In the Chamber -- Grant Mitchell's Blog

Voter behaviour

Posted 10/23/2008 by Grant Mitchell


The election raises some interesting contradictions inherent in voter behaviour.

Stéphane Dion offered the kind of politics that people say they want: honest, straightforward, based upon intelligent policy initiatives, pursuing constructive debate, and presented at a high, positive level. When they get it, they do not vote for it. The Liberal loss under this kind of politics underlines this, one of the great puzzles of electoral politics.

It was compounded by a press that would say that this campaign was a dirty one, never pointing out the fact that this “dirty” label properly applied to the Conservatives and the NDP but not at all to the Dion Liberals until it was having such an effect that even Mr. Dion, late in the campaign, could not ignore it any longer. While being critical of negative campaigning by using the term “dirty” to describe it, the press never gave Mr. Dion any credit for not indulging in it for the longest time and, in fact, criticized him for not responding to it.

Another interesting contradiction is that people say they want real policy ideas, often bold ones, presented during election campaigns. Yet, when they got the Green Shift, endorsed by some of the best economists in the country, people complained that it was too complicated and they could not understand it. Surely, the significant policy ideas will reflect the fact that all the easy issues have been solved and the hard ones may just require solutions that cannot be easily described in a 30 second clip. But even at that, how difficult is it to understand that the Green Shift would start taxing what we do not want while reducing taxes on what we do want. Instead, too many concluded that the Green Shift was only a tax increase, failing to recognize the fact that it would drop income and corporate taxes. And, this drop would in most, if not all cases of individuals and families, by far exceed any increased cost incurred due to the carbon tax side of the initiative. In Alberta, the largest amount of the tax would be paid by the users of the products outside of Canada to where they are exported, leaving most families and individuals net winners.

Another great contradiction in politics is that people say they want politicians who look beyond the next election. In that context, I remember hearing a truck driver on Cross Country Check-up saying that he had made his truck as fuel efficient as possible and the carbon tax would add costs that would put him out of business (despite the fact that he would receive tax cuts and potentially other help to cover the extra costs). What he failed to understand is that when oil prices are at $200 per barrel, there will be costs that will put him out of business and it will be too late to develop options that would help him reduce his reliance on fossil fuel and their escalating costs. The Green Shift would have kick started the process of finding solutions now to be ready to deal with the inevitable problems of the future.

Mr. Dion has every right to feel a great frustration. And so do those who expect the best of our democracy.

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