It's The Vote Splitting, Silly by Adam Bunch

It sure as hell doesn't feel like it—what with Stephen Harper running  roughshod over parliament and all—but there has rarely, in the entire history of our country, been so little popular support for conservatives. Over the last few months, polls have shown Harper's party bouncing around somewhere in the neighbourhood of 34% of the popular vote.  Some have shown them as low as 29%. If there were an election tomorrow and the Conservatives did only get 29%, it would be the worst showing for the right-wing in any Canadian federal election ever. Ever. As in, more people would vote for a left-wing party and fewer for a right-wing party than in any other election in the entire history of this public healthcare loving, peacekeepinventing, gay weddinging "socialist backwater" (Harper's term, not mine). More so than in any of the elections Jean Chrétien ever won. Or Pierre Trudeau. Or any other Liberal Prime Minister ever.

But, barring a coalition, Harper would still get to run the country. Unlike most Tory leaders, who have had to share right-leaning supporters with the Alliance, Reform and Social Credit parties, Harper would get all of the conservative vote, while the biggest progressive vote ever would be split four ways between the Liberals, NDP,  Bloc and Greens.

So what do the Liberals do about it? Well, given that conservative support is within a few points of being as low as it has ever been, it seems safe to assume that it won't be falling much lower any time soon. It certainly didn't during the torture scandal. Or the census debacle. Or the prorogation. Or the other prorogation. It seems that the vast majority of people voting Conservative these days are going to vote Conservative no matter what. So if the Liberals are looking to attract more voters, they're going to have to come from the left.

You would think that might be doable for a party that has historically prided itself on being a champion of progressive Canadian values. But lord knows you can always count on today's Liberal party to screw things up. Instead of moving left, they've spent the last couple of years moving right.

A good deal of that, of course, has to do with the epic clusterfuck that was Stéphane Dion. He made environmentalism the centrepiece of his campaign and then—in large part thanks to his own staggering ineptitude, media illiteracy and lack of support from within his own party—tanked. In his place rose Michael Ignatieff. And it's kind of hard to sell your party as the champion of progressive values when your leader would have invaded Iraq alongside George W. Bush, thinks torture should be legal, and has suggested that criticizing the oil sands is "stupid". His few attempts at standing up for progressive causes have been downright Dion-esque in the spectacular nature of their failure—like, say, the time he called for a vote to preserve abortion funding for the developing world and then failed to get his own MPs to show up for it.

Earlier this week, he did make something of a plea to progressive voters. His pitch was summed up by a headline in the Globe: "Vote Liberal or suffer again under Tory thumb, says Ignatieff". Not exactly inspiring stuff; if the usual Liberal fear-mongering was going to be enough, it probably would've worked last time. Or the time before that. The leftish policies Ignatieff did highlight—he would cancel the contract for those unnecessary fighter jets, he says, and not cut corporate taxes—aren't exactly the kind of big ticket items that will have people flocking over from the Greens and NDP. Plus, you know, it might help if the Liberals hadn't spent most of the '90s cutting corporate taxes and awarding dubious government contracts.

Luckily, it doesn't really matter how many votes the Liberals do get. After all, with the vote split the way it is, it would take a miracle for them to form a majority. And if Harper doesn't either, they'll be able to form the next government just as long as they're willing to work together with the other progressive parties. This is actually exactly the kind of situation parliamentary democracies are built for; the power doesn't rest with the party who gets the most votes, but with the majority of MPs. There's a coalition government in the UK right now. And in Australia. But then, of course, the Liberals could have tried to form a coalition at any point during Harper's reign; Ignatieff canceled plans to do just that when he took over the leadership in 2008. All, it seems, so that Harper could have a few more years to dismantle the country's social infrastructure while the Liberals refused to face up to the reality of their situation.

And if they continue to do that? Well, then we'll end up right back where we started: with more people voting for the left than just about ever before—and getting one of the most conservative governments in Canadian history in return.

Photo: Michael Ignatieff

Adam Bunch is the Editor-in-Chief of The Little Red Umbrella and the creator of The Toronto Dreams Project. You can read the rest of his posts here or follow him on Twitter here.


Alex said...

Wow, Adam, really great post. Your points about fear-mongering and votes needing to come from the right are spot on. It is getting really frustrating to be a progressive in this country and be totally ignored by the parties that are supposed to represent my views.

Anonymous said...

All these years later, Trudeau giving away Canadian money to whatever "despot of the day" - giving Islam protected status in Canadian law, Calling the rank & file Canadian - tax cheats, (but don't look at the offshore holding of the liberal elite"

Quite the difference from the Harper Years right? how much lower can we sink?

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