Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Martin Half Right

Don Martin column today, which mostly posits the folly of Ignatieff "wooing" the west:
But somebody forgot to share those dire stats with Liberal leader Michael Ignatieff, who seems to relish banging his head on the western wall no matter how painfully poor the prospects of winning seats...

The guy has been to western Canada twice since his coronation two months ago, pledging to give voice to regional concerns as if they were his own...

“The best way to overcome Western alienation, in my view, is to get a few more Liberals in the House of Commons in Manitoba, Saskatchewan and Alberta. I don't think that's an unrealistic expectation,” he told supporters in Saskatoon.

That’s still got to be a dream, if not a delusion, which is why it’s a curious strategy for a Liberal leader to focus on the West when, to paraphrase former premier Ralph Klein, he would be better off hunting where the ducks are.

The only glimmer, and a small one at that:
It’s not entirely hopeless, one supposes...

Martin's piece is right, the Liberals are nowhere in western Canadian and:
...to suggest there’s an Iggy mania in the making takes a vivid imagination.

The Liberal brand is a political anathema almost everywhere on the Prairies. It will take more than a few leader trips and mea culpas before The West wants in on any scheme that could toss the Conservatives out.

Where Martin is entirely off base, assuming that any Liberal of sound mind actually entertains a western wave. Martin sets the bar higher than even the most optimist would suggest. In my mind, and I suspect the Liberal braintrust, Ignatieff is merely trying to get the Liberals back in the conversation, which translates into a few seats at BEST, under optimal circumstances. Don't confuse building up from our low of 2008 as a testament to wild desires, nobody's that naive.

Is it really out of the question, for the Liberals to double their seat total in the next election, grab one or two, here and there on the prairies? It's not like that's never happened before, so outlandish to be nonsensical. Way, way back in 2004, the Liberals had 14 seats (14 in 2006 as well), and the vote breakdown for the four western province was as follows(2008 vote percentage in brackets):

British Columbia 28.6%(19.3%)
Alberta 22%(11.4%)
Saskatchewan 27.2%(14.9%)
Manitoba 33.2%(19.1%)

Martin seems to think Liberals want to paint the west red, but really the goals are far more realistic, entirely doable. A few more seats, more regional representation than the present extinction. That's what Ignatieff is up to, in my view, so no need for the head scratching at the "woo", everyone is well grounded. Small steps, which are achievable and sober.


Anonymous said...

There is another nexus to this woo the West thing.

"We want Western contributors to the Victory Fund".

The Obama campaign did well in Republican hot spots: Kansas, Idaho, Montana etc. A few thousands from Calgary, Edmonton, Canmore, and Lethbridge does well in our empty coffers. Particularly in places where the Grits are the alternative to the Cons.

Better than dismissing them as blanket voters that are obsessed with guns, immigrants, and gays.

Gayle said...

I think there are seats that can be won in Edmonton - though I will not be happy if they mount a big campaign in Strathcona to take votes from Linda Duncan, thereby handing the seat back to the CPC.

Edmonton Centre is winnable with the right leader.

Calgary has some liberal MLA's so I would not count them out either.

Sean S. said...

I agree with Steve, Iggy wasn't suggesting a that a red tide wasn't on the horizon in the west...at least that isn't what I heard on Saturday afternoon.

While I would argue that national trends have a greater impact on local riding outcomes, I would also suggest that the lack of feet on the ground and "star" candidates and/or candidates willing to do the in-between election work does matter (something the NDP suffers from in many ridings as well).

How do the Liberals or NDP do that? by talking with and developing policies for "western" voters.

Steve V said...

That's a good point, attracting donors is part of the underneath equation.

Gayle, that's what I mean, it isn't inconceivable that the Liberals return to their past mediocrity...


Another variable, by engaging and reaching out, it heightens the chance that you may attract some quality candidates.

Anonymous said...

I think it's time Liberals start asking why is it that the NDP has more seats out West than we do?

Manitoba - NDP - 4 vs. Libs - 1
Alberta - NDP - 1 vs Libs - 0
BC - NDP - 9 vs Libs - 5
Sask - NDP - 0 vs Libs - 1 (which they could lose to the NDP if Goodale retired).

TOTAL: NDP - 14 vs Libs - 6

Sure the NEP killed the Liberal brand in the 80s but that can't bhe only reason the NDP outperforms us still in that region.

They have more seats in Alberta (where we never finished close anywhere), Manitoba and BC and yet I don't see any Liberal asking why.

Ignatieff's push for the West is commendable and he deserves kudos for it (and it will pay off in public subsidies no matter what) the only thing I question is it appears on it's face like he's chasing primarily Conservative voters when the NDP have already found a way to achieve the kind of "very modest" success (14 seats in the West) Steve alludes to in his post and may be far more susceptible to voting Liberal.

Also interesting is that for all the talk by Ignatieff about the coalition threatening national unity, the coalition would have had more Western representation (20seats) than a Liberal government currently aspires to realistically have or has actually had in government (as a proportion of seats or in absolute #'s) since 1968 (which is long before the NEP).

If we've ruled out a coalition then we need to chase not just Conservative voters but NDP as well because to truly diminish feelings of Western alienation with a Liberal government we will need more than 20 seats out West even by Ignatieff's own logic.

Steve V said...


You had me, until you tried to sell the coalition turd as a bonus for the west.

You're starting with basically nothing. What you hope for, that you can pick up a few seats in the prairies, best case maybe a few more in British Columbia, so that if you form the next government, you can cobble together a regional cabinet. There's no quick fix, I'm just happy someone is finally trying. Ignatieff has been out twice, he's currently in Bloc land, I must say it's a nice change from Dion living in Ontario, token this and that, preaching to the choir. Nothing ventured, nothing gained.

burlivespipe said...

In '93 Chretien won 23 seats west of Ontario/south of the territories (including 4 in Edmonton!)... not to say that's a feasible goal but its certainly a goal we should be shooting for again. Ignatieff is doing it the right way, listening, saying the right things but not just what they want to hear. The next step is for the ground team to pick up the pace and start opening its doors, showing its face. There is no one who should expect this to be easy, but its all about bringing western issues into the policy pit and speaking with a strong voice.
It's also about showing Harper for the divisive, deceitful so-called leader he is. That's no doubt also helping us out. But definitely, we need to do a better job getting our message out.

Koby said...

Liberals can start by stop talking about "the West". Anyone who thinks that Vancouver and Prince Albert voters are of a piece is a dolt. "The West" died as memory of Charlottetown faded and the Conservative party was created. Two, the NEP was not what sunk the Liberals in western Canada. The Liberals were in trouble well before that. A belief that the Liberals treated Quebec, in particular, differently hurt the Liberals and killed the Progressive Conservative party. Three, yes the Liberals can pick up seats in western Canada. However, they only stand a chance in the cities. In the hinterlands they are nowhere. Vancouver remains the Liberals best hope. The Liberals have 4 lowermainland seats. It is not unrealistic to think that they could pick up 6 more. Calgary and Edmonton hold some promise as does parts of Winterpeg.

Mike Outside of the Vancouver, the NDP and Conservatives are fighting for the same voters in western Canada. Just look at BC. From 1993 until the Dion disaster, the Liberal vote held firm here. The NDP's fortunes fell as Reform's fortunes rose and 2004 things reversed themselves. The NDP's gain was the Conservatives' loss.

Anonymous said...

Burlivespipe: And in '93 the NDP won 6% of the vote (though I admit my mistake in saying we haven't had that score out West since '68, I forgot '93). Now the NDP are near 20%.

I think it would be very wise to seriously look about how to win that back rather than just chasing Conservative voters. I'm sure the new "voter-id" software Liberals are purchasing will also identify people who voted NDP in the last election as more "likely" Liberals voters than 90% of those than voted for the Conservatives.

And I'm just not sure what Liberals are actively doing now to reach out to NDP voters.

Though Steve I didn't cast the coalition as a "bonus for the west" at all, obviously they would have 50+ less MPs in government than the Cons, but if reducing Western alienation is a MAJOR goal then it's just a fact that the coalition that was on offer had more Western representation than what Liberals can reasonably hope for for themselves in the next election (and quite likely the one after that since the '93 score was also with a divided right).

I hope that if we see a repeat of the 2006 election results out West (Libs: 14 seats, NDP: 13 seats and the two parties combined NATIONAL seat totals surpassing the Conservatives) that Ignatieff reconsiders his coalition position because no matter what that would increase western represetation in govt over what a solely Liberal government will give (and be under no illusion Alberta will SCREAM loudly if the Libs fail to elect an MP there and form govt anyway).

In the meantime Iggy should have a primary goal of ensuring we beat the NDP out West in the next election.

Anonymous said...

If "the west" doesn't like governments who are to obsessed with Quebec....why would they ever vote conservative? There's no doubt which party is more likely to roll over for the nationalists.

For all the yapping about the west being anti-Liberal, I think Chretien had a better percentage of the vote than Trudeau ever did.

Regardless, the biggest factor in the Liberal vote out west is wether weterners are ready to grow up. The anything-but-Liberal vote is no different from soft-nationalists in Quebec voting Bloc. They have to maintain their culture of victimization.

Lept said...

Perhaps he rightly realizes it is important to start talking seriously to the west...?

Koby said...

(If "the west" doesn't like governments who are to obsessed with Quebec....why would they ever vote conservative? There's no doubt which party is more likely to roll over for the nationalists.)

That is the risk the Conservatives run, but make no mistake that is what did in the PC party.

(For all the yapping about the west being anti-Liberal, I think Chretien had a better percentage of the vote than Trudeau ever did.)

Nope. 1968 was the Liberal high point. The Liberals took 42% of the popular vote in BC for example. The PCs took 18%. The Liberal vote in BC collapsed only in 1979 and did not recover until 1993.

(The anything-but-Liberal vote is no different from soft-nationalists in Quebec voting Bloc. They have to maintain their culture of victimization.)

Again Vancouver is not Alberta and Vancouver is west of Alberta. Vancouver voters have a lot more in common with Toronto and Montreal voters than voters in Prince George. Talking about country in regional terms is a disadvantage to the Liberals. They need to break these terms of reference apart by driving a wedge between urbanites and rural areas. The Liberals need to embrace social liberalism.