Conservative Party of Canada

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While I’m in NYC these days, much of my social media still comes from Toronto & Canada. The Conservative Party of Canada is running attack ads against the third party. Not the opposition, but against the Liberal Party interim leader, Bob Rae. This ad came out while the official opposition party, The New Democrats, were choosing a new leader, who was chosen yesterday, Thomas Mulcair. OK, to further complicate things, Rae was once a New Democrat at the provincial level in Ontario and Mulcair was a Liberal at the provincial level in Québec. I know, you probably need a scorecard. Anyway, while there’s no election in sight for years {barring a finding of widespread election fraud from the robocall scandal}, the Conservative attack ad slams Rae’s record from his stint as Ontario Premier in the early 1990s, as an Ontario New Democrat. Last year, I wrote a brief analysis of the Bob Rae premiership on vox.rhizomicon that explains how Rae inherited an impossible situation worsened by a macroeconomic perfect storm. In fact, Rae’s policies had much more in common with—a fiscally conservative strategy.

John Ibbitson of the Globe & Mail thinks the Tories are scared of Rae and the resurgence of the Liberals. There may be something to that. They ran ads in 2009 against then Liberal leader, Micael Ignatieff, framing him as an outsider because of his living abroad in the past. Why not use the wayback machine to do the same to Bob Rae?

One could argue that the Conservatives have more money than good sense right now. While it’s no secret that the Conservatives want to keep the Liberals down and replace them as the “natural governing party of Canada”, the strategy has its risks. Sure, it will get the Liberals to spend money on return-fire ads, which the Liberals vow to do, but the ad concept isn’t fresh and the content is dated. While Andrew Coyne think the Conservatives win either way, I think he’s wrong. It’s not an election and the negative ads on the third party leader can be viewed as playing unfairly, particularly in light of the robocall scandal. The main problem I have with the Conservative ads is they have tipped their hand. Bob Rae has them worried and they’re signaling it. Unlike Ignatieff, Rae is a seasoned politician and a good communicator. Liberal support isn’t dead and the ads allegedly boosted Liberal fundraising by $225,000 and Rae offered this soundbite:

“You can’t just abandon the airwaves to the jerks on the right-hand side of the spectrum.”

While the Conservatives have a majority in Parliament, they know that with Rae and Mulcair opposing them, they’ll have their hands full with a war in the media and the court of public opinion. They’ll want to discredit both, but let’s face some ugly marketing truths. They’re the majority party and should act accordingly. Attack ads now look desperate and mean. The Conservatives’ main ace up their sleeves is “stay the economic course.” They don’t have a hot-tempered firebrand from Québec who makes the news by being the news in a Thomas Mulcair. They don’t have an elder statesman who can effectively sound as if he’s railing at the establishment in a Bob Rae. The Conservatives are selling “stay the course” and they don’t have many degrees of freedom that can really energize the masses, while unemployment remains fairly high and a housing bubble looms. Their current positioning is fairly moderate, which is how they won the last election by taking Liberal ridings in Ontario {assuming election fraud isn’t shown in the robocall scandal, which is probably a stretch}. It makes the most sense to build the appeal to moderates by building a case why the Conservatives are good for stability on positives, even if there isn’t any “there” there.

It will be interesting to see how the Conservatives deal with Mulcair. I’m sure his dual citizenship with France will factor in, as the Tories try to question his allegiance to Canada. Given the NDP strongholds of Québec and urban centers, it won’t matter much to the NDP base and pressing the issue could turn off the new Canadians that the Conservatives are trying to court.

It’s over three years until the next Canadian election and it’s a tad early to start being tiresome.


US Unemployment & Interest Rates

Today, the Canadian Finance Minister Jim Flaherty tabled a budget with plenty of emphasis on reducing the deficit, much like what’s going on in the US. This, despite the fact that the interest rates are telling a story where financial markets are not that concerned about the deficit. This pattern is evident in both Canada and the US. Interest rates are showing there’s no crowding out—government spending taking up capital and resources that businesses can use. The reality of the situation is uncertainty and a dearth of good prospects is causing the business community to sit on huge stocks of capital.

Nevertheless, for various political reasons the deficit is touted as a menace that must be dealt with, not just in North America, but globally. The media is contributing to the Jedi mind trickery, dubbed the “Beltway Deficit Feedback Loop”. The WaPo blog by Greg Sargent states::

“The relentless bipartisan focus on the deficit convinces voters to be worried about it, which in turn leads lawmakers to spend still more time talking about it and less time talking about the economy,”

while linking to a National Journal study examining the gap between mentions of “unemployment” versus “deficit”::

“the broadening gap demonstrates just how effective conservatives have been at changing the narrative of economic policy from one dominated by talk of fiscal stimulus to one now in lockstep with notions of fiscal austerity.”

In Canada, the opposition parties aren’t on the same page with the Finance Minister and the Conservative Party, but don’t have the votes to stop the budget. While ink is being spilled about how fast the deficit will be reduced in Canada and whether of not the Conservative projections are wide of the mark and overly rosy, the elephant in the living room is the lingering high unemployment rate::

2008-2011 Canada unemployment rate

The problem with the deficit discourse is it fails to address the issue of unemployment and real economic problems, with the only way the issue goes away is if the economy grows. In fact, I feel being a deficit hawk in this economic climate is playing with political dynamite. The economic indicators do not support deficit reduction, given that the business community is loathe to expand. So, if the deficit hawks are wrong and unemployment and economic stagnation persists, they are opening themselves up to criticism. I think the hope is that a business cycle upswing will render the deficit issue moot, so the perception is that it’s “riskless” to jump on the deficit reduction bandwagon.

In the US, both Democrats and Republicans are viewing the deficit as the evil menace that must be thwarted at all costs with ample help of the media. While a Republican presidential candidate would differentiate themselves by embracing a populist and expansionary economic approach, it would be political suicide. Any politician advocating increases in government spending would face an uphill battle and be forced to educate the public on matters many don’t have the time and the patience for.

The jury is still out on how the New Democrats and Liberals play the deficit card in Canada in the future, but it may be an easy one to play if unemployment remains relatively high, businesses remain tentative, and the economy continues to stagnate.

The above picture captures Canada’s Public Safety Minister Vic Toews during a sleepy Sunday afternoon cybersecurity public relations event held back on October 3, 2010. That Sunday afternoon event marked the official announcement of Canada’s cybersecurity strategy. It has turned out to be a rather unfortunate photo-op at the present moment. Canada was hit with major news this past week (that has actually been bubbling for a few weeks now) about a cyberattack against our government systems of Chinese origin. See, for example: “Foreign hackers attack Canadian government,”Chinese hackers targeted House of Commons.”

The talking points were deployed to downplay the attack, as if little of consequence had happened. Prime Minister Harper and Toews spoke on Thursday about the matter, Harper in what seem to be newly perfected dulcet tones that characterize his manner in recent months:

But he said at a press conference in Toronto that he recognized cybersecurity was “a growing issue of importance, not just in this country, but across the world.”

He added that in anticipating potential cyberattacks, “we have a strategy in place to try and evolve our systems as those who would attack them become more sophisticated.”

Public Safety Minister Vic Toews said he could not speak about details pertaining to security-related incidents, but he said the government takes such threats seriously and has “measures in place” to address them.

Lulling Canadians to sleep, as they so expertly do. It’s as if nothing, really, bothers these guys. Cyberattacks are everywhere, not just in Canada. What’s more, they explained, a government strategy is in place, the October launched strategy. The Harper government strategy is so successful, in fact, that the computers of Treasury Board, Finance and National Defence have been attacked over the past few weeks and the hackers “also cracked into the computer system of the House of Commons.” The severity of the breach is canvassed in the video report from CBC below, which reports the hackers “trolled government networks for weeks without a trace” for example. See also this expert: “…even in just a few seconds, if it was properly targeted — and it sounds like it was targeted — information of immense value could have been exchanged.” It’s a heck of a strategy that’s in place.

Canadians have been told there will be no effect on the upcoming budget, presently thought to be forthcoming on March 22 or March 29, a budget which will be a confidence vote and could see the defeat of the government, provoking a spring election. How the government is able to assure us, however, that no information pertinent to the budget has been lost is unclear. A security expert cited in the New York Times reporting on the breach was not convinced. We can imagine the fallout if the day after the budget were to be released any suspicious market moves were to occur. That’s a matter of speculation at the moment, given the uncertainty surrounding the hacking and the inability to get definitive information, but it’s something for rational observers to consider. How the government acts now in respect of the budget is something to watch. Indeed, on Friday, the Prime Minister engaged in sudden budget consultations with the leader of the fourth largest party in Parliament, the New Democratic Party. Whether this attack has factored into that consultation to any extent is anyone’s guess, given that there are other major controversies facing the Conservative government at the moment that may just as likely motivate them to stave off an election (they need only the support of one of the three opposition parties in order to survive a confidence vote).

Other points of interest surrounding Canada’s efforts on cybersecurity and this recent attack…

A paltry $90 million has been allocated by the Harper government over a period of five years to the task of cybersecurity. Those funds were allotted in the 2010 budget after their having been in office for four years and represent less than one year’s worth of promotional advertising for the Harper government.

It’s worth wondering what’s been done prior to and since Toews’ hastily arranged Sunday October news conference. Inquiring minds would like to know. Much of anything? It certainly served a useful purpose this week for the government and media to point to the event as an indication of the existence of a government cyberstrategy.

Canada’s Conservative government likes to characterize itself as tough on crime. They budget lots of money to build brick and mortar jails, billions in fact. But the above referenced cyberattack that has come to light fully in the past week, as they say in the online community, looks to be a big fail.

CBC video:


The Canadian House of Commons sent a bill {S-6} back to the Senate that would have done away with the Faint Hope clause {§745.6 of the Criminal Code of Canada-pdf}. The clause allows prisoners sentenced to life imprisonment with a parole eligibility of greater than 15 years to apply for early parole if they have served 15 years. {Canoe News was alluding to the idea that this was politically motivated, in the wake of Conservatives in the Senate killing an environmental bill, C-311}.

The Conservatives have been wanting to get rid of the faint hope clause and may eventually get their way. The Conservatives’ stance is that it re-victimizes the families by having them prepare at an earlier date for parole hearings. A Toronto Sun columnist, Jerry Agar, isn’t interested in rights and rehabilitation of convicted criminals. He wants tougher sentencing and the elimination of the Faint Hope clause for the sake of victims. In my mind, this brings up a fundamental question. Does society view the criminal as forever “bad” or is even the most notorious criminal subject to rehabilitation?

Moreover, while the rights and safety of the victim shouldn’t be discounted, at what point does the weight of a victim’s impact statement have more gravitas than the evaluations of a prisoner’s current state. I wonder about government intervention when it comes to the wishes of the victim. The attempt by California courts to get Roman Polansky extradited from Switzerland in spite of the victim’s wishes after her civil settlement makes me wonder what the guidelines should be. Specifically, how should prosecutors and the courts balance a victim’s wishes and the interests of justice?

One factor that may be influencing this is culture. European sentences for homicide can be lenient by North American {US & Canada} standards, but there appears to be a cultural norm that tough sentencing is a deterrent and metes out justice for the victim. While “vengeance” may be a strong term, I recall watching a HBO documentary on capital punishment about a decade ago and much of how the death penalty was framed was to help the victims obtain closure.

I suppose much of this boils down to whether one believes in rehabilitation. Are the Jimmy Boyles {Scottish gangster and convicted murder turned artist and writer} merely outliers in the annals of crime and punishment?

Twitterversion:: [blog] Do You Believe a Murderer Can Be Rehabilitated?: Canada’s Faint Hope Clause Clings to Hope—for now. @ThickCulture @Prof_K

Canadian Press/Harris/Decima National Vote Intention Poll, 15-25 April 2010

Notes from north of 49ºN.

In both Canada and the UK, voters are getting tired with the status quo and giving increasing support to third parties. We’ll see how it plays out on the UK next week with their elections, in light of the recent rise of the Liberal Democrats. In Canada, the latest Canadian Press/Harris Decima poll showed a surge for the New Democratic Party, at 20%, while the two major parties {Conservative Party and Liberal Party} have both fallen below 30%. BTW, here’s a post on “house effects” in Canadian polls, showing that the Harris Decima methodology tends to disfavour the Conservatives. I haven’t done a province-by-province analysis for Canada in a while, but I tend to watch Ontario closely, as it’s a bellwether region. The NDP is polling strong in Ontario at 19%. Apologies that some of the numbers on the following graphic are a bit fuzzy.

The NDP is polling at an all-time high in British Columbia at 31% and are in a tie with the Liberals and Conservatives with women voters. Nationally, the Greens have also held steady over the past year, dancing around the 10% mark.

Stephen Harper’s Conservative minority government is flailing in light of the Guergis/Jaffer affair and the recent kerfuffle over revealing documents relating to the Afghan detainee torture scandal.

Twitterversion:: Canadian Press/Harris poll shows spike for #NDP. Strong showing in BC and among women #ThickCulture

Song:: Julie Doiron-‘Consolation Prize’

EKOS Federal Voting Intent Poll, 4 March 2010

Notes from North of 49ºN

This EKOS poll was before Prime Minister Harper’s throne speech {the name of which brings out the eternal 10-tear old in me} and before the release of the federal budget.

Lower taxes? Controlling the deficit? Nope. Social investment, in areas like health, education, and jobs.

Over a month ago, I analyzed the Canadian federal voting landscape and came to the conclusion that a huge risk for Harper and the Conservative Party is poor performance in Ontario. What Ontarians want is pretty much on par with the nationwide numbers above and the Conservatives have closed the gap in the polling numbers in the province at 34.9%, compared to the Liberals at 38.0% and the New Democrats at 14.3%.

The Finance Minister Jim Flaherty noted last week that the Conservative’s budget is focusing on reducing corporate taxes to make Canada more attractive for business along with deficit reduction. He acknowledged the 8.3% unemployment rate, lower than the double digits in the US, and announced $178M CAN for job sharing agreements and youth employment.

Harper also ended a study to change the Canadian anthem, “Oh Canada” to a more gender neutral version reflecting the 1908 poem that it is based on. The current line, “True patriot love in all thy sons command,” while the poem has the line ,“True patriot love thou dost in us command.” According to an Ipsos Canwest poll, the Conservatives and Liberals were statistically tied in their support by women.

The Conservatives are in the drivers seat but on thin ice. The policy emphases in the budget are risky, in my opinion, particularly given Ontario’s higher than the national average unemployment rate of 9.2% last month.  The anger over proroguing has melted like so much Whistler slush. The Liberals have an unpopular leader in Ignatieff and the Dippers have a relatively popular leader of a relatively unpopular party.

Twitterversion:: What Canadians want: investment in social areas. Harper & Conservatives in driver’s seat but on thin ice. #ThickCulture @Prof_K

Song:: Five Iron Frenzy-“Oh Canada”

Notes from North of 49ºN

The above video from YouTube does a decent job of explaining what the big issue in Canada is at the moment, Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s proroguing of Parliament. Proroguing? It may seem like a Sarah Palinism, as in “pro-rogue”, but it’s a suspension of Parliament without dissolving it. Harper, a Conservative, prorogued Parliament last year when the other parties were threatening to form a coalition of New Democrats, Liberals, and the Bloc Québécois. This time around, Harper was being asked tough questions by Parliamentary committees about what his government knew about the torture of Afghan detainees after they were turned over to Canadian Forces. On 30 December, the Governor General, upon Harper’s request, prorogued Parliament until 3 March 2010, killing all bills and suspending all committees. The official reason given was the economy, but nobody bought it.

There were two major results::

  1. A grassroots effort using social media mobilized sizeable protests across Canada
  2. The Conservatives have lost ground in the public opinion polls and are in a statistical dead heat with the Liberals

On Facebook, a group for Canadians Against Proroguing Parliament has amassed 219,600 members {28 January} and last Saturday nationwide protests were organized. Here in Toronto, a sizeable crowd assembled downtown::

CAPP Protest 23 January, Yonge St. looking south of Dundas at Eaton Centre

The prorogation of Parliament is viewed by many as anti-democratic {See Rick Mercer’s opinion piece in the Globe & Mail}, although Harper has supporters of his decision. For the time being, anti-Conservative momentum has picked up the pace and support for the Liberals has increased—at the expense of the NDP, Greens, and Bloc.

EKOS Federal Opinion Poll Results:: 4oth. General Election—Mid-January 2010

It’s over a month until Parliament reconvenes. It will be interesting to see if the anti-Conservative sentiments will weather the Winter Olympics in Vancouver and any possible coherent response by Harper. Upon Parliament reconvening, I’m not sure if an election will be triggered. A weakened Harper that’s ready to deal may do more long-term damage to the Conservatives. I’ll be blogging on Rhizomicon within a few days on my detailed analysis of the EKOS poll data, which should make the Liberals a bit cautious about another {expensive} election in the near future.

Twitterversion:: Harper’s proroguing triggered Facebook mobilized protests.EKOS poll:: Grits surging @ expense of Tories,Greens,NDP,& Bloc. @Prof_K


Notes from North of 49ºN

Up here in Canada, Remembrance Day is coming up on the 11th, so plenty of red poppies have cropped up, which is a Commonwealth tradition.  Until Afghanistan, it’s been a while since Canada has been in a “war” and the specifics of getting out of Afghanistan has entered into the news up here.  The Conservatives and the Liberal parties in Canada already agreed in 2008 to withdraw from Afghanistan::

“Canada’s top soldier, Chief of Defence Staff Walter Natynczyk, has given the order for Canadian Forces logistics whizzes to begin mapping out the move, expected to be finished by the end of 2011. That’s in keeping with a 2008 deal between the Harper government and Opposition Liberals that extended the combat mission until July, 2011, with a pullout taking until Dec. 31.”

On a sidenote, shortly after Harper’s announcement, news of the pricetag was released.  It was reported that by 2011 the military mission in could cost up to $1.8B CAN, or $1,500 per household.  While the decision was made last year, the logistics and details of the estimated skeleton crew of 500-600 soldiers to stay behind to protect redevelopment efforts and train local police has remained an open question.  In the interim, the war has become increasingly unpopular and according to Allen Sens, a University of British Columbia political scientist::

“Canada’s government and public is suffering from Afghanistan fatigue…There’s been a lack of progress, and I think the public has a sense that it’s time for other countries to step up and move into the south, where the fighting has been the toughest.”

The Obama Factor

The Liberals in Canada are quick to point out the failure of humanitarian efforts.  Canada had the objective of building 50 schools by 2011 but because of the instability, only five have been built.  So, why should Prime Minister Harper {Conservative} drag his feet on the “drawdown” planning?

“the Prime Minister acknowledged that not every single soldier will return with the combat pullout, and is expected lingering pressure from the Obama administration to help out may lead to a contingent remaining.”

Will Canada cave to possible pressure from the Obama administration to stay?  Politically, the opposition Liberals would be wise to shift as much decision-making on Harper and the Conservatives before triggering another federal election, something the Liberals have been threatening for most of the year.  Obama is faced with a tough decision and is running out of time.  Barack is faced with::

  1. A deteriorating situation in Afghanistan
  2. White House decisions based on reports painting an incomplete picture
  3. Little progress despite doubling troop numbers in 2009 {hence balking at McChrystal’s original recommendations}
  4. The election débâcle in Afghanistan where Karzai won amid fraud allegations
  5. Waning public support in the US of the war

Obama needs to assess whether his objectives can be met in Afghanistan, specifically in terms of what is possible and probable as outcomes, given a flailing domestic economic situation.  While the stakes are clearly lower for Canada than for the US and Obama, I wonder if Canada will react to any pressure from Obama to stick around, even with just 500-600 “non-combat”  troops.  I also wonder if the Liberals will try to push decisions that may irk Obama onto Harper.

Image:: Iconic Tim Horton’s coffee shop in Kandahar.

Twitterversion:: Canadian Forces pressure deets on wthdrwl fr.Afghanistan. What will Obama do&how will Cdn politcns play it? #ThickCulture

Song::  Shipbuilding – Elvis Costello & the Attractions {about workers building ships for the UK Falklands War with Argentina}

Notes from north of 49ºN, but at 37.9ºN at the moment.

Regular readers of ThickCulture will recall that I post quite a bit on the topic of Canada from an American expatriate perspective.  Way back in May, I blogged about attack ads being aimed at Liberal opposition leader, Michael Ignatieff, framing him as an outsider.  Recently, the Liberal Party of Canada has announced their intent to trigger the next election with a no-confidence vote in Parliament.  In preparation of this, The Liberals started advertising with spots featuring Ignatieff in a forest.  Earlier last week, the Globe & Mail tried to stir up controversy about Liberal Party of Canada ads featuring Michael Ignatieff in a possibly ersatz forest or a forest that cannot be readily identified.  Quite the sin in a timber-bearing land, eh Globe & Mail?

Here are the ads:: “Worldview” & “Jobs”

In my opinion, this constructed “scandal” is meant to stir the pot to get pageviews for the Globe & Mail by feeding the sentiments that somehow he is not as Canadian as everyone else and there is something less-than-authentic about him.  Perhaps this was borne out of the media frenzy over the Obama “birthers” movement.

Interestingly, in the French ads {I didn’t have time to translate the copy}, there is no forest and no guitar strumming in the background.  Just straightforward delivery::

Strategically, candidates need to think about creating a “positioning” strategy, where they create a meaning system in light of the competition.  With voter data on attitudes towards the political leaders {Harper-Conservative, Ignatieff-Liberal, Layton-NDP, Duceppe-Bloc, & May-Green}, multidimensional scaling can be used to try to create dimensions based on the attitudes and positions for each of the candidates along the dimensions.  Ideally, candidates differentiate themselves from the others on the basis of salient voter perceptions, i.e., tapping into the zeitgeist.  On my other blog, Rhizomicon, I did a post that talked about the increased fragmentation of the Canadian electorate.  While the Conservatives are in power with a plurality, my take is that there are several oppositional positions that are distinct and are differentiated from each other.  The question is whether the positions are salient and resonate with voters, which I think is a tough thing to accomplish in Canada these days.

The key issues now are economic, despite the Bank of Canada announcing the economy is turning the corner.  Crafting powerful messages that resonate on this would be no easy feat for any of the parties.  I think the look and feel of the Liberal Party French ad is more effective in conveying an “ominous” message.  As for the attack ads on Ignatieff, this could be dangerous in a politically fragmented environment, as there are already political faultlines along east-west lines.  A strategy framing Harper as fostering policies that are out of touch outside of the West could erode Conservative support.  Ironically, Harper coined the term “Bloc Anglais” to characterize Jack Layton of the NDP, but that same term could be applied to the particular {Reform Party style} conservatism Alberta and parts of interior BC.

So, what’s next?  Maybe Ignatieff’s a robot from outer space…

Twitterversion:: Globe&Mail strts contrvrsy w/ #Ignatieff in forest ads,but how2frame #CanPoli parties givn fragmntd polity? #ThickCulture @Prof_K

Song:: Yoshimi Battles The Pink Robots Pt.1 – The Flaming Lips

"Non" Québec Sovereignty Referendum Celebration, 20 May 1980 - Tom Haythornthwaite
Québec Sovereignty Referendum, 20 May 1980 - Tom Haythornthwaite

Notes from north of 49ºN

In California, identity politics is a way of life.  Ask Pete Wilson, ex-Governor of California on how Latino politics can derail a career, as detailed in a LA Times magazine article from 2004.  The same article highlights Republican concerns with shifting demographics::

“Many Republicans view the mushrooming Latino voter rolls in the same way a person looks at a growing mole: One hopes it’s benign but fears for the worst.”

Unlike in California where immigration is resulting in dramatic demographic shifts, here in Canada, a hot-button issue is Québec separatism that stems from centuries-old disputes.  The province of Québec has a distinct francophone culture when compared to the rest of predominantly anglophone Canada and this cultural divide naturally affects politics at both the provincial and federal levels.

Currently, at the federal level, Canada {with a variation of the Westminster parliamentary system} has a minority government {plurality of parliamentary seats} with Conservative Stephen Harper as Prime Minister.  Minority governments tend to be unstable.  Indicative of this, the Conservatives had a scare last December when Stephen Harper angered the other parties, bringing the country to the brink of Constitutional crisis.  Recent polls in Canada showed that about half of the voters wanted a more stable majority government, where one party has a majority of the seats.  Moreover, recent polls indicated that support for the Conservatives is dwindling, likely leading to a situation where the Conservatives and Liberals have close to the same number of seats, further deadlocking Parliament.  An article a week and a half ago by the Montréal Gazette brought up a controversial argument::

“Quebecers more than others have it in their power to break this log-jam, by taking a more active hand in national governance instead of ‘parking’ their votes with an increasingly irrelevant Bloc Québécois. Had Quebecers voted for national parties in the same proportion as other Canadians in the last election, we would have a majority government. The instability of minority times makes the government of Canada weaker, which serves the sovereignists’ interests but not the public interest.”

This assumes that Québec voters are more interested in federal governance than Québec interests.  In Québec, the Bloc Québécois {BQ} is a political party associated with sovereignty for the province.  Its raison d’être is promoting the identity politics of francophone Québec at the federal level.  While I’ve noticed the BQ numbers slipping since the 2008 election on the ThreeHundredEight blog, the Gazette’s line of reasoning is unlikely to lure enough Québec voters to the Conservative or Liberal camps.  According to an EKOS poll, the federal vote intention in the in Québec shows a plurality of support for the Bloc::
Federal Vote Intention-July 2009
Federal Vote Intention-July 2009 EKOS

The 2008 federal results in Québec saw BQ making a strong showing with 49 ridings {seats} of 75 in Québec and 308 in Canada. The map below shows Bloc in light blue, Conservatives (PC) in dark blue, Liberals (LP) in Red, and New Democrats (NDP) in orange. The Bloc is strong throughout the province, while the Conservatives have support in a few rural areas, and the Liberals and NDP have appeal in or near the cities of Montréal and Ottawa.

Federal 2008 Election Results by Ridings in Québec
Federal 2008 Election Results by Ridings in Québec
The relative popularity of the Bloc introduces a challenge at the federal level, one of identity politics.  Last month, Liberal Party of Canada {LPC} leader Michael Ignatieff showed how hard it is to manage perceptions in Québec as the leader of a Canada-wide party. While promising restoring funding to the arts and appointment of Québecers to cabinet posts, he also said he has no plans to give Québec any special powers, if elected as Prime Minister. This opened the Liberals open to criticism in the province by rival parties.
“It’s the same good old Liberal Party of Canada that wants to put Québec in its place.”
–Pierre Paquette, Bloc MP Joliette

“It shows that he’s not only been out of Canada for 35 years, he’s never known anything about Québec except what he learned at Upper Canada College and, frankly, I’m not afraid of him a bit.”
–Thomas Mulcair, NDP MP Outremont
The nuances of the issue of sovereignty and its manifestations is far too complex to go into here, so suffice it to say that concerns of Québec as a distinct society are far from settled. According to Andrew Cohen’s The Unfinished Canadian, Québecers are more likely to be ambivalent towards the idea of a federal Canada, which isn’t that surprising. Stephen Harper has done precious little to appeal to Québec, while Liberal leader Michael Ignatieff, in my opinion, doesn’t help things with statements like::

“The best possible Canada is a Canada where Québecers are in power…The Bloc Québécois is not a solution for a better Québec and Canada.”–Michael Ignatieff, 3 June 2009 at a Montréal fundraiser

While Ignatieff may have had his reasons, the Bloc represents a set of meanings to many Québecers and I fail to see the upside of antagonizing the Bloc. The tories went after the Bloc earlier in the summer, accusing the party on being soft on pedophiles because they didn’t support tougher legislation on minimum sentencing for child trafficking. The ads haven’t affected polls and the Conservatices are still falling behind. Having appeal in Québec requires subtlety. As stated above, Harper hasn’t done much to appeal to Quebecers, but Conservative writer Bob Plamondon in a Macleans article gets at the heart of the matter. Harper needs to understand culture in order to build social capital::

“I don’t think it was so much that those specific policies were abhorred by Quebecers…because in the scheme of government activities, they are relatively minor issues. But they spoke to larger issues—does Stephen Harper understand Quebec and can he be trusted? I think Quebecers drew the conclusion that he’s disconnected from them. They couldn’t identify among Harper’s team a particularly strong lieutenant who had near-veto power over what went on in Ottawa with respect to those matters that are of particular concern to Quebecers.”

I don’t see that happening, but I can see him using fiscal controls on Ottawa as an appeal to Québec and fiscal conservatives in other provinces.
While the Bloc’s fortunes have waxed and waned over the years, the party is currently in an era of resurgence.  The Bloc’s clout with almost 16% of Parliament representing a culturally distinct region is a good case study for California legislative politics, if we assume Latino political identity strengthening.  Latino population does not equate to a homogeneous population with similar political interests, as there is diversity within.  The question remains: Can there be a strong Latino political identity that spans regions and demographic categories?
Web 2.0 & Politics
In the francophone Québec blogosphere, the following catchy Bloc video went somewhat viral in 2004 in the pre-YouTube era, as part of the “un parti propre au Québec/a party proper to Québec” campaign.

Videos like this show how parties can energize voters and generate buzz for a campaign.  Given how 41% of younger voters under 25 support the Bloc {see above table on federal vote intention in Québec} and how Bloc support skews younger, I expect to see more Bloc use of Web 2.0 in the future, i.e., more use of YouTube, Facebook, Twitter, and possibly MySpace.
What about Web 2.0 and Latino voters in the US?  Pew Internet research does show that in the US,  Hispanics tend to be younger and online less than other ethnicities.  Nevertheless, Hispanics 18-29 are online the most for the ethnicity at over 60%, although this percentage is lower than black or white counterparts.  Latino cell phone owners are more likely than their white counterparts to send/receive text messages, at 49% vs. 31%, respectively.  Given that Latinos trend younger and the younger Latinos are online the most, I expect to see greater usage of social media targeting them, using online and SMS {texting} media.  Brandweek is citing 65% use of social media by Latinos, particularly with MySpace and MySpace Latino.  The challenge will be politically engaging Latinos in a way that’s relevant to them.
While many of the following issues may be unpopular due to their divisive nature, is this the globalized political reality we’re in?
  1. How will globalization shape California identity politics?
  2. Will culture serve as a political rallying point?
  3. Strengthening of identity politics caucus/coalition powerbase{s}
  4. Use of cultural distinction socially & politically
  5. Strategies of mainstream politicians/parties to negotiate with or combat a caucus/coalition
  6. Use of Web 2.0 & SMS technologies & social media to politically engage electorate in a culturally-relevant fashion
Twitterversion:: As California grapples with identity politics, what can be learned from #Canada, #Québec, & Bloc Québécois? #ThickCulture @Prof_K

Song:: Tricot Machine -L’Ours {Montréal, QC}