Archive for September, 2008

Grits and Tories much more similar than is commonly assumed

In today’s Toronto Star, one of that publication’s best columnists, Thomas Walkom, has an excellent piece articulating with uncanny precision an argument that I have been making for years.  This article truly is well worth the read for any engaged freethinker.

Parties far closer than they admit
By Thomas Walkom

Both Prime Minister Stephen Harper and Liberal Leader Stéphane Dion paint their rivalry in near-apocalyptic terms.

Dion insists that Harper is defined by a “narrow-minded right-wing agenda…

“There has never been a federal election that has more clearly provided Canadians with such a stark choice,” he said on Sunday.

Harper says the choice is equally stark – between what he calls his solid, middle-of-the-road government and the wild-eyed notions of a radical academic.

“Canadians want prudence, not risk,” he said this week. “They want practical actions for the many, not theoretical ideas for the very few.”

All of this is vibrant rhetoric.

But in terms of deeds, the Conservatives and Liberals are far closer than their partisans admit.

Harper, in particular, has been careful not to stray too far from the centre-right orthodoxy of previous Liberal regimes. His critics insist that this is a ruse, that he has a hidden agenda ready to unleash if he wins a majority of Commons seats.

Yet there is little evidence of such an agenda.

As prime minister, Harper has deftly avoided most of the so-called culture war issues, from abortion to gay marriage.

Instead, he has taken aim at relatively low-budget federal schemes unpopular with his base – from a program that allowed disadvantaged groups to take on the government in court, to cultural grants that benefit those with whom the Conservatives disagree.

He has not dismantled what’s left of the welfare state, such as employment insurance. He hasn’t had to. Jean Chrétien’s previous Liberal government did it for him.

Like the Liberals, Harper has been happy to fund medicare.

But – again like the Liberals – he has ignored its creeping privatization, refusing to enforce the Canada Health Act.

Dion accuses Harper of squandering the $12 billion budgetary surplus he inherited.

If so, Harper has simply followed the Liberal lead, using this surplus to pay down debt, reduce taxes and boost federal spending.

In fact, most of Harper’s tax cuts (with the important exception of his decision to slash the GST) were supported by the Liberals.

Conversely, the Harper Conservatives have not been exactly parsimonious. During their two full years in government, federal spending on programs rose by about $20 billon.

During the last two full years of the previous Liberal government, program spending also rose by $20 billion.

True, the Conservatives favour military spending. But the Liberals are hardly peaceniks. They support Harper’s decision to keep Canadian combat troops in Afghanistan until at least 2011.

Even the parties’ scandals are eerily similar.

Four years ago, the RCMP was brought in to sort out the fabled Liberal sponsorship program.

This year, the RCMP was brought in to sort out a Conservative financing scheme that Elections Canada says is illegal.

This is not to say the two parties are identical. Dion says he would cut income taxes and impose new levies on commodities whose production involves carbon emissions. Harper says he wouldn’t.

But even this distinction is more complex than it seems. Dion’s scheme may help the environment. But by replacing progressive income taxes with a regressive consumption tax, he could help the rich at the expense of the middling classes. Conversely, Harper – in tax terms at least – could emerge here as the more leftish of the two. Which isn’t quite how he’s usually seen.


While I profoundly agree with Walcom’s argument in this article, I personally tend to go further insofar as I argue that while the NDP, Bloc Québecois and Greens are better than the two primary capitalist parties, they still have much more in common with them than any of the five would readily admit.

Those interested, can read my thoughts and arguments for why I believe this to be the case in these pieces:

Propaganda In Action: Canada as a force for peace in the world

Who says either the Liberals or the NDP are ‘left’?

Support for capitalist parties in Canada


Shame on Layton, Duceppe & Harper: May should be in the debates

Earlier today the capitalist television networks announced that Elizabeth May, leader of the federal Green Party, would be barred from attending the leaders’ debates.

Contrary to some of the analysis I have read in the blogs and elsewhere, in the strict letter of the regulations, the networks did not do anything inconsistent in refusing to grant Elizabeth May a seat at the leaders’ debates for the 2008 election.  In 1993, the relatively new Reform and Bloc Québecois Parties had each elected their first MPs (Deborah Grey and Gilles Duceppe respectively) rather than obtaining their first MPs as a result of floor-crossing as is the case this year with the Green Party.

Thus, while I strongly disagree with the entire convention of allowing only parties that elect one MP into the debates, the blame for today’s patently anti-democratic decision cannot be laid entirely or even primarily at the doorstep of the capitalist networks (regardless of how much every Marxist bone in my body would like to do so).

The blame, it is clear, rests primarily on the shoulders of the NDP’s Jack Layton, the Bloc’s Gilles Duceppe and the Conservatives’ Stephen Harper.  For being the sole party leader of the 4 main parties to advocate for May’s presence, the Liberals’ Stéphane Dion rightly deserves praise today from democrats of all stripes ranging from radical Marxist like myself to the bluest Tory.

The sort of reactionary, petty, anti-democratic inclinations exemplified by the pressure from the NDP, Bloc and Tory leaders to close off access to the debates is simply shameful.  I expect this sort of behaviour from the Tory leader who has regularly demonstrated his contempt for democracy in his draconian attitude towards the press and public ethics committees.  However, this an exemplar of hypocrisy on the part of the Bloc and the New Democrats.

Both parties claim to be social democrat, even though both parties have sadly long since forgotten that ‘socialism’, throughout its long and rich history from the Diggers of the English Revolution onwards, has always entailed radical democracy and the radical expansion of the democratic franchise.  This is an especially bitter irony for the New Democrats since they still proudly consider themselves to be the party of Tommy Douglas, a genuine and honourable democratic socialist who never forgot what that term entailed.  Without realizing it, time and time again, the NDP continues to demonstrate with their current pathetically-weak policies and their bourgeois behaviour, that if Tommy Douglas could see what his party had become, he would be spinning in his grave.

Now, let me be clear: This should not be taken as an endorsement of May.  May and her predecessor’s policies which deliberately dragged the Greens to the right and away from the parts of the proud Green tradition that I most respect, is for me simply unforgivable.  However, one’s personal opinions of the Greens are immaterial here.  This is an attack on democracy just as much as is the silencing of other party leaders such as Miguel Figueroa of the Communist Party of Canada, Dennis Young of the Libertarian Party of Canada, Connie Fogal of the Canadian Action Party and Sinclair Stevens of the Progressive Canadian Party to name only a few.  And as this is an attack on democracy, it must be the duty of every democrat to stand in solidarity with Elizabeth May and the Greens on this issue and pressure whomever they’re supporting in this election to allow May into the debates.

NDP in first place in Atlantic Canada, Prairies: poll

A new poll released earlier today by the polling firm Ekos suggests a dramatically-shifting political landscape on several fronts in Canada as the 2008 election election gets under way.

The Ekos poll is now the fourth consecutive poll from four separate polling firms to be released in the past week which shows the floor appearing to literally collapse out from under the Liberal Party of Canada.  The three other polling firms whose latest polls suggest similar trends are Environics, Strategic Council & Ipsos-Reid.

The Ekos poll puts the Liberals at a dismal 24% nationally, just 5% (MOE = ± 2.2% 19 times out of 20) ahead of the New Democrats who are ranked at 19%.

Of particular interest in this one poll is the rankings in the province of Quebec, and in Atlantic Canada and the Prairies.

In Quebec, the poll gives the Bloc Québecois the lowest level of support received by that party in any poll by any polling firm in nearly a year.  At 26%, the Bloc is listed as being statistically tied with the Tories (at 25%) and just 5% ahead of the New Democrats who are in a strong third place in the Ekos poll at 21%.

In Atlantic Canada, the poll puts the NDP at a whopping 36%, well ahead of both the Conservatives and Liberals who stand at 30% and 29% respectively.

In the Prairies, the Ekos poll puts the NDP at 38%, ahead by a statistically insignificant margin of the Tories’ 36% and considerably ahead of the Liberals’ dismal 14%.

However, the poll is not all good news for the New Democrats.  The poll puts the New Democrats in last place amongst the major parties in the vote-rich province of Ontario, behind the Greens (albeit by a statistically insignificant margin).

With all this said, it is important to close with a caveat.  As I have stated many times before, when a poll of this magnitude is released, it is always a good idea for political analysts not to to get too excited.  Many partisan observers often forget the fact that polls only claim to be accurate to within their own stated margin of error (± 2.2% in this case) 19 times out of 20.  That means that on average one out of every 20 polls will be off in their prediction by at least their margin of error and possibly worse.  This is why the Paulitics Polling Resource uses a 5-poll rolling average to base its analysis on.

Stay tuned, this latest Ekos poll will be included in the Polling Resource shortly.

Tories not as popular as media would have you believe

The Sage of Baltimore — H.L. Mencken — once famously noted that “For every complex problem there is a solution that is simple, neat and wrong“.  Mencken’s words seem as apt today as they were when he first penned them.

Peruse the Op/Eds of any of the major capitalist papers in Canada and you will find a common refrain:

From the Toronto Star:

Federal election: Who’s the man?

From the National Post:

Biggest Tory asset is Harper himself

Tories are well placed to win

The only problem with the deliciously simplistic media narrative, is that any attempt to paint the Tories as being well-positioned in terms of polls and popularity is simply not true.  Unfortunately for the purveyors of the media narrative, the numbers don’t lie.

Having just recently completed a massive and long-overdue update of the Paulitics Provincial/Regional Polling Resource, it is possible to lay bare with the most accurate detail possible, the errors of any claims that the Tories are doing well.

In every province/region (that’s right “every”) the conservatives are either within the margin of error of their 2006 election showing or worse.  Put another way, there is no part of the country, no corner of Canada, that has warmed to the Conservatives in over 2 years.

Provinces / Regions where the Tories are doing worse than 2006:

Statistically significant:

Ontario (down by 2.3% even despite a ridiculous poll released by Environics which put the Tories at a whopping 41% provincially.  If we factor out that one poll, they’re down by 4.4%.)

Alberta (down by 6.4%)

Statistically insignificant:

British Columbia (down by 2.5%)

Atlantic Canada (down by 2.3%)

Prairies [MB & SK] (down by 2.0%)

For those of you keeping track at home, that’s not particularly good news for the Tories in parts of Canada representing 75% of the population.

But, don’t expect to read about that in the media anytime soon.

Detailed breakdowns from the Paulitics Provincial/Regional Polling Resource:

Tories recover on eve of election, but still down from 2006

The latest polls are certainly to be viewed as a mixed bag for all five of the major federal parties, save the Bloc Québecois.  For the latter, of course, there is little ‘mixed’ about the situation.  The Bloc’s situation appears to be moribund.

For the Tories, the latest polls have given them a slight bump (which will be accentuated when the latest Environics poll pegging the Tories at near-majority government level support is included in the Paulitics Polling Resource).  However, the Tories still remain down from their 2006 election showing by statistically significant margins despite being flushed with cash and despite their aggressive recent media buys.

For the Liberals, the recent polls have shown them slumping on the eve of the election — not exactly the best time to have a slump in popularity — and have not been able to break beyond a statistically-significant margin of their 2006 support in well over a year.  Still, on the other hand, the Paulitics Polling resource does show the Liberals as one of only two parties to rest above their 2006 levels of support, even if it is by a statistically insignificant margin.

For the NDP, after dipping badly in support, the recent polls have shown what must be a welcome up-tick in popularity back to within the margins of their respectable 2006 finish.  However, much like the Grits, the NDP have not been able to break out above their 2006 levels of support by a statistically-significant margin in well over a year.

For the Greens, after flirting with the 12 percent threshold in the Paulitics rolling-5 poll average for a time, the latest polls have witnessed a dramatic slump for the Greens back down to the 8 percent area of support.  That said, even if the Greens are able to hold on to this comparatively low level of support through to election day, they will still have roughly doubled their level of support since the previous election which is something that the other parties shall ignore only at their own peril.

For the Bloc, I have yet to update the Paulitics Provincial Polling Resource, so a complete picture of the carnage is not yet available at this time.  But, with that in mind, the latest provincial poll results from Leger Marketing put them at a dismal 30%.

Overall, even without the possibility of a legal battle over the constitutionality of the election itself, the election is shaping up to be an interesting one.

Much good news

After flirting some some pretty dire financial circumstances/unemployment for a while which utterly sapped my creative energies, I’m very pleased to say back on my feet both financially and creatively.

The other piece of good news is that my blog is no longer ‘banned’.  For those of you who came across the comment I left on my own blog the other day, I am pleased to report back that the issue surrounding WordPress restricting my blog, forbidding me from uploading files and rescinding my ability to publish new blog posts, has now thankfully been resolved.  It seems it was all something of a misunderstanding.

With that, since an election is in the air, I have put out a massive update to the Paulitics Polling Resource.  The Provincial polling resource will take a bit longer to update because it’s considerably more work.  But rest assured, there will be more detailed analysis to come.  Stay tuned.


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