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Dan Robertson: The real challenges facing Conservatives

Commentary

The causes of the Liberal victory in 2021 were almost exclusively situational, related to the pandemic generally and vaccine politics specifically. These advantages will dissipate with time.

There are three structural problems for their rivals, the Conservative Party of Canada, which will not go away with time, however.

The first is Liberal voter efficiency. It’s difficult to overstate the strength of Liberal voter efficiency, especially in Ontario.“Consider the results of the 2021 election. This time the Liberals actually lost even the popular vote. They got 33% compared to the Tories’ 34% but will get to form the government because they spread their vote more “efficiently” over the country’s 338 ridings. The Tories racked up huge majorities in a limited number of western ridings, winning just 119 seats, while the Liberals managed to snaggle just enough votes to win in more different ridings, winning 158 seats.” https://www.halifaxexaminer.ca/featured/canada-voted-but-your-vote-may-not-count-again/ Even a fraction of a percent increase for the Liberals or decrease for the CPC resulted in additional Liberal seats. For the opposite to occur, Conservatives had to gain more than a point, otherwise they were simply winning seats they already held by greater margins. Over the course of the campaign, we saw a small CPC seat lead (it was never large) winnow away to nothing with virtually no change in the top-line national vote intent numbers.

Conservatives unquestionably made progress in this regard. For the first time since 2011, the share of the CPC vote went up. Although the seat count is virtually identical to 2019, the Conservative vote distribution was far more efficient. Almost every region of Ontario except the city of Toronto was “in play,” something that was certainly not the case in 2019. Although they failed to crack the 905, they came close.

The second structural issue is party identification as a voter driver. The CPC starts every election at a disadvantage as more Canadians self-identify as Liberals than Conservatives. Party identification is the political equivalent of corporate brand loyalty. For the voter, it represents an attachment that is deeper than the leader or positions of the day. If you want a vivid example of Liberal brand strength, look to Spadina-Fort York. Here, the Liberal candidate managed to eke out a victory, despite having been disowned by Trudeau.Expelled Liberal candidate says he’ll sit as an Independent as angry voters call for byelection https://www.cbc.ca/news/politics/undecided-races-2021-federal-election-1.6185685 He won because his sign was red and was emblazoned with a Liberal logo.

There is an adage among Conservative strategists: “The Liberals don’t win by beating Conservatives. They win by beating the NDP.”

The third problem—and the most vexing—is progressive tactical voting. In the final-week polling, the CPC campaign found that 39 percent of those who intended to vote for the NDP would vote for the Liberal Party instead if it meant preventing the Conservative Party from winning in their riding. This meant that, even while the CPC was in a good position earlier in the campaign, there was always a significant risk that limited tactical voting could deliver the Liberals a victory. The results show that a non-trivial amount of the late swing in the election can be attributed to this. In the 30 seats where the Conservatives were closest to victory, the NDP underperformed in 25 seats compared to their forecast result. In the closest seats, such as Sault Ste. Marie, they underperformed by nearly 10 percent, suggesting significant tactical voting likely lost the CPC those seats.

Why in election after election are Liberals able to galvanize progressive voters? Why, time after time, does the NDP vote crater to the Liberal’s benefit in the final days of the campaign?Post election, NDP grapples with what went wrong https://www.cbc.ca/news/politics/ndp-post-2021-federal-election-review-1.6187158 The research is clear: 25 percent of Canadians who considered voting for the Conservatives believed “the party has not made enough progress on social issues I care about.” Old negative brand attributes, especially among suburban voters, persist and must be overcome. Focus group participants still describe the party as “corporate, American, and old-fashioned.” As the suburbs “urbanize”—a trend all over the Western worldRemote work is bringing the city to the suburbs https://www.vox.com/recode/22714777/remote-work-from-home-city-suburbs-housing-traffic—the CPC is in danger of becoming the party of rural Canada.

One factor which was not decisive was the People’s Party of Canada (PPC). On the face of it, the rise in support for the PPC provides an easy answer. We shouldn’t dismiss this. The PPC cost the CPC several seats and they can’t afford to lose any.

But “bringing home” PPC voters isn’t a path to victory. Thirty-three percent of PPC voters came from the CPC, certainly enough to hurt the Conservatives, but not decisively. Even if it was to absorb 50 percent of PPC voters, the CPC wouldn’t close the gap on the Liberals. There’s no question that the rise of the PPC was directly tied to the rise of COVID and vaccine politics. There is also considerable evidence that the PPC vote was ideologically diverse. Thirty percent of its support came from those who previously voted Liberal, BQ, NDP, or Green. Conservatives cannot win by simply absorbing the PPC vote. More importantly, the PPC voter does not align with public opinion on any key issue. A play for PPC voters risks alienating most Canadians and a large percentage of CPC target voters (who are all much closer to the centre than card-carrying Conservatives).

I am confident about Conservative prospects in the next election. In September, the CPC won on every economic and pocketbook issue. In every federal election in my lifetime, that’s been enough to win. It surely will be again. But this is about more than winning the next election.

Eventually, the timing and circumstances will be right. Eventually, people will tire of the Liberals and want a change. Eventually, the NDP will get their act together. If Conservatives want to contest the Liberals’ status as “Canada’s Natural Governing Party,” however, it’s the structural, not situational, challenges that must be overcome.

Jerry Amernic: The downfall of Canada’s military

Commentary

When we’re talking about the Canadian military it begins and ends with how you pronounce Lieutenant. I doubt anyone has done a survey but my guess is a huge majority of Canadians would say Loo-tenant. But they’re wrong. In the Canadian Armed Forces, at least what remains, the word is Lef-tenant, as it is with all members of the British Commonwealth.

There may be several reasons for this state of affairs but here are two big ones. The first, and unquestionably the main culprit, is American influence. Indeed, when was the last time an American film about World War II recognized Canada’s contribution? Any American film that has anything to do with Canada, especially concerning things military, whitewashes us out of existence.

The 1963 classic The Great Escape about the legendary Allied escape from a German POW camp claimed to be based on a true story, but the truth involved no Americans. It involved Canadians, Brits, Aussies, and those of other Allied nations. However, the film depicts GI Joes Steve McQueen and James Garner as the real heroes in this event. More recently, the 2012 Oscar-winning Argo about the Iranian hostage crisis and rescue of American hostages in 1979 overplays the role of the CIA and vastly underplays that of Canada.On this day in 1980: The ‘Canadian Caper’ story behind Argo https://www.cbc.ca/arts/on-this-day-in-1980-the-canadian-caper-story-behind-argo-1.3420882

The second reason we get Lieutenant wrong is our own pig-headed complacency about the military which is largely due to a succession of federal governments that are anti-military in their ideology.

Such is the view of this layman with no military background. My father was born in 1919 which means he was 20 when the war broke out. He served in the Canadian Army, but never ventured abroad since he was stationed in Newfoundland and, for whatever the reason, related precious little to us about his experience. However, in my life I’ve had a few insights into the armed forces and think our neglect of them—and our defence—is criminal.

Let’s go back to the late 1970s. I was in corporate communications at IBM Canada and got sent to North Bay, Ontario to visit the most northern base of NORAD (North American Aerospace Defense Command).“The North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD) is a United States and Canada bi-national organization charged with the missions of aerospace warning, aerospace control and maritime warning for North America. Aerospace warning includes the detection, validation, and warning of attack against North America whether by aircraft, missiles, or space vehicles, through mutual support arrangements with other commands.” https://www.norad.mil/About-NORAD/ We were admitted through the biggest, thickest steel door I ever saw—think of something a subway train could fit through—only to witness later a simulated attack on North America from inside the command centre which to me resembled something out of Star Wars. What did this have to do with IBM? Everything up there was controlled by a System/360 computer which even then was archaic but still worked. It would be like having a car from the 1990s that you drive today.

But driving to the corner grocery and protecting North America from the enemy are two different things. Unfortunately, Canada treating its military as a necessary evil best kept to a minimum is the norm in this country.

Consider that four Canadian soldiers walking down Toronto’s Yonge Street would undoubtedly draw stares from a public weaned on mythology that portrays Canada as nothing more than a peacekeeper, and this in a world that became very dangerous with Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. The feds make grandiose statements about contributing to Ukraine’s war effort but the fact is we can’t contribute much more than a few popguns, such is the state of our armed forces.As Canada sends ‘junk’ to help war effort, Canadians in danger of losing interest in Ukraine fight https://nationalpost.com/opinion/john-ivison-as-canada-sends-junk-to-help-war-effort-canadians-in-danger-of-losing-interest-in-ukraine-fight

I once had a magazine assignment that was to involve a week of “basic training” at a Canadian Forces Base. Everything was set and then it all fell apart. I got on the phone and called a senior military officer to ask what happened only to be rebuked by the person designated as my contact. I still remember his words: “You have circumvented our network of command.”

This was a different world than I was used to living in the suburbs of a big city, and a few years later I got a bigger dose. As a newspaper columnist writing about the justice system, I was invited to do talks at the two Canadian Forces Bases in Lahr and Baden Baden in the former West Germany. I spoke to the military brass and at the high school where the children of military personnel attend, did interviews on their radio station, and enjoyed nightly dinners with the base commander. My wife accompanied me on that trip and was treated like royalty. We were their guests and even flew in military planes. We met generals and a 6’6” captain from London, Ontario was our official escort. Later he invited us to his wedding.

Perhaps the most notable memory of that trip was courtesy of Herbie, the native German who was our chauffeur. He was about fifty, and keep in mind we’re talking 1987 here which means when the war arrived Herbie had been a kid and almost certainly in the Hitler Youth. He was driving us—my wife and me—through this lovely little town in the Black Forest when we came to a stop sign. On the sidewalk beside our car was a group of scruffy-looking, long-haired youths. Herbie wasn’t impressed.

“Hitler did a lot of bad things but he wouldn’t put up with that,” he said.

I remember a conversation with the base commander about which towns in the area had supported the Nazis during the war and he named town after town after town. Pretty well the whole lot of them.

Herbie aside, my overall takeaway from this trip was that the military was separate and remote from Canadian life, and vice versa. My view was, and still is, that the public lives in a fairyland world full of pixie dust. Maybe Vladimir Putin has been a reality check. Let’s hope so because the state of our armed forces is sad.

Where it all began I’m not sure, but in 1968 the federal government merged the Royal Canadian Navy, Canadian Army, and Royal Canadian Air Force into the Canadian Armed Forces. There would be one uniform. There was a huge outcry in many circles but over time many elements of that unification were reversed, including the distinct uniforms of each branch which were brought back by the government of Brian Mulroney. Then, in 2011, it all went back to square one with the Royal Canadian Air Force, Royal Canadian Navy, and Canadian Army.

Pierre Trudeau became Prime Minister in 1968. Like my father, he was born in 1919 but unlike my father, Trudeau managed to avoid military service. When young Canadian men were fighting and dying in Belgium and France he was traveling through places like the Soviet Union. Fast forward to 2007 when I secured a book endorsement from a retired Canadian general. He told me he had been part of Trudeau’s security detail when the PM had visited Canadian bases in West Germany back in 1971 and said Trudeau had an open disdain for the military.

You can’t pin the desecration of our military on one person but over the past 50 years and more it’s painfully clear the military has been off the radar in Ottawa. Pledges are made about meeting the NATO requirement of two percent of GDP but those pledges are always a lie no matter who forms government.What increased military spending may mean for Canada’s budget https://thehub.ca/2022-03-30/what-increased-military-spending-may-mean-for-canadas-budget/ The truth is we are a laggard and remain beholden to the United States to protect us. It’s like that old System/360 computer running things at the NORAD base in North Bay. If it ain’t broke don’t fix it. But our armed forces are broken and that is shameful.