Ten things I’ve learned from the 2011 Canadian election

Note: my very smart friend Sean challenges me in the comments below, and makes some excellent points. Toronto’s last municipal election where we elected Rob Ford is an excellent example of the cult of personality and the power of the suburban vote. Thanks Sean.

  1. Canada has become a polarized nation, like never before. I feel like we used to be a lot more moderate, and a lot more compassionate. We are a country of two solitudes, but clearly it’s no longer Anglophone and Francophone. It’s liberal and conservative. Urban and rural.
  2. Social media is quick, effective, and vibrant. It allows for multiple viewpoints, lively debate, and outs the truth more often than not. There was a time when we saw conventional media the same way.
  3. It’s all about leadership. A strong leader that can build a strong base wins, every time.
  4. Let’s not be smug; Canadians are more like Americans than we like to think. And that’s not a bad thing, depending on the Americans we’re talking about…
  5. It’s true, city-dwellers can live in a liberal bubble sometimes. But I’m tired of being told that our voices aren’t as legitimate as suburbanites or rural residents, that we aren’t the “real Canada”. Most of the population lives in cities, people. 
  6. People believe what they want to believe, and like gravitates towards like, regardless of what is true. I’m just as guilty of this as anybody else. To quote Woody Allen: “I’m a bigot, I know, but for the left. “
  7. We live in a country where a government can win a majority with less than 50% of the popular vote. So, if 60% of the country actually bothered to vote, and 40% of that number voted for the majority party, that still means that less than 25% of the population just elected the government for the entire country. Democracy?
  8. Authority claimed is authority earned. I will probably use this quote again, because I love it…but it was definitely true tonight.
  9. I think what Canadians really want is stability, and not to be bothered too much? Seems like a dangerous instinct, though…
  10. Times change. What used to be a farmers’ party now can’t get traction in the prairies. A party that once held only two seats is now the majority government. Quebec has all but abandoned the Separatist movement. What was once consistently the most popular party in the country is rudderless, and even their leader can’t hold onto his own riding. That makes me hopeful for the future, but disappointed in the present.

15 Comments

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15 responses to “Ten things I’ve learned from the 2011 Canadian election

  1. Sean Kheraj

    I just wrote a long comment on your great post here but I don’t think it went through.

  2. This is a great post and a great blog, Josh. I do, however, have a couple points I would challenge you to think about:

    1.) The vote tonight did not reveal an urban-rural split at all. Rural ridings across the country went for both the CPC and the NDP. Obviously rural Canadians in Quebec threw a lot of support behind the NDP while the rural ridings in BC split between the two leading parties. While the CPC once again carried nearly all of the ridings in Alberta, Saskatchewan and Manitoba, we must remember that these Western provinces Have been majority urban provinces since 1971. You cannot win the these provinces without the urban vote. Also, as it turns out, the rural vote is not always more powerful than the urban vote in Canada. I was surprised to learn recently that the most under-represented riding in Alberta is Peace River. The most over-represented riding in the province is Edmonton-Strathcona!

    This election was determined in large part by suburban voters. Again, remember that Canadians living in urban centers do not represent a majority of the country. Suburban resident far out-number Canadians living in metropolitan cores. Toronto’s metro population is over five million, but this includes all of the suburban ridings of the Greater Toronto Area. Since 2001, Canada’s metropolitan suburban ridings have been the fastest growing areas of the country, led in Ontario by Markham, which grew by more than 50 per cent between 2001 and 2006. Central urban ridings have grown much slower in all of the metropolises (Toronto, Montreal, Vancouver, Ottawa, and Calgary). In fact, both Calgary Centre and Calgary Centre-North had negative population growth between 2001 and 2006 (can you tell that I do too much census research?). This has been a tremendous shift in Canadian society in the past decade and the CPC has benefited by targeting this growing segment of voters.

    2.) I agree that strong leaders played a very prominent role in this election, but I see this as a weakening of our democracy. In a parliamentary democracy, we do not elect national leaders. Instead we elect constituency representatives to the House of Commons. The trend toward a cult of personality in Canadian politics, I think, has undermined constituency representation. Government is more than just one man and parliament is more than just a couple of men (and now one woman). By focusing so much of our politics on party leaders, citizens are less effectively represented in the House of Commons. It concentrates power in the hands of few instead of decentralizing power and providing checks and balances on abuse of authority.

    3.) Finally, the CPC did not go from 2 seats in the House of Commons in 1993 to a majority in 2011. The CPC is a new party based on a coalition of the Canadian Alliance and the Progressive Conservative Party. The PC Party held only 2 seats in the House in 1993. The CPC is arguably more Canadian Alliance Party (formerly the Reform Party) than it is PC Party, especially in terms of social and economic policies.

    Anyways, those are my three cents on the election, I suppose. Keep up the excellent work on your blog, Josh.

    2.)

    The vote

    • Hi Sean, thanks for these thoughts…actually, I’m going to pop a note in my blog and update because you make a very good point about downtown vs. suburban; Toronto is a perfect example of this. Thanks!

      • Sounds good, Josh. I live in Calgary Centre and you can definitely see that demographic change in this city as fewer and fewer people live in the urban core.

    • I agree, for the most part, with your 2nd point. I would like to see the end of parties to remedy this. Also, maybe even removing the PMO and shifting any of the power of that office that’s actually needed (much of it isn’t) to the speaker of the house and the governor general (with the appointment of the gg by the house, and the Chief of the Council of First Nations replacing the Queen’s role). I think abolishing and making parties illegal would resolve many of our problems, and in this case the idea of proportional representation is unnecessary. In addition, since corporations want to be treated as persons under the law, then they should have the same limits to their total campaign contributions (now given to individual candidates rather than parties, and this should be a sum total if the happen to wish to contribute to multiple candidates) as individuals: a ballpark figure would be no more than $5000.

  3. #1 – You speak of polarization as a bad thing. But it is the views of two sides that provide the check and balance in a country. Canada wouldn’t be where they are if it wasn’t for the fact that the government swings back and forth between two ideals, neither one of them being particularly bad choices.
    #7 – You’ll see by the following link from the Parliament of Canada that elected parties often don’t get 50% or more of the popular vote, and on at least one occasion the Conservative Party got the most votes, but didn’t get the most seats.
    http://www.parl.gc.ca/parlinfo/Compilations/ElectionsAndRidings/ResultsParty.aspx

    • #1: I agree that open debate is important, but I think it can get dangerous when it gets too polarized and descends into rhetoric and name-calling.

      #7: just because it happens, doesn’t mean it’s right.

    • I agree with Margie and would add that polarization is in part caused by facebook statuses, blogs, tweets etc. that decry other Canadians who submitted their vote in a fashion other than the poster wished and venting ire on these same Canadians for voting their principles.

  4. 7. Yes it’s democracy. One can choose whatever they want to do with their vote, including not vote. One presumes that not voting means they either approve of the status quo or of whatever the rest of people who do vote decide. There are probably a smaller minority of non-voters who disapprove and think nothing they do makes a difference. This isn’t the case, but they have the right to think that. In any case, if the remaining 40% had voted, a large part of them likely would have voted for the incumbent. What democracy really means is that you don’t always get what you want just because you think it’s the right thing, regardless of your money, power, influence or facebook status.

    • We live in a democracy with free speech. So…you have the right to do and say all the stupid things you want, and I have the right to call you out on those things.

      In the case of the remaining 40%, you do not know that they would have voted for one party or another, you’re just inferring that. Here’s what I do know with certainty: they didn’t vote.

      It’s not about me getting what I want, it’s about people taking a minute out of their day to actually give a shit about one of the most important freedoms we have.

      • First of all, it’s a pretty good inference.

        Second of all I stand by my main point that no one is required to vote, and their lack of voting does not harm the democratic process. They are simply expressing their democratic right to not care one way or the other, which heavily implies, generally, that they are ok with what those who do vote decide. That’s their vote. They do give a shit, just not by the same degree as you. Some of them even voted for you Josh. Someone out there thought “Josh is right. He’ll vote for [insert vote], but I’m ok with however this ends up.”

      • Oh, and by the way: we don’t have free speech; we’re not Americans.

      • I disagree with just about everything you’ve said here (respectfully)…but I stand by your right to say it. Even if it is on my blog.🙂

  5. What does it say about the world that I find it perplexing that I can’t just ‘like’ your comment reply instead of having to leave my own?

  6. found your site on del.icio.us today and really liked it.. i bookmarked it and will be back to check it out some more later

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