Canada 2014-2015: Election Fever

Kathleen Wynne, Premier of Ontario (Mark Spowart via Flickr)

Kathleen Wynne, Premier of Ontario (Mark Spowart via Flickr)

So here we are, upon a new year, 2014, with the arrival of a revived game politic in Canada. In Toronto, Mayor Ford has made a point of being first in line to register for the mayoral campaign for this year. So far, fourth estate prophecies tell us there isn’t a clear opponent for him. We’ve seen similar observations before. In Ontario, Premier Kathleen Wynne contemplates calling a spring election, in order to legitimize her rule in the province and potentially regain a Liberal majority. In Ottawa, political strategists are preparing and studying upcoming challenges for a national election, while key players are at the ready; ready to seize power, as some reports suggest. It is an interesting time indeed.

Ford and Hogtown

First, let’s look at the Mayor of Toronto and ask what is it that is keeping him in office despite his near-endless litany of scandals. According to several observers, Mr. Ford has managed to harness one key Toronto demographic: those who, it is said, feel marginalized within the city and to have been on the periphery of Toronto’s “elite politics” for too long. Here, perception thus play a role, even when the mayor might not be what he is perceived as. For instance, Mr. Ford’s personal popularity continues to overshadow issues of great social concern in Toronto and even his serious foibles. It is on these grounds then, that he is considered a powerful political player. He has the populist tiger by the tail, and seems to be able to hang on for now.

To his demographic, Mayor Ford is simply their man, their voice, at the political table of City Hall. Indeed Mr. Ford can, for example, be challenged on his claim to have saved the city billions, as well as his mantra to “stop the gravy train.” Yet, for his “marginalized” supporters, symbolism would seem the most important point. Seeing a man like Ford, a man portrayed as under-educated and overweight, the manifestation of the suburbs itself, says a lot to “underdogs” who have wrestled with city politics over the years. Whether Mr. Ford is competent or delivers on his campaign promises would seem to be irrelevant to many of his supporters. The underlying psyche here is that of the marginalized seizing back their city from “Toronto elites.”

Mr. Ford’s biggest achievement so far is really woven more in symbolism, than it is anything else. Through this we are offered a glimpse into demography concerned with social issues, yet willing to risk having their voice, Ford, at least present, if not making any major gains at all. A social struggle deferred, we might say.

Yes, Mr. Ford’s support base is widespread. Despite the marginalized seeming his biggest backer. By focusing his eyes on a specially cut slice of political demography, Mr. Ford has mastered political work, leaving many pollsters awestruck, and some political observers predicting an upsetting comeback. Even after being implicated in controversies, admitting to using drugs, driving under the influence of alcohol, or city councillors stripping away the majority of his powers as mayor, Mr. Ford has managed to hold tight, as the political train buzzes through to an election. The man has essentially reshaped municipal politics.

Of course that is not to say he is/has been Toronto’s greatest mayor. Far from it, and of course more could come out of the police investigation currently underway. So far, however, he has the political ball rolling his way. This will only be changed by what comes out of police work or a powerful electoral opponent, such as NDP MP Olivia Chow or former Liberal MPP/MP Gerrard Kennedy.

Elections Grow in Ontario

Secondly, we can look to Queen’s Park, where Premier Kathleen Wynne is probably weighing chances for a major win at the polls, for her Liberal Party. Her win or electoral successes should be looked at closely. Foremost, it must be considered that there is anticipation of an emerging Liberal Party wave, rooted in the popularity of new leader Justin Trudeau and exhaustion with the ruling Conservatives. These waves, as we’ve seen with the conservative wave following 9/11 or the NDP’s “Orange Wave” of the last federal election, can be powerful. Indeed, Trudeau is not only waiting. The fundraising emails never seem to stop, as the young leader banks on his charisma and name to rake in the dollars. The Liberal machine is revving up for a major operation, to replace Prime Minister Stephen Harper. Wynne may attempt to bank on this popularity to boost her party’s flagging fortunes.

AshtonPal via Flickr

AshtonPal via Flickr

As some have noted, many voters see a need for charisma within Canadian politics. Is Mayor Ford a man of charisma? You decide. However, one thing is clear about him: he is quick to see that there is a need for a personality in Canadian politics. He is currently occupying such political vacancy, albeit at the municipal level. His actions suggest he is onto something, if not a political genius.

What Voters Want

Thirdly, we must look at issues, which are at the heart of what has been demonstrated above. Voter intentions will be one area that is mostly to be watched. What do voters really want? What are they concerned about? Are steady voter blocs/demographics still possible? What is the state of democracy in Canada? Are voters worried about our democracy, etc? Several polls have revealed many voters to be concerned about the state of democracy in the country. However, some observes also argue that Canadian voter demography is shifting, while others maintain that voter intentions are not easily read or explained, particularly newcomers. Therefore, the political game of understanding, convincing, or fulfilling voter needs, is on.

Furthermore, there is another key pillar of a successful electoral run; financial strength. The financial strength of a party is now its backbone. Such financial power is so critical to political life that it has, to some observers, become a key indicator of political success. There is a school arguing that our country’s financial power is mostly concentrated in Western Canada; a suggestion clearly implying that political machinery, power, and other relevant factors of political victory, would likely be determined in these perceived new focal points of Canadian political power, a clear boon for the Conservatives. Another school too, however, suggests that the biggest victory might, in fact, be in how people shop for votes, in a political environment that is no longer homogeneous and voters are simply consumers in a market.

Today, we still have Rob Ford as mayor of Toronto; we still have Prime Minister Harper in office. In these cases, prophecies do not tell, they deter, if anything. For example, a big question still remains: will Mayor Ford see his “Ford More Years,” as he calls them?

Canadian politicians will need to look not only to political messaging, but also to what the specific voter wants. Through this strategy, the new consumer voter seems satisfied. It might take a while until we go back to (broad) issues based politics. Indeed, the new political player has tailored his message for said consumerist voter. Thus, above all, this is where we are headed. While such a change (similar to political waves) cannot be declared permanent, the impact is sure to be felt by society. The clever politico will have prepared by now.

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