Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Don't Forget Your Left Flank

Ignatieff used to say the Liberals needed to "plant their flag on the center-left". Since assuming the helm, the rhetoric has changed to "center", and Ignatieff has intimated that the Liberals have the most to gain from winning over "compassionate Conservatives", centrist voters. This belief is obviously based on polling done by the party, and Ignatieff has actually been quite open in referring to the strategy. I don't dispute for one minute, that the Liberals need to appeal to the center, after all the designation implies mainstream society. It is for that reason, that I'm prepared to be somewhat pragmatic, accepting the necessity of appeal and the rationale for "moving", as a means to topple the Conservatives. Any party that hopes to govern must be prepared to compromise, and the act of governing itself generally forces a move to centrist policy.

However, I'm not sure I'm entirely comfortable with this perceived tunnel vision, to siphon off soft conservatives, former progressive conservatives, as our only avenue to take power. While I don't dispute what internal pollsters are telling the party, it seems they are many equations at play, and others which don't necessarily mean you need to abandon you're left flank to expand support. Pointing to the Chretien/Martin model is problematic, because it occured while the right was divided and/or didn't enjoy support in central Canada. I would be very weary of using any reference point which included the words Reform, Canadian Alliance or post Kim Campbell Progressive Conservative. Extraordinary circumstances, which allowed the Liberals to sweep Ontario, remain credible in Quebec, almost by default- in many cases voters had little appealing alternative. The new framework is entirely different, which is why, again, I caution with the "centrist" stuff, at the expense of progressive.

Who was the biggest "gainer" in the last election, an election where the Liberal vote eroded? It was the Greens, with the Cons and NDP only enjoying a minimal uptick. There is really no co-relation between Liberal erosion and a move to the Conservatives. In 2004, you can make a better case, but again the NDP vote was up more decisively, the Conservatives gained at the Bloc expense, so the casual relationship isn't necessarily definitive.

The Conservative base support is probably around 30%, expecting it to fall below that seems to defy common sense at this point. When you consider second choice support, amongst the various parties, you can make a strong case, that the Liberals can draw equally from all the parties. I would hardly classify Bloc support as necessarily demanding a move to the right, nor the Greens, and obviously the NDP. Yes, we can gain support from the Conservatives, but equally, you can appeal to other party voters. My point, don't move so far that you alienate one voter pool, attempting to appeal to another. In my view, the smartest strategy is policy which demonstrates balance, centrist on the economy, center left on social issues, a forward view on the environment, woven within a modern economy.

Again, personally I'm prepared to make the compromise, endorsing a direction which doesn't completely mirror my own view. That's simply a reality in politics, it's not necessarily a game of purism, forever pandering and watered down. That said, it's imperative that the Liberal strategy throws a bone or two in one sense, allows for different perspectives, to latch on to various policy positions, which encompasses the essence of a big tent. Don't let the drive to the center alienate part of your base, because if that occurs, you're essentially doing nothing more than treading water.


WesternGrit said...

Drawing from all parties is the very reason to be "centrist" - with a blend of moderate left and moderate right policies.

Good post.

Anonymous said...

Well said!

I think this reflects

I'm still 100% voting Liberal and still want Ignatieff as PM, but I'm still holding my breath for some signs that aren't going completely soft on cleaning up the oil sands (if Ignatieff endorses intensity targets that may be too much to bear), will have an independent foreign policy (more Axworthy, less Harper), meaningfully tackle poverty, and will stand up for women's rights (this is puzzling - do we HAVE to OPPOSE NDP/Bloc amendments on pay equity? Some of the quotes is this article are the FIRST TIME in history I've agreed with Mulcair on anything, except he still spouts for the "in bed with the govt" that nobody buys so I'm nowhere close to supporting his party).

I still hold out hope we'll see those things....If not well I don't like my vote being taken for granted, but I'll cross that bridge come election time when we get to it.

Tomm said...


With that kind of attitude Iggy will not attract any soft conservative supporters.

It is the hard oil sand targets (not following the US lead but boldly going where only Iceland has gone before) and pay equity- social engineering that keeps the soft conservatives away from the LPC.

Both policies appear irrational to the soft tory supporter. If Iggy wants NDP votes stick them in, if he wants soft Tory votes, keep them out.

Tomm said...


Iggy is indeed moving around like an eel.

He will likely be the recipient of 10 Tory seats in Quebec, and maybe 5 BQ seats. He has re-claimed momentum in Ontario and kept the Atlantic provinces. He should not be "positioning" the party along a left-right spectrum. He should be seen to be working in Parliament.

In committee's the LPC will be torn between defending his NDP/BQ colleagues and moving decisively to pass items important to the Tories. This is where he has to be perceived as creating workable solutions.

Anonymous said...

Who has used "intensity" targets besides Bush and Harper ANYWHERE in the world? For now Ignatieff's approach doesn't worry me, if he adopts intensity targets well then he's clearly given up on doing much meaningful on the environment.
I know he knows in his heart that the carbon tax is the right policy, but he can't move forward with it for political reasons. I can accept that, but just bc carbon tax doesn't work doesn't mean he can't still adopt an aggressive cap and trade system with hard caps as some of the Western states/provinces are doing and hopefully Obama does.
And Pay equity social engineering? Crazy me for thinking discrimation actually exists in this country what with women earning 70% of men for very similar or IDENTICAL work?

Why don't we just scrap hate laws and tear up the Charter of Rights and Freedoms while we are it. Clearly it's all just crazy communist crap right Tomm?
And Conservatives wonder why they ALWAYS lose the women's vote? (I'll note we lost a big chunk of the women's vote to the Greens and NDP in the last election).

And Tomm I think you missed the point Steve was making is that you CAN'T win a majority unless you siphon Liberal, NDP AND Green voters. Liberal need approx 40% for a majority, even if the results of the last election were EXACTLY reversed (38 Lib - 26 Con) they'd still be short and barring a Kim Campbell style collapse I don't think we've ever seen a governing party drop 12 points from the last election so expecting the Cons to fall below 30isn't even realistic.

It's a delicate balancing act but one that has to be addressed (giving up on the environment would be a sure fire way to give Green votes up for dead, giving up on women's rights or povety would do the same for the NDP votes) and can be addressed without being painted as a "left-wing" party.

For now though it's clear the focus is primarily on chasing soft Conservative voters. If all Iggy hopes EVER is a minority that might work but it's certainly not taking the long view.

Anonymous said...

Sorry that should read: "you CAN'T win a majority unless you siphon Conservative, NDP AND Green voters (over to the Liberals)"

Anonymous said...

Historically, Liberals' success has been placing themselves centre - why do you think Harper's trying to copy that?

Anonymous said...

First showdown for Iggy comes Thursday.

The anti-gang crime bill. There will probably be a confidence motion attach to it.

Steve V said...

"Historically, Liberals' success has been placing themselves centre - why do you think Harper's trying to copy that?"

What do you base that on? Like I said, don't infer too much from a circumstance where the Libs had a free pass in Ontario. I would be very cautious using the Reform/Alliance/fractured PC period as indicative of anything, because it really was a perfect storm for the Liberals. The Chretien model isn't a good template for today.

The Conservatives have to move to the center, because the right wing in Canada isn't enough to win anything. The Conservatives also have no hope of appealing to anything with a left slant, which is different from the Liberals. That's why the Liberals can run center-left, and appeal to a pool the Conservatives can't. It's a different calculation for the two parties, so I don't see the strategy as the same, or at least it doesn't have to be.

A reader said...

There's one theory that says voters don't switch parties so much as either come out to vote or stay home. Many of the voters who stayed home in the last election were Liberals. Perhaps one of Ignatieff's main strategies is to motivate those Liberals to get out and vote again, and maybe even try and force some of the Conservatives to stay home (either out of anger that the budget wasn't 'conservative' enough, or else because they lost their own job and are angry with the government but can't bring themselves to vote for someone else).

In other words, your analysis to this point has not taken turnout into account. How would it change if you did?

Steve V said...

That's a great point, and actually Ignatieff has spoke on turnout. Many Liberals did stay home, so it's a valid goal to GOTV. The only caveat, it's not like people turned out in droves for the other parties, a general apathy.

Anonymous said...

Well, from what I'm reading of the gang bill at this point, I don't think its much of a showdown.

I live in Vancouver and frankly it is unsettling that there have been a dozen shootings (though all but one actually outside Vancouver itself . . . most in Surrey). It's more a suburban gangland than a downtown one but it affects the whole community psychologically.

So I'm not too upset with the idea of first-degree murder charges for gang killings. From everything I've read, they are talking about serious gang offenses, not petty acts. Why shouldn't there be serious repercussions when a group of thugs instigates a targeting killing in broad daylight with multiple weapons in a public shopping center?

Heck, one of the mayors out here in Abbotsford has actually had to come out to caution the community to be careful of their safety if they hang out near two notorious - yet free - gang brothers who have been targeted by their compatriots. What kind of bizarro message does that send? "Watch out for Al & Joe here, seems they have old buds who want to blow them away on the streets. We can't do anything about that, though, except ask you to take care if you plan to be in their vicinity. I guess residents are supposed to flea the theatre if they see them coming in with popcorn or something."

That is one issue I certainly hope Ignatieff supports. In fact, if the Liberals were in government now, I'd expect you'd see the same kind of response.

I just don't see how that falls into the category of a showdown. In fact, I think it plays to the conservatives to frame it that way. "See, we had to drag the oppositions feet to the fire on this one."

I certainly hope that isn't a successful framing.