The 2015 Campaign in Bruce-Grey-Owen Sound

Well that didn’t work out as we had hoped.

I ran for the NDP in the 2015 general election in the riding of Bruce Grey Owen Sound. The Tories won here and Larry Miller is, once again, our MP. The Liberals (Kimberly Love) came in second – not even close. And I came a distant third.

We started out well … lots of money and volunteers came through our front door and I heard a lot of support form people on their doorsteps. But Mr Trudeau began to look like he was ready after all, and Mr Mulcair started channelling Andrea Horwath rather than Bernie Sanders. The pollsters got into the act and the ABC (Anyone But Conservative) vote went over to the Liberals.

Well, that’s my story and I’m sticking to it.

After you slog though some photos of the campaign (press the arrow keys to hurry the slide show), you’ll come across a letter to the editor that, at the risk of sounding like sour grapes, pretty much sums up what I think of pollsters and strategic voting. And below that, you’ll find some of my candidate scribblings for the local press.

I’ve put my partisan writings in this section to hive them off from those in the other section. They’re still rooted in research, but they carry the point of view of someone running for the New Democratic Party of Canada… the Party of Agnes Macphail, Tommy Douglas, David Lewis, Ed Broadbent, Audrey McLaughlin, Alexa McDonough, Jack Layton and Tom Mulcair. It’s still the only Party in Canada that can say with a straight face, as Tommy Douglas once did: “Courage, my friends; ’tis not too late to change the world.

The good news is that the social democratic voice is louder than ever in Bruce Grey Owen Sound. The people who came together for the campaign are staying together to continue our work on promoting a living wage for workers, affordable housing, and electoral reform through proportional representation. See us at http://www.bgos-ndp.ca/.

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What’s Wrong with Strategic Voting?

Dear Editor …

The election of 2015 should have been about the growing inequality in Canada (now at levels close to those in 1929). But it wasn’t. It should have been about good paying jobs (we’ve lost nearly all our manufacturing jobs in Bruce-Grey-Owen Sound). But it wasn’t. It should have been about the erosion of universal health care and how health could be a major component of all policies, as the Grey Bruce Health Unit suggests. It should have been about climate change. But it wasn’t.

It was about Stephen Harper.

For those against him, it came down to who was best positioned to defeat his candidates. It’s no accident that post-election polls revealed that nearly a third of Liberal votes came from people voting against Harper Conservatives. It seems that only 20% of the population actually voted for the Liberal Party’s platform.

So that was the campaign bus—Anyone But Conservative. The question is, who was driving?

When the NDP started campaigning in Bruce-Grey-Owen Sound, we had both Conservatives and Liberals coming in the door. At their own doors, people were telling us they wanted “serious change,” not just “real change.” They weren’t happy with Mr Harper and not enchanted with Mr Trudeau, so they listened carefully to what we had to say.

This was exactly as I had hoped. For the NDP plan—raising workers’ wages, taxing large corporations, instituting proportional representation, bringing in universal child care, stimulating innovative businesses—were things I knew a lot of people in this area were looking for, and needed. That an NDP government would cautiously (but not ideologically) balance the books in the face of a world-wide economic down-turn didn’t hurt either.

In mid-September, the first local poll came out showing the Conservatives leading in this riding, the Liberals at 29%, and the NDP not far behind at 20%. Now, these small local polls are problematic. They generally poll no more than 1,000 people and they phone land line numbers which skew results toward seniors and under-represent young adults, including parents with newborns and toddlers. Add to these problems the risky statistical technique of weighting results to accommodate the low sample; then add how polls change the way the media reports an election, and you’ve got a very shaky foundation for making a decision.

Even if our 20% was accurate, we could tell from our door-to-door canvassing and reception at fairs and markets and over the phone that our support was growing. No single poll can measure trends.

But they can start them. The ABM (Anybody But Miller) folks got involved. Their vitriolic social media posts started to drive Conservatives back to Mr Miller (according to one of my Conservative friends close to their campaign). We heard it at the doors too.

That’s one of the things that armchair campaigners like the ABM crowd don’t take into account – the voices of people at the door-steps of their own homes.

The second local poll hit in the final week of the campaign and the rout started in earnest. Some of our own supporters told us that they were more interested in getting Conservatives out than putting Progressives in, so they jumped on the pollsters’ band wagon. That sentiment carried right across the country and made itself manifest on election night.

Now, you have to give Mr Trudeau his due. He surprised Mr Harper by showing up with his pants on and he shook Mr Mulcair with his debating skills. He stayed positive and began to capture enough of the ABC vote to look like a winner. National polls reflected that, and strategic voters followed.

But in the end, it was pollsters, both locally and nationally, who drove the election bus of 2015. Now we must reflect on where they have taken us.

Bruce-Grey-Owen Sound Conservatives went back to Mr Miller and politics in the riding are more divided than ever. Canada has yet another majority government with less than 40% of the popular vote. The progressive political voice has been, yet again, muted nationally and locally; and we are, once again, in the thrall of one of the Grand Old Parties.

Elections are far too important to leave in the hands of the pollsters who, by the very nature of their business, turn them into horse races. We can only hope the Liberals will bring in true proportional representation and not some sly imposter like ranked or preferential voting.

And that is where the progressive voice in Bruce-Grey-Owen Sound must be heard the loudest. With Mixed Member PR, we would now have a minority Liberal government with one of the more progressive parties (the NDP) holding the balance of power. Historically, that formulation has been one of the most responsible—universal health care, the CPP and Canada Student Loans were all enacted under Lester Pearson’s Liberal minority governments backed by the NDP.

Proportional representation might even force us to parse platforms and consider candidates, for how we do democracy is as important as what we do. As Tommy Douglas used to say, “The greatest way to defend democracy is to make it work.”

David McLaren
Neyaashiinigmiing

David McLaren was the NDP candidate for Bruce-Grey-Owen Sound in the recent federal election. He can be reached at david.mclaren@utoronto.ca.

 


Links to some more partisan articles …


 

What now for the left?

Democracy is a messy business. The recent New Democratic Party convention is proof of that. Party members dismissed their leader, Tom Mulcair, and are signalling a left turn with the so-called Leap Manifesto. The other parties and the mainstream media are having a field day … ‘NDP knifes leader in the back ‘… ‘Party takes great leap backwards’ … ‘NDP dooms itself to third party status.’

Bollocks. ‘Democratic’ is the NDP’s middle name and the Dippers are having a democratic debate. I think that’s better than no debate, or debate that’s stiffly controlled, or even sunny ways that mask the machinations of majority government.

There’s no question the federal campaign was badly run. It blew a healthy lead in the polls and it lost Quebec. In its bid for power, it allowed power to slip through its fingers. Even worse, it turned a deafened ear to the very people it claimed to represent – the folks in Canada, and in this riding, who are being left out of the economy and shuffled to the margins.

Mr Mulcair took responsibility for the national campaign and now he’s gone. In his wake, expect the NDP to become more vocal about corporate control of our economy and the free trade deals that cement that control. Expect the Party to push for policies that allow people to live on the wages they earn; that protect our health care system; that invest in affordable child care, housing and post-secondary education.

As the acclaimed journalist Michael Valpy said recently at the AGM of the Bruce-Grey-Owen Sound NDP, the New Democratic Party is the only party that can stand up to the neoliberal agenda.

What is neoliberalism? Google it. It’s literally everywhere. But we can’t see it because it has become part of the fabric of our society, part of the air we breathe. It’s how we do business. Think of Milton Friedman on steroids. Or, if that’s too nasty an image, Ayn Rand on meth.

It is the temper of our times, the unnamed regime under which we labour, exchange money for goods and services, and elect our governments.  It’s what Pope Francis calls ‘corporatism’ – the dark side of capitalism. It idolizes great wealth and maintains that the money of the wealthy will somehow trickle down to the rest of us. It allows multinational corporations to stash profits overseas by making us believe that the billions we lose in tax revenue is just the cost of doing business.

It allows business to bully governments and workers with closures if they have to unionize or (God forbid) pay a living wage. It is the system that permits corporations to extort, under threat of moving jobs offshore, preferential tax rates, grants and loans for electricity and research and development, even for environmental cleanup from our governments (that is, from us tax payers). Caterpillar did that in Canada and Verizon is doing it now in the US. And the oil-patch wants our money for cleaning up its abandoned wells.

It’s the thing that turns citizens into consumers, selling us everything from fridges to feminism. It’s what pays you poverty wages and then makes you think it’s your fault for being poor and in debt.

It’s the system that is responsible for the greatest levels of inequality since the 1920s. Its inevitable consequence is the unmitigated greed that gave us the Great Recession.

And now it’s the austerity imposed on Greece and any other country and its citizens that the banks think live beyond their means.

It’s what the mainstream parties in the UK, Canada and the US have practiced for nearly two generations. It’s the reason why people rallied to both Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump in America and to Brexit in the UK.

It’s the thing that we in the New Democratic Party know as the enemy.

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