Demont: Politics as Analogy
March 29, 2011
The first major promise of the 2011 federal campaign is one that no one really believes will come to fruition – at least for the foreseeable future.
Stephen Harper’s pledge to allow families to split their incomes in calculating federal incomes tax is expensive – three times the cost of the NDP’s notion of boosting the seniors’ tax exemption, regressive – allowing wealthy families to reduce their tax burden – and fiscally questionable – even though the change would only come into effect once the federal books was balanced, the move would immediately send the budget back into the red.
Promises as theme music
Those criticisms, however, miss the point.
The tax pledge, indeed every promise in the current campaign, Liberal, NDP or Conservative, will not be a watertight provision with all contingencies examined and designed to boost economic growth, improve societal equity or fulfill some other social goal.
Instead, Harper’s tax provision is similar the hue of the sky in an old black-and-white movie thriller. It is designed to set the tone.
In an era where governments are constrained by the size of their budgetary deficits and the reaction of international capital markets to the shortfall, where voters are increasingly skeptical of the ability of elected officials to solve outstanding national issues, where the spectrum of acceptable options is increasingly narrow, a party’s policies are analogies for its governing style.
What a party promises or what a government does is usually designed to give voters the main theme of a potential government, not to be a menu of how an administration expects to get to a particular goal.
Finding the needle in a stack of needles
Often the main parties in a campaign see the same problems and have somewhat similar solutions. It is usually that minor policy or peripheral issue that provides the voting key.
The policy does not have to all-encompassing or even particular important to a new government.
But, the trick for a government or a party seeking election is to find that policy which serves to show how that group would, in broad strokes, run the country, province or city.
David Peterson’s promise to put beer and wine in corner stores in Ontario during the provincial campaign of 1985, George Bush Senior’s Willie Horton anti-crime ads and, more recently, Toronto Mayor Rob Ford’s promise to end the City Hall gravy train are all examples of policies that show more style than substance.
In a world where the river of available information has overwhelmed voters’ ability to process data, however, style – or analogy – might be the only way the electorate has to decide which party and which leader would govern to their liking.
Obviously, Harper wants to show his government as a low-tax administration, one with the concerns of middle-class families at its core.
A middle class tax break, even one that is realistically four years in the future, shows the electorate that a Conservative government is working hard to put money back in your wallet.
The Liberals and the NDP are in the same race, trying to carve out some psychic space in voters’ minds as to what kind of government they would run.
Michael Ignatiefff appears to be trying out a theme of honesty and integrity while Jack Layton is test-driving a ‘concern for the common man’ motif.
The key is not to provide a menu of policies for voters to choose. After all, they are picking a government, not a smorgasbord of initiatives for an administration.
The important factor for the three leaders is whether they recognize the sentiment closest to the electorate and whether they have a policy – big or small – that tells that story.
Opinion: Why the US and Europe must stand together
President Obama’s trip to Europe is an opportunity to build on the vision he outlined in his West Point speech last week, and to set out a plan to renew the transatlantic relationship. This backbone of an alliance of liberal democracies across the globe, and the foundation of the post-war order, faces fresh challenges today. Over the past few years, though, this alliance has suffered from neglect which is troubling, as the inexorable triumph of liberal democracy is not inevitable – it requires constant work and vigilance.
Global Progress: Making Progressive Politics Work
“Making Progressive Politics Work: A Handbook of Ideas” is a collection of essays from the organizations and thinkers that are a part of Global Progress, an international exchange of ideas that will fuel the creation and implementation of progressive policies around the world. The handbook, organized and published by the U.K.-based Policy Network. Divided into two sections – Future Wealth Creation, and Jobs, Wages and Skills of the Future – the publication is required reading for Canadian progressives.
Analysis: Who is Matteo Renzi?
At just 39 years of age, Matteo Renzi became Italy’s youngest-ever prime minister in late February. The dramatic events that led to this meteoric rise are nothing new for Renzi. Over the course of his relatively short political career, the former lawyer and regional counselor earned the nickname “il Rottomatore”—meaning “the bulldozer” or “the demolition man”—thanks to his reputation for taking on the establishment and pushing through political reforms.
Opinion: It’s not unemployment, it’s underemployment
As short as 20 years ago, our combined attainment of education, work experience, and connections would place many young Canadians on a secure career track that would allow us to pay back our loans, save for a house, and contribute to the overall productivity of this great country. Today, that’s more or less not the case, and an increasing number of young Canadians are caught in a veritable limbo state of underemployment.
August 15, 2013
Summer Reading: 10 infographics you should see
We love infographics at Canada 2020 – and there’s no better time to browse and read them then over the long summer office hours.
Here’s 10 online features from The Guardian, The Economic Policy Institute, The White House and more than you should catch up on. Topics include tracking and comparing national carbon outputs, measuring exactly how inequality is rising in North America and answering what makes Canadians sick.