Vote 2011 – Canada’s perfect storm?

by John Devine
City Scene Barrie

Is Canada about to have its own Obama moment? Remember two years ago when the current president of the United States was rocketed to the White House on an unprecedented wave of voter support from people who, in the past, hadn’t bothered to vote at all? The young, the black, the disenfranchised, that’s who largely put Obama into office.
With polls showing record turnouts at advance polls, and the youth vote turning out in droves, pundits are saying that Canada is experiencing a systemic shift that is blowing Jack Layton and the NDP, and the country, into uncharted territory.
If yes, it wouldn’t be the first time this country has followed a trend started south of the border. You’ll recall the election of Brian Mulroney a few years after his philosophical soulmate Ronald Reagan was vaulted into office on the rising tide of conservatism that dominated the 80s.
That election produced a surge in support for the NDP, resulting in new seats, power and prestige for the party and its leader, Ed Broadbent. The Liberals, led by John Turner, sagged – causing many pundits to claim the party of Laurier would fade into history, leaving the country with two dominant parties.
Didn’t quite work out that way as the Grits rebounded in the subsequent 1988 election, and bounced all the way back into power in the 1993 federal election.
The 2011 vote may also turn on its ear the belief that Canadians are largely apathetic when it comes to political matters. Rather, a good analogy may be the bear hibernating during the winter. It takes a lot to wake him up, but when he does, especially if something is bothering him, watch out.
So, what’s going on? Well, it may be that when the counting is done, the political landscape will be a familiar one – Conservatives in government, Liberals as the official opposition, with the NDP and the Bloc filling out the rest of the seats. Could be, and the Maple Leafs may win the Stanley Cup next year, but that seems as unlikely as a familiar House of Commons on Tuesday morning.
One of those so-called ‘perfect storms,’ where events align to produce an unexpected, rare or unforeseen event, may be about to hit. A look at the composition of the storm shows it being fuelled by a youth vote engaged by social media, Quebecers seeking an alternative to the ‘federal’ Bloc, and ordinary people simply pissed off with the traditional choices.
None of this should really come as a surprise, but it has caught the politicos off guard, nonetheless. The NDP has been working Quebec for some time, and as a left-leaning party, would seem to be a valid choice for Quebecers looking for an alternative to the Bloc, whose policies share common ground with the NDP. Facebook, Twitter and other social media forums, provide unprecedented opportunity for grassroots campaigns to emerge and spread in popularity and support. If the youth vote continues to be engaged and energized, it will be down to social media.
And then there are the ordinary guys and gals still reeling from the recession and struggling to get along. Lot of pain out there, and their pain may be Jack’s gain.
In hindsight, you can see how a perfect storm comes about, and the forces that shaped it. But when it hits, you’re left wondering “where they hell did that come from?”

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