First published: October 21, 2007
The Progressive Conservatives are in deep trouble in Northumberland following last week’s election, but the Liberals are not in much better shape, despite their victory at the polls.
Meanwhile, the growth in the Green Party’s support is a significant trend, but maybe not for the reasons being touted by mainstream Toronto media.
An analysis of the past three provincial elections shows some startling results that must have backroom movers and shakers scratching their heads, if not downright worried. Since 1999, the percentage of voters who support the Conservatives has dropped a whopping 15 per cent. And that is not just a local trend. The Conservatives have dropped nearly 20 per cent in Peterborough over the same period and 12 per cent in Prince-Edward Hastings riding to the east. Even the results in Oshawa, where Jerry Ouellette has won each time, shows his support is down nearly eight per cent.
In contrast, the Liberal’s support in Northumberland is stagnant. It is up a mere two percentage points since the 1999 election and not even one per cent since 2003. In contrast, the Green Party experienced a huge gain of over nearly eight per cent since 1999, most of that taking place in the election last week.
The massive drop in Progressive Conservative support must have the Northumberland riding association concerned. One pundit in the mainstream media tried to suggest the rise in the Green Party support and NDP support was a result of a protest vote. This is highly unlikely within Northumberland. First of all, ideologically it would seem almost impossible that a former Conservative would suddenly switch to the NDP. It would be the same as a bird becoming a fish overnight. It won’t happen.
Another paper tried to argue farmers were moving toward the Green Party. But, that also doesn’t seem like a trend locally.
However, a more plausible trend may be the migration of small “c” conservatives to the Green Party.
The Green Party is certainly focused on environmental issues, but a closer look at the party’s platform deserves attention. It promised to reduce personal taxes, get rid of the Ontario Health Premium and reduce corporate income tax. It wants to help small business.
That sounds a lot like a Progressive Conservative, if you close your eyes. But don’t stop there.
The Green Party supported one unified school board, a position that emerged during the religious-based school funding debate during the campaign – a unpopular policy in rural Ontario.
One theory is that this kind of platform appeals to seniors. And, this may be where the Conservatives are hemorrhaging. For those people who are growing older, it would seem logical to move to the Green Party. The idea of reducing personal tax is very appealing to this group. It is also the group that remembers a time when Catholic schools were not funded in Ontario. And this is a demographic that is concerned about its legacy. These people don’t want to leave the planet in a mess and are very involved in environmental issues.
But wait. Let’s look at the rest of the party’s platform.
The Green Party wanted to target polluting industries and those that harm the environment with higher taxes and bring more democracy to the workplace. It also sought to open immigration policies, prohibit unpaid overtime, along with reducing family violence. That sounds pretty progressive. In fact, some might call it small “l” liberal.
Yet, we see that Liberal support is pretty fixed in Northumberland.
Maybe, the Green Party captured the elusive five per cent of voters all political parties fight over during an election. It is common knowledge amongst party strategists of all stripes that there is a core of support in every riding. Then, there are about five to 10 per cent that are volatile. These people migrate between various parties, which up until now have meant the Conservative and Liberals. They are referred to sometime as Red Tories or Blue Liberals. They can be generally described as being fiscal conservatives and socially liberal. It would seem the Green Party has scooped up a large swath of those people in Northumberland, and, that is a growing trend across the region.
Environmentalism is engaging. People recycle every day. They pay skyrocketing gas prices. They hear about smog alerts. They garden, watch birds and enjoy walking in parks. Climate change is talked about around the water cooler at work. Al Gore, David Suzuki and others are modern heroes. Environmentalism is in our face daily.
On the other hand, provincial politics is not.
It is impossible to expect a local riding association, run by a very small minority, to capture the popular imagination the way environmental groups have done. For the majority, politics is boring. It is up to mainstream parties to engage people in a meaningful and direct way. But this is not just a problem for the Tories. Mainstream parties need to be more diversified in terms of policies and more engaged with the grassroot on a host of issues, not just on environmental ones. It will be this diversity that will be its salvation. It is vital to find a way to become more relevant in the daily lives of Ontarians. Local Tories and Liberals need to respond. Or, they will end up as just another fringe party with the Family Coalition Party or the Republican Party of Ontario.