Thursday, September 20, 2007

Political Horserace

Over the past few days, I've been observing with some amusement the fallout from the Outremont by-election. A setback for the Liberals? Sure. The end of the world as Dion knows it? Oh most definitely, according to the grave assessment of the "pundits". Forgive me if you catch me stifling a yawn.
Christopher Flavelle at the Walrus takes a much more sanguine view of these events. He notes, quite correctly, that media coverage of politics has been reduced to little more than the manic run-on commentary of horse race announcers. Who's winning? Who's losing? Who's gaining? Who's not?

...It’s hard to fault anybody for looking at Monday’s Quebec by-elections like a horse race. Not only are by-elections all about winners and losers. Even better, these by-elections were a double-shot of excitement, a race within a race: the Conservatives win a seat, so Stephen Harper must be pulling ahead for the upcoming election; the Liberals lose a seat, so Stéphane Dion must be falling behind.

But what about the issues? Major media coverage has become almost completely devoid of this. In a sense, perhaps we have all become too accepting of political talking-points, mistaking them for actual policy. It's much more fun, it would seem, to speculate about political fortunes based on bold assumptions and the knowing winks of anonymous "insiders".
It’s worth remembering that Dion won the Liberal leadership, at least in part, because he was the guy who stubbornly insisted on talking about ideas — specifically, how to make Canada’s economy successful and sustainable at the same time. After winning the leadership, he kept busy, making speeches and releasing policy papers full of new policy proposals. Of course, you wouldn’t know it. The amount of time spent covering Dion’s ideas pales in comparison to the amount of time spent covering the state of his leadership. What are the broad strokes of Dion’s plan for regulating carbon emissions from Canada’s heavy industry? Who knows. But unnamed sources, predicting his imminent demise? Again? Now that’s news.
And what's this? A new poll, showing the Libs and the Cons are running neck and neck! Heading down the stretch....Gentlemen, place your bets!!


MD said...

The pundits are right to a degree...the results in Outremont have to be dispiriting to Liberals, because it calls into question whether "safe" Liberal seats actually exist. Clearly, however, nobody can predict the results of the next federal election right now without benefit of a highly polished crystal ball. But it astounding how much media "political analysis" consists of pundits guessing just that instead of discussing the implications of policy.

We are experiencing the phenomenon here in Ontario during our provincial election. I was working and missed the leaders' debate, but almost all of the analysis after the fact consisted of opinions on who won or lost, and offered very little about policy.

Bowler said...

The riding I live in, Davenport in T.O., has to be the safest Liberal seat there is. The Portugese and Italian vote machines are solidly Liberal. If the Liberals ever lose there, then they will have lost everywhere.

The recent Quebec by-elections were reflective of discontent with Liberals, both federal and provincial, in that province.

However, one of the more interesting results was the poor performance of the Bloc. Quebecers seem disatisfied right now with the traditional Liberal/Sovereignty option,and are willing to actually vote for alternatives.

In a way its too bad you moved out to B.C, R.C. - it would be interesting to get your take on the current provincial election here in Ontario. The big issue so far seems to be funding for religious schools. Some provinces (Newfoundland and Quebec) have passed constitutional amendments doing away with the Catholic system altogether. Others partially fund schools of other faiths and demoninations. Ontario still has the Catholic system, the public system, and nothing else.

I think most fair-minded people would agree that this is unfair and unjustifiable in our current Canadian society. However, because funding for Catholic schools is a constitutional right, the imbalance is not so easily remedied and in fact has survived court challenges [it just occured to me that there are some odd parallels between this issue here and gun control in the U.S. :)]

John Tory's "solution" is to fund all religious schools. Critics have pointed out that this may lead to a more insular, divisive society, and may also harm the public system by diverting funds and students.

On the other hand, the Liberal and NDP essentially support the status quo, which, while it may be a pragmatic solution, also seems unjust.

I would be interested to get your take on this.

BTW, I agree that a lot of the mainstream media coverage is hysterical and stupid. That's why I always come here. Your blog is an oasis of sanity. (although I don't know how you find the time to do it and also practice medicine...)

Red Canuck said...

Bowler - Although I didn't specifically mention it in my post, the misery of the Bloc was probably the one byline that was most overlooked by the media. I agree that the Libs are having a tough time connecting with Quebecers (but this is not a new phenomenon by any stretch). They are also flagging in rural Canada. In a way, this latter schism is more troublesome to me.

I must confess I haven't been following the Ontario election very closely. I missed the recent debate, and have only heard snippets of news here and there.

Re: Religious school funding - On the face of it, I would support measures similar to those taken by Nfld and Quebec. There is an inherent unfairness in selectively funding Catholic schools, and a host of practical and fiscal problems funding every other religious group as well (not the least of which is the obvious problem of defining a legitimate religious group). Would you want Ontario to start funding the Tom Cruise School of Scientology? I shudder at the thought...