Resisting the pull of cynicism since 1969.

Friday, July 02, 2004

Two myths and a nightmare disguised as a dream

1. The myth of western homogeneity

Since the election, there has been a lot of media coverage about "the West" and how damn different they are from the rest of Canada in electing all those Conservatives. In response, there has also been a lot of grumbling about tossing the whole of western Canada into one pot, saying that they're making "the West" out to be synonymous with Alberta. A quick glance at the numbers, and you can see that the grumblers have a point. In British Columbia, Conservatives took 36.25% of the vote, Liberals 28.57% of the vote, and the NDP 26.54% of the vote. In Saskatchewan the picture is a little bit different, but the pattern is still clear: CON 41.81/LIB 27.16/NDP 23.26, and Manitoba looks an awful lot like Saskatchewan at CON 39.13/LIB 33.20/NDP 23.46.

It's Alberta where the numbers look so different: CON 61.64/LIB 21.98/NDP 9.54. There's more going on here than the sheer number of Conservative voters, too, which is what Albertans are known for. If you look at the Liberal vote percentage, it actually doesn't look all that different from the other western provinces. However, the entire vote is shifted to the right, with leftists turning Liberal and a more or less completely inviable NDP. Although the result in all of western Canada is that there are a lot of seats won by Conservatives, there are two very different things going on. While Alberta is actually as right-wing as everybody thinks they are, what's going on in the rest of western Canada is a split left, where the Liberals and the NDP are constantly battling for the same voters and the Conservatives get the rest. This contrasts sharply with, say, Ontario, where the left is much more united behind the Liberals and the relative percentages look like this: LIB 44.67/CON 31.47/NDP 18.09.

2. The myth of Alberta homogeneity

From the numbers above, it looks for all the world as if there were only one kind of riding in Alberta: the kind of riding that elects Conservatives by overwhelming margins. Though that's certainly true outside of the capital city, within Edmonton itself there are also two other, very different, kinds of ridings. The first of these is the kind of riding where the vote splits pretty evenly among the Liberals and the Conservatives. In Edmonton-Centre, for example, Deputy Prime Minister Anne McLellan's seat, the vote looked like this: Liberals 42.49/Conservatives 41.15/NDP 9.11. Note that as with the Alberta vote overall, one of the things that characterizes this sort of riding is a completely inviable NDP -- these ridings are clearly two-party ridings. David Kilgour's current post, Edmonton-Beaumont, is also this sort of riding, as is, to a lesser extent, Edmonton-East.

There is also a third kind of Alberta riding, however, and because there's only one that patterns like this, it's easy for it to get lost in the shuffle. In Edmonton-Strathcona, if you were to combine the 29.02% of the vote taken by the Liberal candidate with the 23.81% of the vote taken by the NDP candidate, you'd get something *well* over the 39.4% taken by the winning Conservative candidate, Rahim Jaffer. It's not a conservative riding like most of Alberta, nor is it a split riding like Edmonton-Centre. It's a truly divided riding where all three major parties are politically viable (it's actually held on the provincial level by Alberta NDP leader Raj Pannu), and the Conservative has a hold on the seat only because of the split left. If this sounds familiar, it should -- Edmonton-Strathcona looks an awful lot like B.C., Saskatchewan, and Manitoba.

3. Uniting the left: dream or nightmare?

So, I can hear some of you saying, isn't the solution for places like B.C., Saskatchewan, Manitoba, and Edmonton-Strathcona to unite the left behind the Liberals, as they have in places like Ontario and Edmonton-Centre? A Liberal friend of mine would certainly agree with that -- when the writ was dropped this year, she said that the NDP should just throw their weight behind the Liberal candidates and send a couple more Conservatives home. While I agree that it would be kind of fun to send a couple more Conservatives home, uniting the left isn't the answer. For one thing, the Liberals aren't "left"; they're a centrist party. Uniting the left in a *coalition* would be lovely, but if the Liberals engulfed the NDP altogether, it would only make the entire country poorer. There's certainly a place for centrists, but I for one am glad that genuine leftists don't have to hold their noses when they vote (even if they do end up choosing to do so en masse in Ontario and certain Edmonton ridings).

Which brings me to my second point, which is that if we had one major political party on the left and one major political party on the right, how would that be any different from what they have in the United States? No, thank you, my friends; the existence of a true social democratic party in Canada was a major draw for me, and without them, I might as well never have emigrated. A two-party system would be positively un-Canadian, and the day all of Canada unites the Canadian left under a centrist banner is the day I pick up and leave for New Zealand. I'm happy to live in a riding with a viable NDP, even if it means sending a Conservative to Ottawa.

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