Monday, August 30, 2010

You can’t have an urban/rural divide without urban

With the latest vote on the gun registry approaching, and its fate still very much up in the air, I’ve been reading much about the urban/rural divide. Except the punditry seems to think you can have a divide with only one side. They’re nearly uniformly ignoring the urban side of the equation.

A good example of this myopic reporting came the other day from the Globe’s John Ibbitson:
The Conservatives happily exploit that divide, in the North and elsewhere. The Liberals and NDP can only suffer.
Apparently in John’s world, the Conservatives can only benefit, no matter what they do. And if my grandmother had wheels, John, she’d be a wagon.

In fact, killing the registry would very much hurt Conservative chances in urban Canada. And the NDP's, since if the registry dies it will have been with the NDP’s assistance. And since it’s in urban Canada and Quebec where the Conservatives can and must gain seats to keep government or form a majority, there Conservatives could pay a steep price.

Let’s say the Conservative attempt to kill the registry fails. This would actually be the best-case scenario for the Harper government. They can tell their rural base they tried their best and raise a bunch of money off it while keeping their support, and in urban Canada since the registry lives, its status-quo. There might be some blowback for Liberal rural MPs, but by and large those for whom killing the registry is a ballot box issue aren’t voting Liberal anyways and the party's proposed reforms are sensible.

Now, let’s say the Conservatives with NDP assistance succeed in killing the gun registry. Their rural supporters are pleased with them, and will keep on supporting them. It’s hard to see Liberal rural MPs who voted to keep it being hurt because the registry will be gone, with it removed as a ballot issue rural voters will turn to other issues. Status quo in rural Canada.

In urban Canada, though, it would be a very different story. Right now, the registry hasn’t been a ballot issue in urban Canada because it’s the status quo, it’s in place and Harper wasn’t making a lot of noise about killing it. So urban voters, particularly women, allowed themselves to be wooed by sweater-vest Steve and targeted moderate policies, such as EI reforms around maternal and parental leaves. Combined with a very effective ethnic outreach program, a number of urban seats swung Conservative in the last election and many more were competitive.

Kill the registry though, and all of a sudden it becomes a ballot box issue in urban Canada. It becomes about gun control and crime, and suddenly the Conservatives find themselves on the wrong side of a soft on crime wedge. And it won’t take that many votes to swing a number of Conservative urban ridings. Not only that, they can say good-bye to adding the seats they need to grow. (Particularly as they abandon their ethnic outreach strategy in favour of more pandering to their base.)

As for the NDP, while their urban MPs will have voted to keep the registry, with their party having allowed it to be killed they will also be hit with the anger over its death. This will mean pressure for people like Paul Dewar in Ottawa, for their Vancouver area MPs, and even for Jack and Olivia in Toronto. And it may well be death for Thomas Mulcair in Outremont.

We’re reading much from the media about the pressure rural Liberal and NDP MPs are under. What has been completely absent is the same scrutiny of Conservative MPs that represent urban and Quebec ridings. Can Alice Wong really claim she’s voting freely the wishes of the people of Richmond? Can James Moore in Port Coquitlam? Andrew Saxton in North Vancouver? How about Peter Kent in Thornhill, or John Baird and Pierre Poilievre in Ottawa? How about Keith Ashfield in Fredericton?

And those are just a few.

In fact, there are nearly 30 Conservative-held ridings that are suburban or urban-enough (or in Quebec enough) that you’d have to ponder if their constituents really support the government’s supposedly free but surprisingly uniform opposition to the registry.

It would be interesting to hear the answers, if John Ibbitson and his colleagues could be bothered to ask.

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rockfish said...

Excellent post. And to no one's surprise, only silence.
No one likes to hear the truth i suppose. Or urban is the new mel gibson...

Tof KW said...

Jeff, you can add Steve Woodworth (Kitchener Centre - won by 339 votes in 2008 over Karen Redman - L) and Peter Braid (Kitchener Waterloo – won by 50 votes in 2008 over Andrew Telegdi - L) to your list of endangered urban CPofC MPs. Gun control is a big issue in K-W-Camb, and aside from gangs setting up shop here there is always at least one domestic homicide involving a hunting rifle per annum.

The sad part is both these MPs are more on the Red Tory side of the CPofC, a dieing breed in that party. If this was not a whipped vote I would have expected them both to vote to keep the LGR as it is the wish of the community they represent. With them voting to kill it, they will most likely lose their seats in the next election ...and the NDP's partnership in killing it should make the Liberal's work in K-W that much easier.