Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Win or lose? Byelection Brandon-Souris

We had a little by-election here last night, and boy, was it a nail-biter.

Less than 400 votes ended up separating the winner, Conservative candidate Larry Maguire, from the Liberal contender, Rolf Dinsdale (heretofore referred to as “Red Rolf”). Throughout the night, each refresh of the Election Canada website would tell a new tale. Red Rolf ahead by 200. Maguire up by 60. Etc. I watched until it was all over around midnight.

(First of all, let me just reiterate an oft-forgotten point: it is nice to live in a country where we can count ballots in a timely fashion and know with certainty who’s been elected. No court battle, no hanging chads, no 48-hour delays while Florida gets its ducks in a row. I like it.)

The election results blew my predictions out of the water. I’d expected an easy Blue victory here. They’ve had this riding for 20 years. They’ve only NOT had it for 4 years out of the last 60. In 2011, they nailed it with 63% of the vote. But last night Fortress Brandon came within a centimeter of toppling. It would have been great to get those last 400 votes, sure, but anyone who looks at the results as anything other than a blatant “up yours, Harper” is fooling themselves. Of course, the “half-empty glass” people are already bemoaning the results.

They are nuts. Here are some of the comments I read:

“The Liberals only did that well because the NDP vote swung.”

Balderdash. Some of it did, sure. In 2011, the NDP received 6800 more votes than they did last night. By comparison, the Red vote in 2011 was a shameful 1800. Add those numbers together, and even if EVERY NDP voter switched, you’d still have only 8600. Yet Red Rolf managed to score 11 800 last night.

So where did the extra 3000 come from? It wasn’t from improved vote turnout, that’s for sure. While we didn’t do too badly for a by-election (traditionally they have lower turnouts), we still had 8000 fewer ballots counted last night than in 2011. So the Liberals got more votes with fewer cast, a bigger piece of the pie.

Obviously, Red Rolf (and Justin) took votes from the Conservatives. Not just a handful, either, but a bunch. In terms of proportion, the Blues got 63% last time, the Grits 5% (ouch). THIS time, it was 44% to 43%. That’s a helluva swing, and if the NDP had that kind of clout, they’d be in power.

“All that effort wasted. That sucks.”

Yes, it is unfortunate that a real attempt was made, only to come up a hair short. But this was NOT wasted effort.

One of the Blue strengths is their well-oiled election machine. They have people on the ground with experience and practice at winning. Trudeau is a new leader, and his party was gutted only two years ago. This election gives volunteers valuable experience. It gives them an understanding of what works and what doesn’t. More, the coverage was extensive in media. You don’t hear Brandon-Souris mentioned as many times in a year as we heard in the last week!

The sad truth is, money wins elections, and the Blues have more of it to throw around. In 2011, when Brandon-Souris voted 63% for the Conservatives, they did so after the campaign had dropped more than $40 000. By comparison, the Liberals only spent $15 000. (Not a good return on investment there. I’m curious to see what the numbers are this time around.) More coverage means more volunteers and more donors. Dollars and goodwill will sway votes.

“If Brandon-Souris was a test, then Justin Trudeau failed it.”

If control of the entire country had been determined last night, that would be true. But our region has one MP out of 308. Sure, it would have been nice to send someone else to sit in the lonely Liberal bleachers in the House of Commons, but one more voice wouldn’t make Trudeau the Official Opposition or give him one second more during Question Period. Red Rolf’s victory would have had one real effect: it would have given him a couple years experience in the Big House before the next election.

It’s entirely possible that Trudeau will fail as the Liberal leader. He really is trying to walk a different path than Harper. I received six flyers in the mail over the last couple weeks. All of them were from the Conservatives, and all but ONE of them basically painted Trudeau as the devil and Red Rolf as his Chief Imp. Who gives a crap if Rolf plays in a punk band? So what if Trudeau smoked a doobie? Frankly, I prefer a candidate with a little dirt on him. The white-washed weirdoes the Conservatives find all look like they’ve been home-schooled for religious reasons. They claim they represent “us,” but I’ve done some pretty stupid stuff in my life. If ANY normal person had someone combing through their past for mistakes, it wouldn’t take long to find something embarrassing. At least Trudeau and Red Rolf didn’t pretend they were perfect.

No, last night was a measure of whether negative campaigning can be beaten by the ol’ smile-and-sidestep. To find that out for sure, we’ll have to wait until 2016. Failing to achieve at least Official Opposition status in THAT election will be the real failure.

Well, that’s my take. I have to say, I’ve been waiting for Justin to take over the Liberal reins since he spoke at his father’s funeral back in 2000. He has style, and I’ve always preferred leaders with a little flair. Someone who can be as mean as you need to be when you’re in charge, but will do it with a grin. Pierre Trudeau was like that. So was Chr├ętien. Jack Layton had it, too. Now we’ve got Justin, and he’s a smiler if there ever was one. I expect if he’s ever Prime Minister he’ll be caught in more than one scandal.

Here’s the thing, though: politicians of all stripes will screw you. But I’d rather be bought dinner first.

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