Tuesday, October 6, 2015

Political Shifts and the (apparent) Falling fortunes of the NDP . . . .

The apparent gradual decline in NDP fortunes over the course of this gruellingly long campaign has carried a morbid fascination for me. As polls stand today, the NDP are thoroughly out of this race now (at least in terms of forming government), the Liberal Party seems to be on the gradual uptick and the Cons, though they received a racist bump in the polls, are basically holding steady. The polls at the moment seem to point toward a fairly large number of people switching from the NDP to the Liberals in the past few weeks, and the Liberals are now ahead in Ontario and threaten to actually overtake an NDP lead in Quebec that once seemed unassailable.

Predictably, there is a lot of blog-chatter concerning these recent movement in the polls. Is the NDP decline a result of a poorly run campaign? Is it a result of Tom Mulcair's apparent abandonment of traditional NDP leftist ground? It is it a demonstration that is ultimately, despite temporary shifts, an expression of the long-standing status quo of the Conservative/Liberal strangle-hold on Canadian politics.

Let me say right off that it doesn't appear to me that the NDP decline is a result of the party's abandonment of its leftist tradition. As far as I can see, people are simply partisan, they care surprisingly little about what 'their' party's actually policies are. The majority of people seem to be lead around by the nose by their party and fall continually for their talking points and various emotional appeals. Supporting a political party seems, for many people, like supporting a sports team - it is not a rational decision, that is just "my" team and I am sticking with it. The most obvious demonstration of this attitude is actually the Conservative Party. There is very little that is conservative about the contemporary Conservative Party, yet their base of support remains remarkably steady. You would think that a Conservative PM running six or seven straight deficits would turn off Conservative voters, but it doesn't.  Harper once said, and most conservative say they agree, that stimulus spending does nothing to help the economy and that running a deficit under any conditions is just an attempt to buy votes. But Harper's total performative hypocrisy on this matter has done nothing to the core of Conservative support. Furthermore, though Harper has made guns (particularly assault rifles) easier to get in Canada, he has dubious credentials on the libertarian front - he has significantly increased police and state powers, something Conservatives (particularly of the North American variety) usually say that they strongly oppose. Harper has done nothing to protect the environment. On the contrary, he has basically gutted most of our environmental protections. Hardly a traditional conservative value. Harper has done nothing to further the social conservative cause either. He never made any attempts to limit abortion and left gay marriage alone. Harper is not 'conservative,' he is 'corporatists' plain and simple. But people who vote Conservative have simply chosen their team and are sticking with it. Rightly or wrongly, many people (and many traditional NDP supporters included) contend that the NDP has abandoned their traditional left position in many ways, yet their core support appears to remain unchanged. It is very difficult to contend that the NDP of today is anywhere near as left as the NDP of Ed Broadbent, but the core remains unshaken.

I also don't believe, as some of my blogging peers contend, that the NDP has fallen in their fortunes because they have run a poor campaign. The NDP has certainly run an uninspiring and uninspired campaign, but then so have the other two major parties. The NDP has failed to be bold or particularly interesting but there has been nothing that I could say that could be defined as a "gaff" in their campaign. In fact the Liberals have been the only of the three major parties that could be said to have run a "good" campaign and that is only because Trudeau has exceeded expectations and has not particularly faltered.

I think the NDP decline is fairly simple to explain actually. It is the result of two factors. The first is that the soft support in Quebec has evaporated, and the second is that its apparent support in the rest of the country was largely illusory. The NDP support in Quebec began to evaporate when they released their fiscal platform. I think that Mulcair's deficit fetishism is the primary factor in the NDP losing support in that province. It seems that Quebecers are tired of "austerity" attitudes and they were just turned off by Mulcair's apparent need to stick to a "balanced" budget. Proof of this is that since Trudeau came forward with his "infrastructure"  investment plan, the Liberals have been on the steady rise in Quebec and are now nearly tied with the NDP in a couple of polls. I think that the Niqab issue has been relatively small in actual voting intentions. Both Mulcair and Trudeau have been fairly clear in articulating their support for the court's decision and the need to support religious freedoms, but the Liberals have been on the uptick while the NDP has faltered, suggesting that this is not the primary factor in voter intention changes. The second reason that the NDP has fallen in the polls is, I think, that the high status that they enjoyed in the polls in the first part of the campaign was a kind of false reading. I think that during those heady days of the Duffy trial a lot of Conservative voters were pissed off and embarrassed to admit that they would support the Conservatives, and since many Con voters would never vote Liberal on principle (and would particularly never vote for someone named Trudeau), and since Mulcair's political style seems similar to Harper's, this skewed  a lot of polls and created the illusion that the NDP had a chance at forming government. A lot of Con voters were just saying that they were going to vote NDP out of anger with no actual intention of voting for that party. As the election has neared and the Cons have effectively diverted a lot of attention away from their terrible corruption and incompetence, some of the supposed support for the NDP has just dissipated. Meanwhile, the Liberals (again, rightly or wrongly) have managed to place themselves in the perception of many as somewhat revitalized party with a slightly left of centre slant. This has meant that some voters have returned to the party and some people who are soft NDP voters are thinking maybe the Liberals are a worthwhile alternative to Harper. Furthermore, as the election nears I suspect the Liberal numbers will rise as the "anyone but Harper" crowd sees the Liberals as the party most likely to beat the Conservatives.

However, the falling fortunes of the NDP doesn't trouble me that much. I think that there is little doubt that the political discourse in the world and Canada is changing. As I have said before this change is a result of the near total failure of Neo-Liberalism to deliver greater prosperity or equality, the growing precariousness of people's lives, and the entrance of a new generation into political life. The first significantly noticeable change in this regard was the so-called "Occupy" movement. We are now seeing changing attitudes in economic orthodoxy everywhere, increased talk of the need to address inequality, genuine movement in the IMF and World Bank, and a change in discourse among many political parties. These kinds of changes are very slow and they have barely arrived in Canada, and so far have left our politicians largely untouched. But the very fact that a national leader like Trudeau is talking publicly about running deficits with the intention of investing in infrastructure is a sign of this shift. The truth is that regardless of one's political beliefs, it is pretty clear that neither Trudeau nor Mulcair represent a deep change in political policies. And because of the depth of Harper's threat to even basic democracy and civility in Canada, this election is not really representative of the looming political shift that is just beginning. Anyone who is not stupid enough to support the Conservatives is largely in panic mode hoping to get rid of this political pariah and get to a government, any government, that actually respects the Constitution, the rule of law, the traditions of democracy and Westminster and won't continue to dismantle the very basics of our political system. Getting rid of Harper (if we can actually do it) if the first step in a long journey. I am not too worried about the apparent falling fortunes of the NDP because ultimately I believe that Mulcair is, like Harper, yesterday's man. And in the political change that is coming the NDP as well as the Liberals will have to rebuild themselves in response to what will be radically different views about government and the economy in the coming 20 years.

10 comments:

The Mound of Sound said...

The politics of the past, even the politics of today, will be radically transformed over the next 20-years, Kirby. Experts in these things warn that the nation state is in irreversible decline through a confluence of events and circumstances. State sovereignty, for example, is fettered with each global trade pact joined. We have an emergent "dark government" that operates in parallel to the public government. Look how Harper has severed public access to our supposedly public institutions that he has now harnessed to his own partisan, political purposes. Corporatism is ascendant, the main driver of growing inequality (of wealth, income and opportunity) that transfers not just wealth but political influence.

I did one online course that explored the decline of liberal democracy and its replacement by illiberal democracy of various degrees. You still get to vote but your voice doesn't matter much once the ballots are counted. The worst part is we cannot arrest this decline without a clear and broad public awareness that it's happening and a corporate media is not inclined to focus on this. It's telling that only the Green Party has a policy to restore a free press to Canada. As for the others, not a peep.

Kirby Evans said...

If you are correct, Mound, and change from our present situation requires "clear and broad public awareness," then we have very little hope. However, history suggests to me that this is not the case. It seems to me that most large, historical, socioeconomic changes do not, in fact, result from a clear and broad public awareness of what is going on. Rather, all that seems to be required is that there be public awareness of what is "NOT" going on; in other words the basic failures of the system are what bring on revolutionary changes. The results of such changes are, of course, always partial and mixed, but they occur much of the time without the larger public understanding much of the complexities of the system that they oppose.

Simon said...

hi Kirby...I agree with a lot of what you say, but in Quebec the niqab issue is what has done the NDP the most damage. It's true that because many Quebecers are annoyed with the Quebec Liberal's politics of austerity Mulcair's balanced budget mantra did not impress many of their supporters. But the niqab issue was the one that caused their precipitous fall. Only that can explain the way the Bloc has been revived, and why the Cons have received a significant boost. The fact that the Trudeau Liberals haven't suffered as much and even got a tiny boost is because off the island of Montreal the Liberals aren't or weren't a factor. And because of that they weren't targeted to anywhere near the degree Mulcair has been. The sad fact is that Mulcair and the NDP in Quebec have paid a terrible price for standing up for what is right. The good news is that many Quebecers are still looking for a winner to evict Harper, so that if Trudeau is able to do well in the rest of the country, especially Ontario, there is still a very good chance that many could jump on the Justin bandwagon, like they flocked to the NDP in the last election, after they saw that Ignatieff was going down.
Finally I agree with both you and Mound, real change will come when the forces of history make it impossible to support the existing system. But with an aging population Canada probably will not be leading the charge. And in the meantime with only 13 days to go before the election we should all be concentrating all our efforts on getting out the vote and defeating the Cons.
For while the progressive parties may not lead us to Nirvana, Harper and his thugs will dismember what is left of this country...

Kirby Evans said...

Thank you for the comment Simon. You may be correct. But it seems to me that the NDP slide began before the Niqab issue. And I don't know if I agree with your argument concerning the Liberal rise in Quebec given the fact that Trudeau has been unequivocal about the Liberal position in this regard. However, you are certainly right about the dangers of the Harper regime.

Pamela Mac Neil said...

I'm not so sure how that change will take place Kirby. For one thing we don't know how much Harper has advanced his neoliberal agenda. If a new government is formed we'll have to see if they will undo at least some of the damage neoliberalism has done to our democratic sovereignty.I think the big change has to be getting rid of neoliberalism, a tough thing to do when we have trade deals signed with neoliberalism dictating what there real function really is.Neoliberalism is a word the MSM never even mentions, nor the opposition for that matter. When that is the very thing that has to go, even starting on it is hard when most don't even acknowledge that it exists.I don't think Harper will get back in, not even with a minority. That leaves Trudeau. Let's see if he knows what real change, really is.

Anonymous said...

I think your analogy to sports team is right on. In my observation, most people's political preferences are merely aesthetic.

You make reference to Harper making it easier for assault rifles...This is, I believe, incorrect, but I'm not sure what you're referring to. Part of this might due to the now-common conflation of the term "assault rifle", which historically refers to a rifle capable of selective fire (ie: automatic fire and/or burst, and single-shot), with what in the US was termed an "assault weapon" in the 1994 Assault Weapons Ban, which prohibited certain combination of characteristics (eg: bayonet mount with a folding stock, or pistol grip with a large-capacity magazine) - but these were on semi-automatic weapons and the 1994 AWB did not further restriction fully-automatic weapons in the US (as a functionally-different weapon, they are restricted by other US Federal Acts).

I think you may be referring to the Government recently reversing a 2014 RCMP decision to ban the Swiss Arms and CZ 858 rifles. They did so merely because they visually resembled assault rifles - not because they were actually assault rifles. They had been legal in Canada for years. The RCMP's rationale was flimsy. The Government overturned it.

And you may be in favour of banning them anyway. Which is fine. But the RCMP's decision was not really compliant with the existing criteria.

Actual assault rifles remain illegal in Canada for everyone but the Armed Forces and police services.

Kirby Evans said...

@ Anonymous. I was, you are right, being too general in my terms. I was indeed referring to what are more accurately referred to as "assault-style" weapons, and the increasingly lax attitude toward gun control in general under Harper. Funny enough, I generally don't think weapons are a big problem in Canada (or at least they haven't been so far). Though I favour a gun registry (because I just think it is common sense) and a general ban on handguns, there are, in fact, many guns in Canada and they don't present the kind of problem that they do in the States because of cultural issues more than anything else. But here is the problem for me - I think that Harper's conservatives are actually promoting the kind of divisive society in which, like in the US, guns will become a problem. If you promote the kind of hate, racism, and lawlessness that the Conservatives stand for, our society will inevitably become more violent and then we will see how easily guns can be a problem right here in Canada.

the salamander said...

.. Polls & vague Promises have replaced Issues, Policy, Performance, Public Service and Reality.. much to the delight of Stephen Harper. Continual deception, deceit, failure and outright lies lose out to the trumpeting of all knowing, microscopic margin of error Polls and the breathless reporting of the 'horserace'. its an Election as Farce.. & different from Election as Fraud.. but what else to expect from those thick patriots Harper, Novak, Byrne, Hamilton, Van Loan, Lecce.. ? What is stunning is the complicity and oftimes mirth, of Mainstream Media.. instead of howls of outrage and indignant detailing of the litany of lies... Canada may have to be saved by a lonely whistleblower or rebel, or astounding environmental patriot.. as we are not seeing a savior within the political realm or mainstream media.. Sad but True

Lulymay said...

Over morning coffee today, my 80+ husband declared that he is totally fed up with this long dragged out election campaign and the only conclusion he has come to is that he wonders why he would even want to vote, given that in his opinion, what are any of these political leaders going to do that will benefit me? I've always voted (parental training) and found myself having to agree with him. While so many talk about "I worked hard for my money and I don't want to pay taxes or for anyone else whose too lazy to work", I don't see much ahead for my grandchildren in terms of quality jobs that pay enough to marry and raise a family, never mind being able to afford a home.
So, while I'll had that we both "worked hard" for our money, we mostly stayed within a strict budget in order to put something aside to get us through old age without having to rely on others, but we all know how much interest we earn at 1.17% a year don't we? From my perspective the only ones doing very well these days are politicians in the ruling neo-con camp and CEOs and some very senior managers. The rest of us are plain bloody toast in today's world.

Kirby Evans said...

@ Lulymay - I agree with much of what you say Lulymay. But of course, not voting is no answer. There are other parties to vote for and the Green Party is one that really is trying to address many of the problems that you are talking about. If we start believing that the bad guys have won, then they are already have. I have to believe, for my daughter's sake, that we can still make things better.