The Canadian political spectrum revisited (Conservatives can win)

There is a story by Anthony Furey in the Toronto Sun which posits that “Canada’s left is making itself irrelevant and paving the way for a lopsided two-party system that Justin Trudeau could dominate for the foreseeable future … [and] … If the third- and fifth-place parties on the federal scene continue to recede into the nutty fringes, their moderate voters will head elsewhere. And it’s unlikely they’ll go Conservative. While Green voters are less predictable, the 3.5 million Canadians who voted NDP last October could easily by wooed by Trudeau. The future looks good for the Liberals, who described their platform as “the most progressive” in Canada … [but] … It’s certainly possible michelle-rempel-minister-state-western-economic-dithe next Conservative candidate will be more of a centrist who draws voters back into the fold. A lot of the anti-Harper vote was just that – anti-Harper. His name won’t be on the ballot in 2019 … [and, finally] … the social conservative movement, having felt brushed aside over the past decade, is mobilizing. MP Brad Trost, who is vocally pro-life and against same-sex marriage, is considering a leadership bid, which could reopen old wounds and fractures across the Tory landscape.

This gives me a chance to revisit a familiar theory about the nature of the Canadian political spectrum which I see as being spread (as all all spectra must be) from left to right but “populated” under a pretty standard bell curve. The “centre” contains almost 70% of voters and many in the Left of centre and Right of centre categories might be more comfortable voting for a centrist party’s candidate than a left or right wing one:

Slide1

I talked about that back in December, and, again, in slightly different terms, in March, when I described an ideal political distribution across a spectrum:

Slide1

My point is that I don’t think Anthony Furey is correct, not in the mid to long term, anyway. I think Brad Trost, for example, is the potential leader of a viable, big government social conservative, political party ~ which is not one that I would support ~ and I think someone of the Naomi Klein ilk is the potential leader of an even bigger government socialist party. I also think that Justin Trudeau and, say, just for argument, Michelle Rempel could lead two large moderate parties: one favouring big, big spending government and the other favouring smaller, less intrusive government.

I’m personalizing it in part because Mr Furey used names, too, and partly because I think it makes it easier to imagine that socially moderate, even progressive Conservative leader might capture a large (majority) share of the vote in a solid four party system:

Slide1

My guess is that a four party system would give us: periodic Big Government Moderate (Trudeau) or Small Government Moderate (Rempel) majorities, when one or the other got 175+ seats; occasional Trudeau-Klein or Rempel-Trost coalitions when Trudeau or Rempel got, say 150± seats and Klein and/or Trost got 30± seats; or, more regularly, Trudeau or Rempel minorities that governed with the support of the other major party ~ that would happen when Trudeau or Rempel each got, say, 145± seats each but Klein and Trost got only about 20, not enough to form a de facto coalition, because a large number of independents, including Greens, were elected.

(My assumption is that Ms Klein and Mr Trost would be willing to join coalitions, rather then just bargain support on a bill-by-bill/policy-by-policy basis, because they and their parties would want to have some more formal, effective role in governing.)

I characterize Mr Trost, perhaps unfairly, as a big government social conservative party because:

  • We have limited experience with social conservatives in power, other than George W Bush and he was, generally, seen to be a “big government conservative;” and
  • It seems to me that if one wants to impose social mores on a population you need more intrusive and, consequentially, bigger government.

I’d be happy to be told that I’m wrong and social conservatives can, also, believe in smaller, less intrusive, more affordable governments.

Finally, with regard to the last chart: I think that Prime Minister Trudeau made two rookie mistakes with his voting system reform proposal:

  1. First, he didn’t understand that such a fundamental change will require a referendum ~ it doesn’t matter what the laws say, the convention is that such major changes to how we elect MPs needs more than just a parliamentary committee’s rigged “consultations” and a vote in the House of Commons; and
  2. Second, he gave the file to another (unprepared) rookie minister who has not managed it well enough.

But, even if he rammed a preferential ballot system through, some political scientists contend that the current predictions, like Mr Furey’s, are wrong, according to a Canadian Press article by Joan Bryden:

  • “Would the Liberals automatically benefit? No,” says Wilfrid Laurier University’s Brian Tanguay … [and] … “You can’t say anything would automatically occur once a change in the electoral system happens … The moment you change the rules of the game, the calculations of both the parties and the voters themselves will change;”
  • Assuming a Liberal advantage is “very much wrong-headed” and “far too simplistic,” agrees York University’s Dennis Pilon; and
  • My best guess, without doing a close riding-by-riding assessment, is that a preferential ballot would likely have produced a hung Parliament rather than a Liberal majority,” says University of British Columbia professor emeritus Ken Carty.

My view

By now, anyone who has followed my posts knows that:

  • Despite being a fiscal hawk, I do not advocate dismantling the social safety net, or firing 100,000 civil servants; we cannot get elected if we do that. I do, however, want to slow the rate if growth in social spending and, gradually, giving individuals more and more choices for taking some responsibility for their own social safety nets ~ this includes big changes to the Canada Health Act;
  • Despite being a social libertarian I want the Conservative Party of Canada to be a big tent party that has room for social conservatives, too. But, to win majority governments we need to appeal, much more strongly, to the growing young, urban, socially very liberal voters who “control” about 100 ridings. That means we need to be, ay least, socially moderate;
  • Despite being a defence hawk, too, I want just enough defence, an efficient and effective military, to meet the obligations we take on as part of our own grand strategy;
  • I want a principled foreign policy based on our own vital interests in the world; and
  • I want a good, fair, lasting, constitutionally sound re-arrangement with Canadian First Nations.

I believe that those sorts of policies will appeal to at least a plurality of voters in 175+ ridings, urban, suburban, small town and rural, all across Canada.

1525martensfami_00000000925Regardless of what is happening to the NDP and Green parties in the immediate and near terms, and no matter what electoral system we might use, a Conservative Party that has a political platform that is socially moderate and fiscally responsible, coupled with a leader and front bench team that appeals, broadly, to most hard working Canadians can win back-to-back majorities again.

9 thoughts on “The Canadian political spectrum revisited (Conservatives can win)”

  1. Ted,

    I am starting to see the need for a third axis on all these political graphs. The old standard is Left vs Right and people showed up on the spectrum.

    But there has always been a third group – the relegated: those that were dismissed as the unengaged, the apathetic, the folks who were “undecided” or “didn’t know”.

    My sense is that that “party” has started to coalesce. You call them nativists, Trumpists, Brexiters. In all of those expressions there is the continuing sense that these poor, benighted souls are something other.

    I would argue that a goodly number of those folks are perfectly, sane, rational, productive individuals that just saw no point to arguing over the finer points of confiscation and regulation. Like much of Europe they let the politicians continue to make laws and opted to ignore whatever laws they could.

    On your new diagram you need a left axis with Trotskyites, Maoists, Marxist-Leninists and Communists at the far end, you need a right axis with Corporatists, Fascists and Nazis at the far end and you need a vertical axis with militiamen and survivalists at the extreme. And perhaps Libertarians someplace on that axis closer to the centre.

    For years, as long as those “undecided”, or “didn’t know” were only a fringe element, 5 per centers like Communists and Corporatists then they could be cheerfully ignored by the narrative.

    But now two things have happened. The number of “don’t-give-a-dams” has increased to a critical mass in many jurisdictions AND they have discovered each other courtesy of social media.

    These are often the people that have been told by Red and Blue, by Left and Right “you’re wrong”. That drove their alienation in the first place. Most of them just walked away from the process.

    But now they are taking opportunities to get engaged.

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