPs appeared among the top 50 spenders.
- Dwayne Winseck is justifiably concerned about the massive gap between popular opinion and newspaper endorsements:
The basic idea behind the free press is that it is suppose to reflect a plurality of a society’s voices and political forces. If that is true, shouldn’t the range of editorial opinion in the press come at least somewhat close to matching up with public opinion?
Counting just the endorsements of specific candidates for PM (Harper, Layton, Ignatieff, Duceppe, May), we find a stunning 21 out of 22 backing Harper. In other words, 95 percent of editorial opinion has solidified behind Harper. This is almost three times his standing in the public mind, and the last election.
In Vancouver, Calgary, Edmonton, Saskatoon, Toronto, Montreal (but not Halifax and much of the Maritimes) and other major cities right across the country where these groups have dailies, editors are stumping for Harper. Even single major newspapers such at the Globe and Mail and the Winnipeg Free Press have weighed in strongly on the CPC side of the scale in Canada’s biggest cities and nation-wide.

This is not a free press. This is bad for democracy. The fact that a shackled press now stands to an extraordinary degree singing their praises for Dear Leader S. Harper from the same hymn sheet should give us pause for thought and reflection.
- Finally, CUPE's Paul Moist offers a platform comparison on the economy, pensions and health care.

- One more must-read for election day is Aaron Wherry's final version of the Commons on Jack Layton's campaign.

Sunday, May 01, 2011

Election eve musings

A few thoughts which haven't yet found their way into full posts, but which seem worth noting before election day...

- Plenty has been made of the Cons' jump at the end of the 2008 election campaign which wasn't captured in polls or seat projection models. But is there any indication that pollsters haven't taken that development into account in adjusting their models in the time since? And is it possible that the radically different end to this campaign - with the Cons' chief opponent closing strong, rather than melting down as Stephane Dion was perceived to have done - might in fact lead to the opposite outcome?

- In the past, the Libs have notoriously had a fairly weak voter turnout structure. But this time out, they're bragging about a strong ground game which they argue will make up for part of their losses in popular support - and it'll be well worth watching whether that materializes, particularly to the extent the ridings being targeted for full-on turnout efforts have changed since just a couple of weeks ago.

- Conversely, the NDP will go from being known for a strong ground game in its target ridings, to relying on voters to turn themselves out in a number of ridings (particularly in Quebec, but potentially elsewhere as well) which haven't yet seen much development on the ground. It remains to be seen how many candidates will be able to win despite weakness on the ground - but any gap between popular support and ground game may also offer a ready opportunity for further NDP growth regardless of how tomorrow's results turn out.

- Finally, is anybody else surprised that the Cons don't seem to have matched their late-campaign pivot against the NDP on economic issues with so much as an online ad focusing on the contrast they've tried to draw?

Sunday Afternoon Links

Assorted content for your pre-election reading.

- Torontoist endorses the NDP, nicely summing up the positive message which has propelled the NDP to its surge in popular support:
Much of the NDP's platform is not only tolerable; it is excellent. Only the NDP have any sense of ambition for what government can do to improve our environment, both in terms of a climate change strategy and in possessing an interest for a 21st-century renewable power grid. The NDP's crime policy proposals are realistic, defined, and compassionate. Their immigration policy intelligently addresses many of the issues with our current system, including the opportunity for immigrant families to sponsor a single non-close relative, while still accepting that crackdowns on immigration consultation and updating our professional certification programs for immigrants must remain priorities. Their cultural policies promote homegrown content and recognize the massive return on investment that smart cultural funding can generate. Of the three major national parties, theirs is the only one with internet and technology policies relevant to the needs of modern Canada. The NDP's take on national defence is very well reasoned: Layton's announcement that his government would focus on the shipbuilding program that the Tories have been dragging their heels on, including a renewed focus on the oft-delayed Joint Support Ship program, is commendable indeed. And the NDP have committed to ending our deployment in Afghanistan—a mission our military has undertaken with skill and dignity, but one which increasingly appears to be a lost cause and which Canada can no longer afford.

More important than any of that, though, is the NDP's commitment to political and electoral reform. Both Jack Layton and the party as a whole are determined to do their best to reform Canada's electoral system away from our outmoded, obsolete first-past-the-post structure into something modern which better reflects the true intentions of Canadians through more proportional representation, be that through party list voting, single-transferable vote, or mixed-member proportional representative voting. This reform is something our country desperately needs. Similarly, the NDP's proposals for preventing the abusive use of the proroguing power and Layton's suggestions for governmental bodies to audit proposed legislation are good ones. The NDP's proposed abolition of the Senate is drastic but not without its appeal, especially in the wake of Conservative use of the Senate as an anti-democratic tool to prevent the passage of popular legislation.
(I)t is idealism, at this time, that Canada needs. We have had almost a decade of cold, callous government from Stephen Harper's Tories and to a lesser extent from Paul Martin's Liberals before them. The Tories see government as an impediment; the Liberals all too often use it for inducement, to bribe voters into supporting the Grits rather than offering a coherent platform, as evidence by Michael Ignatieff's scattershot campaigning in recent months. The NDP looks upon us and tells us that we are Canadians: that we are a society that believes in helping one another, in helping the downtrodden and weak, not because it is economically expedient or eventually profitable, but because it is right, and that this is worth fighting for.

That is why Jack Layton and his party have skyrocketed in the polls. That is why they deserve your vote, and our endorsement.
- But the NDP surely won't complain if Haroon Siddiqui is right in describing the election as a referendum on Stephen Harper:
Who says elections are a nuisance? Stephen Harper and the media. The latter also parroted his pronouncement that this campaign was “unnecessary,” being the fifth since 2000. It’s a waste of money. It’s boring, to boot.

Canadians have proven them wrong, being fully engaged from the first week to the last, turning up in record numbers to the advance polls and dragging Harper onto a knife’s edge for Monday night.
However, Canadians quickly caught on to Harper’s politics of division, his contempt of Parliament, his bully tactics (symbolized by students being thrown out of Tory rallies), abuse of power and misuse of the treasury in showering tens of millions of dollars on ridings and groups with the sole purpose of advancing the partisan Conservative cause.

Ordinary citizens have turned the election into a referendum on Harper — specifically, on a Harper majority. Their answer to his fanning the fears of “reckless coalition” post-election was to forge one at the grassroots level, now.
- And Parker Donham notes that public dissatisfaction with Harper should have been obvious for some time:
(S)upport for Layton may be new, but dislike of Harper and his autocratic manner is not. To re-phrase Harris’s question then, how did the cream of Canada’s national press corps miss the anti-Harper mood?

On issue after issue, press gallery reporters have, wiuth few exceptions, been quick to accept the Harper squad’s assertions that, “The public doesn’t care about parliamentary technicalities.” “No one wants this unnecessary election,” “Canadians don’t expect us to coddle Afghan terrorists,” “The public has no love for the long form census,” “Talk of contempt is just partisan bickering,” etc. Faced with these airy dismissals, the gallery has too often shut down coverage of important news stories that reflected badly on the Harper government.

Reporters have also accepted unprecedented and humiliating restrictions on their ability to put questions to the Prime Minister, his cabinet, and now the leader of the Conservative Party of Canada in an election campaign.

The gallery collectively underestimated Canada’s appetite for thoughtful coverage of the nuts and bolts of Harper’s burgeoning autocracy. That is the failure unmasked by the last two weeks of the 2011 election.
- All of which helps to explain the continued gains for the NDP - with the last EKOS poll of the campaign showing the party at 31.6% and within 3 points of the Cons. And that in turn has led to the point where the end of Stephen Harper's reign is in sight.

On stability

With a Harper Con majority looking less and less likely, it's worth taking a quick look at how the Cons' campaign spin fits with any real desire for stability following an election.

After all, even leaving aside Stephen Harper's interest in provoking yet another constitutional crisis, it's the Cons who have chosen to raise confidence showdowns at every turn, refusing to make any concessions which might result in any certainty of avoiding an election for longer than a given sitting of Parliament. And there's little reason to think that motivation will change after tomorrow.

In contrast, the NDP has already indicated its willingness to enter into a longer-term arrangement to move past the constant election speculation we've faced ever since Harper took power. And a government led by Jack Layton will surely have every interest in breaking the cycle of a new confidence threats every couple of months.

So part of the choice ahead - both for voters tomorrow and the Libs if the election produces the anticipated result - will be whether people recognize the positives in moving past the Cons' constant brinksmanship. And if people think through how any actual desire for stability fits in with the NDP's commitment to working with other parties, the Cons' campaign message may prove to be their undoing.

On strategic considerations

A word of caution to Murray Dobbin and others pointing to strategic voting sites in hopes of stopping the Cons. While I'm not a huge fan of the concept generally, I'll strongly suggest that anybody wanting to vote strategically at least take into account the changes in party preferences and campaign momentum (which are all too often disregarded by defensive voting advocates) in deciding how to cast a ballot.

After all, a close two-way Con/Lib race from 2008 probably won't have held its shape now that the Libs have declined further and the NDP has boosted its popular support across the country. (Indeed, most of the closest races from 2008 were in ridings which weren't seen as strategic voting targets before that campaign began.) And in many cases, there may be a better chance of building a plurality of support based on the NDP's surge than of getting anywhere throwing ballots at a declining Lib vote total.

As cases in point, let's take a look at Buckets' list of recommended ridings and compare the recommendations to how votes actually figure to be switching.

In Guelph, the Libs and NDP both ran slightly behind their provincial average in 2008 (32% to 33% and 16% to 18%, respectively). But with the latest polls showing the NDP somewhere between even with and slightly ahead of the Libs in Ontario as a whole, one would expect a similar dead heat in Guelph. So one can just as easily argue that the strategic vote is NDP if one believes (as seems to be the case) that momentum built during a campaign is more likely than not to continue to election day.

Likewise in Kitchener Centre, both of the parties were roughly even with their provincial polling averages - meaning that the logical starting point based on current support levels is to figure that they're about even, and vote based on who's more likely to add momentum during the campaign.

And plenty more ridings on the list could tip into the NDP's column if its late-starting Ontario momentum builds into a few extra points tomorrow, while showing little possibility of going to a Lib party which has lost a quarter of its Ontario support from 2008.

Indeed, the biggest reason why the Cons are in trouble now is that they've tried to re-fight the 2008 campaign while Canadians' preferences have changed in the meantime. And it would be downright tragic if Harper is able to win his desired majority thanks to progressive voters who make the same mistake.

So the best advice in such ridings looks to be to ignore the murky strategic possibilities and vote for one's actual preference - because a vote will be doubly damaging if it's cast for what one perceives to be merely the lesser evil, but also ends up backfiring from a strategic standpoint.

Sunday Morning Links

Assorted content for your election eve reading.

- Yes, the party polling is positive enough for the last day of the election campaign: Forum places the NDP at 33% (to the Cons' 35), Abacus Data places the NDP at 32% (to the Cons' 37), and Nanos finds the NDP at 31% and within 6 points of the lead - all signalling that a relatively small continuation of the campaign's growth trend can push the NDP into a clear first place.

- But perhaps the most telling numbers are the Nanos (warning: PDF) - which have Jack Layton not only overtaking Stephen Harper once again, but also reaching new highs overall and in trust and vision even after his opponents have launched about all the attacks and smears they'll be able to land during the court of the campaign.

- So will the NDP's popular support translate into an equally strong wave at the polls? It'll certainly help if voters take up Susan Delacourt's challenge to show at least part of the enthusiasm we put into building up our Olympic athletes into our democracy.

- That said, citizen engagement can't and shouldn't end at the ballot box. And Michael Posner's article on citizen panels offers one way of making sure that the kind of interest that's been building over the last month gets channeled into better policy outcomes.

- Finally, while I hope Colby Cosh is wrong in his seat projections, at least one of his points is well worth highlighting:
The shift to the NDP isn’t a result of appeals to particular economic sectors or social groupings that might vary from riding to riding. It is a personality-driven shift; a true mass movement. It is, in part, surely driven by universal human reactions to (Jack) Layton’s courage. He is fighting an election he might easily have avoided.

In fact...Layton faced a choice: fight an election now, which is a squalid and exhausting task for a healthy person, or take time to recover from cancer and a broken hip in relative peace. This was as a free a choice as can be imagined. Nobody on the face of earth would have blamed him for taking a break. He decided not to, and whether he did it for the advantage of the party or for the interests of the country, the decision boils down to “He did a brutally difficult thing because he thought it needed doing”. If you ask me, it’s pretty damn admirable even if he just thought selfishly that this was his best chance at being Prime Minister.
[Edit: moved strategic voting discussion to its own post.]