October 11, 2007

Faith-Based Funding Was Only the Catalyst. The Real Story is a Boring One.

What a month! My first campaign as an official organizer (I was the #2 guy for a Liberal candidate) has come to an end and life as I knew it, prior to September 10, will be back in full force this coming Monday. However, none of this has anything to do with my post - I just wanted to shamelessly promote myself!!

From the beginning of the election to the end, the issue of faith-based funding was front and centre. As an organizer I heard it from concerned electorates at every turn. All sorts of opinions were being provided - they were overwhelmingly opposed - and there were millions of questions being asked. When the final count was given, I was most relieved that I wouldn't have to hear of it again. Today though, every columnist and pundit seems to be saying that faith-based funding was the reason the Liberals won or the Conservatives lost, depending on which side you stand.

That is a pure copout and laziness on the part of the writers. Don’t get me wrong, faith-based funding played a significant role in the outcome. I would argue that it was actually the catalyst for the end result but to say it was THE reason for the outcome is to overlook much of the story. What is lost is that this election was just as much about the shortcomings of John Tory and the Conservatives’ campaign as it was about Dalton McGuinty and the Liberals’ record and campaign. Faith-based funding was a catalyst in the sense it started to get people thinking about the Liberals’ outlook versus that of the Conservatives’.

It’s no secret that there were issues with the record of McGuinty and the Liberals from the past four years. Every opposition candidate reminded us of it on a consistent basis; these being the ‘broken promises’. However, while there is some truth and much spin to that facet there is also the other side of those problems. These range from the reasons as to why the broken promises occurred to what effect they may or may not have had on the province. Any real inspection of the broken promises, especially the ‘big’ ones, reveals these underlying reasons and serves to only dull the anger over them.

There were a number of people that I had spoken with, who had pledged their support for the Conservatives, that when I had asked them about their opinions on cutting funding to social programs they would often speak out against such an action. Put that into the perspective of the health premium/tax and their outlook often softened on how serious it was of an issue. Too bad it didn’t result in them changing their vote.

Essentially, that is what I believe to be a huge part of the Liberals’ victory. Once many voters actually reflected upon the state Ontario is currently in, things didn’t actually seem to be that bad. And they aren’t. The stats speak for themselves. There was an increase of doctors in the province for the first time in over a decade, education is light years ahead of where it was prior to 2003, health care is slowly making progress, etc. Does this mean everything is perfect? Not at all. And the Liberals didn’t once make a claim that differed from that. They only claimed that, overall, progress had been made and their aim was to continue in that direction. The record is simple and the outlook just as simple.

When looking at all of this from the perspective of the Conservatives, while they seemingly had it made early on by hammering away with the leadership message, they ultimately had a tough task ahead of them. Like any individual candidate taking on an incumbent, especially a decent one, beating out a government that has a record of progress is tough. While early on it seemed as though there was going to be a much tighter race, I believe that the Liberals would have pulled it off anyway, just maybe not by the margin they did. The record and outlook of Liberals would have won out in the end.

What didn’t help the Conservatives was their message and platform and to some degree, their past. Running on the message of leadership is a risky move for any person or party. One only has to look at Paul Martin’s ‘Team Martin’ campaign. To run on that message your leader has to essentially be a flawless human being. This type of campaign puts all the spotlight and pressure on the leader and a single mistake, no matter how miniscule, will be turned into a crisis by the opposition and/or the media. With Tory’s past of finding ways to lose, him never seemingly being able to say things the way he wanted to and at some point attacking everyone in the province, putting all the attention on him was definitely the wrong strategy.

In addition, the fact that the Conservatives’ message was very negative from the get go didn’t help their cause either. After Tory said he wouldn’t run a negative campaign but then struck out viciously, that didn’t help his case. Taking shots at your opponent is one thing, but if it’s all you’re doing you only get people interested in the topic and they begin to wonder what all the fuss is about. What they found was a different McGuinty than what we’ve seen in the past and a generally positive record. Tory pushed people to have a serious look at his opponent. Furthermore, Tory attacked teachers, crown attorneys and others (and in the last few days he also insulted voters). Along with aspects of the Conservative platform, it only served to bring up memories of the Harris days where pretty much every public servant was cannon fodder. Remembering the recent Conservative government wasn't going to aid Tory in anyway and unfortunately, for as much as Tory wanted to escape that past, he couldn’t.

The Conservatives were also not helped by their platform which also played to their past problems. Faith-based funding got people to look at what was being offered and what was found was poorly explained, vague and generally unappealing to the general population. It also didn’t help that it was released prior to the audited budget and then it got hammered about being financially unrealistic. It contained terms such as ‘efficiencies’ and ‘privatization’. Again, these terms and the outlook of the platform only served to remind us of the days of Harris and Eves, something that Tory wanted to get away from but couldn’t. It also didn’t help that Tory pretty much confirmed everything that the NDP and Liberals had always said about the previous Conservative government. Tory, by saying that McGuinty hadn’t done enough since 2003 to fix our social programs, was admitting that Harris and Eves screwed everything up.

So where do we find ourselves at? We have another significant Liberal majority. How did we get here? It was not because of the faith-based funding issue however much it got the ball rolling. It was because of the un-extraordinary basis of the ‘us versus them’ scenario, which is the general decider of most elections. It may also be a factor as to why the voter turnout was also very low – but that’s for another post.

2 comments:

ALW said...

Kyle,

I guess I half-agree with you. I don't think faith-based funding spurred people into the Liberal camp so much as it exposed the fact John Tory didn't really have much else to talk about. If he'd had other policies that had any cache, he could have gotten away from the faith-based funding issue.

That said, I believe faith-based funding cost the Tories at least a dozen seats and probably pushed McGuinty into a majority. I have to hand it to the Liberal framing of the issue as one of 'segregation' - even though I think it's an awful tactic to use, since it's essentially appealing to people's darker sentiments about a certain religion that starts with an "I" and ends with an "m:". I still cannot figure out how any intelligent person can support funding only for Catholic schools, rather than all religions, or no religions. But the Tories failed miserably at framing the issue, so the Liberal version prevailed.

Kyle said...

I wasn't overly enthused about it being used either. While I didn't agree with the policy, it became too much of a focus and overly divisive, which was the point to some extent.

I'm not sure it pushed people to support us in overwhelming numbers either. I think it did keep a lot of the Conservative votes home. That seemed to be something our local Conservative candidate had eluded to, or it encouraged many others to vote Green out of protest or because of their particular stance on education.

Personally, I think the Catholics need to tread lightly over the next few years. I wouldn't be surprised if the education funding review came back with the recommendation to collapse the Catholic system into the public system. In fact, I think it would be a great idea, in the interest of efficiency of funding and resources, if they did that. Oops, I should watch myself, I might start sounding a little conservative with that talk!!

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