Sunday, July 06, 2008

Defining the issue: The environment, or the economy

I read somewhere last week that the reason the Cons are hiding their environment minister, John Baird, and are attacking the Liberal Green Shift (when they move beyond spit balls and raspberries) on economic, and not environmental, grounds is because they feel on safer ground making it an economic discussion.

That makes sense, particularly given the fact they have zero credibility on environmental issues. On the economy though, Conservatives (and conservatives) consistently tend to get better marks from the public as fiscal managers. The Cons likely had numbers like these from Nanos in mind when calling the play:

As a Liberal these are frustrating numbers. We usually see similar figures in the U.S., where Republicans are generally seen as better on the economy, despite the fact it was the Democrats and Bill Clinton that balanced the budget and returned a surplus, which the Republicans and George W. Bush turned into a trillion-dollar deficit with tax cuts for the rich that failed to trickle down. And in Canada, people tend to forget it was the Liberals that balanced the budget and returned us to the era of surpluses, while Jim Flaherty and Stephen Harper have turned-in the highest-spending budgets in Canadian history.

It’s just one of those common perceptions that’s actually a misconception, I suppose. Can the Liberals ever claim their rightful, deserved high ground as the soundest fiscal managers? It’s a public relations challenge, and while we don’t want to shift the debate to a perceived Conservative strength it is a point worth making, I think.

And maybe we’re not that far behind the eight-ball on the economy after all. The Nanos PDF doesn’t include regional breakdowns. I happened to pick up the Toronto Sun today though (I don’t do it often, I promise) and it did include regional numbers. And while the national numbers give the Cons an eight-point lead, the regional numbers are illuminating:

Atlantic Canada: Liberals 25.9, Cons 25.3, NDP 5.9, Greens 0.0
Quebec: Cons 26.1, Liberals 19.5, Bloc 11.3, NDP 8.2, Greens 1.3
Ontario: Cons 30.4, Liberals 30.1, NDP 8.2, Greens 0.8
West: Cons 39.0, Liberals 20.0, NDP 9.5, Greens 2.0

Looking at the breakdown, I’d argue the Cons’ 19-point lead in the West is skewing the national numbers. And I bet the number is something like 99 per cent in Alberta, so in the rest of the West it would be a little more competitive. With the exception of Quebec and the West/Alberta, the Liberals are actually competitive on the economy in the rest of Canada, tied within the margin. Given that this is a traditional Conservative area of strength, those are positive numbers, and argues a Liberal push on the economy, while a challenge, isn’t the uphill battle the national figures make it seem.

Which isn’t to say we should move away from the environmental ground when it comes to the Green Shift. That’s an area of strength for us. But in addition to being an environmental issue, this absolutely is an economic issue too. The new green economy is going to create jobs developing and implanting new clean, green technologies. That’s where the “megatonnes of money” quote the Conservatives cut and pasted out of context came from (speaking of tape editing...).

And we need to do a better job of poking holes in the myth of Conservative sound economic management. I like John McCallum, but having a more dynamic finance critic in the fall might help. Maybe Martha-Hall Findlay can be more up front. From income trusts to ballooning spending to questionable tax cuts to picking fights with Ontario, the Cons are vulnerable here.

It's not a choice between the two. The environment and the economy don’t exist in isolation. We need to push on both.

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RuralSandi said...

You know what I find interesting - the NDP numbers are so extremely low (economically) which is the major concern with Canadians right now and yet they're biting at the bit for an election? Does this makes sense - nope.

Obviously, Layton is posturing.

Jason Hickman said...

I could go on about the Demos vs Repubs issue [arguably, the budget got under control down there when the R's took over Congress in '94 - 1 reason why I generally like it better when Congress and the White House are held by different parties], or the issue of Libs as prudent managers [how many spending reductions did the Libs support between '84 and '93?], but those topics have been done.

What I find more interesting from the Nanos #'s is this:

The poll shows a statistical tie between the Liberals and the Conservatives for trust on the enviroment. Of note, even with the launch of the Liberal "Green Shift Plan" the Liberals did not enjoy a significant advantage over the Conservatives on the environment.

How does that get explained?

Jeff said...

Sandi, I think Coyne made the point on the National that, should the Libs agree to pull the plug in the fall, the NDP and BQ may flip-flop and prop the government up instead. It will be interesting to see. I do feel there is a strong element of having and eating their cake with the NDP strident pro-vote now push. As you say, the numbers, and not just on the economy, don't arguer well for their chances right now. When and if the Libs agree to go, they'll have to put up or shut up.

Jason, the environment numbers weren't released when I wrote this post, a new pot on them is now up.

Jason Cherniak said...

Very good analysis. I think it is also extremely important to note that the Greens don't even register on the economy. I think that by focusing on the economic side of our plan, we get those more moderate green voters to go with us.

The fact that the Green Party is not even competitive on the environment is also a sign. I would have thought that they would be right up there even for people who don't vote Green.