Prime Minister Stephen Harper is right about one thing: The Liberal Party of Canada is done like disco balls and bellbottoms.
Well, maybe not bellbottoms, actually. Bellbottom trousers have been showing up among the fashionistas again, as a stroll through The Sartorialist makes clear. But disco balls for sure.
As usual and as is to be expected, however, beyond that, the prime minister’s analysis is understandably pretty interpretive. “We are moving Canada in a Conservative direction, and Canadians are moving in that direction with us,” the prime minister told an enthusiastic gathering of the usual suspects, including a faithful reporter from the Calgary Herald, Saturday night during what is quaintly known in Cowtown as a “Stampede barbecue.”
“Conservative values are Canadian values,” Mr. Harper said, possibly getting a little overheated thanks to his friendly audience. “Canadian values are Conservative values.”
Well, they’ll swallow that sort of thing at a Conservative BBQ in Calgary, along with some burnt meat and non-union Kleineken beer, but that doesn’t mean the rest of us have to. At the very least, while Mr. Harper’s position can certainly be argued based on the skimpy facts available to all of us at this post-election moment, it is not the only plausible interpretation.
Indeed, going through the few recent polling results available – courtesy of a recent post by Éric Grenier at his useful Threehundredeight website – suggests that the Orange Wave persists as a significant national political phenomenon, one that in the fullness of time can put paid to the suggestion that “Canadian values are Conservative values.”
Mr. Grenier cites four polls – two national surveys and two in Quebec – conducted during the month of June. The national polls show a statistically insignificant increase in Conservative Party support and a similarly insignificant decrease in New Democrat support. According to Mr. Grenier, this leaves nationwide support for the Conservatives at a weighted average of 41.3 per cent in June, compared to 29.7 per cent for the New Democrats. The Liberals sit at 19.5 per cent.
Since these changes are within the margins of error of the polls, even though the polling data cited by Mr. Grenier is thin, it is fair to argue that essentially nothing has changed since election night – even though we are within the honeymoon period one would expect for a new majority government after a national election.
Meanwhile, a more interesting picture emerges when we break down the results on a regional basis. In Quebec, where the Orange Wave really started in the weeks before the federal election, the New Democrats have gained 5.5 per cent since May 2 and now lead “with an incredible 46.7 per cent.” This is a statistically undeniable percentage increase, one might add, in a jurisdiction that is certain to play a key role in the outcome of all Canadian federal general elections for the foreseeable future
This is an important statistic for those of us in Western Canada who were told repeatedly by the mainstream media that the Orange Wave that crashed through Quebec was an anomaly, a fluke, a phenomenon tied only to the personality of Opposition Leader Jack Layton that would immediately subside. Indeed, Mr. Harper unconvincingly repeated this claim during his Calgary bunfest Saturday.
Well, it’s early days yet, but … perhaps not. Perhaps Quebeckers elected New Democrats in significant numbers because they approved of the party’s policies and because of effective leadership in the party’s Quebec wing.
The results tracked by Mr. Grenier here in Alberta are also interesting, with the still commanding popularity of the federal Conservatives nevertheless slumping close to 4 per cent within Alberta during the post-election hangover and the federal New Democrats polling a remarkable 21 per cent. As shall be argued in a future post, surely it ought to be possible to translate this popularity into gains for New Democrats in the next provincial election, expected later this year or in the spring of 2012.
Regardless of that speculation, Mr. Grenier’s poll tracking back to January 2009 “shows a continued improvement in NDP performance in Quebec, Alberta, the Prairies, and Atlantic Canada. It also shows how the Liberals and Bloc continue to slide in Quebec, while the Conservatives are holding relatively steady throughout the country.”
Of course, die-hard Liberals will deny that their party has now entered a period of historic decline, although looking at their likely leadership candidates it is hard to imagine much else. It is thought here, and presumably in the Prime Minister’s Office as well, that as the demise of the Liberal Party sinks in with its core supporters – now still about 20 per cent nationally, according to the June numbers – opportunities will be presented for both Conservatives and New Democrats.
This can only be demonstrated over time through polling, but it seems likely that New Democrats have more to gain from this historic shift than do Mr. Harper’s brand of hard-right, American-style neo-conservatives.
So, while it is certainly true that Mr. Harper’s government is attempting to move Canada in a conservative direction (if by “conservative” we mean “radical and market-fundamentalist”), whether this is what Canadians want or what they were trying to achieve when they elected a Conservative majority in May is an entirely different matter.
Add up the numbers. The demise of the national Liberal Party combined with the well-known rejection by Canadian voters of so-called conservative values could be what it takes turn the Orange Wave into an Orange Crush and usher in a long and happy era of New Democrat government.
This post also appears on rabble.ca.