Thursday, October 27, 2011

My Apologies

Just wanted to post a quick note of apologies to those of you who follow me on Twitter (@PoliticWatcher). A virus that was going around "infected" my account and some people may have received direct messages from me. This message was not sent by me. I apologize for any inconvenience.

I have not posted in a couple of weeks, but plan to start up again shortly. If you have any ideas for posts or areas of interest, please let me know at

A Guy Watching Politics

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Plus ça change?

Earlier tonight Kathy Dunderdale was elected Premier in Newfoundland and Labrador. Her victory brings an end to the fourth provincial campaign to take place this fall. Already, we have seen voters in P.E.I., Manitoba, Ontario and now the Rock head to the polls, with Saskatchewan to follow in November.

As we near the end of election season, I thought it was a good time to come back to an observation I made earlier following the federal election.

"The 2011 book on Canadian politics has two chapters. Chapter One was the May 2 federal election. Chapter Two will be the elections in those five provinces. Depending on the outcomes, Canada could look quite different by the end of the year."

Well, Chapter Two is nearly finished and in each case so far, the incumbent has been returned to power. The popularity of Premier Brad Wall suggests that he will also be successful in his bid to retain power. So what conclusions can we draw from these results?

To answer, let's go back to a couple of questions I asked in this post written as the provincial campaigns were about to begin.

1. Will the global economic environment affect the outcomes?

When considering this first question, look no further than Ontario. At the same time Ontario voters considered the choices in front of them, they were treated to nightly news stories on the U.S. economy and the sovereign debt crisis in the E.U.

They saw a world defined by instability; a reality which tends to drive people towards stability and what they know. Mr. McGuinty clearly benefitted from this anchor mentality. More to the point, he played to it and cast himself in the role of tried and true. Put another way, he made the global economy a core part of his message, where others perhaps were too insular.

Elsewhere, stability and consistently was also chosen. How much of this was down to people honestly feeling that the incumbent offered the best option versus "the devil you know" syndrome is open to debate.

2. Will we see a consolidation of conservatism in Canada, or will voters decide to elect an off-set to a federal Conservative government?

Looking at the results, it is fair to say that there has not been a major shift to the right in the provinces. Yes, Mr. Hudak increased the Conservative seat count in Ontario and held the Liberals to a minority. But for many his campaign is seen as an opportunity lost, given how poor the Liberals were looking right into the summer.

Outside of Ontario, Conservatives did more or less as expected. Some picked up a bit (P.E.I.), others lost a bit (Newfoundland and Labrador). No major shifts.

Perhaps the more important question concerns the left, and the vibrancy of the progressive vote. The results in the provinces thus far show an NDP that is holding strong (Manitoba) and gaining strength (Ontario and Newfoundland and Labrador). The results also show a Liberal brand that, while tarnished, is not yet being painted with the same brush as their federal cousins.

In terms of whether those provinces that elected Liberal or NDP governments were electing "off-sets" to the federal Conservatives, I am inclined to say no with the exception perhaps being Ontario. I think the very open federal Conservative cheering/campaigning for Hudak was not received positively by voters and could have affected the results in some ridings.


So let's go back to the original suggestion - that depending on the outcomes, Canada could look quite different by the end of the year. Does it?

Yes, but not in an obvious way. The players are all more or less the same and the positions of each government are well-known. The difference lies in one principal area - stability.

At the federal level, the next election is no longer around the corner. The government has a majority and time on its side. That is a major change.

Majorities in the provinces (with one very strong minority) also point to stability and consistency. Of course we will have to wait and see what fate brings us in B.C. and Quebec when their turns come, but for the most part the table is set and we know who is coming to dinner.

So where does that leave us?

My hope is that stability and the recognition among our politicians that they are effectively stuck with one another for 4-5 years will act as a prompt for action.

- Action on the economy and how to navigate through a turbulent world.

- Action on health care and how to ensure our system adapts so that it can remain sustainable.

- Action on the environment and how to address the dangers climate change poses to our health, well-being and future.

We have a lot that needs attention and the implications could be far-reaching. All to say, ladies and gentlemen in Ottawa and the provincial capitals you may as well roll up your sleeves and start working. Together.

Sunday, October 9, 2011

Talking Turnout on Thanksgiving

Here at A Guy Watching Politics, I still cling to the belief that possibly, perhaps, if there is nothing else to do, there are some people out there reading this blog. What can I say? I am a glass half-full kind of blogger...

With that in mind, I am putting out this open question and asking for your views:

Why is voter turnout so low?

Of course there is no single reason, so let me start the discussion with some observations based on a conversation I had on-line earlier today.

We are trapped in a vicious cycle; a dangerous chicken and egg scenario in which politicians are failing to offer us real choices and thoughtful options, and where we are disconnected from our politics and complacent about the challenges our society is facing.

The result? We only superficially (if at all) see the real challenges and opportunities we face raised during elections. And no one offers more because we do not demand it.

In good times, this would be disappointing and frustrating. Today it can be dangerous. The interest to engage and the willingness to present real policy options are "muscles" that need to be consistently worked and exercised.

My concern is that as move through what promises to be a very tumultuous period, we will do from a position of weakness. We have switched off from politics at the very time our presence is needed. And our political parties have failed to put real (and possibly difficult) choices on the table at the very time we need to think differently.

- We have allowed ourselves to be governed with an eye to the election around the corner, elevating short-term electoral considerations at the expense of long-term policy debate.

- We have allowed real policy options like tax increases or spending cuts to be stigmatized, and as a result further polarized our politics into "us versus them" camps.

What are we going to do about it? The responsibility for arresting this slide rests with all of us. Politicians, the bureaucracy, the media and the public all have a role to play in changing how Canadians engage.

Electoral reform and greater use of technology or social media are important. But before we get wrapped up in changing how we vote, perhaps we should take a step back and ask ourselves how we can give greater visibility to the issues on which we should be voting.


So, over to you reader(s). What do you think about the state of our engagement? Why is turnout so low, and what can we do about it? Share your views; let's talk turnout.

Saturday, October 8, 2011

Election Reflections

Well there you have it, Ontario. The election is over and the results are in. A minority Liberal government has been tasked with navigating the province through what promises to be tumultuous times.

Having followed the campaign for the past several weeks, I wanted to share with you my take on the results and what it all could mean. Ready?

1. The Liberals (part 1)

For most of this year, the Liberals were expected to lose. More to the point, they were there for the taking. Ontario voters appeared to express a desire for change and the government looked tired. And yet, they survived - albeit with a minority.

A lot has been written over the past week about how the PC's dropped the ball and squandered their chance (see below for more on the Hudak campaingn). However, to focus solely on that aspect takes away from what must be seen as a very well-run Liberal campaign.

- they presented a vision
- they stayed on message
- they did not shy away from their record
- they recognized that voters had begun to move away from the change story and towards one of stability

Taken together, this approach gave voters a clear sense as to what to expect from the government. They provided clarity at a time when so much around us in constant flux. Yes, they lost seats and were moved into a minority position, but I bet if you asked any Liberal in June whether they would be happy with such a result, they would have said yes.

2. The Liberals (part 2)

After the champagne and victory speeches, some Liberals will be looking at these results and wondering if history is repeating itself. For all of the talk about preventing the conservative hat-trick, the Liberals should be a little worried about the map and where they see their support coming from.

Like their federal cousins, the Ontario Liberals are becoming an urban party dependant on the big cities for electoral success. They are in danger of slowly getting hemmed in, ceding more and more of the province to their rivals. All it takes is a scandal, a stuttering economy or some other event to tilt things against them. Watch this space.

3. The Progressive Conservatives

On any other day, someone who in their first campaign as leader increased his party's seat total and limited his principal opponent to a minority would be celebrated. Not so for Mr. Hudak.

The PC party ran a bad campaign, there is no way around it.

- they took themselves off message by making the first week about "foreign workers", a position which likely affected them in the 416 and 905 areas of the province
- they defined the election as a referendum on McGuinty, and did not spend equal time articulating what a PC government would look like
- they failed to appreciate how the dialogue on the global economy was affecting the voter

Of these three points, I believe the "we're not McGuinty" strategy was the most ill-advised. In employing it, they incorrectly assumed that simply by biding their time they could form the government; that they did not need to offer a vision.

Raise your hand if you can name three things a Hudak government would do. Exactly.

4. The NDP

The NDP increased their seat count and used the campaign to generate more exposure and awareness about their leader, Andrea Horwath. So far so good. And now they hold the balance of power, though with only one seat separating the Liberals from an outright majority the NDP position is not as consequential as say Jack Layton's when Paul Martin was PM.

That said, it will be interesting to see how the NDP plays their cards; where they decide to push and seek concessions in exchange for support. How they react to deficit reduction, environment policy, transportation policy will be interesting to watch.

5. The Voter

The low turnout was more than disappointing. It was wretched. Any reader of this blog will know that engagement by the voter is of tremendous importance to me. With so much happening in Ontario, Canada and around the world, one would hope that voters would see fit to take more interest.

Sadly, they did not.

Election fatigue likely played some part. However, seeing our Canadian complacency once again rear its ugly head reminded us of the need to consider how best to wake the Canadian voter and tune them into the issues such that they are prepared to get engaged.

6. The Harper Government

The federal Tories had far too much skin in the game in this campaign. They were visible, audible and clear about the result they wanted. And in the end they did not get it.

A federal government should never be so vocal and involved in a provincial campaign. It will be interesting to see how their not-too subtle cheering will affect relations between the Toronto and Ottawa.

The thing is, it was amateurish. They have to work with whoever wins, so why be so blatant as to your preference? It is persistent curiosity of mine; how can a party that is clearly very strategic and focused in so many areas remain so susceptible to such base partisanship? It's like they can't help themselves.

I half-joked on election night that a Liberal minority with the NDP holding the balance would resurrect the Tory "socialist" lines. Here's hoping I am wrong.


In August I wrote a piece on the upcoming provincial elections and the role the provinces would need to start playing as the de facto official opposition. That time starts now.

Ontario has stayed Liberal, as has PEI. Manitoba has stayed NDP and Newfoundland & Labrador will stay PC. The pieces on the board are getting in place so that everyone knows who they need to work with.

As the political landscape starts to settle, it is time for everyone to turn their attention towards governing; towards addressing the multitude of things on our public policy plate. There is a lot at stake and it goes beyond politics. I hope everyone is up for it.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Election Night in Ontario (just not on CBC)

We have waited a long time, but tomorrow night is nearly here. Old rivals squaring off against one another. One in red, the other in blue. Hope, intensity and a chance at glory. Yes Ontario politics watchers, tomorrow is election night!

Oh, yeah, and the NHL season also starts with the Habs versus the Leafs. Go Habs!

After a short official campaign and quite a long unofficial one, Ontario voters will go the polls tomorrow and, depending on which poll you are reading, will elect:

- a third straight Liberal majority; or
- a Liberal minority, with the NDP holding the balance of power; or
- a Progressive Conservative minority, with the NDP holding the balance of power; or
- a legislature where the two main parties having an equal number of seats, with the NDP opening a bidding war for their support.

I won't go into the differing polls here, but you can find some good analysis and perspective at As the blog notes, with such wildly different projected outcomes there will surely be some pollsters looking a tad embarrassed come Friday morning.

Since I leave polls to the experts, I decided to relax this evening. However, as I prepared to sit back I was treated to one of those lovely, "only a political geek would appreciate this" moments. My phone rang and when I answered, I had a message from one of the Ottawa Liberal candidates inviting me to stay on the line for a live, "virtual town hall" with all Ottawa Liberal candidates, including Premier McGuinty.

Being A Guy Watching Politics, I was tempted to say "You had me at hello."

The call was a neat format. I was placed into the conference which was underway, and listened to Premier McGuinty finishing off a response to a question from a listener regarding seniors. I then heard remarks from the other Ottawa candidates, followed by listeners asking questions of the Premier (all questions were pre-screened - mine did not make the cut!).

I am not sure whether these had been done earlier in the campaign, or whether this was the first instance. I also don't know if the other parties had done something similar (if you know, please leave a comment).

What I do know is I quite liked it, and not just for the geekiness of it. The more interesting element for me was that for the most part there was very little commentary about why someone should not vote for the PCs or the NDP. Fear mongering was in relatively short supply. Instead I heard the candidates outlining their record as a government and their priorities going forward.

I found Mr. McGuinty's tone, in particular, to be very positive. It was calm, earnest and focused. Education was a recurring theme and to my ears he effectively used personal anecdotes to make his remarks less like a sound bite and more like a conversation.

So, did the Liberals finally start reading A Guy Watching Politics and other blogs and commentaries which are demanding more from our political discourse? While I would love to say yes, the answer is likely no.

One argument to make is that what I heard were the final arguments of a party comfortable that the outcome will favour them. This was the tone and confidence of a front-runner.

Another perspective is that this was the tone of front runners here in the Ottawa ridings. The Liberals are confident here, and therefore could appear more positive and statesman-like.

What I don't know is whether other Liberal virtual towns have taken place tonight, and if so whether they took a different tone and were more confrontational and partisan. What would one in a 905 riding sounded like, for example?

If you know, please let me know. Otherwise, let's connect tomorrow and see what the voters bring us. Polls are open 9:00-9:00, with result coming when they close. Oh yeah, and CBC is carrying hockey.

Sunday, October 2, 2011

The speech Ontario should hear, but won't...

As we enter the homestretch of this too-close-to-call provincial election, we find the Liberal, PC and NDP leaders spending their time criss-crossing the province. Whether they are in a riding they hope to steal or one they are trying to protect, the remarks now start to take on a familiar shape - final arguments.

Between now and election day, the leaders will each use that mountain of polling data they have collected to frame and make their final pitch to the voter. Unfortunately, though not surprisingly, their respective pitches will be built around what they feel the voter wants to hear and not what they voter should hear.

A few days ago, Jeffrey Simpson wrote about the absence of hard truths in our campaigns; about the political reluctance to "tell it like it is." This is something that has been on my mind for some time, and which this campaign (and the federal one in May) has reinforced.

So with that in mind, I decided to write "The speech Ontario should hear, but won't..."


Hello ladies and gentleman, and thank-you for taking the time to be here today. Whether you are a supporter or someone still undecided, welcome to the last week of this campaign. Your campaign.

Let me say that again. Your campaign.

This is not, and should not, be about me getting elected or becoming Premier. This campaign is about the Ontario you want; the province you will charge the women and men standing for office with building.

It is a big responsibility, for sure. And it is a responsibility which deserves respect and honesty. Unfortunately, in a campaign these attributes - respect and honesty - often appear to be in short supply.

That changes today. Let me start with some three simple observations.

- the politician who says they have all the answers doesn't

- be wary of the campaign which spends more time telling you why not to vote for someone, and less time making their own case for your vote

- there is no easy fix to any of the challenges we are facing

With those three maxims in mind, consider the following three issues.

If the past few years have taught us anything, it is that we now live in a world defined by change and uncertainty. Ontario is part of a highly integrated global economy which is going through significant changes. Jobs have been lost and deficits have grown as governments attempted to stem the bleed and alleviate the damage.

While we are still trying to figure out what this economy looks like over the next 4 years, we can be certain of one thing: it will not look like it did before the 2008. If I told you that my party would return Ontario's economy to its "glory years", I would be lying. Or own a time machine.

The government you elect will not be tasked with bringing the old economy back. It will be tasked with reinventing our economy for the 21st century.

At the same time our economy is changing, we are seeing tremendous change in our society. We are getting older and living longer. This will place demands on our health care system which cannot be met based on our current model.

We need to have a serious discussion about the health care system we want, its costs and how we can fund it. This is not just a question of spending more - throwing dollars at health care is not a solution. It also misses the point that health care is as much about building a competitive economy as it is about building a healthy society. We need to talk about both.

The government you elect will not be tasked with protecting the health care system we have today. They will be tasked with starting a real dialogue about how to make health care (a) sustainable and (b) a competitive advantage.

We have a deficit. And it is large. As we look at what is happening around the world, we see markets which are increasingly unforgiving on those who live beyond their means. We cannot put Ontario in this position.

A large part of our deficit is related to the measures taken to protect Ontario over the past few years. But that is not the only reason we have a deficit. Health, education and social spending are big tickets. Energy and environment policy measures cost too.

What this means is that we can't simply grow ourselves out of deficit. We need to have a serious discussion about government spending. This can mean cuts. It can mean taxes. If I told you I had the answer, I would not be telling you the truth. What I can tell you is that it is not easy and we need to talk about it.

The government you elect cannot promise to eliminate the deficit without spending cuts or tax increases - the world is too uncertain. The government you will elect will be tasked with engaging the legislature and the public on how best to address the deficit.

There are more issues we could discuss, but the point I would make is the same. Governing is not about having all of the answers; it is about asking the right questions and then working with others to find answers to those questions. This is what I can commit to you. Asking those questions and then working collaboratively to find and implement the answers.

So when you walk towards that box on election day, ask yourself the following:

- whose questions are my questions?
- who has been honest with me about the tasks we face?
- who has told me why I should vote for them, versus telling me why not to vote for someone else?

October 6th is a few days away. It's your campaign. Vote.


More platitude than details, for sure. But the point I want to make is that we should expect more from those seeking our vote. We have real challenges which will require difficult decisions. This is not discussed in a campaign. And it should be discussed.

Speak your mind.
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