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[Ottawa – September 27, 2010] – It is amazing to see the interpretive gyrations that the punditocracy have displayed in “analysing” the gun registry battle. Perhaps the only thing more amazing is how this relatively trivial issue has been a central political focus of the entire country for some time. Such salience suggests that there is the issue itself and much deeper values, symbolism and vested interest clashing under the surface level question of whether we should dismantle this relatively small and unobtrusive program. Research suggests that the actual costs and intrusiveness of the registration process were pretty modest. If one were to ask Canadians their top of mind sense of the most important issues confronting the country last year, removing the gun registry would not appear on the top fifty issues (though it might now).

So who are the winners and losers? Well the rules of parsimony would suggest that the obvious loser was the Conservative party. Using admirable political skill, the Conservatives took this previously unsellable cause celebre for their supporters to the brink of success. But at the end of the day, the overall political machinations which came within a whisker of eliminating the hated gun registry for their constituents failed. It is hard to see Stephen Harper as Rene Levesque but there certainly was a clear “à la prochaine fois” about this near win. Maybe Stephen Harper will do better with furthering this cause than M. Levesque did with his.

Many analysts are now engaging in what I would consider to be egregiously flawed political arithmetic to suggest that this loss was indeed a victory in disguise for the Conservatives. The reasoning goes that the enraged and disappointed rural constituents of current NDP and Liberal rural MPs who switched their votes will produce enough Conservative seat gains in the next election to propel the Conservatives over the magic 155 seat number. While one could argue the case of whether or not this single issue will truly cost these “perfidious” switchers their seats, this argument flies in the face of the more basic reality that the Conservatives are no longer within tantalising reach of this number. Their current standing with the electorate would put them at best with 130 seats. So even if they reaped all of the seats of those rural opposition MPs who voted against the government (and this is a highly specious proposition) they would still find themselves woefully short of a majority. Surely we might at least consider the question of whether Conservative MPs in urban areas, who were elected by slim margins, might not be concerned that their fealty to the destruction of the gun registry might not push them into the realm of failure next time. This emotional issue isn’t just emotional for rural residents but also for, say, women voters in Quebec.

And now we get to the true question of what the ultimate impacts are. And the answer may be not that much. It’s hard to imagine this issue being the ballot issue for many Canadians. The issue is, however, strongly linked to an assembly of related issues that will definitely shape the outcome of the next election. And I would argue that this issue, in concert with the related issues, has been reshaping the Canadian political landscape. Ironically, this set of related issues may be why the Conservatives are no longer within immediate striking range of majority and why even converting these rural seats on this issue may become a pyrrhic victory.

The Conservatives came out of the last election perhaps as little as one point of support short of a majority. Their challenge seemed straightforward. Let us call it the 2% solution. Find another one or two points to add to your current constituency. Some, such as Preston Manning, have suggested that a stronger green appeal may have been adequate to push them over the top and I tend to agree. There were other possible routes to producing a modest expansion of the blue tent. But paradoxically, it seems that the Conservatives have been caught in staking out and defending policy positions which resonate very well with their already fiercely loyal base but produce much more chequered responses in the rest of the spectrum. Moreover, it seems that the positioning on various issues of the day, from the census long form to the place of abortion rights in maternal health, have shifted the debate from managerial competence to fundamental values differences. The gun registry debate falls clearly into this new dynamic which sees the educated urban elites as the foes of the populist, suburban, and rural constituency for the Conservatives. This may be reinforcing the vigour of their core but it is truly unclear to me how this helps with the 2% solution which stood between them and a majority. It may also have provided a unifying theme for awakening an erstwhile dormant and indifferent educated urban vote.

The bottom line? This episode seems to have hardened an already polarised electorate and shifted the prospects of either Liberals or Conservatives achieving a majority mandate from implausible to unimaginable. The new key question will be how does the prospect of some sort of coalition fit into this new deadlocked, and normatively polarised political landscape. That will be the issue to watch as we shuffle along to an increasingly inevitable and acrimonious election.

4 comments to THE NARCISSISM OF GRUMPINESS AND THE 2% SOLUTION – September 27, 2010

  • I can’t see Harper and the Con’s calling an election on the Long Gun Registry (GR). For one thing, the voting public are already constellated, and have been for a long, long time, on the issue and not likely to shift – and it simply does not produce the numbers for a majority.

    There are 3 groups:
    – those that will vote Con because of their stance on the GR;
    – those that will vote against the Con’s for the same reason;
    – all the other that will vote based on things (like the deficit, Harper spending, economy)

    These groups have already been very well defined and not likely to change unless Harper and the Con’s actually do abolish the GR, then the:
    – 2nd group will not likely change since they will be even more against Harper.
    – 3rd won’t change.
    – 1st group may very well lose their need to support Harper and the Con’s so strongly, or at all.

    Further, Stephen Harper, Jim Flaherty and the Conservative Party of Canada seem to be going both ways on what the election issue will be. When it suites them, it is the Long Gun Registry, and when it suites them it is the economy.

    The Campaign issue will involve the economy, including taxes. But, you can betcha it will be in the light of the deficit and the Harper and Con’s “Orgy of Excess” (rock on Ralph) and spending with reckless abandon. Harper and the Con’s will tie in the issue of a coalition government with “Ignatieff-NDP-Bloc Québécois” but that too will be in terms of the economy – as indicated by the Flaherty speech last week.

    (cicblog.com/comments.html, 22 Sep.’10)

    Two polls were released amid the heat of the vote last week. Angus Reid’s poll found 46 per cent of Canadians wanted the registry gone and 40 per cent wanted it to stay. The rest weren’t sure what they wanted.

    Harris Decima’s poll found 48 per cent of Canadians wanted to keep it compared to 38 per cent who wanted to scrap it.
    (Winnipeg Free Press, 27 Sep)

    However, compare this to the polls on support generally voter intention that have the Con at around 33%, Lib’s around 29% , NDP 16.6%, Green 10.7%, Block 8.9% (Ekos 16 Sep.’10)

    So, if you take the average between the two pols on the GR, just for argument’s sake, you get 42% wanting it scrapped. However, voter intention for the Con’s is 33%. There are 9% points out there that want it scrapped but definitely vote for other reasons, since they vote against Harper. It is safe to say that since the 33% represents the die-hard core of right wing extremists epi-centred in Alberta that they, to a man, – sorry person – want the gun registry gone. But they all vote Con pretty much no matter what.

    That is, unless Harper is seen to be compromising true Con ideology, or benefiting other demographics or regions of Canada (ahh ahh ahh Ch…Ontario/Quebec .. ooo – sorry sneezed), especially at their expense. Which could explain why Harper doesn’t go after the 2% solution.

    Quite simply, in order to so do, he would have to compromise true Con ideology and favour other demographics and they don’t like that where they come from – in other words, perhaps Harper risks losing a point for each gained. The indications are that at least 5 of those 33 points are hard liners ready to dump Harper for his ‘moderation’ and that’s a lot.

    Mr. Graves, what do you think.

    Lloyd MacILquham cicblog.com/comments.html

  • Interesting analysis. Perhaps the Tories have decided that a majority being difficult to achieve, they might as well enact as right-wing an agenda as they can without losing their plurality…

    Now that summer’s over, will EKOS return to weekly reporting?

  • Richard Wallington

    As a retired police officer my experience is if someone wants to commit suicide with a long gun, the fact that it is registered will not stop them; it’s absurd to think otherwise.

    Also, what the public is not being well informed on is, that anyone who purchases a long gun, or a hand gun requires an FAC. That a person has an FAC is listed on the police CIPC information data base.

    It doesn’t matter if the person actually purchased a gun or not, that fact they applied for an FAC alerts police to act with caution; this person may have a gun.

    This argument over the registry is strickly political, the reality is the FAC’S are entered on CPIC, and criminals don’t apply for an FAC and don’t register their guns.

    The supporters of the registry should calm down and think about this discussion in a pragmatic matter. They should concern themselves with the amount of illegal guns from the USA, that criminals don’t register, and punish those who use weapons, of any kind, in the act of a violent offence.

  • Paul Freier

    I think each of the three major parties should refocus what they stand for elcect new fresh leaders. Maybe this was we can see a difference.