Sunday, April 26, 2009

PT turns two!

Prairie Topiary turned two today, an event worth celebrating! (somehow, I managed to completely sleep through the blog’s first anniversary.)

While the posts here tend to be wordy and infrequent, they also tend to be well received by readers.

In two years since this blog has started, the local politics-oriented blogging community has changed somewhat. Missed are Blackberry Addicts and Comments Closed. Great new additions to the community include
PolicyFrog and The Don Street Blog. A host of others continue to provide regular, valuable contributions. My blogroll provides a selection of the blogs I follow regularly and that are worth checking out.

No blog anniversary is complete without a look back on some favourite posts:

Are we bad eco-citizens? (January 2009): I asked this after coming across some Statistics Canada data that suggests Manitobans are behind most other Canadians when it comes to a range of environmentally friendly behaviours.

The prorogation and 2009’s limping victor (December 2008): We all remember the drama that played itself out before Christmas, with government and opposition battling it out for power. My take was that the prize wasn't much of a prize given the long hard road ahead either government would face, something that Ignatieff likely came to realize and that Harper is finding out.

A two-horse race and other pre-election myths (September 2008): Looking back to the eve of the last federal campaign, it seems obvious now that the Tories were strong, the Liberals were in disastrous shape and that the NDP hadn’t lost dramatic numbers of votes to the Greens. However, that’s not what you’d think from reading news reports and poll punditry at the time. One Liberal commenter took strong exception to my post.

The non-issue of crown donations to the human rights museum (May 2008): Policy Frog and I debated the merits and appropriateness of provincial crown donations to the CMHR, with me taking the side that the donations were appropriate.

New software does not an urban vision make (February 2008): I critiqued Sam Katz’s annual Chamber of Commerce mayoral speech, particularly for its lack of vision and obsession with the CrimeStat software program. Unfortunately, I didn't make it to Katz's 2009 one.

The endorsement game (January 2008): I had fun watching American celebrities line up behind their favourite candidates for the Democratic and Republican nominations. Who knew then that Obama would go on to trounce first Clinton and then McCain?

Canada’s shameful day at the UN (June 2007): I called attention to the federal government’s disappointing decision to withdraw support for the UN’s Draft Declaration on the Right of Indigenous Peoples after years of work promoting it.

Forward not back (May 2007): Manitoba’s voters elected a greater share of women to its Legislature than sit in the House of Commons or in the legislative assembly of any other province. Obviously, at 32%, we’re a long ways yet from gender equality among our provincial representatives.

Triumphant! (May 2007): While I love making election predictions, I can't say I’m always right. However, I did very well in Manitoba’s last contest, successfully predicting the result in 54 out of 57 constituencies, for 95% accuracy.

Tory justice: lock up the poor (May 2007): In Manitoba’s last campaign, the Tories came up with the ridiculous idea of denying legal aid to people who have a previous conviction for certain types of offenses. Not only did they throw the concept of being innocent until proven guilty out the window, but the plan would probably cost more in the long run than it would save. It's clear they didn’t think through that one very well.

Saturday, April 25, 2009

Wells and Coyne on torture

A good debate between Andrew Coyne and Paul Wells on the torture issue in the US. Wells hits it out of the park in this debate compared to Coyne's weak, mumbling defense.

Proponents of torture always use the ticking time bomb analogy to justify why it should be legal. If that's really the rationale for why torture should be allowed and if that really describes the rare occasion when its use would be acceptable, then isn't its illegality (with extreme penalties for its use) exactly the right deterrent necessary to prevent its regular use by authorities?

Saturday, April 4, 2009

Does the left gain when the economy is down?

There’s an interesting debate going on in the Globe and Mail about the role of the NDP and the reason why it doesn’t seem to be making headlines these days despite the economic downturn – the question Lawrence Martin asks (see Letters to the editor responses) in the article that kicked off the discussion is that, when capitalism is in crisis, shouldn’t the left see gains?

It’s logical to think that the NDP should make gains during tough times as people look for alternatives to the economic system that may be causing them hardship. This might partially explain the NDP’s surprising win in Ontario in 1990.

However, it’s also possible that a sinking economy might actually harm the left electorally. In good times, voters may feel more comfortable having their government deal with issues that people perceive to be left: addressing poverty and inequality, expanding social programs, funding the CBC, mandating environmentally-friendly behaviours, etc. In tough times, voters often focus on the economy as the sole issue, and the Conservatives have traditionally been best at branding themselves as economic managers. Besides, in bad times, governments of all stripes will tend to sound and act a little like New Democrats: showing concern about rising unemployment, wanting to curb or prevent poverty, speaking about education and training, penalizing arrogant corporate leaders, and actively intervening in the economy where it’ll save some jobs and earn points with voters.

I decided to see if I could see any relationship between economic ups and downs and federal voting behaviour for the past several decades. There are two charts I've created (click to enlarge). The one on top shows the share of popular vote received by right wing parties (Conservatives, Progressive Conservatives, Canadian Alliance, Reform party and Social Credit/Ralliement créditiste) and left wing parties (one bar shows just the NDP; another shows the NDP grouped with the Greens and the Bloc, which assumes we can lump those parties in as left) since 1972.

In the chart, the right-wing vote appears relatively consistent outside of the two big Mulroney victories in the 1980s. The drop in the NDP vote from 1993 to 2000 also stands out, but its vote is otherwise remarkably consistent from 1972 to 2008. The combined "left" vote begins to differ from the NDP as the Bloc emerged in the early 90s. The grouped left vote stands out as very strong in each of the last three elections, with 2008 representing a high water mark.

I included in the bottom chart two economic indicators. The first is the annual unemployment rate and the second is the quarter-over-quarter real GDP growth rate.

The unemployment rate curve shows two dramatic peaks Рone in 1983 and one in 1993. Interestingly, the two biggest electoral shifts over the period also occurred around those times. The first, in 1984, swept Mulroney to power with the largest majority in Canadian history. The second, in 1993, did the opposite, nearly wiping out the Progressive Conservatives and vaulting the Chr̩tien Liberals into power.

What's striking about the GDP growth curve is the relative flatness since about 1981 and especially during the 1990s. In the past ten years, quarter-to-quarter growth has been mostly positive, but is relatively inconsistent, with 9/11 having a noticeable negative impact in 2001. The plunge at the end of 2008 appears dramatic when compared historically.

So can we conclude any relationship between swings to the left or right and economic downturns? Not likely, at least not based on the data I've presented. Interesting shifts in the popular vote do appear, but they don't seem to be dependent on economic upturns or downturns. Economic shifts probably do affect voter behaviour, but not in ways that are entirely predictable. Furthermore, the traction that a party may get politically isn't always evident in the electoral numbers. Having an influence on the policy process and in the marketplace of ideas – regardless of which party ultimately takes credit – is something that can’t be measured here.