Monday, July 28, 2008

The fate of the universe, nay, of life intself, rests on these by-elections

It must be great to be a Conservative. I mean, besides the whole having a heart made of stone thing, and being afraid of the sun. And hating puppies. Why do they hate puppies?

But I've digressed.

We’re about to have three (likely four) federal by-elections. We had four in the spring. And there were two back in fall of 2006, IIRC. And the consensus/collective wisdom as purveyed by the establishment powers that be each time is as follows: the Conservatives have absolutely nothing to lose no matter what happens and everything to win; the Liberals need to win absolutely everything to meet expectations, and there’s no way they can get a victory even if they win every seat by a gazillion votes. And if they lose one, Stephane Dion will be run out of town on a rail.

I would love to be the Conservatives in that scenario. You can’t lose.

I perused the Globe and Mail today over lunch (steak stuffed burito and fries supreme at Taco Bell, if you're wondering), and found myself nodding with their editorial saying we shouldn’t be putting so much hype into by-elections as an indicator of this or that, because they’re not. And I agree. And then on the next page, Lawrence Martin explains how super-important these by-elections are as indicators of this and that. Sigh. Why do you tease me so, Globe and Mail?

The whole by-election conventional wisdom thing, though, is a great example of what I like to say about media bias: they’re not pro-Liberal, or pro-Conservative, they’re pro-good story. They’re pro-good narrative. And they’re pro-sticking to their stated narrative once the pack has picked it, come hell or high water.

That’s why they insist Conservatives are the sound fiscal managers and the Liberals are the big spenders, ignoring the big-spendingness of Flaherty’s budgets contrasted with the Liberal defict taming. That’s why they’ll look for socially-Conservative skeletons in Conservative closets (hiya Randy White circa 2004) while ignoring the so-Cons in the Liberal ranks. And that’s why almost every by-election is make or break for the Dion Liberals, despite the fact Harper handpicked the candidate in London that lost to Glen Pearson, stage-managing her campaign and sending her staff. They’ll play-up the Liberals busing in volunteers to Outremont as desperation while ignoring the NDP doing the same thing, or the Conservatives doing it in Guelph. And they’ll ignore the fact that, if the Cons are going to get a majority some day, they kind of have to start winning seats they DONT ALREADY HOLD at SOME point, and if they fail to do so that could be a sign of something.

They’ll ignore it if it doesn’t fit the narrative. It’s not pro or anti any party. It goes both ways. They just don’t like to be proven wrong. So when it comes to by-elections, its all on the Liberals. Plus it’s the summer, so they need something to get excited about and fill column inches.

That said, these are absolutely the most important by-elections in the history of the world, and the fate of the universe itself hangs in the balance.

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Mike514 said...

To be fair, the Conservatives are saying that "anything less than two Liberal victories will be a huge defeat for Stephane Dion's Liberals" (Tory spokesman Ryan Sparrow as quoted on

So the Tories are not saying that Dion needs to win all 3, which I find very strange. 2 out of 3 is apparently good enough. Maybe the Tories are finally toning down the rhetoric?

Jason Hickman said...

Jeff, I generally agree(!) with your comments regarding the media - it's more of a "if it bleeds, it leads" kind of a thing.

Regarding the "big Liberal test" theory - it has more to do with the fact that to my probably-poor recollection, most if not all of the by-elections have been for seats held either by the Libs, or the BQ. In fact, I don't think there's been a single by-election in a Tory-held seat yet.

Like it or lump it, if the Liberals lose Westmount, it *is* a big deal - at least as big a deal as Outremont (sp?) was, given Westmount's history and demographics. Guelph is not as big a deal if the Libs lose, but they don't want to be seen dropping seats in the 905 to either the NDP or the Tories.

The BQ will face a lot of the same headlines if they manage to lose the 3rd seat - it's just that most of Anglo Canada won't notice.

So this isn't a case of the Tories having it easy for any reason other than these aren't Tory seats in play. If they were Tory seats going in, the "narrative" of which you speak would change.

And as for your last point about the Tories having to win seats they didn't have before ... well, in by-elections held so far, they've picked up 1 each from the Libs and the BQ, and came damn close to taking 1 more from each of them. That aint too shabby.

ottlib said...

Well Jeff, since you put it that way I have to rethink my assessment of this whole by-election thing.

You see before reading your blog I felt that by-elections are poor predictors of the results of general elections because of the different dynamics between the two.

Now I am not so certain.

Mike514 said...

most if not all of the by-elections have been for seats held either by the Libs, or the BQ.

Hmm. I never thought of it that way. It means only Lib and BQ MPs are abandoning their parties. Meanwhile NDP and Tory MPs are sticking with their parties.

It probably doesn't mean much, but it's still interesting.