Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Stephen Harper & the Politics of Appeasement

Politics are heating up in Canada, as I've heard that Stephen Harper is now using employment insurance to curry favour with the NDP {and Bloc Québécois} in order to prevent a no-confidence vote from triggering another election.  The semiotics of his choice of tie colour also did not go unnoticed {above}.  While the Liberals and Ignatieff are chomping at the bit to have another election, it makes sense for the NDP to bide their time.  They are down in the polls and they can leverage the situation to promote their own agenda, in this round, one that's pro-labour.

The question is, what are the limits of Harper's uncharacteristic acquiescence?  Will he suddenly go green?  It's one thing to go pro-labour, which has populist implications at the expense of fiscal conservatism, but policies like going green that appeal to social and fiscal liberalism and leftwards will only disenchant the Conservative base.  The threat of no-confidence and fears of losing seats may pave the way for Conservatives to get bullied in Parliament, as well as sowing the seeds of discord in their own ranks.

John Ibbitson of the Globe & Mail ponders the question, Is Canada Broken?, given the likelihood of 4 elections in less than 6 years::
"Major concerns – from immigration to the environment to the very fate of the federal government within Confederation – languish, as the parties use Parliament for an elaborate and futile game of political chicken.  A political system designed to produce majority governments or, at the least, stable minority governments, has malfunctioned, throwing up instead a succession of regimes so fragile that the campaign for the next election begins with the first Speech from the Throne."
He doesn't use the terms I would to describe the state of Canadian politics, fragmentation, but he characterizes the geographic and demographic faultlines, as well as the fact that the MPs aren't reflective of the realities of today's Canada.  Perhaps.  The increased political fragmentation in Canada is reflective of specialized affinities along regional and ideological lines, resulting in a perfect storm of instability::
  1. The rise of the Greens going from under 1% of the popular vote in 2000 to 6.8% last year
  2. The staying power of the Bloc Québécois {10% of the popular in 2008}
  3. The return of the NDP to 1980s levels in recent elections {17.48% in 2006 and 18.13% in 2008}
I'm wondering if these are fads or trends.  The Liberal Party of Canada has seen its support dwindle from around 40% in the Chrétien 1990s to 26% in 2008, with the polls this year ranging for the most part in the 30%s.  The Conservative Party of Canada has received popular votes in the high 30%s, at 36 and 37% in 2006 and 2008, respectively.  So, about one-third of the electorate is neither voting Liberal nor Conservative.  In terms of seats, 89 of 308 {29%} went  to the NDP, Bloc, and independents.  So, the electorate is roughly divided into thirds, in terms of the popular vote, Liberals, Conservatives, and alternatives.

Given this political landscape, a majority government is an uphill battle, but can there be a stable minority government?  In other words, can the Grits or the Tories expand their appeal without disenfranchising their base?  Both parties should be thankful that the NDP and Greens are divided on economic issues that prevent a merger, despite sharing social justice values.  That would institutionalize and legitimize a left-leaning political presence for many and increase the number of swing ridings {I'm in the process of compiling this data from the 2006 and 2008 elections}.  The real issue though, just might be where in Canada is Michael Ignatieff ?  I'm sure the Globe & Mail wants it to be an elitist American forest.  I keed, I keed à la Triumph.

In the meantime, let's see how far the NDP and Bloc push Harper.  Take it on the run, Steve...

Song:: Take It On The Run - REO Speedwagon

Twitterversion::  Harper plays the appeasement, but is instability here to stay w/ ⅓ {} neither Grit nor Tory? #Canpoli #Cdnpoli @Prof_K

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