Mitigating factors in Election 41


Though not apparent from the first two days, there will be more to the 2011 election than dueling charges of coalition and contempt. Throughout the campaign, Talking Points will be documenting the intangibles that don’t necessarily make the headlines and tracking details that can provide minor diversions or major distractions on the long march to May 2.

Herewith, in no particular order, the mitigating factors that could or could not affect in ways great and small the outcome of the nation’s 41st federal election:

  • Men who wear glasses.  After running barefaced in the last two elections, Conservative Party leader Stephen Harper now wears eye-glasses full time. No leader in modern Canadian political history has won a federal election wearing glasses. Past elected prime ministers — Martin, Chretien, Mulroney, Trudeau, Pearson and Diefenbaker — either didn’t wear glasses or donned them only to read. Conversely, the list of also-rans is full of spectacular specs failures – Paul Martin Sr., Robert Stanfield, Preston Manning and Stephane Dion to name four. Can Harper pass through the looking glass and break the trend?
  • The Twitteratti. Last time the writ dropped, your mother hadn’t even joined Facebook yet and Twitter was the exclusive domain of hard-core geeks. Now, even Conservative LaVar Payne has a Twitter account (LaVarMP) and he uses it, too. While most politicos use Twitter as another conduit for relaying lines fed by their parties, some are more spontaneous and risk going off script. Will a candidate or war room tweet something stupid and/or embarrassing for his or her party leader? Almost certainly. Hashtag of choice is #elxn41.
  • Playoff picture. The May 2nd election date will fall squarely in the NHL playoffs. It’s impossible to say who will be playing that night – certainly, not Ottawa – but some voters might stay home to watch instead of trudging off to the ballot box. Hockey talk tends to favour Harper — his fanaticism is well-documented — even if a lob-ball question about the Toronto Maple Leafs for a Cable Pulse 24 reporter drew audible groans at a Harper event Sunday from others reporters pressing the leader his 2004 coalition letter.
  • Happy Birthday, Mr. Caretaker Prime MInister.  Stephen Harper turns 52 three days before e-day. Cake and candles will be televised.
  • Ethnic outreach.  A misdirected email from Citizenship and Immigration Minister Jason Kenney’s office identified a list of riding with large ethnic populations the Conservatives think can help them win a majority.  Chinese and Southeast Asian voters are the traditional Liberal demographic the Tories think they can swing their way. In play are a bunch of seats mostly in suburban Toronto and Vancouver.
  • This Year in North York.  The Jewish community doesn’t vote as a monolith but the Tories think their unalloyed support for Israel can flip seats for them. They’re bolstered by the 2008 win by Peter Kent in the Liberal stronghold of Thornhill, with the largest Jewish population in the country. This time, they’re hoping to repeat the same success in Liberal Joe Volpe’s Eglinton—St. Lawrence and in Winnipeg.
  • It is personal.  Some ridings the Tories would like to win over more than others. Top of the list is Liberal MP Mark Holland’s Ajax-Pickering, where former Canadian ambassador to Afghanistan, Chris Alexander, is carrying the colours for the CPC. The Tories – how to put this gently? – loathe Mark Holland with the white hot intensity of a supernova, and would value a win in this suburban seat over others.
  • Vote swapping. Remember all the buzz about vote splitting in 2008? An online movement took root encouraging strategic vote against the Conservatives. Website advised which candidate in each riding had the best chance of beating the Tory. The effort was a failure. In fact, a Citizen analysis showed the non-Conservative vote was even more diffuse than it was in 2006. But you can expect to hear lots about this again.
  • The no-fly zone. With the U.S., European and Mid-Eastern allies all engaged, no one suggested that Canada’s decision to participate in enforcing the no-fly zone over Libya was a Wag the Dog moment. But as the campaign unfurls, the on-going news stream from the Canadian air mission can only help the Tories.
  • Layton’s legumes. Though still recovering from prostate cancer,  the NDP leader is likely the fittest of five leaders. Yet some on the Hill were recently pushing the rumour that he might resign for health reasons. Balderdash, say party flacks, who privately blame his emaciated appearance on the strict vegetarian diet his wife, Toronto MP Olivia Chow, began feeding him after his diagnosis. Too much tofu and not enough protein that have left Layton looking gaunt, they contend. Of greater concern on the campaign trail is the recovery from hip surgery that has him hobbling around on a crutch.
  • Banned phrases: Once again, “Battleground Ontario” leads the list of buzzwords we could do without, along with “ballot box question,” “blogsphere,” and “hustings.” Also forbidden: refusing to apologize for a populist and/or patriotic policy position, often wielded to knock over straw men, as in, “I make no apologies for… [supporting our troops]… [loving hockey]… [cracking down on crime]”
  • No culture of defeat. With Premier Danny Williams leading the Anyone-But-Conservative campaign in Newfoundland and Labrador, the Tories were blanked on the Rock. But they haven’t given up, yet. Unsuccessful candidate turned senator, Fabian Manning, is expected to announce he’s leaving the Red Chamber to run again in Avalon.
  • Sun Mediation. Election 41 will be the first covered by the nascent Sun Media news channel, which is scheduled to launch in mid-April.  If it in any way follows the path of Sun Media newspapers, expect the new channel to be, uh, enthusiastic about the Conservative campaign. One open question: How will opposition parties handle requests for sit-down interviews from the new channel? Recall the death blow dealt to Stephane Dion by a CTV affiliate in Nova Scotia last election when it ran his feeble requests for a do-over after a confusing question. Also keep in mind the ugly exchange over journalistic ethics, in front of a live microphone, between NDP finance critic Thomas Mulcair and a Sun Media reporter, shortly before the government fell.
  • Ottawa stasis. Local campaigns in the Nation’s Capital are looking like snoozers. Only the NDP’s attempt to unseat Liberal MP Marcel Proulx in Hull-Aylmer and Blocquiste Richard Nadeau in Gatineau hold any drama. Everything else looks like a lock for the incumbents. The safest local seats belong to Liberal Mauril Belanger in Ottawa — Vanier and Conservative Pierre Poilievre in Nepean — Carleton
  • Contact Glen McGregor at 613.235.6685 or at gmcgregor@ottawacitizen.com.

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