Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Jim Harris - King of Wishful Thinking

Harris apparently not a math major

According to Elizabeth May, her decision to compete against Peter MacKay in Nova Scotia’s Central Nova riding has been described by some as, ”stupid, egomaniacal, deluded, courageous (but still stupid), or selfish.”

These may or may not be fair assessments of May’s chances in Central Nova. For her own part, May insists she can win. It is May herself who has made the decision to run in Central Nova. Her expressions of optimism are nothing more than anyone should reasoanbly expect.

However, an amusing self-portrait in self-delusion comes from Jim Harris, the man May succeeded as Green Party leader.

In a weblog post on the Green Party website, Harris shares May’s claims that Central Nova is “winnable” for the Green Party. He lists 15 reasons why he believes May running in Central Nova is a “brilliant strategic move”.

First off, Harris claims that the 2003 merger between the Canadian Alliance and Progeressive Conservative party severely hurt McKay’s support within the riding. Comparing the combined CA/PC vote in the 2000 election (55.6%) to the portion of the vote McKay won with in 2004 (49.1%) and his 2006 results (40.7%), Harris draws the conclusion that McKay is “holding onto the seat by the skin of his teeth”.

Secondly, he postulates that “Central Nova is a highly split riding”. While McKay won 40% of the vote in 2006, the closest competitor was the NDP with just under 33% of the ridings’ votes.

Third, Harris notes that the Liberals have agreed not to run a candidate in Central Nova, leaving 25% of the vote up for grabs. Harris describes Central Nova as “the ideal split riding” where any party, theoretically, could win with 25+1% of the vote.

Fourth, Harris notes that May is the only national party leader running in Atlantic Canada. He sites the victory of Alexa McDonough, who won a maritime riding the NDP had never previously won, as historical precedent for such a victory.

As point under five, Harris claims the Green Party is the most efficiently-spending party in Canada. In 2006, the Green Party spent $1.34 for every vote it received in Central Nova. Harris postulates that if the party spends $75,000 in Central Nova, enough voters to defeat McKay will flock to the party.

Point six: Harris notes that St. Francis Xavier University is within the riding. He also notes that in the London North Center bi-election, the Green party also won all the University polls.

Seventh, Harris suggests that being from Nova Scotia gives Elizabeth May home field advantage.

Eight: Harris notes that May and McKay’s contest will be a high-profile race. This, certainly, will be true. Harris notes that the real winner in the contest will be Atlantic Canadians, due to all the attention that the contest will bring to maritme Canadians.

Ninth, Harris insists that the Conservative party has ignored Atlantic Canada.

As his tenth point, Harris insists that “two million Progressive Conservatives” will defect en masse to the Green Party.

Eleventh, Harris insists Central Nova is not being targeted maliciously. The Green party will also be running candidates in Liberal and NDP strongholds.

Point twelve: May running against McKay is “courageous”. Harris suggests voters in Central Nova will admire May’s gutsy moves.

Thirteenth: Harris suggests terror at the prospects of rising ocean levels via climate change will drive voters in Central Nova to the Green Party.

As his fourteenth point, Harris insists that Canadian foreign policy is “horrific”, “from fighting Bush’s war in Afghansistan to undermining the once proud international reputation as peace keepers, to opposing global negotiations on climate change”.

Finally, Harris believes that Harper’s “culture of defeatism” comments will harm McKay in Central Nova.

While it’s a seemingly well-thought-out list, Harris’ analyses falls on its face in several points.

First off, Harris’ math skills are obviously not up to par with the average high school drop-out. Harris insists that the Green party can win in Central Nova because the Liberals won’t be competing against them. However, in 2006, the Liberal party won less than 25% of the vote in this riding. For its part, the Green party captured a less-than-astounding 1.5% of support in the riding. Even if every single Liberal voter casts ballots in favour of the Green party in an upcoming election, this will only be 26.5% of the vote. Should McKay recapture his 2006 total of 40.6%, McKay still wins the riding.

If Liberal voters follow the barely-unspoken command of their increasingly demanding (perhaps, arguably, despotic) leader, it still wouldn’t be enough. However, traditional voting patterns in Atlantic Canada may complicate this assumption. Traditionally, voters in Atlantic Canada are family-oriented. Children tend to vote as their parents voted. The abandonment of the riding by the Liberals could have ramifications for the party akin to a family breakup. The Conservatives could be in for a big ballot box bonus.

Secondly, Harris’ insistence that his party’s ratio of $1.34 will translate into an avalanche of votes is deluded at best. His citation of the influence of St. Francis Xavier university in the riding underscores one important fact – Green Party voters outstrip Green Party donors in the riding. And while the Green Party may have received one vote for every $1.34 spent, they received a grand total of 671 votes.

According to Harris’ math, spending the $75,000 limit in Central Nova should net them 55,970 voters in Central Nova. In 2006, however, only 42,015 voters cast ballots for the Conservatives, Liberals, NDP and Greens, collectively. Harris’ analyses forwards a suggestion that the Green Party will somehow attract more voters than the number that actually live in the riding.

Harris’ insistence that her roots in Nova Scotia will give her an advantage over McKay is laughable. McKay is from Nova Scotia as well, and actually grew up in Central Nova. May grew up in Cape Breton. At best, May can hope for is to match McKay’s appeal in this sense. She probably won’t get even that.

Like May, Harris also cites foreign policy as a portfolio on which they would like to challenge the Conservatives. However, given the recent decimation of their foreign policy credibility by Kevin Potvin, they won’t have much luck in this regard. Consider that one of the “horrors” he accredits to the Conservatives – the war in Afghanistan – was actually initiated by the party they have made a back-room deal with. Oops.

Finally, Harris’ citation of Atlantic alienation operates as a logical fallacy. The constituents of Central Nova should percieve themselves as infinitely better off being represented by a Deputy Prime Minister than by a leader of a fringe party with – if they’re lucky – a handful of seats. Furthermore, May will opposing not only an incumbant MP, but an incumbant MP from an incumbant government with a reasonable governing record. This will be a hard man to dislodge.

On top of all this, McKay’s voting record as Deputy Prime Minister will only solidify his appeal to progressive conservatives in this riding.

In fact, perhaps the best May can hope for in her campaign against Peter McKay is to mount a fierce enough campaign that will attract media attention. The residual media attention that would be afforded to other Green party candidates could be enough to elect a small number of them.

Jim Harris, however, needs to go back to the drawing board and double-check his math.

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