03.02.2013 08:15 PM

In Sunday’s Sun: progressives – not dead yet

Is Canada becoming a more conservative place? Surveying the landscape some days it sure seems that way.

My friends John Ibbitson and Darrell Bricker certainly think so.

Ibbitson and Bricker have written an entire book about the subject, The Big Shift, in which they assert conservatives will be “perpetually dominating” the Canadian political landscape for many years to come.

“(There is) a new Canadian political geography,” says one of the book’s promotional releases, “(One) that has become divorced from the traditions of its past and replaced by a new, powerful coalition based in the west and supported by conservative leaning immigrant voters.”

Full disclosure: Ibbitson and I were colleagues many years ago at the Ottawa Citizen.

Bricker, meanwhile, is a senior executive at a global polling firm upon which I occasionally rely for client work.

Notwithstanding their regrettable association with Yours Truly, they are two of the smartest observers of Canadian politics around.

In The Big Shift, the pair foresee Stephen Harper’s Conservatives as the new natural governing party.

Harper has usurped the Liberal party and transformed Canada, they argue, because he has attracted newcomers with social and economic conservativism.

“Laurentian elites,” the boys say, are doomed. Progressive politics are out of fashion, and will be for many years to come.

Except … no.

In British Columbia, New Democrats are expected to defeat the rightist B.C. Liberal coalition in May’s election.

In Alberta, it was a centrist — Premier Alison Redford — who embarrassed the pundits and the pollsters when she crushed the arch-conservative Wildrose Party in last April’s contest.

In Manitoba, an expected conservative surge never happened. In that province’s October 2011 election, New Democrats astounded the experts with a fourth consecutive majority win, and actually improved on their standing in 2007’s race.

In Ontario, despite nearly a decade of Ontario Liberal rule, a return to power by Conservatives is far from a foregone conclusion — and it is the NDP leader who is the most popular politician around.

In La Belle Province, the Parti Quebecois won power in last fall’s election — not because they were separatists, but because theirs was the only party that unambiguously opposed government cutbacks.

Elsewhere, the story is the same.

Despite ongoing economic misfortune, U.S. President Barack Obama was handily re-elected in November, decisively beating a GOP that had convinced itself victory was a foregone conclusion.

In the European Union, similarly, conservatives have been losing ground to anti-austerity candidates.

Being one of the few who does polling at an international level, Bricker would know that — in Canada and the European Union, at least — most voters self-identify as progressive.

But (book war alert!) as I recently argued in my own tome, Fight The Right, on one point Ibbitson and Bricker are absolutely right: Long-term, conservatives are generally getting better at winning elections, and progressive candidates are generally faring worse.

Given that most voters in Canada are on the left or centre-left, that is decidedly odd, is it not? It is indeed.

Stephen Harper will win the next federal election, and Justin Trudeau will be elevated to the leader of the opposition.

But Harper’s win (likely a minority) will not be due to Ibbitson and Bricker’s voter demographic earthquake.

It will be because, as I argue in Fight The Right, (a) conservatives have got much better at campaigning than progressives, and (b) Harper continually seeks to align himself with Canadian “values” and remain the Tim Hortons Hockey Dad Everyman.

Is that a big shift? Not really. Harper mainly wins because he is good at values-based campaigning, and because the opposition is split.

But, soon enough, he will be facing off against a Liberal opponent who is just as good at campaigns.

And one who will win the support of progressive voters, from coast to coast.


  1. jnap says:

    Bravo to Warren for pointing out that Ibbitson and Bricker are oversimplifying the way Canadians think. Dr Flanagan boasted (in his political science lecture in 2009) that the Harper Conservatives win by appealing to the less educated voter.That may or may not be true. However, the children of immigrants are becoming better educated as they grow up in Canada, and as they qualify for many different professions besides business. Those who become business leaders will realise that progressive social policy is actually good for business, and is economically sound.

  2. ottlib says:

    This kind of “analysis” happens all of the time when a Party wins more than one election. Pundits of the day try to impart such short-term success more long-term historical significance.

    We saw it from pundits (usually Liberal leaning) during the Chretien years.

    It should come as no surprise that we are seeing the same thing from other pundits (who happen to be Conservative leaning) about the current party in power.

    The bad news for these fellows and others of their profession is that they will have been dead and gone for decades by the time the historical significance of the events of the past decade or so is determined.

    Or to put it another way they will not be around to see if they got it right.

    • Sean says:

      Pretty much exactly what I’m thinking. It is highly improbable that PMSH will hang on for two more terms. Suppose he wins once more and is defeated 2017ish or resigns before then. The Tories will have had their 11 years of corruption, joblessness and deceit behind them and it will be time for a new start. Eventually (sigh) Canadians will decide that just because these guys like Tims and Hockey and Church, they are not entitled to keep stealing our tax dollars at a record pace. Governments change every ten years or so in Canada. There are few rare exceptions. IE King to St. Laurent, Pearson to Trudeau and Trudeau again.

      Then, around 2020ish, the same guys will write how the Liberals are the Natural Governing Party again, how foolish we were to doubt their resiliency. They’ll tell us that the Tories have gone out of style, we have a “new era” the “political landscape has drastically changed forever!” We’ll be inundated with cartoonish profiles of all the attractive 20 somethings in JT’s War Room, proclaiming that they are the new Machiavellian masterminds of Canada.

      These buffoons are like weathermen reporting on last weeks weather. All they do is use overheated verbiage to describe the obvious, which of course moves their silly books off the shelf. Its not political science, its not even analysis at any level. Its just cheap impulse marketing, fast food history.

  3. Neil says:

    Does anyone remember Simpsons “the friendly dictatorship” or “Gritlock” ? Both these books showed up written by good smart people. They both showed up just in time to witness the possible death of the Liberal party. I was kinda thinking the libs were done and Harper had won until I saw this book. I feel a little better now that the journals have said he has won, means the libs will probably win the next election.

  4. Sammy says:

    Never been a supporter of Harper and never will be. Am I disappointed at the job Harper is doing? Well yes. Nevertheless I am very pleased with some of the things he has done and some of the things he has failed to do. Harper supports pro-choice. He supports marriage equality. He was instrumental in the return of Omar Khadr. He apologized to Maher Arar and compensated him for damages. He supports affirmative action. He supports immigration and multiculturalism. He opposed the war in Iraq despite the “shoulder-to-shoulder” speech. He gives hundreds of millions of dollars in foreign aid to many countries that need it. He created the Nation of Quebec. He opposes capital punishment. He never fully abolished the GST. He taxed income trusts generating billions in tax revenue. I would never vote for him or endorse him in any way whatsoever. I hope Trudeau becomes PM but at least we only got a moderate as a leader for the time being.

    • Wha? says:

      Just some corrections:
      Harper campaigned against marriage equality and brought in another bill to get rid of it, which failed.
      His government delayed the return or Omar Khadr for years.
      He apologized to Maher Arar but has approved the use of information obtained from torture.
      He cancelled the Court Challenges Program, which lets people launch Charter challenges when they are being discriminated against by government.
      His government scrapped health care for refugees, including cancelling chemotherapy.
      He did not oppose the war in Iraq: he quite clearly endorsed it.
      He has stated he is personally in favour of capital punishment.

  5. Peter says:

    You are making a huge mistake by confusing small “c” and large”C”. A particular party or government may win or lose an election for any one of a number of reasons, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t profound underlying shifts in public thinking about policies and priorities. The left has wasted and continues to waste their time telling one another Harper bogeyman stories and dreaming of the day the public will wake up from this bad dream and re-set the clock to twenty years ago. Many of them simply can’t or won’t adjust their thinking to economic, demographic and technological shifts and pitch the progressive message accordingly. Rote opposition to every budget cut and lyrical odes to the glory days of the 1970’s just aren’t going to cut it. It’s obvious that Justin knows this or he wouldn’t be running around Calgary in a cowboy hat claiming he’s never met an oil well he didn’t want to hug.

    The PQ did not win because they “unambiguously” opposed all budget cuts. They blew a slamdunk majority against an unpopular, corrupt govenment when a third party roared in and said we have to fix our public finances and especially healthcare before we even talk about anything else. Now they are torturing Italian restaurant owners and meeting the same divisions and anger the Liberals did on education and government finances, and they are obviously trapped in outdated rhetoric. They were a confused and tired government before they were even sworn in. Are they really the model you are looking to?

  6. Kate says:

    Well, Warren, I fervently hope you re all wrong. Nothing personal for you but as a former mid level civil servant who, like most of my colleagues, believed passionately in her job to make things better for Canadians, and who witnessed the evolution of evidence based policy making that took us away from pork barrel decision making, I haven’t been able to stomach the mockery this government has made of my life s work. I am all too aware of the misery he is enforcing on so many people. And the vindictive and belligerent attitude he supports is contemptible.

    SO I m very cheered to hear my elderly relatives who always voted for “that nice PC guy down the road” see that he has been muzzled, his party taken over by aliens, and other neighbours are obviously suffering under this man s megalomaniacal rule.

    Was I or am I a Harper hater? Held my nose working under all political administrations because balance is what it s all about, and voted for a mix of candidate, issues and party direction all my life. but this is one mean tyranny. The sooner we get rid of it the sooner we can get at the clean up work.

  7. patrick Deberg says:

    Well it’s no wonder the politics seem to drift right. That’s because the left is shut out of the conversation. At the NatPost all comment of” Flanageddon” is shut down. So Blatchford, Coyne, Kay mother and son, and everyone touched by “two degrees of Tom Flanagan” has disabled comment so they can save the “hurt feelings” Of Tommy. And the guys commenting on other stories are subject to some really nasty comment by trolls that must come out when they need real dark operatives. At the same time they run story after story on the uselessness of Trudeau’s hair attacking him and his wife at every opportunity. A national paper that champions free speech while shutting it down while they run stories about how the SCC has no longer allowed poison talk to become a way of life is such a miscarrage of justice.. And the defenders of Tommy’s loathsome concepts are twisting backwards to defend someone that has probably been at every con function of note for thirty years while trying not “being with the child pornographers.” And that is a herculean feat indeed!

  8. Anne Peterson says:

    Love Sammy’s weird take on harper accomplishments. I have always said that if someone wanted to do an in depth post grad project on lies and types of lies they would do well to study the harper government. Sammy would provide just the kind of spin they would want to analyze. It’s like saying (well almost) that Hitler was a good leader because he made the trains run on time, put everybody back to work and helped the Jews find new lives in the new world by encouraging their emigration.. In other words an insane amount of self deception.

    • Peter says:

      Godwin’s Law affirmed once more.

    • Michael says:

      Wasn’t it actually Mussolini that made the trains run on time? :crazy:

    • Bill says:

      Anne, come back to reality. Comparing Harper to Hitler……Wow…. how will anyone take your comments seriously now?

      Sammy is right, Harper has flaws, however he has done a very good job. Better than expected for sure.

      Do you know what is the most dangerous thing for Canada …….PM Justin. Your hate for Harper is blinding the obvious. Justin would ignite a national unity crisis much greater than any past lib government has. He might seem like the lib messiah, in fact he could be the catalyst of the break up of Canada.

      Open your eyes and have someone do a in depth post grad project on what might be the catalyst of Canada’s break up…..you might be surprised that another PM that favors and thinks quebec is better is not a unifying quality.

      • smelter rat says:

        Sammy is doped into oblivion. The Harpercons are making up policy as they go along, they have no clue wha they’re doing. not to mention they came to power by cheating, followed my muzzling of Elections Canada. They are a blight on this country.

  9. frmr disgruntled Con now Happy Lib says:

    Perhaps if we had compulsory voting in this country, we would have a greater turnout than 61.4% who bothered to do their civic duty in the last election……
    When you have conservatives motivated by religious and moral beliefs, you have a cadre of extremely dedicated workers who work to get out the vote.
    You might have the best campaign going, and the best technology money can buy, but if you dont have the boots on the ground to GOTV, you’re sunk….
    The Cons, at least out West here, have no shortage of boots…..
    Hopefully, Justin will change that for the LPOC. The thought of another term for the Harper cabal to continue their assault on the environment is unbearable.

  10. kelly says:

    Why musr we put up with all these phony arguments? A large majority of Canadians vote for centre-left and left parties. The ONLY reason the Conservatives are in government and have most of the seats on the praries and not many esst of Ontario and the NDP has most of the seats in Quebec and the Greens have only one seat and on and on is that we have a phony electoral system that produces pretend majorities. It’s complete bullshit. And as aresult most of the analysis and political reporting is too. PR would change everything. For once the will of the voter would be reflected in our parliament. Right now it’s all a sham.

  11. Sue Lavalle says:

    If Stephen Harper “will win the next federal election”, and Justin Trudeau will be leader of “progressives” (Mr. “personally against abortion,” doesn’t think female genital mutilation is barbaric, and offers zero critique of the disastrous policy of unqualified multiculturalism), it will confirm that Canada is psychosocially stagnant.

    The narrative of a progressive Canadian milieu is delusional anyway: the NDP grew out of the CCF that grew out the Social Gospel movement; rather than being a modernist movement, the Social Gospel and the CCF was an atavistic outburst, an attempt to recapture a form of primitive communism – this was a movement looking back. More darkly, Douglas’ masters thesis on eugenics suggests this movement could and still might attempt to join national with socialist. The George Galloway-style mentalite that pervades much of the modern NDP confirms this.

    The Liberal Party only exacerbated this dustbowl cult – Mackenzie King showed no enthusiasm for the New Deal of American President Franklin D. Roosevelt and never advocated massive government action to alleviate depression in Canada. This same spirit is symbolized in the “Shawinigan handshake” and the fact that the Chretien/Martin Liberals out-Reformed the Reform Party in terms of austerity measures – the subtext: poverty is the moral failing of the individual and a problem for the family and the Church; or as society secularized to a degree, social workers became the new clerics in typical Marxist fashion. The individual is king, the invisible hand, that unreal person the corporation, and the trickling down from sugar load mountain will take care of us all – again the magical thinking.

    The final force that will destroy “progressives” is that the majority of “new Canadians” (to use your preferred terminology) are deeply conservative. The day is fast approaching when any serious critique of religion, especially Sharia, will result in severe social sanction. When non-heterosexuals and liberated women retreat back into the closest and the periphery of society. When those of European ancestry are viewed in a global-historical context as a dangerous minority that needs to be suppressed for the good of the majority and as part of a global reparations/security policy – the rule of law and due process, the Enlightenment (forbidden science, logic), the Reformation, increasingly viewed viewed as a corrupt European inventions.

    Now we drift towards a new dark age of neo-primitivism, violent religious fundamentalism, superstition, magical thinking and personality cult-based religion. The “liberation” of Zimbabwe. “Sovereign democracy” in Russia. Heck, Dennis Rodman in North Korea – just open your eyes. These are the models.

    The Captains of Industry, the puppet masters behind the Conservatives will no doubt increase in riches as Conservative minions work to service the Global Cargo Cult we euphemistically call an economic system. Pesky Canadians with their bothersome notions of labour standards, personal liberty, and self-preservation will be replaced by more docile and servile temporary foreign workers and continued mass-outsourcing schemes to gulag/sweatshop regions. Justin Trudeau will be shuttled around in his black Mercedes like commissars of old, awaiting his time as the prince of this land.

  12. David I. says:

    Both Bricker and Ibbitson are hard core CPC supporters. I attended university with Bricker’s business alter-ego, Ipsos VP John Wright. Johnny used his PC connections to get our college a badly needed library, which was great. I’m pretty sure those have worked well for him in subsequent years. I briefly worked for Ipsos in 2002 and, yes, Bricker should have a better handle on worldwide trends. They are a global firm. Although they note that the CPC has “usurped” the Liberals with ethnic voters, they are looking at the men. Once the women get out from under their thumbs, they tend to offer ,ore “progressive” solutions. Remember that in the 1980 Quebec Referendum, it took one ill-timed wisecrack from some dumb PQ Minister regarding women to turn that one around.

    • Attack! says:

      Good point, about the spouses not nec’ly voting same way in a secret ballot. And Bricker & Ibbitson & others so struck by the ‘new immigrants have Conservative values’ shtick seem to be forgetting that the children & subsequent generations soon become quite assimilated to the more local values & cultural morés, & don’t necessarily stick with — and may actively rebel against — the ones their parents came with & tried to impart with them. Similarly, a great many of their current older, ‘settled’ Canadians are going to die off in 20+ years. So it’s nonsense to project just from the past 5 years of support that they’re going to rule for the next 100.

  13. dave says:

    Could be a few BC Libs with more free time to put into federal Lib doings in the next little while.

    • smelter rat says:

      The BC Libs have ZERO to do with, or in common with the federal Liberals. Please try and pay attention.

      • dave says:

        Actually, smelter, quite a few of the people around the premier are now, and always have been involved in federal Lib politics out here. I think her ex was organizer for dion’s leadership in BC. As Tim mentions, the BC Libs are a coalition (one of my acquaintances once said that there are 2 parties in BC, the NDP, and the anti NDP.)

        WAC’s Socred was a coalition, as was Bill Bennet’s. Gord Wilson, a liberal Liberal, did well in the early 1990’s, but BC media and Howe Street scandaled him out of leadership and replaced him with Gord Campbell and assorted other hucksters, and the BC Libs tilted away from being liberal. (Wilson ended up in NDP cabinet for a while…showing the felxibility of Libs and NDP in coalescing).

        There are federal conservs who are tentative about Clarke, but are in her caucus. She has been reaching for help from those Conservs the past year or so.

        Anyway, it shows that coalitions between federal Libs and federal PC’s/Conservs have always been a fit here in BC.

        Decades since I left Manitoba, smelter, but I don’t think you have the same polarization there as tehre is in BC.

  14. Marc L says:

    “In La Belle Province, the Parti Quebecois won power in last fall’s election — not because they were separatists, but because theirs was the only party that unambiguously opposed government cutbacks”

    C’mon Warren! The Charest Liberals were pretty universally disliked for a number of reasons. Also, does the student crisis ring a bell? The PQ got a significantly SMALLER share of the vote than in 2008. The main reason for the PQ victory is that the non-PQ forces were split between the Liberals and the righter-wing CAQ, which together, garnered a large majority of the votes. The election victory had nothing to do with “government cutbacks”.

  15. Ronald O'Dowd says:


    As was indicated above on this thread, this election is indeed Harper’s to lose. If present trends continue, I also expect another Conservative minority government. There have been a multitude of examples that have not caught fire for the opposition — much less for our party. Where the CF35, naval procurement and even Senate Follies fail to get traction, I see one issue that smacks of a scorched earth policy, namely, EI modifications and the public service residential visiting squad. (This has been tried both in Ontario and Quebec before.) The so-called pilot project will likely be extended indefinitely. On this matter, compromise seems to be a dirty word and it will likely lead to a dead zone for Conservatives in much of Atlantic Canada and parts of Quebec.

    It takes quite a lot to get potential voters off their impressive asses and into the voting booths. 2013 is hardly the moment of disgust as regards this Prime Minister’s government. What the Canadian public thinks is one thing — what voters do is quite another. You can bet your life on the CPC getting out the vote. I hope our party can turn Canada into the show-me state two years from now.

    You never marry someone you don’t like or can’t trust. I see hope, change and inspiration. All that’s missing is concrete results. May the force be with us.

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