No Lessons Learned In Calgary-Centre

How Progressives Got It Completely Wrong

January 5th, 2013 |  J. Hodgson 

I first heard about a progressive initiative in Calgary-Centre during a trip to a boutique farmers market earlier this year. A middle aged, hipster male was talking seriously about working out a plan to help ensure that the leftist progressive vote split didn’t allow the Conservative Party to retain it’s long held seat in downtown Calgary. I smiled inwardly thinking the initiative would be a loser. This is Calgary and pretty much every seat is a slam dunk for the Conservatives.

Prime Minister Harper declared a by-election on November 26th, 2012 and the race began.

“The great political minds of Alberta are pondering today where Conservative Party candidate Joan Crockatt will place in Monday’s Calgary-Centre by-election. Will she come second? … Or third? You think I’m joking? This is no joke – especially for Prime Minister Stephen Harper!” - David Climenhaga

Guess it was a joke, because she came in first. The above quote was demonstrative of the typical braying of overconfident leftwing activists living in a progressive bubble. I was surprised at just how quickly this little downtown by-election turned into a giddy royal rumble among the activist crowd. Here's a quick breakdown of some highlights.

The first election poll that was released showed Joan Crockett with only 32% of the vote. Liberal Harvey Locke had 30% with Chris Turner from the Green Party trailing with 23%. This set the liberal media and progressive activists into a frenzy. The unrestrained glee at the thought of taking out the Conservatives was palpable. Of course, as we have learned from recent history, polls don’t matter. At all. 

Joan decided to skip most of the “citizen forums” and focus on door knocking. This, of course, was an affront to progressives everywhere. Because she skipped these leftists bear traps in which vested interests pour into a community hall to celebrate anti-conservatism, she didn’t allow herself to become the pinata that everyone hoped she would be. They called this “contempt for democracy”, but it was just good conservative strategy. Why subject yourself to a liberal frame?

The two forums Joan did attend were the leftist bear traps that everyone suspected they’d be. Joan made a comment about the CBC funding online pornography. She suggested that this was evidence of the need for further cuts. This was immediately met with exasperated joy amongst the progessives in the crowd. They perceived this as a “gotcha” moment, apparently not realizing that tight fiscal policy for the CBC is fairly standard conservative boilerplate that mainstream Canadians are fine with. Twitter exploded with mocking tv show titles like, “Anne of Green Gangbang”. The mainstream media types were as celebratory as the progressive activists. Much easier to hit your deadline with an easy-to-write zinger like #CBCporn.

One of the forums that was held involved Mayor, Naheed Nenshi. Joan skipped this one and Nenshi apparently couldn’t understand why. “I can’t imagine why she would want to miss this opportunity to discuss the government’s commitment to Calgary,” said Nenshi. Nenshi is no fan of Harper or the Conservative Party. Having a high profile and popular mayor jump in on the progressive boot stomp with a bear trap of his own would simply not serve any purpose. She’d have handed the liberal media Nenshi fodder as everyone piled on her like a rugby match. Instead everyone called this “more contempt for democracy” and the issue quickly faded.

The Liberals clearly viewed this election as winnable. It seemed like half the sitting MP’s flew to the riding in order to shake hands and get their pictures taken. The biggest picture taker of them all was, of course, Justin Trudeau. His rockstar appearance was an attempt to bring some heat to Harvey Locke and slamdunk downtown Calgary into the role of Liberal Party rejuvenation maker. A well timed smear piece by SunNews, in which Trudeau slams Albertans during an interview in Quebec, seemed to have nicely turned the tables on the situation. But progressives believe that nobody watches SunNews, so maybe it didn’t play a role after all.

The twitter bubble along with Obama’s recent re-election had misled progressives into a tizzy of hubris. Liberal strategist Stephen Carter predicted a big loss for Crockatt. Progressive initiative 1 Calgary Centre was posting multiple updates a day on their website with glee. People talked about “The New Calgary”. The Calgary that progressives want so badly. The Calgary that gets the nodding approval of Toronto and Vancouver...scratch that....London and New York! Calgary was dynamic and progressive now! Bicycling to the recycling centre in retro clothing and wayfarers was just over the horizon. Come on Calgary! Let’s show the world that we can smoke dope and lower our carbon footprint at the same time! Let’s raise taxes and “make investments” in the community! Yeah! We can DO this for real!

When the dust settled on November 26th, Joan Crockatt won the riding with 36.9% of the vote. Progressives were soul crushed. The pundits came out in full force to explain, in one way or another, where it all went wrong and what it all meant. 

John Ibbitson of the Globe & Mail wrote a piece entitled, “Will Tories learn lesson from Calgary-Centre scare?” 

The lesson to be learned, according to John, is that economic conservatism can win but social conservatism can’t. Even though Joan Crockatt is pro-choice and pro-gay marriage, (and let’s be honest, in the realm of “social issues”, people basically just mean these two things) Ibbitson puts her in the so-con camp because she supported the Wildrose Party and had MP Rob Anders working on her campaign. So basically, unless a candidate rejects an entire provincial political party’s validity and blacklists the involvement of other MP’s from her own party, then she’s a zany so-con. This reflects a disturbing trend in Canadian conservatism in which many believe that the only acceptable viewpoint is to adopt progressive policy across the board, but just tone it all down by 10% and call it "conservative". Wherever liberalism was ten years ago, we’ll just adopt it and call it conservatism today. 

This isn’t what Joan is about, and that’s partly why she was viewed as so scary by her opponents and less successful than previous MP, Lee Richardson. Nevertheless, she won.

Andrew Coyne of the National Post wrote a piece entitiled, “One Time Only Electoral Pact Could Cure Our Voting System Problems"

Joan Crockatt winning the election is a “problem” to be “solved”. The notion that democracy is broken simply because the result wasn’t what you hoped for is obscene. I remember in the 90’s when Jean Chretien was winning election after election, and I felt the same indignation that progressives feel today. You know what, though? I was in my teens. What’s the progressive excuse?

Democracy wasn’t broken in the 90’s, I just didn’t like the result. Most people who bothered to vote, (which wasn’t many...only about 30% of people who could vote did so) decided to cast their ballot for Crockatt. She got the most votes. It wasn’t a 50% + 1 majority, but so what? The single-member, simple plurality system of parliamentary democracy that we’ve had for 145 years, has helped turn Canada into one of the best countries in the world. Some leftist driven, cobbled together preference system imported from Lithuania or wherever isn’t what Canadians are clamouring for.

David Climenhaga of Rabble wrote a piece entitled, “And The Winner Is...No One:Everybody Missed Monday’s Biggest Story”.

Climenhaga is mostly interested in who stayed home and why. He suspects that Red Tory’s didn’t bother voting because they didn’t like Crockatt, but couldn’t vote for anyone else. He thinks a vote split on the left meant Chris Turner was a spoiler for Harvey Locke. He also allows for the idea that people may be disconnected from federal politics and, thus, don’t really care who their representative is anyway. 

Sadly, the last idea is probably the most likely one. From my experience in media, I would wager a decent sum of money that probably 40% of people in the riding didn’t know there even was a by-election. I’d bet more money that if they did know there was an election, they didn’t know when it was taking place or where they had to go in order to vote. After all, it’s just a by-election, right? No big changes will happen anyway, right? 

People are busy and most ordinary people aren’t glued to online updates about non-election year polling stats. They don’t care about cross party platforms or the odd quip about the CBC during a lame community forum. Most ordinary people have life so good, or they are pursuing a life so good, that petty political discourse doesn’t enter into their thought process. Many others are simply partisan voters who vote mindlessly when they have to. Others may personally know a candidate or simply like a candidate’s haircut.

Does Calgary-Centre love Joan Crockatt? No. Do they hate her? No. She’s just some lady doing a job in Ottawa and hopefully she’ll be okay. What does her victory mean? 

It means she won a by-election. 

That’s all. 

If the weather was different she may have lost. Who knows?

That’s the crucial part of the equation. Nobody knows. The pundit crowd fall all over themselves telling you what they think will happen before a result and then what they think needs to happen after a result. Whether it’s failed Liberal strategist Warren Kinsella flogging a new book, or even the right-wing talking heads of SunNews, media types are fulfilling one thing only...their own bank accounts. They use their respective mediums as platforms in order to carve a public niche for themselves so they can make money. They don’t actually know anything, they’re just providing opinion entertainment, because it’s easier than getting a real job.

So take the Calgary-Centre by-election with a giant grain of salt. There is no deep meaning to the result. There is no deep trend or cultural shift. There is no problem with democracy. It was just another election contest that was thankfully won by a libertarian styled hardcore conservative. Supporters of Poletical know this is a good achievement, as we need more libertarian influenced MP’s in Ottawa, but to suggest it’s anything other than an isolated incident is premature and overwrought. Of course....I’m just some guy, myself. 

Maybe it does mean something.

Think for yourself.