In Tuesday’s Sun: call in sick and win!

In the Summertime, a young politician’s fancy lightly turns to thoughts of…no legislative sittings, and a concurrent growth in popularity!

Yes, yes, we know. That is a terrible, awful bastardization of the immortal words of Alfred, Lord Tennyson (“In the Spring, a young man’s fancy lightly turns to thoughts of cricket.”). But, most legislatures having risen for the Summer, it sort of fits. For governing politicians, it is sunnier time, literally and figuratively.

Few studies have been commissioned on the subject, but it is truism for most governments in the civilized world: when voters see you less, the more popular you get.

Now, denizens of the corridors of power – and particularly the Ottawa-based Press Gallery – enjoy the cut-and-thrust of Question Period. They think it matters.

This is why so many journalists have such admiration for NDP leader Thomas Mulcair. Mulcair is an outstanding performer in Question Period. He is, he is.

Every Question Period, Mulcair is ablaze with prosecutorial indignation and fury, the grand inquisitor. It is he – and not Liberal leader Justin Trudeau – who is in the House most often, making ministers squirm in their padded seats. He is very good at it.

But, as noted, it doesn’t matter. In fact, it probably hurts Mulcair more than it helps.

Question Period, while important to British Parliamentary democracy, isn’t so important to Joe and Jane Frontporch. They see QP – and, in fact, much of what is televised in Parliament – to be what is wrong with the system, and not what is right. The hollering, hectoring and the hyperbole: they don’t like it, not one bit.

To your average citizen, what goes on the legislative chambers of the nation is enough to make them vote in anger, or not vote at all.

Out in British Columbia, everyone knows this. That is why governments are so intent upon staying out of the Legislature in Victoria – and, accordingly, staying in power.

The BC Socreds, for example, held about 80 sessions a year between 1976 to 1991. The New Democrats, from 1992 to 2000, showed up to work even less, for an average of 78 sessions a year.

The BC Liberals, when they won power in 2001, didn’t even bother to have a Fall legislative sitting. They weren’t punished for it.

In power ever since, the BC Liberals have beaten all previous no-show records, with an average of 50-odd legislative sittings a year.

The media, meanwhile, keep attacking them, because of it. The people of BC, meanwhile, keep voting for them, despite it. How so?

Because voters mostly prefer that their politicians are neither heard from nor seen, that’s why. Go do your job, and don’t bother me, etc.

Prime Minister Stephen Harper is keenly aware of this dynamic. He recalls what happened in 2011, right after he was found to be in contempt of Parliament. Knowing that the people hold Parliament itself in contempt, he engineered his own defeat, and thereafter won a majority government.

Liberal leader Justin Trudeau is aware of the anti-legislature dynamic, too. That is why he doesn’t care about having a very poor attendance record in the House. Neither Brian Mulroney nor Jean Chretien spent much time in Question Period, either, back when they were Opposition leaders. And both did rather well as a result, in 1984 and 1993.

Have pity, then, on Tom Mulcair. He is the best performer in a show that no one likes to watch.

Sometime soon, his show will almost certainly be cancelled for poor ratings.


Help needed

Hoping to do a column about the correlation between a government”s popularity and the sitting of the relevant legislature – that is, governments go up when the Leg isn’t on TV. Anyone know of any studies related to same?


In Friday’s Sun: will by-elections mean bye-bye?

As by-election results rolled in on the evening of June 30, did Prime Minister Stephen Harper start contemplating the location of the nearest exit door?

It’s possible. After all, the quartet of by-elections arguably gave him plenty of cause for concern.

In the Alberta riding of Fort McMurray-Athabasca, his party’s candidate won handily, as most expected. But Team Harper received less than 6,000 of the nearly 84,000 entitled to vote. That means only about seven per cent of Fort Mac’s electorate were motivated enough to get off the couch and go vote Conservative. Also cause for concern: when contrasted to the 2011 general election, the Tory share of the vote in the riding shrunk by more than 20 per cent.

And the Liberals – the damned NEP-foisting socialist Liberals! – came a respectable second in Fort McMurray-Athabasca, the very heart of Alberta’s oil industry. They didn’t win, as the polling firm Forum Research had predicted. But the Trudeau Liberals are surging, even in places like Fort Mac, where all that previously preserved them were endangered species laws.

Turnout was similarly dire in a second Alberta riding, Macleod. There, the Conservatives won convincingly – but, as in Fort McMurray, the Liberals quadrupled their share of the vote from 2011. And, as in Fort McMurray, the Grits displaced the NDP as the Conservatives’ principal opponent.
Back East, where the remaining two by-elections were taking place in Toronto, the Conservatives were given much more to fret about.

In Scarborough-Agincourt, where the Tories were most competitive, the Liberals won all but one of 160 polls. They also received more than twice as many votes as the Conservatives – who had blanketed the riding with despicable leaflets that falsely claimed Justin Trudeau favoured the sale of marijuana to kids.

In Trinity-Spadina, meanwhile, the resurgent Liberals took back the riding they had held from 1993 to 2006. But the Conservatives received a measly five per cent of the vote – the same share as the Green Party candidate.

As is well-known, it’s foolish to suggest that by-elections portend general election results. Here in Ontario, for instance, Kathleen Wynne’s Liberals did poorly in a string of by-elections – and then won a stunning majority when all the votes were counted on June 12.

But, as he sifts through the by-election entrails, Harper can reliably extract three truths.

One, Justin Trudeau is no flash in the proverbial pan. His popularity endures. And millions spent on attack ads haven’t changed the reality: in the 50-odd polls that have been conducted since he became Liberal leader, Trudeau remains Canadians’ favourite choice to be Prime Minister.

Two, Canadians clearly want some sort of a change from Harper and/or his Conservatives. It isn’t scandal, so much, that has muddied the Conservative brand. It’s likelier the passage of time: nearly a decade in power have left the Conservatives looking decidedly tired and old. To many Canadians, they don’t represent places like Fort McMurray or Macleod in Ottawa anymore – they ARE Ottawa.

Three, Harper doesn’t have much to work with. Sure, he will boast about a federal budgetary surplus in the coming months – but with most provinces facing sizeable budgetary deficits, Harper’s fiscal success won’t be so clear-cut to many voters. And, apart from the surplus, what other issues can help Harper win support? Not ethics, and not social programs. What story will he tell on the hustings? It’s unclear.

Clearer, however, is that exit door. All that Stephen Harper need do is step through it.

And – presto – all of problems described above become someone else’s.