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Lessons from Election Week in CanadaLessons from Election Week in Canada

Lessons from Election Week in Canada

Promising polls are as meaningful as yesterday's newspapers. A few months back, you might have found betting odds on Premier Mar in Alberta, Premier McFayden in Manitoba, and Premier Hudak in Ontario—perhaps even as a trifecta. Campaigns and on-the-ground organization matter, and what might have appeared likely in the summer did not materialize.

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Topics: Justice, Labour, Elites
Lessons from Election Week in Canada October 11, 2011  |  By Ray Pennings
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Last week, Manitoba, Prince Edward Island, and Ontario held provincial elections. Today Newfoundland and Labrador as well as Yukon took their turn. Alberta's Progressive Conservatives selected a new leader who last Friday was installed as their next Premier. The long-term significance of these events is greater than usually acknowledged, but given the time and space constraints, today's contribution is simply a few quick-hit tidbits prompted by provincial politicos.

  • Promising polls are as meaningful as yesterday's newspapers. A few months back, you might have found betting odds on Premier Mar in Alberta, Premier McFayden in Manitoba, and Premier Hudak in Ontario—perhaps even as a trifecta. Campaigns and on-the-ground organization matter, and what might have appeared likely in the summer did not materialize. Is there a lesson for those who cover and follow politics, namely that the coverage of polls, especially when there is no current campaign, plays too great a part in our political conversation?

  • Governments can be bought. Ordinarily it is the political left which accuses corporate interests of buying influence but it seems of late, the left has been better at playing this game. Alison Redford's Alberta victory can be credited to her deal with the Alberta teachers. Thousands of teachers became "Tories for a day" (voting for her so her promise to restore $107 million of education funding could be fulfilled). In Ontario, the "Working Families Coalition," an organization funded and run by some of the province's unions, ran a massive ad campaign that aided the governing Liberals. Previous elections have seen farmers, accountants, doctors, and business groups engage in similar campaigns that were simply self-serving. These campaigns amount to rank self-interest on the part of the voters, organizations, and political leaders involved. It would be naïve to think that self-interest has not always been a part of politics, but there was a time when an attempt was made to frame matters with public-interest arguments. That day is over. Policy is now for sale to the highest political bidder.

  • Union-NDP marriage on the rocks. The NDP used to be the party of organized labour, with formal organizational arrangements recognizing that. Now unions are becoming less predictably partisan and ready to make a deal with the highest bidder. They are clearly (at least for the moment) aligning with Redford and the Tories in Alberta and McGuinty and the Liberals in Ontario, It makes their role in the upcoming federal NDP leadership race an interesting subplot.

This all fits into a larger and longer-term debate regarding the role of strategic voting, electoral and political reform that has been brewing for a few decades already. As Michael Van Pelt and I opine in a recent Policy Options piece, these debates will continue throughout the upcoming decade of dissensus. True, federal and provincial politics are different animals in Canada, but the wall between them is permeable and the success of provincial deals is sure to have federal impact.

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