A Royal Wedding, Now Back to Reality

With all due respect to Prince William and his new-wife Kate Middleton (or as they are now, the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge) now that the regal royal wedding is out-of-the-way it’s time to return to the very un-regal matter of the Canadian Federal Election. Without the pomp-and-circumstance recently demonstrated in London, UK matters here in Canada seem far more sublime. Sure, when the House convenes again we’ll have our own demonstration of pomp, however, the traditions that lead up to the Speech from the Throne will pale in comparison to the majesty just witnessed in the latest Royal Wedding.

Despite the lack of gravitas, the final days of Election 41 appear that they’ll be just as exciting and historic as the events that have transpired ‘across the pond’. With Jack Layton’s New Democratic Party surging and seemingly set to dislodge at least Michael Ignatieff’s Liberals from Official Opposition Party status—and for dreamers, perhaps even moving Stephen Harper and his Conservatives out of government—these final days before May 2nd will be full of high stakes drama, the likes of which haven’t been seen in Canada since the Trudeau years.

The possible implications for Canadian history as well as the country’s economy and social fabric mean that Canadian voters must now make the choice of which party to vote for. For all intents and purposes, it’s not an easy choice. Each party has its own strengths and weaknesses and it’s now time for voters to choose their ballot question.

Beginning with Jack Layton and the NDP: Jack’s recent surge has given new life to an election that seemed reconciled to be another status quo operation. With support rising across the country, and a profound shift in Québec, the Layton appears on track to become the Official Leader of the Opposition—something that is unprecedented in Canadian history. As the most likeable leader of the major federal parties, Layton has struck a nerve with a disenchanted electorate that’s looking for change. However, it remains to be seen if his campaign promises can hold up to the scrutiny of the final days of a campaign, let alone managing the country. Running as a perceptual fourth party, Layton and his team made many promises that will be hard to keep if elected. His populist zeal does not necessarily mesh with the realities of the current climate in Canada and around the world. Voters will need to decide if Jack really is up for the job.

With Jack surging, the Bloc Québécois looks ready to suffer a crushing defeat. A socially progressive party, much like the NDP, the Bloc has failed to live up to the demanding expectations of the Québec electorate. Having had a near monopoly on federal politics in Québec since the Liberal sponsorship scandal, the Bloc has been unable to make tangible benefits for the people of Québec a reality—something a good number of voters expect from them. Leaving the sovereignty question aside, the polling shift in la belle province has provided voters with a new alternative of where to park their votes. Come election day, voters will be deciding if the status quo offered by Gilles Duceppe is good enough or if one of the federalist options deserves a chance.

If before the election, Liberal leader Michael Ignatieff would have had a chance to see the Bloc consistently polling at such a low-level, I’m sure that he and his party would have been emboldened. However, the NDP’s rise in Québec has taken any thunder that the Liberals may have hoped to catch from a Bloc decline. For his part, Ignatieff has run a solid campaign: free from any major gaffes Iggy has toured the country demonstrating that he’s a passionate and pragmatic leader and not the aloof intellectual the Conservatives have portrayed him as. Unfortunately for Iggy and Team Liberal, he has failed to connect with Canadians via television and other media outlets. There he does seem aloof and out of touch. While his party’s platform is solid, with a few exceptions, his inability to connect to the majority of Canadians is becoming apparent. Liberals will need to hope that on or before Election Day, Canadians take another look at the Liberal Party and its platform and do not rely on Iggy’s mediated personality to carry the day.

Which brings us to Stephen Harper and the governing Conservatives. After consecutive minority governments Harper has been adamantly pushing Canadians to give his party the majority that he has always wanted. That seems increasingly unlikely—unless the NDP surge splits the progressive vote in a way that allows Conservatives to slide through the middle and take office—and it appears that at best the Prime Minister will return to Ottawa with another minority mandate. Canadians will need to decide whether a Conservative Party that has run a disciplined but uninspiring campaign deserves more time in office, a majority position or if alternative scenarios are more attractive. The Conservatives have done well amidst the global financial crisis—although much of Canada’s resiliency can be attributed to the country’s enviable natural resource base as well as banking and financial regulations enacted by previous Liberal Governments—and have proven to be effective managers of the day-to-day needs of the Canadian economy. However, their spending priorities seem out of line with the majority of Canadians at a time of supposed ‘fiscal restraint’ and their inability to ardently defend the basic social and public institutions that help to define Canada is worrisome—not to mention their record on democratic accountability in Parliament.

Aside from the four main choices other parties—most noticeable the Green Party—will play a role in determining the make-up of Canada’s next Parliament. It will be interesting to see if Green Party Leader Elizabeth May, who was shut out of the debates and has not made a major impact nationally in the mainstream media, can win her own riding and if another Green candidate can make it to the House of Commons.

With the Royal Wedding out-of-the-way, the only distraction that remains for Canadians is the NHL Playoffs. But with only one Canadian team remaining there is plenty of time for voters to take a second look at all of the parties and vote accordingly on May 2nd.

— Joseph F. Turcotte

Posted in Election 2011, Platform Comparison, Trends and Tidbits, Why you should vote | 1 Comment

Debates Done: Internet #fail

And just like that, it’s over. With back-to-back English and French language debates the leaders of the major federal political parties have concluded their televised rendezvous and are now back on the campaign trail. With the pesky debates out of the way, it’s now time for the leaders to take their messages back to the streets, halls, and barbeques of Canada.

Much ink, and many bytes, have been spent dissecting the leaders’ performances but one thing is certain: there doesn’t appear to have been a decisive moment that will turn the tide of this year’s election campaign. Over at the Toronto Star Chantal Hébert, who was in Ottawa for both debates, is arguing that Stephen Harper is still on track for his desired majority government, while Liberal leader Michael Ignatieff may have missed the opportunity to recast the campaign in his favour.

For their parts, NDP leader Jack Layton and Bloc leader Gilles Duceppe performed admirably—both making major waves at last night’s French language debate. At least Duceppe, though, was honest enough to admit that he’ll never become Prime Minister; Layton, meanwhile, still contends that the NDP could miraculously form government.

The lack of a ‘game-changing’ moment does not mean that the debates were fruitless, however. The events of Tuesday and Wednesday night provided the leaders with an opportunity to speak to the Canadian people directly and on television—as well as on the Internet and radio. If the large audience numbers are any indication, Canadians were listening and are now tuned into this campaign.

With a little over two weeks to go until Election Day (May 2), it’s time for the leaders to reinforce their positions and their visions of a better Canada.

The fact that only a handful of questions were posed to the leaders at the debates means that it’s important for Harper, Ignatieff, Layton and Duceppe (as well as Green Party leader Elizabeth May and a host of smaller parties) to present more policy alternatives and ideas.

Considering the most memorable comment about the Internet came with a throw-away comment from Jack Layton about Stephen Harper’s “hashtag fail” on justice concerns, means that those hoping for a comprehensive digital strategy will have to wait for other opportunities to have their concerns addressed directly. At least in their platforms the parties have addressed how Canada can capitalize upon new technologies and become a world leader. It would have been nice to have this, and other topics such as more specific attention to the environment and Canada’s Aboriginal population, tackled in the debate setting. Calls for debate reform are much warranted and should be addressed.

However, if the Canadians that were chosen to ask the questions of our leaders are any indication, Canada’s political landscape still does not have much room for the issues and concerns facing Canada’s youth. The digital environment is a place where Canada’s youth have grown up and are quite savvy at. An open and accessible Internet is just as important to Canada’s future—as well as its economic growth and social justice—as most of the topics addressed during the debate.

For more information on this topic, have a look at OpenMedia.ca and their “Vote for the Internet” campaign. Canada’s future, and in turn our future, depends upon how this discussion unfolds.

Posted in Debate Debauchery, Digital Economy, Election 2011 | Leave a comment

Debate Recap

Thanks to what many pundits are calling the Twitter election, voters didn’t have to wait for analysis of tonight’s national leaders debate — it happened right before their eyes.
Social media allowed them to comment and exchange ideas before CBC and other national broadcasters had a chance to summarize and commentate just moments after the debate closed.
People talked about NDP leader Jack Layton’s “zings,” such as when he told Conservative Stephen Harper he would have had to lend him his crutch to help him stay in power if it hadn’t of been for Liberal Michael Ignatieff’s support of the minority government in a number of key votes. Or when he talked about criminals wearing “bling” in a discussion on Harper’s “tough on crime” agenda. And who could forget the “hash tag fail.”
People commented on how Harper avoided eye contact with his opponents, instead glaring into the camera, or into the supposed eyes of the voters at home.
People might have also noticed other awkward non-verbal cues such as when Ignatieff stood with his hand on one hip, in a debate with Layton next to him.
Others piped up to ask how necessary it was for Bloc leader Gilles Duceppe to even participate in the English language debate, when he serves provincial separatist interests in Quebec.
Whatever the case — and whoever the perceived “winner” might be — most experts say the most telling public opinion poll results don’t come out until the after the debates. That’s when Canadians get most engaged. With the help of Twitter, did the #db8 engage more Canadians than usual this time around?
Did the leaders debate issues that really matter to the fleeting youth vote? Some might wonder how issues such as women’s violence quickly turn to the stale long gun registry debate. Or whether ideological debates over issues such as higher corporate taxes really get us anywhere. How much more do people really want to hear about the fighter jets or contempt of Parliament before they tune out?
The best way to capture attention might not have much to do with social media at all. Look them in the eye, answer a direct question with a direct answer. Perhaps if the leaders dared to go off message just once, voters would have a real idea of what they truly stand for — and what ticking that ballot really means.
— April Cunnigham
Posted in Debate Debauchery, Election 2011 | Leave a comment

Debate Day #1: Why Watch? Why Vote? Why not?!

The sun is shining in downtown Toronto today. It’s positively beautiful and a reminder that spring is here and summer is just around the corner. However, while enjoying the lovely weather I’ve been troubled by nagging thoughts: will this gorgeous day cause people to tune out and miss this evening’s debate? Will patios fill in place of devoted TV (and computers and radios) audiences? Especially, will young Canadians—at least those enjoying the fruits of spring—be less likely to watch this evening’s debate?

I hope not.

Tonight’s debate (7pm EST) will be the first chance for Canadians to see this set of party leaders go toe-to-toe over the pressing issues facing our country. It’s a shame that Green Party leader Elizabeth May was not invited to this year’s debate, but that’s a topic for after the election. Debate reform should be something that is looked into and addressed.

Despite the Green Party’s absence, this debate will mark a turning point in this year’s election campaign. Up until now, it’s assumed that only the political die-hards have been following the campaign. Debate time is when the real action is supposed to begin and people start engaging with the campaign process. Let’s hope that this is the case with Canada’s youth as well.

This year’s election offers some distinct choices for the next Government of Canada. Will we continue to have a Conservative Government led by Stephen Harper? Will he finally move out of minority position and get his desired majority? Or, will one of the opposition parties  secure enough seats to form government?

With all due respect to my friends in the NDP, Bloc, and Green Party, the only real alternative to the Harper Government appears to be the Liberal Party and Michael Ignatieff. With a steady campaign from the Liberals and a Conservative effort that seems to be sputtering and besieged by problems, the Liberals appear to have a chance of threatening the Conservative Party’s place on Parliament Hill.

That makes tonight’s (and tomorrow’s French-language) debate so terribly important. The organizers of the debate have set aside 6 minutes blocks that will provide each leader an opportunity to debate one-on-one against a competing party. Except some sparks to fly.

There’s no doubt that Stephen Harper will be attacked by each of the various opposition party leaders, but how will he respond? And can the other leaders score points against the Prime Minister? And, most importantly, will anyone address the issues that Canadians care about in a straightforward and honest manner?

These are the questions we must take into account leading into the debate. Numerous issues are challenging Canada and Canadians: the ongoing economic mess, the future of health care, student rights and opportunities, the future of the Internet and a ‘Digital Canada’, the situation facing Aboriginal Canadians, and our country’s place in the world. Hopefully these and other issues will receive honest debate and constructive dialogue. The future of our country depends on how these concerns are addressed.

So, despite the glorious weather: tune in, follow the debate and make your voice heard tonight, throughout the campaign and on election day. May 2 is not a far way off and it’s important to get engaged now. Use the various social media tools on offer and voice your opinion—for their part the CBC is making great strides in this area. And, watch the debate. If you connect with one of the leaders think about volunteering on a campaign.

This is our country too. In order for youth issues to be taken seriously it’s time for Canada’s youth to take the process seriously too.

Posted in Debate Debauchery, Election 2011 | Leave a comment

Debate Preview…

There is a debate tonight. I am sure I am not the first to notice this archaic form of conversation is one of the many reasons why Canadian youth are disinterested with the political realm. To what purpose does a formal debate offer in today’s electronic world? I agree a formal debate of the leaders provide ideas to which voters can make an informed decision, but I think such discourse is unnecessary and irrelevant in Canada. First, unlike the Americans and others, we don’t get to cast a vote for our PM. As such, having a charismatic leader with persuasive arguments is a good trait, but they cannot directly effect the voting results. Second, has anyone, old or young, watched politicians on TV for longer than one hour these days? With stream casts and 24 hour news networks, it is difficult enough to stay engaged with the bullet points of the party. I am sure I will try to catch the debate, but no promises on staying on the channel if anything remotely interesting is on.

One improvement they can make with the debates, perhaps to jazz it up a bit, is the use of a reality TV format. Before everyone think this is some sort of satire, hear me out. What if the debate was a round-robin tournament of debates? That would place the wits and ideals of the party against one another, and offer an insights into how each leader may operate as the PM, if their party succeeds in gaining power.

Interesting note: Hebert dishes up a tip for all parties in the debate here. She notes aggressiveness and going on the attack was not be beneficial for parties in the past, and it may not work well tonight. On the other hand, I hope they are going to be entertaining, or else I’ll just catch the highlights some other time.

Posted in Debate Debauchery, Election 2011 | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

Welcome to Vote or Die, eh!

As election looms, politicians are busy campaigning to garner every vote possible. One key demographic that is often overlook during campaigns are young voters and their particular needs. With a low turn-out and a low engagement rate, it is no surprise there is a disconnect between the voting youth and the politicians. We want to change this trend.

In America, Vote or Die was a contentious concept to garner youth votes. We didn’t think it would quite work for us here in Canada, so we’ve adapted it, and adopted the slogan, to bring you something that is more… Canadian. This site is about a conversation between non-partisan perspectives in the Canadian political spectrum as we rant on about all the issues that come up in Canadian politics. If you feel like adding to our conversation, please do so! We hope you enjoy the issues that we bring up, and start your own conversation about Canadian politics.

Because, lets face it. The more people talk about this, the less boring it will be. And the more Canadians get engaged, the more everyone’s needs will be reflected in policy decisions.

Hollis Lai and Joseph F. Turcotte

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