Thursday, September 28, 2006

Unite The Left

One of the central debates in the Liberal leadership is how well the various candidates can appeal to the "soft" left. Any criticism of Rae is invariably met with the counter that he has the ability to siphon votes from the NDP. You could also argue that Kennedy and Dion have potential appeal. The big loser in this discussion seems to be Ignatieff, mostly because of the fact that some of his positions lend themselves to the "Harper-lite" accusation.

It is intriguing to look at the possibilities of a Liberal Party with Rae at the helm. Just imagine the problems Rae would present for Layton. Can Layton really attack Rae's record as Premier effectively? The only NDP led government in Ontario's history questioned by an NDPer, that can only dream of such heights. Rae's achilles heel may be rendered unusable through sheer awkwardness. Layton will also lose his most trusted tactic, painting the Liberal Party as convenient progressives, who only play the card during election campaigns. This strategy might have worked against Martin, I doubt it will have much resonance with Rae. Therefore, if you limit your argument to the left of the spectrum, there is little doubt Rae looks problematic for the NDP.

However, it is important to look at the entire political spectrum when accessing a candidate. You can make a powerful argument that Rae's strength on the left, is counter-balanced by his weakness in the middle. While Layton might have problems with Rae, Harper would seem to drool on first blush. I envision a campaign riddled with re-hash and past "experience", particularly in the battleground that will ultimately decide the election. Rae in Ontario is risky, any objective reading surely sees the potential pitfalls. I'm not suggesting Rae can't overcome, but nor do I put much stock in opinion polls from basically disinterested and disengaged people. Maybe Rae can unite the left to a degree, but maybe Ignatieff can unite the middle. An open question which is more crucial?

I now live in Ontario. My experience tells me that many people literally wince, like they are in physical pain, when you mention Rae's name. You can't spin that reality, it's real and it has a firmness to it that troubles me. Anyone reading this blog is a junkie, who knows the debate intimately. The average voter isn't engaged like the diehards, superficial appearances matter and aren't easily changed. While it sounds great to say "unite the left", it has a tinge of idealism that forgets the reality of "lose the middle". It's a double-edged sword.


Anonymous said...

I don't know. I live in Ontario. I don't get that reaction. Do we travel in different circles? I know a lot of teachers who say they love Bob - sure they took days off without pay - but they liked that a lot more than just losing their jobs (under Harris). Second, I think using the term "middle" is misleading. The middle isn't Harper's territory, but the middle-right (which is also where I think Ignatieff has the strongest support). So sure, Bob probably doesn't fair as strongly in the middle-right, but in the middle-left and left votes, Bob fares extremely well. I guarantee you that it will be easier to convince NDP voters to vote for Rae, then it will be to find Conservative voters to vote for Ignatieff - which is why Rae has a bigger growth potential, not just amongst Liberals, but amongst Canadians in general (who are, generally speaking, left-of-centre).

Steve V said...

I don't think anyone suggests we should try to get the middle right, nor do I think Ignatieff has any appeal to this constituent. The middle in this instance is the percentage of the population that vasilates between the two parties, the center.

knb said...

It may be easier to get NDP voters to vote for Rae, but it will not make up for the loss of Liberal voters who will either abstain or vote Green if Rae is elected.

I'm in Ontario too and get the same visceral reaction from people that STEVE V described.

While I don't think Ignatieff is as far right as you put him, but I'm not sure we really know how many conservatives, real conservatives, are disenchanted with the neo-con ideology.

Cerberus said...

It isn't even about Rae.

What percentage of the voters on the left are in play? What percentage of the voters in the centre-left/centre/centre-right are in play?

From what I have read, election to election and in polls, there is about 2% or so of NDP voters who swing between the NDP and Liberals. Rae, being a former NDPer could increase that possibly, but probably not Kennedy or Dion. They are NDPers for a reason - many outright socialists or socialist-lite and many not tolerant of anyone not towing the party line on certain ideological issues - and the historical shifts indicate that the swing vote gain is not that big.

On the other side, though, the swing vote is significantly higher. I've read between 6-10% looking at historical election data. These are the folks who are generally progressive on social issues, not big on too much government interference in their lives, don't like deficits or debt but want a strong social safety net, think Canada should be doing more militarily abroad, believe in stronger environmental policy (but not necessarily Kyoto targets), in different about the need for a GST cut or a federal daycare plan, very nervous about too much fervent Republican-style God in their government, etc.

Can Ignatieff into that? Absolutely. I think even Rae could. It's where Chretien went dipping for votes. Martin chased NDP votes which was both not credible to a lot of people and one of his many mistakes. It's where Harper went for his votes, unlike his counterparts in the US who found going ever further right was the way to go.

I don't think we should be picking our leader out of strategic vote guessing. That's a crap shoot. We should each be voting for a leader we think reflects the party's fundamental values and priorities, and has the ideas and vision to make Canada a better place.

But if we ARE going to discuss swing votes and left-right votes, then we should do so with the facts in front of us so we don't make any big blunders, or allow some to convince of this or that based upon impressions without data.

Steve V said...

You're right. The only reason Rae enters the equation is when the idea of electability is introduced and people naturally assume the tent grows with him at the helm. In reality, it may be a case of take some here, loss some there.

The debate should be based on ideas and policy. With a strong field, who have articulated many ideas that are frankly similar, the question then moves to the best fit. On this score, my concern with Rae is this- Ontario is absolutely essential for the Liberals. If you accept the premise that Rae is controversial, which seems intuitive, given the history (you can argue back and forth forever), then the question becomes, do you risk you core support on the unknowns? All things being equal, do you start the debate from a net negative and hope to overcome? In this were chess, you could use the term blunder.

Jeremy Kirouac said...

Contrary to what Cerebrus is saying, Dion has wide appeal from all political stripes NDP, Greens, Liberals and Green Conservatives. Dion has been praised by the likes of Jack Layton and Elizabeth May. But David Orchard also supports Dion. So if we are going to ask ourselves, who can deliver a majority? It's gotta be Dion. Neither Ignatieff nor Rae could make such claims.

Also, if we ask ourselves who best represents our values? I believe 100% that that is Dion. This is the primary reason that I support him. He speaks my language. He has the greatest breadth and depth of knowledge about Canada's environment. He is working to reconcile Canada's economy with the environment. That's something I am devoting my life to. He also has an incredible track record. Saving Canada ain't for nothing.

So on all accounts, Dion, Dion, CanaDion.

Jeremy Kirouac

Steve V said...


Well said! My only quibble would be the "incredible" track record. Watching Dion squirm today, trying to defend himself against the attacks on his record while environment minister hardly conveyed confidence that he can distance himself from the trainwreck that was the last government. Everyone assumes that the environment is Dion's issue, partially because of his emphasis on it in this campaign. I think the record is shaky, open to easy criticisms like "you had your chance" and I don't think the counter that things were about to change sounds credible. I like what Dion says, I'm just not sure it translates well against the record.

wayward son said...

I don't envie Liberals choosing a leader from the lot running.

Rae is a good speaker, maybe he can win voters back but I am uncertain. My parents voted for Rae, but they are Liberals. If Rae was the leader I am pretty sure they would stay at home, unless the local candidate was really great. As for swinging some NDP voters, maybe but I don't see it, they seem happy with Layton and I know many NDPers who don't like Rae.

Iggy seems to be too close to Harper on too many issues, but maybe that might work, as people don't seem to mind Harper much, but I think many of them are skeptical of some of the Conservative MPs. So maybe a right-leaning Liberal might garner votes.

Dion, I haven't been following much. I do think that he would like to push a Green agenda, but I don't think the Liberal party truly does, which is why his record as environment minister doesn't look.

Kennedy, to me is still the best option. He should appeal to many NDP voters, he doesn't seem to be too tarnished.

But, in reality I haven't paid much attention to the Liberal leadership race.

It is too bad there is not a solid female candidate and I think male leaders of every major political party will work in favour of Elizabeth May's Green Party. I am not saying that she is going to win a ton of seats (maybe none) but I think she has the ability to siphon votes from the Liberals, NDP and Conservatives.

burlivespipe said...

The question you raise about Ontario is valid but also myopic. Don't forget the Harpor part of the equation. A Rae-led Liberal party would be a strong contrast to Harpor. The Toris essentially snubbed Ont to court Quebec. The rumoured enviro-placebo they are offering will spare Alberta but smack Ont (but who wouldn't want to see stiff auto emission targets?). Harpor has taken a number of risks with his Ontario base. I bet he scores fairly well otherwise, when talking about national policies, he gets some of them done quickly, says the right things, the mean things he tries to paint as 'necessary'... That Ont is not as volatile as Quebec on foreign policy could be what he's counting on. But that's where Rae offers contrast too, while Iggy is a shadow of Harpor.
People may remember 10 years ago clearly, but if Harpor wants to run on old history than he's got some baggage there, too. Bob can handle it, move the ball forward and push a broader, better choice. Ignatieff risks being our Adlai Stevenson.

Anonymous said...

There are four key elements in the next election.

Firstly, how many who voted for the NDP in January 06 in order to punish the former Liberal government for the sleaze, incompetence in campaigning and general air of entitlement (the protest vote), will now vote for the LPC under a new leader who is untainted by those events? T

Secondly, how many Liberals cast protest votes for the Tories or stayed at home in protest?

Thirdly, how many people who voted for the Tories for reasons other than supporting the Tory rightwing policies, will now vote for principles rather than punishment?

And finally, who is best situated to persuade protest voters (both Dippers and Grits) to vote Liberal this time? And who offers the best alternative to the mean-spirited, macho-loving new Tory party under Harper?

My bet is that Bob Rae scores best on all these issues. Polls (Allan Gregg) have indicated that in Ontario, Bob Rae scores substantially higher than any other candidate when Dippers are asked if they would vote for the LPC with him as leader (50% plus).

Now, that's a fact. And that's pulling power.