Friday, March 22, 2019

The Politics of Personal Destruction

Nation, politics is a dirty game. It's a blood sport. There's no prize for second place - the winner is the winner, and the loser is exactly that. There are no moral victories, because while you're patting yourself on the back for "doing your best", the victor is putting their policies and plans - which you very likely opposed - into action.

Because of the adversarial nature of the system, then, it's hardly surprising that campaigns often rush to the low ground - attacking the personal background of an opponent, rather than their record or their stated policies.

I wish it didn't work. But it does.

In the Alberta Election of 2019, both the United Conservatives of Jason Kenney and the NDP of Rachel Notley are dialing up the "politics of personal destruction" to 11.

In the case of Kenney's UCP, we have been hearing since before the party even had a full-time leader about the alliance of "Rachel Notley and her close ally/friend/bff Justin Trudeau". I don't think I need to tell you, while New Democrats and Liberals are on the same side of the political bell curve, they're no more obviously allies than the federal Liberals and the Ontario Progressive Conservatives. The fact that they agree sometimes, and smile for photos, doesn't make them friends.

Believe me. Looks at pictures of me and that barbarian Kirk Schmidt.

This, of course, isn't the only example of the UCP and their surrogates tossing labels at the NDP in such rapid succession that it becomes hard to refute them one at a time, because they'd just pile up all over the floor like last week's laundry. The NDP are "an accidental government". A group of Che Guevara fanboys and fangirls. A cadre of Marxists. Anyone who has even breathed the same air as Tzeporah Berman is painted as being an enemy of the energy industry, despite the very public tete-a-tete between the activist and Rachel Notley at a Teacher's Convention event last October. The NDP are without fail referred to as an "ideological government" - as though a UCP government would be any less ideological, in an entirely different direction.

On the other side, the NDP are clearly all-in on attacking Jason Kenney. His past statements and votes as a legislator on issues around same-sex marriage and abortion are under the spotlight, with a 10-minute "documentary" being released by the NDP yesterday, along with a series of websites over the past month or so with the sort of domain names that would make Ezra Levant blush. And while the bulk of their ammunition is being targeted at The Man in the Blue Pick-Up, the New Democrats and their bannermen are also digging up dirt on individual candidates, as seen earlier this week with the revelations of past statements by star UCP candidate Caylan Ford, the blowback from which caused her to resign on the eve of the writ dropping.

Ford's replacement for the UCP in the riding, Jeremy Wong, has since come under fire for statements he made while serving as a pastor. The statements, while biblically accurate, are certainly causing a stir on-line. But as I've said before: If it doesn't make it into print and the 6 o'clock news, it's not really a thing. Most Albertans who were raised in a Christian home, of any denomination, have been exposed to similar language from the Bible before, and many just walked past it as anachronistic language within a larger narrative. Is it a big deal in 2019? I suspect not, but I've been wrong before - and we still have 25 days to go until the ballots are counted.

At the end of the day, this is seemingly the approach that the NDP and UCP are going to take for the next 3 weeks. Sure, they'll release policies here and there, but overwhelmingly, they're spending their time at the podium talking about their opponents.

They're doing this, because we LET them do it.

We reward this tactic, by electing someone who participated in it.

We reinforce the bad behaviour, and then turn up our noses at how brutish politics can be. And then 4 years later, we reinforce it yet again.

It doesn't HAVE to be this way. But yet we allow it.

And the band plays on...

Wednesday, March 20, 2019

Poll Dancing

Nation, the first poll of the Alberta 2019 General Election has been released, showing the United Conservative Party of Jason Kenney holding a significant lead over Rachel Notley's NDP overall, at 49% to 38%.

The numbers broken down regionally are somewhat more positive for Notley, as her party holds a commanding 52 to 34 lead in the Capital Region, though those numbers are mirrored in the greater Calgary area, with the UCP holding the edge 54 to 33 over the NDP.

Worth noting, though, are the following caveats:

  1. Polls are a snapshot in time, not a predictor of the eventual outcome. If an election were held today, the decided voters were leaning this way, though a full 22% of voters indicated they were undecided.
  2. An election is not being held today.
  3. Not everyone votes. Conventional political wisdom suggests that the older you are, the more likely you are to vote - and such groups tend to lean conservative in this province.
  4. Campaigns matter. They really, REALLY matter.

Consider that in 2015, at this stage in the provincial election, the polls showed the Wildrose Party of Brian Jean ahead in the polls at 31% versus the Prentice PC's at 27% and the Notley NDP at 26%. The final result of that campaign saw the NDP pulling 41% of votes cast, to the PC's 28% and the Wildrose's 24%. In 28 days, the NDP went from third to first, and won a majority government while outperforming that initial poll by 15%.

On a municipal level, four weeks before the 2010 Calgary election, long-time City Councilor Ric McIver led the field with 43% in polls, compared to Barb Higgins at 28% and unknown MRU Professor Naheed Nenshi a distant third at 8%. Once the votes were counted on election day, Nenshi had won the mayor's chair with 40% of votes cast compared to McIver's 32% and Higgins' 26%. In 28 days, Nenshi went from third to first, and won while outperforming that initial poll by 32%.

This is not to suggest that the third-place candidate or party - in the case of the 2019 Alberta election, this is the Alberta Party (polling at 8% province-wide) - is a shoo-in, by any stretch. It simply goes to illustrate the point that the narrative being desperately pushed by both the NDP and the Conservatives, that this is a two-horse race that no one else has a shot at - it just that: a campaign narrative, hoping to steer people away from considering other options.

Of course, on the balance of probabilities, the top 2 finishers in this contest are going to be the NDP and the United Conservatives. 99 times out of a hundred, these sorts of leads in polls are relatively safe, and voters flock to one side in hopes of stopping the other side from winning. That's why both parties are pushing the narrative that this is a two-horse race: Because most of the time, that simple narrative WORKS. Wonks like myself like to delude ourselves into thinking that people will vote for the best policies, or will cast their vote for aspirational reasons, but by far the best motivator is fear.

I fear what four more years of the NDP will do to the economy, so I'm voting Kenney.

I fear what Kenney's party might do to public services and minority rights, so I'm voting NDP.

Can the Alberta Party win this election?


I mean, it's possible. They'll have candidates in all 87 constituencies - which is basically a requirement for any party hoping to seriously have a shot at forming government. But a LOT will have to go right for them, and wrong for their opponents, over the next four weeks.

At this stage, I'd put their chances alongside those of my Oilers making the Stanley Cup Playoffs this year.

It's not likely.

But it's POSSIBLE.

But it's going to take a lot of hard work, a lot of people performing at or above the highest level they thought possible, and some significant mis-steps from their opponents.