A large majority of the electorate may be more and more fatigued by the increasing polarization and politicization of issues and politics of the last few years. Voters are beginning to demand more moderation from their leaders, seeking more compromise from them, and yearning for them to speak and appeal to a broader cross section of issues and interests found in the middle, between centre right and centre left—a sort of safe haven coming out of the many societal trials and tribulations before, during and after the global pandemic. In the U.S., is this the beginning of the waning of influence of the far right and far left on current political discourse as voters seek out leaders who speak to issues that impact them and their families more directly like childcare, education, house affordability, eldercare, personal security, the economy? Does “progressive” just have to be a liberal trait? Is a similar set of circumstances playing out in Canada?
The recent gubernatorial elections in Virginia and New Jersey, two traditionally Democrat states, were potentially instructive. So was an ex-police officer winning big as the new mayor of New York City, a Democrat who has put forward alternatives to defunding the police. A similar result in Minneapolis, where voters rejected disbanding the police department. In Buffalo, New York, a self-described “socialist” Democrat candidate for mayor, and the only actual person on the ballot, lost to the “write-in” candidate, the former Democrat mayor.
Are independent and more middle-of-the-road voters in the U.S. maybe drawing a line in the sand? Are they looking for more moderate positions from leaders and parties that resonate with a broader cross section of Americans? Do voters want to hear more from their leaders on issues that impact families directly?
Whether there is a “trend” or more a confluence of political events playing out similarly in Canada remains to be seen. Certainly, it is worth looking at recent evidence.
It is entirely plausible that coming out of a long, almost 2-year pandemic only to face rising prices, inflation, housing unaffordability, job loss, worry about a child’s education, healthcare for elderly parents, and so on, that there is a lot of voter angst that is only made more acute by governments who aren’t seen to be doing enough on these personal and very family-focused issues. Is there a trend toward a more moderating tone from our leaders? Are leaders getting the message that this is what voters want? And whether leaders are Liberal or Conservative moderates, does it matter to most voters?
A government was just elected in Canada with a little more than 30 percent of the popular vote. Not particularly a ringing endorsement for a Prime Minister arguably more progressive than any of his Liberal and Conservative predecessors. Was the Opposition Conservative leader, himself foreseeing a trend in voter appetite for moderation that made him calibrate and moderate his platform on social issues, maybe just enough to make voters see another option and not give the incumbent a majority?
There is recent evidence at the provincial level, too, for a move toward the more moderate middle in response to what people want. Premier Doug Ford in Ontario, and Premier François Legault in Quebec, in response to the pandemic, arguably delivered two of the most successful public health responses in North America. And two of the more restrictive responses—certainly not what would necessarily appeal to more ardent conservative and libertarian adherents, but clearly what a large majority of Ontario and Quebec residents wanted.
More recently in Nova Scotia, a Progressive Conservative Premier was elected on a platform largely about restoring the healthcare system and protecting the province’s most vulnerable. The term "progressive" does not only refer to Liberals, but to every leader and government's commitment to social responsibility and action.
Is there the beginning of a trend percolating north and south of the border where leaders and parties are starting to believe it is time to reclaim lost ground in the middle? Certainly, there appear to be more than a few recent examples where critical masses of voters may be tired of the battle between the far ends of the political spectrum. Not many years ago, in Canada, people would refer to “Red Tories” and “Blue Liberals”—moderate, fiscally and socially progressive—all at the same time.