Political Perspectives is produced by the students and faculty of Carleton University's School of Journalism and Communication, Canada's oldest journalism school.


Wedge politics and base rebuilding

Posted by cwaddell under All, Election 2011, Election 2011 Campaign strategy, Election 2011 Faculty links

Christopher Waddell

The flurry over the Auditor General’s report about spending on last year’s G8/G20 summit provided a moment of excitement for those who think tonight’s leaders debates should be all about issues like this. Those would be the same people who think the last Parliament was a roaring success.

The risk in making the G8/G20 a major debate point is that it will be for the general public, yet another example of inward mudslinging to which there is no connection made to the lives of Canadians or their hopes and fears for the future.

An election that is supposed to be a chance for Canadians to determine collectively where they want to go as a country and how it will affect their lives as individuals instead becomes yet more parliamentary irrelevance. It’s not that how government spends is unimportant but in the public eyes it is difficult to differentiate between parties, when in power they all behave the same.

What it does reveal though is a more substantial issue. The political parties have abandoned two groups who collectively have traditionally been a major chunk of the support for both the Liberals and Conservatives – people who combine fiscal and social conservatism and those who are fiscally conservative and socially liberal.

The NDP never appealed to those voters and isn’t this time either. That’s fine as there is also a chunk of voters who are fiscally and socially liberal.

Where do the social and fiscal conservatives and fiscal conservative/social liberals go in 2011?

Fiscal conservatism has long been at the core of Conservative beliefs but the G8/G20 is the latest of many, many examples that this incarnation of Conservatives may talk fiscal responsibility but don’t practice it. Several budgets and a focus on wedge policies that narrowly target specific clusters of voters have obliterated fiscal conservatism.

The Liberals have moved to the left in their attempts to regain the slightly more than 800,000 voters who supported for them in 2006 but not in 2008. Yes they want to raise corporate tax rates but not to reduce the deficit more quickly. Instead they want to use the money to fund new programs in the hope that vision will bring back the voters who either stayed home or voted NDP or Green in 2006. It’s a way of rebuilding your base but not a strategy for winning an election.

It is just one of the many disconnects in this campaign. Everyone says Canadians believe balancing the budget is essential so all the parties make noises about how important that is. Yet no one is campaigning on that issue or even offering anything in the way of credible hints about how that will happen.

At this point in the campaign two conclusions seem plausible. Voter turnout will fall yet again and whatever the election produces, we are headed for yet another restructuring of the party system.

The fiscal and social conservatives and the fiscal liberals/social conservatives are collectively too large to ignore but will they now abandon politics, create new parties or force change on the existing parties to accommodate them?

Christopher Waddell is director of the School of Journalism and Communication at Carleton University. He is a former reporter, Ottawa bureau chief for the Globe and Mail and a former CBC-TV parliamentary bureau chief and executive producer-news specials for CBC TV News. You can follow him on Twitter @cwaddell27