Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Your Vote Doesn't Matter, Party for Sale, and All the Lonely People: A Belated Manitoba General Election 2011 Postscript

When the status quo wins as thoroughly and as decisively as it did in last week's provincial election, the urge to ruminate on it in a timely fashion seems rather less pressing.

Believe me, if there had been any important or immediate ramifications of the 2011 Manitoba General Election, everybody would have been chattering excitedly about them for the past week; there'd have been gripping and engaging dialogue from mainstream and alternative media sources alike, social media sites abuzz with activity with the debate on the future of our fair province doubtlessly capturing the imagination of all. As it stands instead, with an outcome like this, the most that anybody has really been able to muster up about our most recent exercise of democracy is a sarcastic "well, that was worthwhile" and then some dismissive wanking motions.

Not coincidentally, voter turnout this year barely scraped past fifty-seven percent, an almost-but-not-quite-all-time low. (This year marks the third-lowest turnout in Manitoba election history, behind, uh... 2003 and 2007.) There has been some gnashing of teeth since about participation and voter involvement, the low turnout being blamed on the sameness of the two viable parties (which is true) and modern distrust of politicians in general (which is also true) and the stifling flatline dullness of the campaign itself (which is true as well), but I have my own hypothesis on the matter: the main reason that voters in this province barely bothered to show up is that they're all too aware by now of how little their vote is worth.

There are currently fifty-seven ridings across the Province of Manitoba, and in any given election maybe three or four of them will boil down to legitimately close contests on E-day. The vast majority of the remainder are blowouts, some inevitably so, some almost comedically so; go drop an orange vote in Steinbach -- a blue vote in Wolseley, a red vote in Winkler, a green vote anywhere -- and get back to me on how much you feel your vote counts.

Perhaps you could -- could -- conceivably make a difference as a provincial candidate, as the campaign manager for a provincial candidate, or as a volunteer for the campaign manager of a provincial candidate. (And even these, given the power of incumbency in this province, are unlikely at best.) But as a voter? Ha ha, nah, you're fucked. I mean, not to put too fine a point on it, of course.

Here, lemme show you something; I cobbled this together from the electoral graphics of manitobaelection.ca and Elections Manitoba, with a bit of color editing for internal consistency.

Remember how everything was supposed to be up in the air for this election, an election pitched as one of our closest? A new Premier appointed by the reigning party to fill the resignation of the old one, an energized opposition with a more experienced and seasoned leader at the helm, a third party bolstered by an influx of federal celebrity guest appearances, a Green Party flying on exhilarating record levels of support, twelve straight months of nearly-constant campaigning on all fronts, the retirement or resignation of over a dozen seated MLAs, the introduction and rollout of a brand new system that established fixed election dates, a sweeping redistribution of candidates and voter blocs through adjustment of riding boundaries, the future of a multi-million dollar energy line hanging in the balance. Anything could happen! Everything is exciting!

Want to see what four full years' worth of political activity actually changes?

And that's why your vote doesn't matter.

Wait, no, sorry -- I should try to put a brave face on it, for the kids. Hey, kids! Your one vote could change all this! pfffffffffffff

One seat, after all of that, a one seat difference. And this is the real kicker: guess how many incumbent candidates were defeated. Guess how many! Go on, guess, guess guess guess guess--did you guess 'zero'? Zero! Zero incumbents defeated. That's really all that needs to be said, isn't it?

Besides being a quintessentially Manitoban result, this also further explains why voters grow somewhat less than enthused with the political process; insanity is popularly defined as doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results, and how many times can you vote against (for example) Jim Maloway in Elmwood before you decide you're wasting your time? Six times? Seven? Did you know Virden is two years away from six straight decades of Conservative representation? Your vote is important!

So, anyway, we had an election last week; Selinger successfully dropped the 'Unelected' prefix on his Premierdom, McFadyen QQed and ragequit his leadership in frustration, and the Greens are chuffed about their zero seats because this is still their best showing. But what of the Liberals? Er, Liberal.

It is a rough time to be the leader of the Liberals; it was a struggle just for the party to run candidates in all fifty-seven ridings this year, and now -- the party having failed to reach the ten-per-cent-popular-vote threshold necessary for the province to rebate half its campaign expenses -- it falls upon poor beleaguered Gerrard to call up fifty-six loyal Liberals and tell them "oh, by the way, you're out twice as much money as you thought you'd be". Not a real solid plank for rebuilding the party, you know?

You could tell from his speech on election night that he's not really feeling the leadership scene any more, and just wants to stick to his own riding; if you'd taken a shot every time he said "River Heights", you would currently be dead. It is expected that he'll relinquish the Liberal leadership sometime in the coming months, although with his as the only Liberal seat there aren't very many understudies waiting in the wings for his gig.

It's a party that anybody could probably just take over, if they wanted; there are precious few established Liberals to overtake for prominence, and shoring up a strong support base for a leadership run would be a lot harder if memberships in the party weren't free until the end of the year. wait, what

See, this is why I haven't been able to take the Winnipeg Chamber of Commerce and their "ManitobaBOLD" thing seriously; if they really genuinely wanted to enact lasting change and a comprehensive platform of ideas through the arena of provincial politics, they could literally just buy themselves a party. Even if memberships weren't currently free, I mean. The Liberals' debt is reportedly lower now than it was in 1998, then a cool $30,000 when Gerrard stepped in to save the party. And what's thirty grand to these guys? Chamber of Commerce could drop thirty grand a year on lunches.

Anybody could have the party if they wanted it, which is sad for the Liberals, and nobody wants it enough to take it, which is probably sadder for the Liberals. But with the Gerrard era seemingly nearing its conclusion in a party that officially consists entirely of Gerrard -- by all accounts a fine man, well suited for everything except the position he's in -- I'd put together a little something in the Liberals' honour just after the election.


Ah, look at Jon the lonely leader
Ah, look at Jon the lonely leader

Liberal Party
still in the woods and still dreaming of some better fate
like '88

Kevin Lamoureux
took half the party and left for a federal chair
there went your heir

Jon the lonely leader
when will your payoff come?
Jon the lonely leader
where do you rebuild from?

Scion of Trudeau
writing the words to a speech that might slow the defeat
isn't he sweet

then for more stumping
flying in Copps for the boost of a familiar name
ten people came

Jon the lonely leader
when will your payoff come?
Jon the lonely leader
where do you rebuild from?

Ah, look at Jon the lonely leader
Ah, look at Jon the lonely leader

John and Anita's
knives in your back while you're trying to run the campaign
One seat again

Tory McFadyen
leaving his post when nineteen seats is considered rough
that's not enough?

Jon the lonely leader
when will your payoff come?
Jon the lonely leader
where do you rebuild from?

/violin outro

See you next time!


Anonymous said...

Hilarious as always James!

Gord said...

Since we are questioning the power of single voter influence, why only graph Manitoba's entrenched incumbents? A stat to consider is what the gap was between the elected candidate and the first runner up, in comparison to the no-show voters. In other words, if people *did* come to the polls and vote (let's say Green), how many ridings would have ended up a new shade of olive?
I don't know, and I haven't looked at these stats, I'm just suggesting they might be a better measurement of voter power. Or lack of power, if they support your position.
Thanks for your posts.

John Dobbin said...

My personal belief is we might be in for a few more terms of NDP rule.

The collapse of the Liberal party and the two party system probably supports the NDP more than any other party.

We could have a few decades of them in power given no major issues which is how they like to run things. Might only change with a cut in transfer payments.