When—let’s assume it’s inevitable—you pick up the election edition of Maclean’s, you’ll find, among other tales of adventure and woe, a fine accounting of the Conservative party’s electoral prowess. Political “genius” is fleeting and often nothing more than a figment of the imagination, but there is probably something—either horrifying or commendable—to be said for what the Harper Conservatives have done here. Which is to say, there is something to be said for reducing all of this nonsense to a series of geographic and demographic equations. Politics as a mathematical exercise. Nothing worth doing if it doesn’t equal votes.
In that regard, a few numbers to consider.
Stephen Harper can now claim two of the five smallest mandates, by popular vote, since 1900. To wit.
1. Clark, 1979 35.9%
2. Harper, 2006 36.3%
3. Martin, 2004 36.7%
4. Diefenbaker, 1962 37.2%
5. Harper, 2008 37.6%
He can also now claim to have presided over two of the four least-voted-upon elections since 1900. To wit.
1. Harper, 2008 59.1%
2. Martin, 2004 60.9%
3. Chretien, 2000 64.1%
4. Harper, 2006 64.7%
5. Meighen, 1925 66.4%
So. Various questions to which I can claim no definitive answers.
In a rational world, at what point, philosophically speaking, would the size, or lack thereof, of a government’s mandate behoove it to cooperate with other parties? Or, to put it in terms Patrick Muttart would understand, at what point is it politically expedient for Stephen Harper to be seen cooperating with the other parties to make Parliament work?
In terms of voter turnout, to what degree does Stephen Harper depend upon a certain level of voter cynicism—both to discourage scrutiny of his own policies and demoralize his opponent’s supporters—to win? (The Prime Minister spent much of the last campaign saying that Stephane Dion was lying to you about the costs of a carbon tax, that it was all a barely concealed plot to rob you and your family, that it would ruin the economy and even threaten national unity. This compelled Mr. Dion to argue that, no, it was Stephen Harper who was lying. And so it was that the public had its worst instincts about politicians confirmed by the two men running to lead the country.) Do I read correctly, in the post-election analysis, that Mr. Harper’s greatest quality was his ability to put politics first and Mr. Dion’s greatest weakness was his inability to abandon principle? If so, is everybody ok with that? Does there ever come a point where the former approach manifests itself in such a degree of cynicism that the public rejects it and rewards the latter approach? Is this the way things have always been and the way things will always be? Or merely the way things are at the moment?
And finally, getting back to Muttart’s work, does his demographic study lead to a better understanding of voters or a better understanding of how best to manipulate voters?
Actually, never mind that one. It’s a matter of perspective. Here’s a better question: Is it the responsibility of our leaders to placate us or lead us? Sure, it’s probably possible for them to do both, but if you wanted them to put more emphasis or one or the other, would you choose to be placated or led? Are we so basically cynical at this point that we refuse to invest the trust necessary to be led? Does anyone wanting to lead then have to placate us first? And does any of the above help explain Barack Obama’s appeal?