Francis Fox Piven (who has had her own experiences recently with Harper’s US mentors) and Richard Cloward wrote a very interesting book called “Why Americans Don’t Vote”, which showed how a key electoral strategy in the US has always been demobilizing opposing voters, a strategy just as important as mobilizing supporters. If you look at the way Harper has worked over the past few years, you can see that demobilizing strategies are a part of the package here too. With a solid 33% that reliably turn out (much higher in Western Canada), all Harper needs to do is ensure that the opposition doesn’t show up. Our electoral system does a lot of that for him. Ugly political rhetoric and discourse helps. Shutting down parliament at whim, using disinformation (right down to faked photos and claims that Iggy helped plan the Iraq war/slaughter that both Iggy and Harper enthusiastically supported), lying, and attack ads as part of the normal course of government is another step. And during elections, trying to get chunks of the electorate (like students at Guelph) disenfranchised is another. David Orchard’s political associate Marjaleena Repo pointed out that the way voters are registered, which was changed relatively recently, has also made voting more difficult and reduced turnout. I also don’t think that the idea that Harper might try to steal the election should be discounted. I mentioned this possibility to a few friends, who thought it was unthinkable, but it’s not. I am not sure constitutionally how it would all go down, but there are several pieces in place for it. The party in power has no principled attachment to the rules. They have spent the past few years moving their personnel into relevant positions in courts, senate, and bureaucracy. The opposition isn’t likely to fight very hard. Most of the media want Harper to win more than they want a legal framework to be followed. The US in 2000, Mexico in 2006 – why not Canada? The people advising Harper know how to do it and it would actually be surprising if such contingency plans were not prepared somewhere.
I am not sure how it would happen on election day. Perhps through making it difficult for voters to register on the day of, and then attempts to decertify certain ballot boxes in key ridings after the fact. But I do think it’s a possibility to watch out for.
Now on the NDP surge. While I am pleased to see the numbers, I have to repeat my skepticism at polls. I have been saying the polls make me suspicious, and I am not going to change my mind now that they are saying things I like to hear – if anything it should make me more suspicious. Remember the polls when the election was called that said Harper was headed for a majority? Yesterday the Toronto Star reported that Tory internal pollsters anonymously told them they weren’t going to win a majority (why would they tell the Star that, and not one of the Sun or CanWest or Bell papers that belong to them?) They can’t both be right, and the best assumption is that neither of them are.
Next problem – Even if the polls fully reflect opinion, people who follow parliamentary politics should know that the popular vote doesn’t translate into seats. 30% can’t not translate into seat gains, but the 5% that the Conservatives have on the NDP this weekend will probably result in something like twice as many seats, or more.
Sudden gains could put the NDP in a scary place. I don’t think the Liberals would accept being junior partner in any kind of coalition with the NDP. I don’t know if the Bloc would. The intensity and insanity of the anti-NDP media campaign, and the likely Tea Party-style mobilizations, that would begin immediately after any kind of minority NDP government happened, is something nobody in Canada is prepared for, including the NDP and its base. I think the Conservatives and Liberals would suddenly find a lot of common ground if the NDP were to try to do anything decent, and if you put Conservative and Liberal votes together, they have a majority. In some – though not all – ways, a Conservative-Liberal coalition is a better description of what’s been happening for the past few years in Canadian federal politics. A real NDP victory would divide the Liberals, a lot of whom would probably go Conservative rather than allow it.
Who knows though. An NDP government that focused on popular economic and social policies and on plugging the procedural holes that Harper drove several trucks through, reducing the power of the PMO, increasing transparency, restoring the census, changing the roles about proroguing parliament, perhaps even introducing proportional representation or instant runoff, might be able to survive for a little while and be politically expensive to bring down too quickly. They would have to understand that most of the media was part of the opposition, recognize that their opponents don’t play fair, and make it easy for supporters of theirs to mobilize.
But I get ahead of myself. Monday is still a long way away.