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[Ottawa – January 31, 2011] – Over the past two weeks, we saw a number of seemingly dramatic political manoeuvres. The Liberals dug into the historical political tool chest and produced a ballot framing around the question of whether you were better of five years ago than today. When Ronald Reagan asked this of Americans some 31 years ago, things were looking downright gloomy in post-Vietnam, recession-weary America. So how would this framing work in contemporary Canada? Just as the Liberals were launching this framing, Canadians were showing rising confidence in the country and its federal government (well short of hosannas and ample room to marshal significant discontent, but odd timing nonetheless).

Meanwhile, the Conservatives, while protesting that they had no interest in an election, produced a number of election style ads, most harshly targeted at the bona fides of the leader of the opposition. The NDP launched an election style bus tour of key ridings and the Liberals trotted out some election style ads of their own. Michael Ignatieff engaged in a dramatic emotional appeal to caucus. The Conservatives, still protesting their lack of interest in an election, go even harder on the attack ad front twisting Ignatieff ‘s emotional “Yes, Yes, Yes!” into another illustration of naked self ambition, and then withdraw these ads within two days.

So, by Ottawa standards, a very busy fortnight indeed! So let’s check back with the trusty electorate and see how all of this storm and fury is playing out – flat lined! Absolutely inert; poke it and see if it moves; nope! If our federal vote intention chart was a national cardiogram, we would suggest pulling the plug. Maybe it was the unusually low temperatures which froze the electorate, but it seems that the voting public are either completely oblivious to these machinations or perhaps (more likely) they are inured to this political gamesmanship and they have seen nothing of any substance in these recent moves that would lead them to awaken from the political coma which has gripped Canada for several years. Our advice to all of the leaders is to pay heed to the fact that nothing short of a big bang idea is going to dislodge this huge political logjam.

We do see a few hints from the electorate as to what might wake them from their slumber. First, consider the fact that they tell us decisively that they are looking for ideas, not flash; they tell us clearly that it will be the platform that will ultimately shape the next election. This is particularly true in a political environment where none of the current leaders enjoys anything close to the charismatic authority necessary to rally a majority of Canadians.

So where are the fresh ideas for the most educated society in the advanced western world as it confronts the 21st century? The public will be pardoned their stifled yawns until parties come up with something a little more exciting than who is going to out fiscal conservative who. By a margin of two to one, Canadians say they are looking for a bold new vision for Canada. By an equally strong margin they are seeing the opposite – a steady as she goes custodial approach with the parties focussing more on political exigencies and tactics than constructing a blueprint for the future.

The final point that we draw from the extremely entrenched electorate is that older Canada, particularly older male Canada, has pretty well made up its mind as to what it wants. This is good news for the Conservatives, who now enjoy the support of almost half of older voters. Younger voters (and I am generously talking of those below our median age of 42) are either detached entirely from politics or indecisively churning looking for a political home. If they don’t decide to enter the fray, then it’s difficult to see much in the way of real change, until the inevitable demographic clock turns the page without their active participation.

For the Conservatives, doing better in this under 42 group would be the route to majority. For the Liberals, doing better here seems to be a precondition for dislodging the current government. The Bloc already does very well here and so does the shut out Green Party, who suffers from the inequities of a first past the post system. But whatever one’s perspective, the real game shaper for the next election is whether the younger half of Canada decide to substitute the click democracy of Facebook and Twitter for the real world of political engagement.

1 comment to LOOKING FOR A BIG BANG: SEEING NOTHING SO FAR – January 31, 2011

  • Wascally Wabbit

    Frank – IPSOS-REID (I know – I just swore!) is showing today an uptick for the McGuinty Liberals in Ontario.
    Now – intuitively – I always feel that Ontarians are contrary – trying to balance their Federal and Provincial elected representatives. However, during this period of hung elections federally these last 6-7 years – I’m not sure that rule of thumb applies as consistently as it once did.
    Are you seeing any closer linkage between provincial and federal preferences in Ontario these days – that might give more hope to Mr. Ignatieff?