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.

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