Canadian thoughts

Preoccupied by teaching but some hasty thoughts on the Canadian elections. Some attention from right-wing commentator James Allan who can’t work out why NDP did well, apparently voters think do highly of the Liberals that if they had criticised the NDP the NDP vote would have collapsed, if they respected Liberals so much than why didn’t they vote for them in the first place? Few things are sillier than those who would never vote for a party to proffer it advice, John Howard had a point in ignoring his small-l liberal critics. Labor should ignore those who call for a war against the Greens.Canadian lesson would be that the government accountability issues that the Liberals focused on were not issues that engaged voters on the left. Those voters were more motivated by issues around government services, especially healthcare and by foreign policy. Ignatieff’s sympathy for American foreign policy put him at a disadvantage in this battle. Are there lessons for Australia? Partially, some left causes such as scepticism about US foreign policy and some aspects of social liberalism are popular with voters; others such as sympathy for asylum-seekers are not. The Greens have that terrain. To be left of the conventional wisdom does not necessarily cost votes. Leadership also counts. Jack Layton was an asset to the New Democrats; Bob Brown is an asset to the Greens. The persistent refusal of state-level Green parties to adopt a formal leadership structure is very politically costly. The NDP occupied a populist terrain and the federal Greens have inclined towards this as well. Left-wing Canadian voters perhaps saw little difference between NDP, the Bloc in Quebec and the Liberals and chose between them on pragmatic grounds. Canadians too are far more accustomed to changing their votes between different levels of government. Australian lessons: Labor is vulnerable to a challenge by another left-wing party but not by a party that is unequivocally to the left of the current ALP. If the Greens ever did supplant the ALP they would be to the left of the ALP on some issues but to the right on others. Note how on gun control the NDP was to the right of the Liberals.

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