All posts by Matt Triemstra

POLITICAL PERSPECTIVES – GROUNDHOG DAY: THE 2004 ELECTION ALL OVER AGAIN?

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By: Matt Triemstra

In Groundhog Day, Bill Murray famously quips, “do you ever have déjà vu, Mrs. Lancaster?  To which Mrs. Lancaster replies “I don’t think so, but I could check with the kitchen.”  For many avid political watchers there is a sense of déjà vu as we compare the current 2015 election campaign to the one 11 years ago in 2004 when the Liberal Party was reduced to a minority government by the newly formed Conservative Party of Canada.

In 2004, Liberal Prime Minister Paul Martin began the election with a majority government and 168 Members of Parliament.  Fast forward to 2015 and we see the Conservatives under Stephen Harper also beginning with a majority government, at 170 seats.

In 2004 the Liberal Party was plagued by the sponsorship scandal.  In 2015 the Conservative Party is besieged by Senate scandals.

Additionally, in 2004 the Liberals were campaigning on the slogan “Moving Canada Forward”, similar in positive tone to the Conservative 2015 slogan of “Proven Leadership. Strong Economy”.  And both governing parties were faced with opposition parties campaigning on themes of change.  In 2004 it was the Conservative slogan of “Demand Better” versus today when we have not one, but two parties campaigning on change. The Liberal Party of Canada who is looking for #RealChange, which is not to be confused with the NDP, who are “Ready for Change.”

The good news for the Conservatives is that the Liberals did retain power in 2004, but only with a minority government.  But the bad news is that with the benefit of hindsight many saw that as the beginning of the end for the Liberal Party, who would go to one of their worst showings by 2011.

Now the reality is that 11 years later the political landscape is of course drastically different and Canadians are viewing an unprecedented three way tie of the major political parties.  But similar to 2004, with all parties polling around 30%, a minority government is looking like a realistic scenario.

Also similar to 2004, the electorate will be faced with a stark choice on October 19, 2015.  A Prime Minister who they feel has been at the helm too long but represents stability or one of two parties that embody the change they believe this country needs.

The 2004 election marked a shift in Canada’s political ideology.  The Liberals were reduced to a minority and over the course of the next 11 years, Canadians swung further to the right of the spectrum under consecutive Conservative Governments.  2015 sees us in a remarkably similar situation and the question is, can the Conservatives continue the swing or, like any pendulum, will the opposition parties be able to force the swing back?   In short we are in unprecedented territory with a three way race and there is simply no predicting the outcome on October 19.

But one thing is certain, with a typical full length campaign ahead of us, anything can happen. To quote from Groundhog Day once more, when Bill Murray is told that you “can’t plan for a day like this” he responds with “Well you can. It just takes an awful lot of work.”  And that is exactly what all three political parties have to do in the next 5 weeks…an awful lot of work.

Matt Triemstra is a Director at ENsight Canada where he provides public affairs advice.  He has over a decade of experience consulting and working for Conservative Members of Parliament and the Conservative Resource Group on Parliament Hill.

POLITICAL PERSPECTIVES – THE VALUE OF A 78 DAY CAMPAIGN

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By Matt Triemstra

I have heard many people bemoaning the fact that, at 78 days, this will be a long election. Canadians are already complaining that they don’t want to be bombarded with election ads, door knocking and lawn signs littered over their fair cities for such a lengthy period of time.  And in fact, they are right.  This will be the longest campaign in modern Canadian history.

Now if you live in our nation’s capital of Ottawa you may still be blissfully unaware that the 42nd federal election has even begun, because you haven’t seen a single lawn sign. That’s because the city has by-laws that state how many days in advance of Election Day that signs can be put up. But lawn signs aren’t the end all be all of a campaign and can often be distracting from the real issues.  The more time candidates spend rushing to put their signs up the less they have to door knock or phone and make a personal connection with the voter. So perhaps Ottawa residents are lucky that the lawn signs will be avoided temporarily, forcing the candidates to interact with them in a more direct way and have more meaningful discussions.

Because that’s what we should all want isn’t it? A more meaningful dialogue during this 42nd election. We have to face the facts that in the 2011 campaign, at only 38 days, that the voter turnout was only 61.1%, meaning that 4 in 10 Canadians didn’t bother voting.  Reasons for not voting range from general apathy to complaints like we never see politicians and don’t understand the policy planks, to a general lack of motivation.  Increasing the campaign from 38 to 78 days should give Canadians the time they need to make an informed decision and give candidates the time they need to meet and engage with their constituents.  Of course none of us likes it when the candidate rings our doorbell and wakes the kids, but it is the reality of campaigns that politicians can’t wait for the voter to come to them, they have to go to the voter, whether the voter likes it or not.

I understand that the average Canadian is still in vacation mode, but the decision about which party to vote for and which leader presents the best vision for Canada is important. So next time you want to complain about the length of this campaign and how you’d rather avoid more calls, door knocking and signs, remember that these things are a small price to pay for to see our voter turnout increase. And maybe, just maybe, a 78 day campaign will lead to more engagement by Canadians.

Matt Triemstra is a Director at ENsight Canada where he provides public affairs advice.  He spent nearly five years working for Conservative Members of Parliament and the Conservative Resource Group on Parliament Hill.