What the Canadian Election Might Tell Us About Ourselves?

March 14, 2011

Public Opinion, Public Policy

Make no mistake, the election and the campaign leading up to it will matter. Regardless of the outcome on election night, the process will no doubt tell us a lot about the state of our democracy. Given the expected campaign, it is worth considering some of these potential issues.

Does anyone care?

At one time, Canada could boast about its relatively high turnout in elections, especially compared with other countries that do not require electoral participation. For example, 75% voted in 1988. In the last election, turnout fell to 58.8% (% of people voting/% of people who are on the list). This was the lowest turnout we have ever had.

Despite the media interest in the party jockeying, Canadians have become less engaged in the election process over the past two decades and the upcoming election might further show that more Canadians don’t care.

As an aside, the permanent’s voters list has contributed to uncertainty about the true participation rate because some Canadians are not on the list and it seems that this is truer now than when the list was created anew each election campaign.

Further presidentialization of Canadian Politics

There has been much discussion about how power has been centralized in the current government and the recent “personalization” of the Government of Canada – to “Harper Government” – reflects a broader social theme that leadership matters most of all.

The campaign may offer some real insights into the trend for a couple of reasons.

  1. On the one hand, there are significant policy issues that could drive the campaign – the budget (particularly the deficit), the economic recovery, crime and justice issues, and the military procurement process (the new fighter).
  2. On the other hand, the opposition parties are clearly positioning the election in terms of the leadership style and ethics/ accountability of the current government and the Conservatives have clearly focused on the leaders of the opposition parties.
  3. Finally, the loss of key ministers in the government (e.g. Chuck Strahl; Stockwell Day) suggests that the overall team that the Conservatives offer may not be as strong as the past.

Compared with the last few elections, there seems to be more at stake in this election. As time has gone on, the government has gained an advantage in pushing its agenda through in minority governments.

The Conservatives Aren’t so Bad?

In a dinner party conversation many years ago, a senior Conservative once told me that once every decade (generation) or so Canadians need to elect a Conservative government so they know why not to elect one in the future. While the Conservatives have failed to break through with a majority, they have built strength in Ontario that is potentially here to stay. Only Quebec has really kept the majority at bay.

A further strong showing will show us how much the party has shed its “Western Alienation-based” base. It might also start to show the potential for its Western base to fragment as the party’s appeal is less regionally oriented.

Just three things I will be watching and thinking about as the campaign gets going? How about you?

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About Richard Jenkins

Market research professional and small business owner

View all posts by Richard Jenkins

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