Monday, September 08, 2008

You know it's a Canadian Election when...

...the Greens complain about being left out of the debates.

...politicians scape-goat the Alberta oilsands.

...the Premier of Alberta wades in.

...the Liberals promise an ambiguous gun ban.

...the Tories flip-flop on negative ads in a matter of hours (they'll go neg anyone?)


Yes, it's hard to call the first full day of the election a slow news day in the least...it just has a "rerun" feel to it. Among the things on day two that deserve a bit of commenting on my part:


1. Ed: It seems Ed Stelmach has taken a page from Ralph Klein's playbook, deciding to play the role of pundit on the federal election campaign. And, whatever, I can't criticize him for that when you consider that McGuinty and Danny Williams will do the same thing (oh, and Harper too). But Stelmach's moral high ground posturing about attack ads? That, I could do without:

But Mr. Stelmach also seemed to suggest that attack ads aren't the way to win that majority, appearing to criticize federal Tory ads harshly critical of the Opposition Liberals.

“Albertans want to know what you're going to do for them,” he said when asked about the federal Conservative ads. “I don't think they pay much attention in terms of criticizing another individual.”

Mr. Stelmach was himself the victim of third-party attack ads in the most recent provincial ballot and said the increased majority his government won is proof that voters don't like negative ads.

“While you're criticizing someone else, you're not really telling Albertans what you're going to do for the province of Alberta.”


First of all, I'm not sure a PC win in Alberta should neccesarily be the case study used to prove a point about election campaigns. And considering the only reason Stelmach offered for re-electing his government was that the Liberals would destroy the economy and bring in the NEP, it definitely isn't a case study in how positive campaigning works.


2. Early in the Morning: The Tories made a tactically brilliant decision in the last campaign to have policy announcements every morning in order to control the day's agenda. No doubt buoyed by this, they've decided to do daily 6 a.m. smearings of Stephane Dion. Today's run did not go over well.

Gee, who would have thought journalists would be cool to the idea of setting their alarm clocks to 5 a.m. every morning wouldn't go over well with reporters already hostile towards Harper? Especially if the Tories don't plan to do anything other than show off new photo shopped Dion pictures?

At the same time, this provides a great opening for the other parties to set the agenda. A daily 8 a.m. policy announcement by the Liberals could easily allow them to set the agenda, rather than just responding to the Conservative narrative.


3. Debate Debate: I've never been convinced that Elizabeth May should be included in the debates despite her belief that she is entitled to a spot. They have yet to crack 5% of the vote in an election (a significant threshold in a lot of MMP countries) and they have yet to elect an MP.

I did find it odd that the Liberals were pushing for her inclusion while the Tories wanted her excluded. If we work on the assumption that having May in the debates helps her...and that she'll grab voters who care about the environment...and that the Liberals are also fighting for voters who care about the environment...well, you have to ask yourself how May doing well helps Dion, and how May doing well does not help Harper. Even if she tears Harper a new one in the debate, that would only serve to make Dion and Layton look even less effective by comparison.

There was a good debate about the debates in the comments section of this post last week. Reading through the comments, what I'd really like to see would be:

-Four debates of different formats (town hall, youtube, topic specific, etc...).
-Get rid of the separate French and English debates and make them all billingual.
-Open up the first three debates to May and the Greens.
-Make the fourth debate open only to the PM and the leader of the opposition. Make it a Bartlett-style no holds barred debate since, after all, these are the two individuals fighting for the right to be Prime Minister under our British Parliamentary system.


PS - Great to see that Steve Paikin will be moderating the English debate this year!

Labels: , , ,

18 Comments:

  • -Make the fourth debate open only to the PM and the leader of the opposition. Make it a Bartlett-style no holds barred debate since, after all, these are the two individuals fighting for the right to be Prime Minister under our British Parliamentary system.

    Um, I don't think so. The NDP won more votes than the CPC in Nova Scotia and two of the territories, and more votes than the Liberals in BC, Sask, and NWT. So Layton should be excluded because...?

    By Blogger Josh G, at 8:05 PM  

  • I'm for Liz. Blog in Green for Fairness.

    By Blogger Gauntlet, at 8:25 PM  

  • Josh - because Jack won't become Prime Minister, regardless of how he did in the Territories...

    By Blogger calgarygrit, at 8:50 PM  

  • CG, your reputation as a reasonable Liberal is well-deserved.

    Do you really think the likelihood of Jack becoming PM is that much less than Dion? Especially after over a month of intense media scrutiny.

    Really? Have you seen Dion?

    By OpenID partisan_non_partisan, at 9:07 PM  

  • partisan - I just like the idea of a one-on-one debate and the only fair way to do it is for the PM and leader of the opposition to go at. I can't think of a time in Canadian history when the new Prime Minister hasn't been the old PM or leader of the opposition. (admitedly, you get a problem with the situation in '93 when Bouchard was opposition leader)

    And, obviously, this would never happen. So I'd be satisfied with firm criteria for party inclusion, more debates, varrying formats, and billingual debates.

    By Blogger calgarygrit, at 9:11 PM  

  • This comment has been removed by the author.

    By Blogger CfSR, at 9:44 PM  

  • How odd.

    I remember (recent, unlamented) Alberta Premiers warning about what Ottawa would do TO Alberta.

    Hearing an Alberta Premier asking what the federal parties would do FOR Albertans? That is just unAlbertan.

    Soft, even.

    By Blogger CfSR, at 9:45 PM  

  • Josh - because Jack won't become Prime Minister, regardless of how he did in the Territories...

    Ah, I see - you prefer the self-fulfilling prophecy of declaring the "two main parties" thus and hence dismissing "third parties", even when it outpolls one of the "main" parties in three provinces.

    By Blogger Josh G, at 12:02 AM  

  • Given that the NDP has NEVER finished ahead of the Liberals in seat totals or popular vote and are still polling behind them this campaign, I don't think it's unreasonable on CG's part to assume they won't win this election.

    And besides if the NDP did beat the Liberals that would get Layton the one on one debate with Harper next time.

    By Anonymous Deb, at 1:15 AM  

  • And I'm also really glad to see Paiken moderating the debate again. He did an outstanding job last year.

    By Anonymous Deb, at 1:16 AM  

  • I'm surprised that you don't think May should be included. You're usually the voice of reason among the bloggers!

    Either way, the process for making this decision is completely absurd. The debates should have the requirements defined and should be mandatory for all parties that meet these requirements.

    Having her political opponents decide that she can't be in the debates because they don't agree with her positions and it will hurt them politically is a shame.

    Is there no logic in politics? What a bunch of children.

    By Blogger me dere robert, at 7:41 AM  

  • Oh and one more thing.. what is up with having the English debate the same night as the American VP debates?

    The frustrating part is after the elections over they'll be whining about voter apathy and election turnouts trying to figure out how to get people more interested.

    By Blogger me dere robert, at 7:45 AM  

  • I had thought that Canadian turnout was generally higher.

    In any case, conservative parties are usually none-too-interested in turnout, as they do better the lower turnout is. I doubt Harper's going to lose any sleep over this.

    By Blogger Demosthenes, at 11:04 AM  

  • me dere robert,

    That is a pretty facile argument. Clear standards mean that dubious parties may be included, while other might be rejected for spurious reasons.

    Lets take your argument on its face, and say we have to include any party that hits 4% of the vote (and they don't need an elected MP). How could this be a bad idea?

    Well firstly it is undemocratic in spirit. It gives equal time and equal voice to 4% of the public, as it does to the 36% of the public that voted Tory last time, or 30% that voted Liberal. It isn't a matter of fearing new ideas, rather it is one of ensuring that the national debate reflects the ACTUAL discourse that Canadians care about. You may cite polls showing a Green surge, but it is worth pointing out that polls said the same thing in 2006, yet the Greens only gained .19% of the vote.

    Secondly, discretion is valuable. It may, for instance, be worthwhile (I am not in agreement with calgarygrit on this one) to include parties that don't meet such standards for national interest reasons. It would be a bad idea to shut Quebec separatists out of the debates, because we want to give separatists peaceful democratic avenues as an alternative to kidnapping labour ministers.

    Thirdly, why is it "unfair" that the parties have to agree to admit May? BECAUSE THEY HAVE TO GIVE UP THEIR OWN TIME IN THE DEBATES TO ADMIT MAY.

    Fourthly, you claim this has to do with May's "positions". Since it is the NDP AND the Conservatives banding together on this one, that is clearly not the case. It may nonetheless be legitimate to shut out candidates for their positions - the French rightly do so to Jean-Marie Le Pen (as we would rightly do to a crypto-fascist party).

    Finally, you really have to ask whether the Green party, whose leader endorsed the Liberal Prime Minister, is a distinct party in its own right, or just a Liberal shadow-caucus, offering up Elizabeth May as a pinch hitter for Dion.

    Now, because most Canadians like the American practice of codifying everything, while conveniently ignoring the results of that (a culture of prosecution and bureaucratic impotence), lets look at some of the parties that would be admitted AND EXCLUDED by say a rule requiring 4% of the vote for debates (which has never been offered to any party, except possibly the Creditistes, who had a fair-sized parliamentary representation). I say 4% also noting that many people had been calling for inclusion of the Greens even before the 2004 election.

    Some of the dubious exclusions/inclusions:

    The Democratic Representative Caucus (rebels against Stockwell Day) had 12 members and were an official parliamentary party. However, if you added up the number of votes they had received, they would not be an official party under a 4% rule.

    The Reform party only got 2% of the vote in 1988, so they would not qualify in 1993 under your rules.

    The Social Credit party in 1980 would be included in the debates based on their 1979 results. They went on to win all of 2% of the vote and no seats. In 1968, both the Rallaiment Creditiste and the Social Credit party would qualify based on 1965 results, though they were branches of the same party. This would give two parties with collectively less than 9% of the vote more airtime than the Tories and Liberals combined. However, they would have been excluded in 1962 (based on 1958 results), when they went on to win 12% of the vote and 30 seats.

    In 1949, you could presumably have an Independent candidate at the debates, since over 4% of people voted Independent.

    In 1945, Independent Liberals would almost qualify for the debates, though they were presumably a rump of anti-conscription Liberals - not a real party.

    In 1921, the Progressive party won the second-most seats. They would be excluded by a 4% rule. It would also have excluded the CCF and the Social credit Party before their rise.

    So what would a "clear" 4% rule do? It would exclude almost every new and vibrant party - including many that went on to win large numbers of seats and many votes. At the same time, it would include many dubious parties, including a number that were proxies of convenience of the big parties. All the while it would undemocratically skew voice in the most important single election event towards the concerns of a fringe minority of the electorate and away from the central concerns of most Canadians.

    You may say "fine then, use polls to determine entry." Okay, but if you use polls you HAVE to use discretion in the first place, because many polls have flawed methodologies. It is also worth noting that a party excluded from the debates has NEVER gone on to win enough seats to become an official party. The status quo is working just fine.

    By Blogger hosertohoosier, at 11:44 AM  

  • hoser:

    I'm never suggested using % of votes as the requirement. I haven't suggested any requirements in my post so you just made up some requirements you could tear down and wrote an essay about why it would be bad...

    My point was that it seems logical, rational and reasonable that there should be some sort of written policy which can be used to determine who is in the debates and who isn't. My other point was that it should be mandatory if the party fits the criteria.

    If I was to suggest what the criteria would be I would take into account more than one factor and have safeguards to prevent fringe parties from participating. Perhaps the Greens wouldn't fit the criteria, who knows, but at least there would be a fair process in determining that.

    Also to address this:

    Fourthly, you claim this has to do with May's "positions". Since it is the NDP AND the Conservatives banding together on this one, that is clearly not the case.

    What kind of reasoning is that? They both don't want her in the debates for their own political reasons. They will lose votes to the greens and the greens support Dion's position on the environment.

    Does this criteria make any sense when deciding who can participate in the debate:

    1. You may not like any of the policies of any other party.
    2. You may not threaten to take away votes from the other parties.

    Geez.. with your reasoning rule #2 disqualifies them all.

    By Anonymous me dere robert, at 2:07 PM  

  • me dere robert,

    My point is that a "clear, logical and rational" system for inclusion into the debates is impossible, unworkable and unwise. I harped on the 4% example because it is a criteria that the Greens could meet. I am not sure what other criteria you could invent that would include them, other than maybe, "must have a seat in parliament" but there are even more egregious examples where that would be problematic (lets invite John Nunziata to the debates).

    So, if you are going to defend your viewpoint, sell me on it.

    1. What is a workable criteria for inclusion?

    2. How will this criteria improve the quality of the leader's debate?

    Everybody, if they look at the small issue "should we have more voices in the debates" likes the idea in the abstract. Polls in the US showed that 50% of people think the Libertarian party - which has yet to break 1% of the vote - should be in the debates.

    "Does this criteria make any sense when deciding who can participate in the debate:

    1. You may not like any of the policies of any other party.
    2. You may not threaten to take away votes from the other parties."

    As to 1, under the status quo we have Quebec separatists, socialists, liberals and conservatives. Clearly ideology isn't keeping parties out. You implicitly change tunes when you criticized what I said - going from talking about the Greens being kept out for their ideas, to the Greens being kept out because their being there would not benefit all parties.

    That actually IS a relevant concern though. It is unambiguously more important that the Conservatives and NDP be at the debate, than the Green Party be there. They can threaten to leave if they don't like the terms of the debate - something that has happened in US presidential debates (Carter refused to debate, and there was no debate in 1964, 1968 or 1972).

    They are entirely within their rights to do this - but the current unregulated system has a good safeguard - public opinion. Those parties that do so look like they are quashing debate, or afraid to debate, and thus, look bad politically. If the exclusion is really egregious - say if all parties colluded to keep the Liberals out - that outcry will be substantial. That it is not substantial reflects that there is not enough demand for the Greens to be in the debates.

    Saying that "there should be rules governing this" is problematic because - DUH - who makes the laws? Indeed, putting the power to govern the debates in the hands of incumbent governments is FAR more pernicious than having all parties negotiate with media outlets the precise terms of a debate. I think this gets at how precise rules are either unworkable, or produce an outcome that is far far worse and less democratic than the one caused by the status quo.

    I think the real problem is nobody really thinks about the big picture - they look at this one fact and say "well gee, that is undemocratic and bad." They don't think about the tradeoffs. You can regulate the debates but if you do, you get:

    1. Debate time skewed to a small minority of the populace (especially with May who is the queen of interrupting).

    2. Put power in the hands of incumbents to choose the terms by which they will debate.

    3. Exclude parties that "should" be there, while including some that probably shouldn't (eg. Western Canada Concept).

    By Blogger hosertohoosier, at 6:15 PM  

  • "Given that the NDP has NEVER finished ahead of the Liberals in seat totals or popular vote and are still polling behind them this campaign, I don't think it's unreasonable on CG's part to assume they won't win this election."

    This is also a bad idea - and there are plenty of PROVINCIAL predecents that illustrate it.

    Here are some ridiculous examples that would happen under that rule...

    1995 Ontario: Bob Rae vs. Lyn McLeod (the Harris PC's won that election)

    1993 Alberta: PC vs. NDP (even though Laurence Decore, of the Liberals, came within 5 points of the Tories, while the NDP won no seats and 11% of the vote)

    1967 Alberta: Would be Liberal vs. Socred (the Liberals won 11% of the vote in that election, while the PC's won 24%)

    1952 British Columbia, the most dramatic case: Could be Liberal versus PC (they formed a coalition government but in seats were the first and second largest parties) or Liberal/PC vs. CCF (the Socreds won the election, and collectively the Lib/PC's only got 40% of the vote, versus 60% for the CCF and Socreds).

    1935 Alberta election: would be United Farmers vs. Liberal (even though the Socreds won 54% of the vote, while the Libs and UF's collectively won 34% of the vote)

    1925 federal election: Liberal vs. Progressive (even though the Conservatives won the most seats in that election, while the Progressives won 22 with 8.5% of the vote).

    1921 Alberta: Liberal vs. Conservative (Even though the United Farmers went on to win 38 seats, 29% of the vote, and formed the government)

    1919 Ontario: Conservative vs. Liberal (United Farmers won election)

    You could throw in a bunch for Manitoba and Saskatchewan too, I'm sure - I don't know very much about their politics.

    By Blogger hosertohoosier, at 6:31 PM  

  • Demosthenes: In any case, conservative parties are usually none-too-interested in turnout, as they do better the lower turnout is.

    That's not correct; in fact, it's exactly the opposite, at least in terms of the last thirty years. Take a look:

    - Voter turnout declined steadily throughout the Chretien/Martin years, then rebounded somewhat for Harper's 2006 win
    - Mulroney's and Clark's wins were noticeably higher than the Liberal victories that surrounded them

    By Anonymous The Invisible Hand, at 9:13 AM  

Post a Comment

Links to this post:

Create a Link

<< Home