Resisting the pull of cynicism since 1969.

Monday, June 18, 2007

Waterloo blogstravaganza, take two

I'm currently on my yearly work-related trip to Waterloo, Ontario, and have therefore decreed that there must be a reprise of last year's Waterloo-area blogger herding event at the Huether Hotel. Sinister Greg, James Bow, and Greg Staples have been herded--so perhaps the Canadian Cynic and his co-blogger the Pretty Shaved Ape could have their arms twisted as well? Here's hoping!

They call it a hotel, but the Huether is actually a great little microbrewery in the heart of Waterloo's "uptown" with excellent brews (though there's plenty to offer the non-beer-drinkers as well). There's even a patio if the weather plays along. All are welcome to join us at 2PM on Saturday, June 23: bloggers and blog readers alike, of all political stripes. Last year's event was great, laid-back fun--and none of us bite. I promise!

[Update: Could there be a better forecast for tomorrow? I think not! It's patio time!]

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

You mean I shoulda been looking for a female blogger with a Ph.D. in linguistics?

Tory blogger Stephen Taylor is theorizing that a) while Stephen Harper and his wife are "ordinary Canadians," Stéphane Dion and his wife are not, and b) that stressing this will lead to more votes for Harper's Conservatives. The reason being that ordinary Canadians vote for candidates who are ordinary like them, not for people who are "less ordinary" or "extraordinary."

Leaving aside for a moment whether or not these two party leaders are actually all that different in their "ordinariness" (I'm doubtful), I'd like to ask a somewhat different question--do Canadians really vote for candidates based on whether or not they seem to resemble themselves? I mean, this is clearly the case in the United States, where billions of dollars are spent on image consultants that try to make multi-millionaires seem more like the guy next door. But assuming that just because Americans vote this way, Canadians must as well, seems like it could very easily end up being dead wrong. It's certainly not the case in a lot of European countries--I can't count the number of times Germans have told me that they expect their politicians to be more educated, more knowledgeable, and more willing to pay attention than they are, for example.

Is there actually any data that suggests that Canadians look for themselves in their politicians? Do you? (I sure don't!)

Calgary-Elbow byelection redux

Something really interesting happened in Alberta last night: the long-reigning Alberta Tories lost Ralph Klein's old seat to a Liberal. My heartiest congratulations to my fellow Alberta bloggers Calgary Grit and daveberta, who have worked very hard over the last few weeks.

I have a couple of things to say about the result, but I admit that I spend a lot more time thinking about federal politics than I do about provincial politics. This means that my take on this is only somewhat informed, so take it with a grain of salt. Basically, though, what I see is that the Liberals didn't win this byelection so much as the Tories lost it. Ed Stelmach, the Tories' replacement for the Alberta institution of Ralph Klein, is terrifically unpopular these days, and it showed. However, this says less about Stelmach in particular than you might think, because the real culprit is a slow disintegration of the lumbering Alberta Tory beast, and that has been lurking in the shadows for a long time.

For years, I have suspected that the Alberta Tories were made up of several very, very different kinds of conservatives--groups which, in a more normal jurisdicion, would end up in two or even three competing parties. Their leadership race only brought this into sharper focus, with the three top-tier candidates representing very separate constituencies: "the Calgary business conservative" (Jim Dinning), "the rural southern Alberta conservative" (Ted Morton), and "the rural northern Alberta conservative" (Ed Stelmach).
[*] This isn't a traditional left-right split; it's a rural-urban split, and to a somewhat lesser extent, a north-south split. But it's also no illusion--they may all be old, right-wing white guys, but the things these constituencies care about are still completely different, and it was only Ralph Klein's personal brand of populism that kept them unified for as long as they were.

Now, with the king gone, that faux unity is crumbling. From the point of view of the Calgary business conservatives, the province is now being run by a rural northerner, which means that anytime the Stelmach government doesn't handle that city's issues well, it must be because he doesn't care about them.
[**] It's tempting to say that they picked the wrong guy, but the other candidates would have had the same kinds of issues, in other directions. Dinning would have had the rural northerners revolting; Morton would have had everybody who didn't want to resemble the U.S. Republican Party blanching and heading for the hills. If anything, in Stelmach they ended up with the one choice that had a slight chance of keeping the thing they call a party together--the safest candidate. But as we saw last night, even the safest candidate is by no means a sure thing these days.

Some Alberta Liberals are predicting a sea change in the next election (next spring sometime, most likely), but while that would certainly be interesting, I'm still pretty doubtful. If the Alberta Tories had chosen Morton and thus branded the entire party with a hard-right southern rural flair, I could see that happening. But the fact is, it's going to take an awful lot of urban business conservatives holding their noses and voting Liberal for there to be a change of government, and I just don't think that group finds Stelmach's northern rural sensibilities quite that scary. If the Alberta Tories really did split into two parties, of course, that would be another story, but I don't really see that happening either. Instead, I'm with Kuri from Thought Interrupted by Typos in predicting that the "Calgary business conservative" constituency will now form Alberta's equivalent of Ontario's "905" region:

What the demographics of the city--in particular the suburban bedroom communities in this sprawling city--point to is a Tory-Liberal swing, similar to those equally sprawling, SUV-loving cities that ring Toronto. These areas shifted massively in favour of hardline conservatism with the election of Mike Harris in 1995, only to shift equally dramatically in favour of the Liberals in 2003. These people will not be loyal. They will go to whoever will bribe them with the best goodies like tax cuts, more roadwork to support their unsustainable lifestyle, and other things that mean getting more and paying less.
In sum, then: The Alberta Tories probably aren't going to lose the next election, but they're going to have to work a lot harder to win it than they have in a long time. This will involve saying very different things to different constituencies, something that Stelmach hasn't yet learned to do as well as Klein did--and if he bungles it even a little, there could be an awful lot of fascinating fireworks for us political junkies to watch (and, possibly, a minority government). And if you're part of the "Calgary business conservative" constituency, expect to be courted but hard by both Stelmach and Liberal leader Kevin Taft in the next election.

[*] There was also an "Edmonton business conservative" candidate, Dave Hancock, but truth be told, that's just never been big enough a constituency to field a candidate who could win. Edmonton tends to divide up its provincial seats between the Liberals and the NDP, with the occasional Tory adding a hint of spice. Reason #574 why I'm glad I live here and not somewhere else in this province!

[**] This may, in fact, be the case, for all I know. However, I can't help but notice that the same allegations weren't lobbed at Klein, who did just as crappy a job handling issues like skyrocketing rents and potholes.

Sunday, June 10, 2007

Public service announcement

Mike from Rational Reasons, who argued vociferously against the NDP's position of taking combat troops out of Afghanistan only six months ago, has now changed his mind. But if this is a so-called "flip-flop," then it's an exceedingly well-argued one.

(I'm still on the fence, for the record.)