Ignore the Base

Canada is in the midst of a weirdly (by any objective aside from political) timed election. It’s relatively short, some 32 days long before we all head to the polls. Which is fun because some countries spend half their term in the election cycle, meaning they only work half the time on their actual mandate (at best).

First, the basis that Canada has generally been a fiscally conservative and socially liberal country. There’s been a general sharing of power across the parties for a very long time, with both offering centrist platforms.

As with many countries, there are polarizing bits within the nation. We are a physically large country, but 80% of the entire population lives within the US border and urban centers. Proportional representation clearly favors one side, while equal representation would dramatically shift the national agenda. In the olden days, this was less of an issue as the matters of a local area didn’t often conflict at the national level – groups were relatively self-sufficient. In the post-Thatcher/Regan era of global multi-corporations + the massive proliferation of social media the world has shifted nearly completely and within a generation. The ‘financial hubs’ of our country have pushed a particular agenda, and well, the other parts are stuck playing catch up, if at all. This dissonance causes anger because people feel (are) ignored.

I am overly simplifying between urban and other settings. It’s dramatically more complex.

Each political party has a base. In a multi-party system, this base can shift around a bit. In a 2 party system, the bases don’t move. In Canada, we have 2 right-wing parties, and 3 left-wing parties. Only 1 of each wing has ever held national power, the wings that are closer to center and therefore have a wider base. The fringes of a given wing have typically been inconsequential due to lack of size. That said, as we’ve all learned, there is a very loud minority out there. The crazies have no shame after all (and the echo chamber effect cannot be ignored).

The current regional polling reflects this space. Where the numbers are similar at a national level, you have a federal platform. Where the numbers shift dramatically, you have a local platform. The CPC (right wing) absolutely dominates the prairies, where there are very small urban centers. This is their base, and even if the platform was to shoot laser kittens into the sun, they would still have the base come out and vote. This is due to the lack of competition (the PPC is at 3% national support and super fringe), and the community aspects at play. They could even come out with the most left-wing idea, and they’d still get the base out. But they haven’t. Up until this summer, their platform was entirely focused on their base which has meant a shift further to the right. Their new leader however, has really ruffled feathers by leaning to center with the platform. The ‘old guard’ and vocal minority are all over this, but the proof as the say, is in the pudding.

The left is more complex, as they share the remainder of the pie. The Liberals have used this to their advantage in eating into the more left-leaning party’s social platforms. Where the party was generally more controlled on the financials, that’s been all out the window to support social growth programs. They leveraged the fact that the right was going further to the extreme and ‘centrists’ would generally favour their platform (which the last 30 years has signalled). It didn’t matter what they had as a platform, they could just point and say ‘the right wants to stop abortion’ and that would be the end of that.

Not today! The right’s platform has practically ignored their base and put almost all their chips in the middle. That has thrown the left’s thinking that this was a slam dunk election out the window. It’s still leaning left for now, and more because there are a LOT of base voters that will vote against a party rather than for one – strategic voting is the term often used.

I remember reading Foundation when I was younger and fascinated at the concept of psycho-history – that numbers could predict actions, at large scale numbers. To me, this particular development was expected, just that the timing of it is a tad earlier. Most of this is generated from the situation with our southern cousins and the ever growing divisive political situation. It is hard to articulate how much Canada wants to avoid being seen emulating the US system. The shift back to centre was sorely needed, and this is just the first act in that rebalancing.

Regardless of the results of this election, it’ll be fascinating to see how this modifies the party platforms in the future. And I haven’t even started on the generational shift underway now…

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