Saturday, 10 March 2012

Conservatives' Structural Advantages

Racknine is a small Edmonton-based firm which seems to be the epitome of efficiency, making 10 million robocalls out of 200 accounts last election. That's 50,000 robocalls per account! They're just one small part of the Cons Machine.

The scale of public messaging in Canadian politics is on the rise. Last election spending was caped at $21 million per party with a full slate of candidates. Assuming no in-and-out style dirty tricks this time round, the Conservatives went to work with laser-focus and a machine that put every dollar to use.
Dedicated middle class small donors and country club Conservative big donors provided the funds to oil this machine. By these tactics, in addition to standing to benefit from robofraud in swing ridings 1, the Cons formed a Majority Government.

The Conservative Majority has 11 seats more than the 155 needed to form a majority, but 43 ridings have robofraud accusations. Dirty tricks may have meant the difference between a majority and a minority. But, regardless of the legitimacy of the results2 , the Cons machine will be fighting to win in 2015 or sooner. Canada's Opposition Parties need to adjust to the reality of larger-scale election campaigns where the Conservatives have several key advantages. 

For starters, the Conservative Party now has a money advantage. Big blue Liberal corporate money has swivelled as many abandoned ship to the Cons. With an advantage not just in small donors but big money the Conservative will probably abolish spending limits. They've proven a nuisance to the Cons through the in-and-out scandal and no longer serve the function of holding back the Liberals3. The abolition of public financing for parties shows that the Conservatives have no qualms about removing laws that level the playing field - if they have the advantage. 

The Conservatives also have the advantage in ground organization. Despite Harper's clear micro-managing and centralizing tendency, the Conservative inheritance from the Reform Party is obvious. Grassroots organization, anti-Ottawa Western populism, regional offices, and direct democracy were the namesakes of the Reform Party (later the Alliance). A dedicated army of socially conservative middle class activists - and small donors - is an inheritance from this legacy.

The Conservatives also have a unified block of voters - probably a solid 20-30% of the electorate. Through laser-focused campaign literature the Conservative Party succeeds in appealing to their base's sense of outrage and gets them out to vote.

Finally, the Conservative Party currently has a strong hold on the Prairies - a region whose socioeconomic significance and population are growing.

There is a kernel of hope in this situation, though. Even with the best machine, big money, and a Winner-Take-All system that manufactures majorities, it may have taken dirty tricks to get them over the edge - barely, at that. This shows goes to show the true paucity of Conservative appeal in Canada.

1 Conservative Party HQ claims robofraud which stood to benefit the Cons were orchestrated by somebody else.
2 Within the context of Canada's skewed winner-take-all system, where 39.62% of the vote leads to 53.90% of the seats.
3 Yes, spending caps were introduced by the Chretein Liberals. However, many Liberal Party organizers hated the idea, as it'd deprive them of their key advantage: big blue Liberal money.

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