Opinion

The new politics of fear

By David Akin, Postmedia Network

So let’s review, shall we?

On May 2, 2011, Canadians went to the polls and gave the incumbent, Stephen Harper and the Conservatives, a majority government.

Then we had a string of provincial elections.

In P.E.I. last Oct. 3, Liberal Robert Ghiz was re-elected. The next day in Manitoba, New Democrat Greg Selinger was re-elected as premier.

Two days after that, Liberal Premier Dalton McGuinty won Ontario for the third time. Another five days, and it was Kathy Dunderdale’s turn to extend the winning streak that Danny Williams started for Newfoundland’s Progressive Conservatives.

On Nov. 7, it wasn’t even close in Saskatchewan when voters there re-elected Brad Wall’s Saskatchewan Party.

Incumbents ran the table in 2011.

And so we come to the mother of all incumbent parties in Canada — the Alberta Progressive Conservatives.

In power since 1971, PC Premier Alison Redford faced the electorate Monday and defied all pollsters and pundits in romping to yet another majority.

When Redford next asks for a verdict from the voters in 2016, the Alberta PCs will have been in power 45 years, longer than any party in Canada’s history, eclipsing the 43 years Liberals spent running Nova Scotia 1882 to 1925, or the 42 years between 1943 and 1985 that the Big Blue Machine was tops in Ontario.

Will this streak of incumbency success end anytime soon?

The premiers of B.C. and Quebec,  facing elections next year, hope not.

B.C. Liberal Christy Clark is in a world of trouble, tied in recent polls with the new Conservative Party of B.C. but well back of Adrian Dix and the B.C. NDP.  In Quebec, Jean Charest’s Liberals trail Pauline Marois and the PQ in Quebec.

When incumbents won over the last year, were there any common denominators?

Yup. Fear.

Every incumbent convinced voters that change was, at least, “too risky” and, at worst, downright “frightening.” Harper spent the last week of the federal campaign scaring Canadians about the prospect of Michael Ignatieff and Jack Layton teaming up to form an unholy coalition.

It worked.

In Ontario, McGuinty, like Harper, sold voters on stability and made them fear his Progressive Conservative challenger Tim Hudak.

Worked again.

And, in the last week of the just-concluded Alberta election, Redford herself said she was “frightened” for Alberta if voters there chose Danielle Smith’s Wildrose Party. A premier who would be skeptical of the science of climate change — that would be Smith — would embarrass all Albertans, Redford warned.

Forget about her own party’s abundant lapses in transparency, ethics and accountability, the PC leader’s message was Albertans should be scared of Wildrose.

Worked like a charm.

You can already see the narratives Clark and Charest might want to think about as they seek to hold on to power next year.

For Clark: An NDP government led by Adrian Dix will be the Worst Thing Ever for B.C. And that’s why those thinking of supporting John Cummins’ B.C. Conservative Party should rally to her flag.

I suspect Charest, too, will warn voters how bad things would be if Marois becomes premier.

Welcome to the new politics of fear.

It matters not if you’re an incumbent of the left, centre, or right. Painting the other guy or gal as scary is how incumbents hold on to power in Canada.

And it works.


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