Election 2006: What York experts said

In the days before the Jan. 23 federal election, major Canadian newspapers turned to York faculty to ask their opinion of election issues and non-issues, the value of polling and campaign strategies. Here are some of their responses:

  • “I think the city has become a non-issue and as long as [Conservative leader Stephen] Harper is in the lead, it will remain that way,” said York urban studies expert Roger Keil, according to The Hamilton Spectator Jan. 21. The only way the Conservatives talked about cities was in terms of controlling crime, he said. “The most ambitious and most worldly program on cities is the Liberal program because it connects cities with economic growth,” argued Keil, a professor in York’s Faculty of Environmental Studies. “They’re saying that Vancouver is competing with San Francisco and Toronto with Shanghai.”
  • Bob Hanke, who teaches in York’s Graduate Program in Communications & Culture, has written a study on polls in the 2004 campaign, and is closely watching this one, reported The Gazette in Montreal Jan. 21. He deplores what he calls “media poll-itics” – electoral politics stage-managed by pollsters, the kind of people Marshall McLuhan, in 1980, called “pollstergeists – the culture-mind readers”. “It’s the use of the poll to predict the outcome that’s the problem,” Hanke said. “If this very weak tool to describe public opinion were used to tell us what the public thinks and feels, it might work better. Just asking for the voter’s intention is just another form of a consumer-preference question: It’s very ambiguous, it doesn’t tell you what policies people prefer.”
  • James Laxer, political science professor in York’s Atkinson Faculty of Liberal & Professional Studies and a long-time NDP activist, thinks that by pulling the plug on the Liberal government and emphasizing Liberal scandal, Layton actually abetted the Conservative surge, reported the Toronto Star Jan. 22. “Whenever you frame an election around scandal, you are playing into the hands of the political right,” he says. “They were playing to Harper’s strength by doing that.” Laxer also thinks the NDP, in not launching a frontal attack on the Conservatives, has blithely ignored “a clear and present danger to the things that social democrats stand for.” The short list: Conservative plans to reconsider the U.S. missile defence plan, the party’s rejection of the Kyoto agreement on the environment, and opposition to a public, not-for-profit daycare system.
  • Just like the public, journalists are likely itching for change, according to Fred Fletcher, a professor of political science in York’s Faculty of Arts and a former reporter, reported the National Post Jan. 23 in a story about media bias. After 12 years of reporting on Liberal governments, the press gallery is tired of the party, he said. Once reporters adopt the “narrative line” that the Liberals are losing, they are more likely to look for gaffes and missteps on that side of the campaign, he said.
  • “I’m in Jack Layton’s riding, so although I usually vote NDP, my choice this election (as in the last) is dead easy,” said Michael Redhill, author of Martin Sloane, as part of an Ottawa Citizen survey of people in the arts published Jan. 22. “I am not doing any strategic voting, and wouldn’t, even if I were in a riding that looked like it might go to the Tories,” said the part-time faculty member who teaches in Atkinson’s Humanities Division. “I believe in voting for who I want, not against someone I don’t want.”

Urban transit an election issue

Moving people efficiently and keeping more of them off the highway is the central plank of Barrie’s NDP candidate Peter Bursztyn, reported the Barrie Advance Jan. 20. In regards to the oft-delayed GO Train service to Barrie, Bursztyn says, “it’s a dead loss unless the train can do the trip [to Toronto] in less than an hour.” Otherwise, “people won’t use it. What we need is a train that connects with north Toronto and York University,” he said.

On urban transit, the Conservatives have promised to maintain the Liberal government’s commitment to share five cents per litre of gasoline taxes with municipalities to help offset current transit costs, reported The Toronto Star’s Queen’s Park reporter Ian Urquhart Jan. 21. But the municipalities – Toronto in particular – were also looking for financial help from the federal government for new transit projects, such as the extension of the Spadina subway line to York University. Instead, the Conservative platform touts infrastructure funding for roads, bridges and highways.

Paul Martin not an Osgoode grad

The Canadian Press erroneously reported Thursday that Prime Minister Paul Martin attended York’s Osgoode Hall Law School. In fact, he is a graduate of the University of Toronto Law School.

On air

  • Business Prof. Bernie Wolf’s class of MBA students commented on the practicality of the many promises made during the campaign by the major parties, on a nine-minute item aired on CBC Radio’s national “The World at Six” Jan 20. They were interviewed during a class at York’s Schulich School of Business and commented on issues such as income tax and GST cuts.
  • Ian Roberge, a political science professor at York’s Glendon College, commented on how some candidates use dirty tricks to discredit their opponents, on Global TV’s “Global News” Jan. 20.
  • Alan Young, a professor at York’s Osgoode Hall Law School, discussed gun violence and minimum sentencing as election issues, on Global TV’s “Global News” Jan. 20.