How the political landscape is changing

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First aired on Ottawa Morning (07/03/13)

Who's running Canada? According to the authors of The Big Shift: The Seismic Change in Canadian Politics, Business, and Culture and What It Means for Our Future, the political landscape of our home and native land has shifted fundamentally -- and is likely to stay this way for a while.

Globe and Mail journalist John Ibbitson, who co-authored the book with Darrell Bricker, recently spoke with Ottawa Morning about how the balance of power has changed. In the old political landscape, Ibbitson said, power was concentrated in business, academic and media elites in Central Canada. They debated the issues of the day and came to a consensus, usually but not always through the Liberal Party in a process the co-authors call "the Laurentian consensus."

the-big-shift-120.jpgIn The Big Shift, Ibbitson and Bricker argue that two things in particular have changed. "The first is that the West, the traditional bastion of Conservative support, is growing in power and influence and money and population," Ibbitson told host Robyn Bresnahan. The second factor is the changing demographic brought about by immigration. "We've been taking in 250,000 immigrants a year for almost 20 years. Most of them are Asians, or from other developing nations. Most of them are more economically conservative and more socially conservative than the immigrants who came from Europe after the Second World War."

According to Ibbitson and Bricker, Stephen Harper's achievement has been to marry these middle class, suburban voters, especially immigrants, to "the traditional but growing base of support in the West, and to create a new coalition." As a result, "the Laurentian elites" have been left out of power, a trend that they see as continuing for some time to come.

The Conservatives' power base in the West is growing, Ibbitson said, mostly because of natural resources. The population has been shifting westward, because that's where the jobs are. Ibbitson pointed out that there will be 30 new seats in Parliament in the next election. "About half of them are in Ontario, in suburban ridings, and half, more or less, are in the West. "

As for the immigrant vote, Ibbitson said that what matters more than anything else to established immigrants is the economy. They also worry about crime. "Well, guess what? The economy, [i.e.,] jobs, and crime are the two big issues for the Conservatives," he pointed out.

Ibbitson wouldn't make any predictions about the outcome of the next election, but he and Bricker believe "the Conservatives are advantaged, because they have the immigrants, because they have the West."

He went on to say that although Justin Trudeau is doing well at rallying support in his bid for the Liberal leadership, and will likely become the party's head, he'll have a hard time wooing voters away from the Conservatives. If the Conservatives win the next election, Ibbitson believes that the Liberals and the New Democrats should consider a merger -- although they shouldn't assume that joining forces would make them a shoo-in, he warned, " because economically conservative but socially liberal voters who have been voting Liberal will migrate over to the Conservative Party."

Ultimately, Ibbitson sees the Canadian political landscape moving toward "a polarized, two party, centre-left/centre-right, progressive/conservative dichotomy that will determine and shape future elections."

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