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May
05 2011

What Were Canadians REALLY Saying?

Syndicated from: Steve Paikin

One of the truly mystical parts of our Westminster system of Parliament is trying to divine what the voters are really trying to say.   Since our elections really aren't a single national election, but rather 308 individual riding elections, it's often next to impossible to figure out whether voters in Halifax were motivated by the same concerns as those in Chicoutimi. Or Winnipeg or Vancouver for that matter.   Did Canadians really mean to give the Conservatives a majority? Did Quebec really intend to rout the Bloc Quebecois and give Jack Layton nearly all their seats? Did the voters really intend to decimate the Liberals?   To get some answers, Ensight Canada went into the field with polling and focus groups immediately after Monday's election results were known in hopes of finding out why Canadians voted the way they did.   Here's what they discovered:   * Stephen Harper should not interpret his majority government mandate too broadly.  He got a mandate to finish fixing the economy, but that's all. The public still fears his "hidden agenda," and if Conservatives think their majority means they can implement an agenda beyond the economy, they're wrong.   * Jack Layton gets similar advice.  His numbers weren't much better in English Canada this time than they were last time. His huge breakthough in Quebec came as a result of voters tiring of the Bloc, and the Conservatives, and the Liberals.  You are not the prime minister in waiting, Mr. Layton, voters said. And don't infer that your 100+ seats means Canada is ready for the NDP's former brand of hard-left social democracy.   * For the Liberals, the news is actually encouraging.  Canadians said they weren't trying to crush the Liberals forever, that this was not some major historic realignment of Canadian politics. Rather, it was an attempt to put the Grits in the penalty box until they got their act together. The Conservatives' negative ads successfully demonized Michael Ignatieff, who seemed helpless to fight back. And the Liberal platform impressed few. What does the Liberal party stand for these days? Apparently, most Canadians no longer have a clue.   * Can the Greens take solace from Elizabeth May's victory? Yes and no. While Canadians seemed pleased to have the party leader finally taste victory, Ensight found no appetite for her message of putting the environment at the centre of everything. The environment was on few peoples' radar screens, unlike in 2008, when the Liberals ran on the Green Shift, and May participated in the leaders' debate.   And one more thing: the #1 issue by far that animates Canadians is health care. They're adamant about having a health care system that works for them, and according to Ensight, are prepared to consider more choice and more privatization to get it.    (Champions of Medicare, as is, will note that the Ensight presentation was made by Jaime Watt, the Conservative strategist. They may wonder whether Watt is doing the government's bidding by suggesting Canadians are open to two-tier health care. For his part, Watt says his findings speak for themselves).   The old dogmas and cliches are no longer in effect, Ensight found. If that's true, that may ultimately be a more interesting development in Canadian political life than the astonishing results of May 2nd.  

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