Chantal Hébert at Carleton University
[Welcome, National Newswatch readers!]
I covered national affairs columnist Chantal Hébert's lecture at Carleton University last week, the one Peter Mansbridge said he heard she was a "rock star" at, for the Hill Times, and a story appears there, which is reprinted here with kind permission.
However, readers may also be interested in the full transcript of her comments, and the Question and Answer period afterwards, in order to give context to some of her more controversial comments about such things as:
- the media's coverage of the Toronto municipal election campaign
- why the Liberals are "no longer a national party"
- why she opposed the long gun registry, and
- why she's finally become a support of proportional representation
There's a lot more as well.
Voters angry, engaged, and ahead of conventional parties: Hébert
Conventional political parties are ‘slow to catch the wave,’ or simply being cast away by a populace looking for something else, says Chantal Hébert.
By ALICE FUNKE
The common thread between citizen backlashes over culture cuts, prorogation and the census, the HST in British Columbia, and new political forces in Calgary, Toronto and Quebec, is the emergence of an angry and therefore engaged electorate, Toronto Star syndicated national affairs columnist and leading political analyst Chantal Hébert told a packed audience of academics and students at Carleton University last Wednesday night.
Ms. Hébert also cited Canada’s “apparently open-ended minority cycle” as being perhaps ahead of the curve in the trend now seen internationally across the developed democracies, and she said it arose in part due to the presence of the Bloc Québécois but also from the fact that the Liberals “are no longer a national party.” Drawing a tentative line between the seven isolated political events in Canada, Ms. Hébert argued that no conventional politician was to be found leading those campaigns. Conventional political parties have been “slow to catch the wave,” she said, and if they’re lucky are able to join the parade on some of these issues, although in other cases they “are simply being cast away by a populace looking for something else.”
“Taken together though they suggest, I think, that faced with a non-responsive political system, voters are taking matters in their own hands, and they are finding ways to work right out of the box of the conventional politics to bring about change,” she said.
Where conventional parties cannot take up the charge, “wild cards” like the Wildrose Alliance, the mayoral campaigns of Naheed Nenshi in Calgary and Rob Ford in Toronto, and Force Québec, a “hypothetical party” whose existence is not even a certainty, are emerging as “real contenders for power.”
The conventional parties haven’t figured out how to respond effectively, Ms. Hébert claimed, citing the case of Toronto where Mr. Ford was subjected to two months of a “highly critical microscope of the probably the most powerful media in the country,” which only succeeded in communicating to his supporters “ ‘Oh boy, this guy, he’s a buffoon, people want to vote for him, let’s insult their intelligence and tell them how stupid they are to want to vote for him,” she said.
“When you have an outsider candidate, a maverick candidate, that’s coming in and on a populist platform, the last thing you want to throw at that candidate is insider support for the opposition.”
Unlike Calgary, where Mr. Nenshi’s campaign was “certainly able” to effectively use social media and garner new voters moving him from one per cent in vote intentions to a competitive position, many internet pollsters in the Toronto race completely missed the older voters who were not using Facebook but were supporting Mr. Ford.
“A disengaged electorate doesn’t do 700,000 hits over culture cuts, and it does not go on Facebook and decide it wants a mayor that one per cent of people wanted to support at the beginning of the campaign. And it does not elect Rob Ford because it’s disengaged or it’s not angry,” Ms. Hébert argued. “Angry is engagement.”
She said she believes that the social media are allowing citizens to connect with each other better than the conventional politicians are connecting with them, and believes that the political party that can awake this sleeping giant will be best positioned to succeed in the shifting political landscape.
Taking questions from the floor, Ms. Hébert also assessed the country’s prospects for electing a majority government, saying that while she was not opposed to minority governments and said she believes they can work well, any majority that would be elected now would be a “mathematical majority,” but not a national one, owing to the “regional silos we are now working ourselves into,” which she argued was a worse outcome than any minority government.
She pointed to the paucity of Liberal votes in Western Canada during the last election as a demonstration of “how weak the Liberals are, and that there is a lot of rebuilding to be done,” noting that within Quebec, the Liberals have lost four of the five campaigns they’ve fought against a united Conservative Party since the patriation of the constitution when they lost that province, and that they are now “the Toronto Party with some seats in Ontario and the Atlantic provinces.”
Answering a question on regional differences in attitudes towards justice issues, Ms. Hébert invoked the introduction of the gun registry, saying that some of the provinces like Saskatchewan and New Brunswick who asked the federal government to allow provinces to opt in to the Criminal Code provision at the time, were led by premiers who were hardly “hardcore Conservatives who want to have guns in their kitchen.” She said that at the time she had opposed the long gun registry, knowing people who had worked on the file who “thought that they had pushed the gun control file under Kim Campbell as far as it could be pushed, to be efficient for the money that we could put in it,” and she argued that perhaps an opportunity had been lost by insisting on a national application of that provision.
Ms. Hébert also admitted to becoming a supporter of proportional representation at the federal level after a recent trip to Europe, not for many of the panaceas its supporters now confer it with, but because it “would have some Liberals from Alberta in Michael Ignatieff’s caucus and some New Democrats from Montreal in Jack Layton’s caucus” and that would help prevent the dangers of regionalism. She said she doesn’t think there is any momentum towards it, however, and said that the NDP appear not to be pushing it very hard, perhaps since the growth of the Green Party on the federal scene.
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Alice Funke is editor of the Pundits' Guide to Canadian Federal Elections
Tags: Hill Times