So the media are abuzz about new poll showing the NDP screeching ahead of the Tories in the hypothetical “if an election were held today” scenario, with the NDP in this fantasy scenario forming a minority federal government for the first time in the polling history of Canada. The NDP, polling-wise, now essentially own the Atlantic and Quebec, are dominant in BC and statistically tied with the Tories in Ontario and Saskatchewan.
To which I say: this should not be surprising. I mean, granted, we’re talking about the Canadian media here, who traditionally recoil from the idea of NDP governance like vampires do from garlic. But this was more or less inevitable given the combination of the fact that the Tories won with a little over forty percent of the vote (hitting what was arguably their ceiling) and the fact that, now that the Tories no longer have the excuse of minority governments to explain away their mediocre-to-shitty ability to govern, their general mendacity is starting to become quite obvious.
Let me put it this way: the average Canadian doesn’t really care that much about political foofaraw and they often don’t care about policy – except that they do care about those policies that directly impact them, and more pointedly they tend to care about those policies which they have personally experienced previously in their lives.1 This latter makes kind of a difference, because when the Tories proposed their plans to reform EI to basically make it more punitive on its users and Jim Flaherty said that there was no such thing as a bad job, that was stupid, because most people have either used EI to get by while they were in between jobs or know a friend who has, and the simple truth about employment insurance is that most people use it relatively responsibly and get themselves back on their feet, and the Tories making it more punitive is just a slap in the face to everybody who’s ever been on it. (There’s a real strong sentiment in this country that EI is perfectly fair and reasonable: you pay into it when you work, you get it when you lose your job.) The proposal to reform the Canada Pension Plan to revise the eligibility age upwards to 67 similarly hurt the Tories because, well, Canadians generally do expect the CPP to continue to exist (unlike Americans, who have basically bought into the “Social Security’s just not gonna be there for us” argument for the most part).
On top of that, the Tories then made two crucial errors, both of which made them seem comparable to U.S. Republicans. Bluntly: Canadians mostly hate Republicans. Although many Canadians may be fiscally conservative and be inclined to vote Tory accordingly, social conservatism is dying a long, slow and welcome death in this country – and even many Canadian social conservatives look at American social conservatives and blink. Therefore, the worst thing you can do in Canadian politics is seem like Republicans, and over the last decade Stephen Harper has masterfully downplayed the social-con aspect of the western Reform-a-Tories and put on a dumbshow of fiscal centrism, and it eventually worked well enough to get him his majority.
Unfortunately, the Tories then got themselves implicated in an election-tampering scandal. Granted, by American standards this is nothing: it’s a series of voter-suppression robocalls that look likely to trace back to Tory organizers. But Canadians enjoy making fun of broken American democracy,2, and even the slightest implication of stolen elections is enough to make Canadians say “well, let’s take this seriously and get to the bottom of this so it doesn’t happen again harumph harumph,” and then the Tories did the stupidest possible thing they could do: they started trying to get Elections Canada’s probe shut down in court. And when their first attempt didn’t work, they tried a second time, and now they have basically confirmed to the entire country that, yes, they fucked around with the election, and their forty percent support started getting woogy.
And then, while this was happening, the Auditor General came out and said that the Conservative government had wasted a shit-ton of money on the F-35 fighters they procured last year, to the tune of $25 billion. That is a lot of money. The NDP promptly made hay of it3 and Parliament began an inquiry into how this huge waste happened and who was responsible for it. Until this week, when the Tories moved to end the inquiry, and at this point we’re well into the “once is annoying, but twice is a pattern” stage for a lot of average Canadians who are only just starting to realize that the Tories pull this sort of thing all the time.
And the problem now is that every time the Tories do it, they’re reinforcing the narrative. When they fire scientists who disagree with their climate proposals, when they eliminate the watchdog agency they proposed – every story that can be simplified down to “the Tories don’t want you to know the truth” just reinforces those earlier stories. The average Canadian doesn’t care about government watchdogs that much, because that sort of thing operates on an abstract level to most people.4 But Canadians do care about not being Americans, and if you link these policy stories to the things they care about through common themes, the Tories will start taking a beating. Which is exactly what’s happening.
Of course, all of this is relatively meaningless because the Tories do have a majority government and therefore we’re not going to have an election for another four years…
…unless, of course. that Elections Canada probe concludes that misconduct was so severe that we need a do-over of last year’s election, in whole or in part. Which, I suspect, is the major reason the Tories keep trying to kill it.
- Which often differentiates them from Americans, who can experience selective amnesia about such things. [↩]
- Also: American beer. [↩]
- Noting that the Conservatives had called Jack Layton’s plan to hire 1,000 new doctors across Canada every year for a decade financially unsound, and that plan would have cost maybe $1.5 billion tops. [↩]
- Not to me, of course, but then again I’m a big policy nerd and atypical in that respect. [↩]