Vote with confidence. Get informed with our in depth election coverage.
Diversity in political representation
The Rise of the Independents in Cape Breton
The election’s on: Now Canadians should watch out for dumbfakes and ...
Political seeds planted by local activism
How could young voters affect this election?
It wouldn’t be a crazy theory to suggest the Liberals are worried about the fate of their three precarious seats in Alberta as the Oct. 21 election approaches.
The province is home to widespread ire toward the government and a provincial conservative party that just swept to power with a crushing majority. And then there’s this: Edmonton MP Randy Boissionault has been hurrying around the province this summer, doling out money like a drunken billionaire.
No less than 69 cheques have been handed out in the last month by Boissionault. His colleague in Calgary, Liberal MP Kent Hehr, is in second place with 59 spending announcements to his name.
These sweepstakes, funded by tax dollars, have been documented assiduously by Global News chief political correspondent David Akin, who has been tracking and analyzing every government spending announcement, going back three parliaments. That’s more than 26,000 spreadsheet rows, for anyone counting.
On Wednesday, Akin noticed an announcement by Nova Scotia MP and cabinet minister Bernadette Jordan.
“Now she’s going to be in trouble in her riding. That’s South Shore — St. Margarets. That’s a riding that is likely to move from Liberal, possibly, to Conservative and she’s going to have to fight it out,” said Akin, in an interview with the Post. “And today of all days, she’s got $25 million to build a highway overpass on Highway 103. And she’s had a couple of those. And you kind of go, oh, that just magically happened to get approved and done a week before the campaign? I’m a little cynical.”
There’s no question that politicians of all stripes believe this kind of funding and the media coverage it attracts can win over voters for the governing party but, surprisingly, there’s very little research backing that up.
In fact, a comprehensive study by Joshua Kalla of the University of Berkeley and David Broockman of the Stanford Graduate School of Business found that advertising actually has no effect on voters at all.
“We argue that the best estimate of the effects of campaign contact and advertising on Americans’ candidates choices in general election is zero,” the paper reads. “Our best guess for online and television advertising is also zero, but there is less evidence on these modes.”
If direct advertising doesn’t work, then sparsely attended media appearances that don’t even mention the Liberal Party may be even less effective. It could be that Liberal MPs and cabinet ministers are frantically jet-setting around the country writing billions of dollars worth of cheques for almost no tangible electoral gain.
“Our findings also offer an important caveat to the widespread notion that political elites can easily manipulate citizens’ political choices,” the paper reads. It is “exceedingly rare in the elections that matter most” that people will be swayed by conventional campaign tactics.
Whether or not these spending announcements are working the way the Liberal Party hopes, the data holds some potentially tantalizing previews of where they are defending their turf and where they’d like to pick up some seats. A National Post analysis of Akin’s data shows a few non-Liberal ridings seeing a flurry of government spending activity.
Three ridings in Quebec and two ridings in British Columbia have attracted more than 31 spending announcements since July 1, including Skeena—Bulkley Valley, the riding that currently belongs to long-time NDP MP Nathan Cullen, who is not running in the 2019 election.
The other ridings are Abitibi-Témiscamingue, Manicouagan and Mégantic—L’Érable in Quebec and Kootenay—Columbia in British Columbia — all areas that strategists could conceivably have on a list of possible wins for the Liberals.
This kind of spending is unprecedented. The Harper government, in the month leading up to the 2015 election, announced spending of about $1.4 billion over the course of 605 announcements. For August alone, the Liberal government’s tally stands at 4,545 spending announcements worth about $12.8 billion.
In mid-August, the Conservatives sent out their own tally, pointing out that the Liberal government has even been bringing along non-sitting Liberal candidates to “bask in the spotlight” of the local media cameras. The Conservatives have also made an official complaint about that practice.
“Justin Trudeau has been flying around the country at the taxpayers’ expense, pairing his daily meet and greets with party fundraisers in the evening,” the Conservative press release reads.
Although the Opposition has been grousing about the spending, it’s a tricky issue for them. For one, Canadians might actually be happy to see government money being spent in their backyards, whether they perceive it as a cynical attempt to purchase votes or not.
“The Tories hate Trudeau’s spending but want to avoid being tagged the ‘austerity party’,” former Harper government spokesman Andrew MacDougall wrote in Maclean’s Magazine.
“By deploying the enormous advantages of incumbency, the Liberals have indulged in cynical and time-tested politics. They have stacked the deck as much as possible,” MacDougall wrote.
Copyright Postmedia Network Inc., 2019