Tuesday, October 20, 2015

the election of October 19, 2015

As a deputy returning officer I agreed to be neutral in political expressions in the lead up to October 22nd.  Elections involve decisions by millions of people and although we sometimes act like a herd of sheep there certainly are millions of thought processes involved.

Working at a poll station is only one perspective, but as a starting point for this election I noticed more people telling me it was their first time voting.  This included some young people.  One young man said his girl friend talked him into it.  A few others were immigrants who seemed very pleased to be able to do this.  I noted that Hamilton had attracted a good share of Vietnamese refugees and they and their offspring valued voting in Canada.  The results bucked the national trend a little, but exhibited some commonalities.  The incumbent NDP won fairly easily, but the Liberals came closer than previously.  I noted that the Green Party did worse than previously as did the Conservatives.

My underlying theory is this was more a vote against Stephen Harper than an endorsement of any particular party.  Furthermore more than in previous elections more people voted strategically.  This was to the detriment of the Green Party and the NDP.  This was complicated, but for many voters it was a question of what is the most effective way to get rid of Harper.  There were organizations devoted to strategic voting in ridings where it could make a difference.

At the beginning of the election campaign it appeared likely that the NDP would benefit the most from the anti-Harper sentiment, but in the end they suffered crucially.  Undoubtedly there were many factors involved, but two got my attention.  One was Thomas Mulcair's policy that even on a question of separation 50% +1 is enough.  This helped the other parties stir up fears.  Another emotional issue was the niqab controversy where Thomas championed the right of women to wear it at citizenship ceremonies.  Only two women challenged the government courts and their cases were not presented fairly.  But this stirred up enough racist feelings that it probably switched a lot of votes by itself, but it also made many fence sitters re-think the best way to get rid of Harper. 

Harper's party used a lot of negative ads.  I had been offended by his attack ads against Michael Ignatieff, but he was persistent in their campaign that Justin Trudeau is "just not ready."  I think a lot of people agreed, but in the end voter's expectations were greatly surpassed by Trudeau's debate performance and his campaign.  After awhile the Conservative insistence on the "not ready" campaign (which intruded on the Blue Jay playoffs) made people resent it and wonder why there was not more emphasis on their own messages.

For me there are a lot of reasons to oust Harper.  Like conservatives around the globe his real agenda was economic and his campaign was financed by big money interests intent on increasing their share of the profits.  This was most evident perhaps with the oil industry.  It could be argued that at the time looking at Canadian resources, the tar sands was the best bet to boost the Canadian economy.  As time went on more people realized the many problems.  The tar sands were in an awkward location, they were relatively expensive to work and of course they were environmentally one of the worst offenders.

The anti-science stance taken by the government kept people uninformed not only about climate change, but other scientific concerns.  Libraries closed while scientists were discouraged from publicly presenting their findings.  Scientists should be providing counsel so we and the politicians can make better decisions.  Canada fell behind even other reluctant nations in the battle against climate change.

At the same time the economies of the oil business hurt other businesses by inflating our currency. Manufacturers found it much more difficult to compete with other nations.  Farmers found it difficult to get freight transportation against a tremendous increase in oil train freight.

Conservatives in the United States found the best way to attain power was to align themselves with social conservatives.  Take advantage of fears.  The Niqab issue was only one example. Stephen Harper stood against an investigation into the deaths of aboriginal women.  They resisted the national urge to help the Syrian refugees again using fear of Muslim terrorists as their excuse.  Near the end they set up a telephone line to report barbarian cultural practices.  Many people saw this as Harper trying to create a wedge item that really had very little importance on the real priorities.

To satisfy their base voters the Conservative government threw out the long form census despite complaints from many business and social agencies.  They were against marijuana and drug injection clinics in an almost puritanical stubbornness.  Trudeau undoubtedly increased the youth vote with his policies in these regards.

Canada for decades had been accepted as a peacemaker, but Harper wanted a more militant image.  In the Middle East we used to be considered neutral, but Harper became a steadfast supporter of Benjamin Netanyahu no matter what injustices were suffered by the Palestinians.  Other experts feel that the solution to Mid East problems was a two state solution, but Harper stood by those who worked against that idea.

The Conservatives understood our political system far better than most voters.  With only 39% of the votes they gained over 50% of the seats and the power to impose their views on the rest of us.  They had gotten very sophisticated and knew they could have success by ignoring the masses and pleasing their base instead.  Only a few years ago Conservatives actually had two variations--a softer kind like Joe Clark and the harsher kind like Stephen Harper.  Obviously they had much in common and were tired of losing because of splitting the vote.  Our first past the post system gave a union of the two factions a big step up.

One promised policy would be to get serious about proportional voting.  It is very hard to get the winners to radically change the system that helped them attain power.  As it turns out only 39.5% of votes cast were for the Liberals.  Fair Vote Canada reported that 51.8% of votes went to candidates that lost.  Harper had been promising legislation to make it more difficult to get proportional voting.

In the end there is a pendulum of opinions.  We are happy as long as our private plans unfold as expected, but get upset if things do not.  Too much freedom can be as bad as too little.  I don't know how the Liberal majority will work out, but I am sure there will be some improvements that will benefit more people.

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