Nothing bites like reality
Troy Media – by Pat Murphy
It’s been a fascinating couple of weeks in Canadian politics, especially with the Alberta election rollercoaster. Amidst all of the noise, several topics are worth commenting on.
First up, it’ll be interesting to see how Alberta’s Progressive Conservatives respond to their near-death experience. Will it be business as usual, secure in the belief that they have dispatched the Wildrose upstart? Or will they give serious consideration to the fact that, compared to four years ago, approximately half of their base absconded to Wildrose – and they were only saved by the (temporary?) influx of previously Liberal votes?
Alberta PCs won the battle but what about the war?
If the Liberal vote remains in a state of permanent collapse, then the Progressive Conservatives may have merely remixed the composition of their perpetually victorious coalition. But that’s a large “if.” And making it stick will likely involve policy concessions to move the party’s compass leftwards, which in turn will raise the prospect of further bleeding towards Wildrose on the right. Perhaps we’ve only seen the first battle in a war that’s far from over, a war whose ultimate winner remains to be decided.
Then there’s the matter of the polls. Put simply, they got it badly wrong. To be sure, there are the usual explanations about last-minute swings, undecideds, and so forth. But the brutal truth is that anyone who was looking to the polls to tell them what was going to happen on election night would have been profoundly misled.
And it’s not for the first time. A year ago, the pollsters missed the federal Conservative majority. Indeed, some of them even low-balled the Conservative vote outside their own stated margin of error. One pollster – EKOS – did so spectacularly.
The point here isn’t that polls are useless, merely that it’s not always clear whether what they report is rooted or ephemeral, real or illusion. And given the impact they have on all kinds of public policy discussions, it’s unfortunate that the only reality check comes on election day.
There’s also Michael Ignatieff. Now that his political ambitions are ancient history, he’s reverting back to being his previously interesting self.
In early March, he acknowledged to a York University audience that the Liberals had earlier tried to do to Stephen Harper what Harper subsequently did to him. To quote: “We attempted to deny him standing, and now he has taken his revenge.” Then came the remarks to BBC Scotland, to the effect that Canada and Quebec are “almost two separate countries,” and that “the logic eventually is independence – full independence.”
Whatever one thinks of these observations, they have a much more authentic ring than the pose of faux outrage that Ignatieff felt compelled to adopt as Liberal leader. Had he been his real self when in politics, he’d have been substantially more credible. But then again, he’d never have made it to Liberal leader.
Finally, there’s the scenario floated in a recent Financial Post guest column. Writing about Jean Charest, the columnist urged him to depart the Quebec premiership with a view to positioning himself as the replacement for Harper in 2015. Leaving aside the question of whether Harper has any intention of going that early, the Charest proposition beggars belief.
Why would anyone think that a Red Tory from Quebec – one who loves Kyoto and is hostile towards the oil sands – has any prospect of winning the leadership of the 21st century Conservatives? After all, this is a party whose power base overwhelmingly lies west of the Ottawa River, and whose leadership is determined by grassroots members rather than string-pulling Toronto and Montreal power brokers. It’s as if the writer is caught in a time warp.
A postscript on the matter of polls. The next time you hear some pundit solemnly intone that the latest poll shows a decline in the federal Conservative position since election day, be mindful that what’s being compared is a poll number and an actual vote.
If, say, it’s a Forum poll showing a 4 percent drop from 40 on election day to 36 now, remember that 36 was precisely where the Forum poll had the Conservatives on election eve. In other words, there’d be no change at all.
Things are often not quite what the punditocracy and pollsters suggest. And nothing bites like reality.
Troy Media columnist Pat Murphy worked in the Canadian financial services industry for over 30 years. Originally from Ireland, he has a degree in history and economics.