Dude, Where’s my Party? Do political parties shift or voters? By Jamie Labonte – September 14, 2011

Dude, Where’s my Party?   Do political parties shift or voters? By Jamie Labonte – September 14, 2011

CFN – So I’ve been paying pretty close attention to the message put out by the parties in Ontario this go around; even a year in advance, since certain parties tend to start their attack ads years before the writ actually drops! So it was with a great deal of surprise that I have watched the Ontario Conservative engine sputter and misfire. Generally, they are a cohesive, well oiled machine that manages sound bytes and headlines exceptionally well. It has historically been very good at getting out it’s message. Not so much, this time around.


What has changed? Why the seeming aimless direction to it’s narrative? Some people blame the leader, Tim Hudak for this. That may be the case. Some blame a poor party strategy with regards to policies. That’s a good possibility too. I think the one thing that we might be overlooking is stability. There isn’t the same party ?ock-step that used to exist. The old guard and the upstarts are obviously at odds.


Certainly, the failure to nominate Norm Sterling, a party hero and a respected statesman by ALL parties was a glaring example of internal strife, but it doesn’t stop there. Hudak would put out edicts like, I will remove Smart Meters or , I will cancel the Samsung Solar Cell production deal and other party members would utterly denounce this policy as wrong-headed. Dr. Wilbert Keon actually came out in praise of Dalton McGuinty’s LIBERAL plans….Wow, what a bizzarro situation!


People that I (a dyed in the wool Liberal) would have considered extremely right wing, eg. Ernie Eves and Mike Harris, have actually called Hudak’s party ideological extremists and a de facto Tea Party North.  Now that would have been a sweet attack by the Liberals or the NDP….but by Mike Harris? That came as a tremendous surprise to me. But then, I remembered to take off my partyhat and look at it as a casual observer.


Someone reminded me that political parties are not monolithic blocks of granite that never change, never waiver and never evolve.  Political parties are living organisms that shift their values just as we as individuals do. Some individuals in the PC party are obviously not at all happy about the direction Hudak is taking them, or how the party is evolving (devolving? Sorry, that’s me being a Liberal again!)


Now I want to be clear here. I am not laughing at or mocking the PCs for their current predicament.

The federal Liberals experienced a similar situation (and perhaps do still) where the Martinites and the Chretienists had a schism. To deny it would be silly. Everyone knows it was there. Dion got elected leader and yet ended that stint with more knife wounds in his back than Julius Caesar and the Ignatieff crew decided not to go with Chretien’s chief public relations guru Warren Kinsella, and got soundly thrashed in the election for their…ahem, wisdom. Kinsella’s own message about the federal Liberals is that they forgot the age-old lesson, define yourself or you’ll be defined by your opponents.  One has to wonder if this very thing is not happening to the Hudak Tories.


Once again, we could say that this was simply spin doctor failure…or it was an economic scenario that they could not win. (Economy bad…stability good etc etc.) but I’m starting to realize that the parties themselves are evolving, changing, morphing into something different. The federal NDP is a prime example of that. They basically became a party of Quebec overnight.

Quebec has had a long history of social justice. Public car insurance, public subsidized day-care among other progressive social programs so it was not a poor fit for them to adopt the NDP but make no mistake, the NDP has changed drastically too. No more Svend Robinson, Ed Broadbent et al. Now it is the young francophone machine that isn’t about separation or sovereignty but will undeniably be the What’s in it for Quebec? party that once was the banner of Duceppe’s Bloc.

I watched all this unfold federally and provincially and realized that the Canadian polity did not shift in it’s values from left to right or vice versa.  The parties did. There is so much flux federally and provincially that Canadians seem to be gravitating towards the ones that seem to hold a strong unified message. Harper’s success is largely for this reason….so is Dalton McGuinty’s.  Strong, stable party lines that people can count on. Whether you agree with one party line or the other, this is an immutable truth. People like to know where you stand with them.


It’s pretty clear where Dalton McGuinty stands. He record is fairly straightforward. He has not shifted all that much from his plan. The Conservatives, on the other hand, are in a tremendous amount of flux. John Tory, a somewhat progressive favourite, gave way to Tim Hudak, an ultra right wing neophyte.

Basically, the parties are in a state of change. There’s nothing you or I can do about that. It really is up to the individual to decide for themselves which party best reflects their values, and some of the party values are harder to pin down than ever! The NDP, federally headless, provincially rudderless, is coasting on a wave of Jack Layton nostalgia (Hey, it touched me too!) but that hasn’t seemed to translate into support.

Now I’m not going to tell you who to vote for. You all know what I’ll suggest, but when you walk to the polls this fall, don’t vote along old party lines like you have in the past. Those lines have changed….a lot. A vote for Tim Hudak is decidedly NOT a vote for Mike Harris or Ernie Eves (I know…this shocked me too). If you were a fan of Harris for his fiscal strategy but not his social record….then Hudak is perhaps not a good replacement. Hudak is banking on the idea that the province has shifted to the right; that the center has moved to the right. I don’t believe that’s the case.  The reason is stability.


The public at large likes stability. They found it federally with Tories and provincially with the  Liberals. If you ask individual Canadians/Ontarians about their values, they have not changed all that much. We are still generally a fiscally responsible group with a strong sense of social responsibility. Either old Ontario PC or current Ontario Liberal, those values did not change.


The question is, has your party’s values become more or less like your own? We all need to review the message from each party, then look at their actual recent behaviour, and then decide which one of them looks like our personal candidate. Trust me. Take stock of your values and see how your party stacks up to them. Only then will you know who to vote for.


The answer might surprise you.

Bobs Vac

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