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Public tired of 'political games,' minority rule, study shows

Liberal leader Michael Ignatieff (R) makes a point to Conservative Party leader and Prime Minister Stephen Harper (C) as New Democratic Party Jack Layton listens in during the English leaders' debate in Ottawa April 12, 2011. Canadians will head to the polls in a federal election on May 2.

Adrian Wyld/Reuters/Adrian Wyld/Reuters

Provincial politicians who are preparing to test the winds of their own electorates should heed the message delivered by Canadians during this week's federal decision, says one of the men behind a study that asked voters about their choices.

The Canadian public has grown wary of political messaging and weary of political games and the politicians who play them, says Robin Sears, a principal at Ensight Canada, which conducted a series of cross-country focus groups after the federal results were known.

The phrase "political games" was one "you heard again and again from everybody," Mr. Sears said.

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"Anybody who is going to face the Canadian electorate in the next year at any level of government had better think very carefully," he said. They will have to ask themselves "does what I have to say, and what I propose to offer, overcome the high degree of skepticism about all of us [politicians]"

It is a message, he said, that should resonate in the five provinces, including Ontario, that are scheduled to go to the polls in the fall.

Immediately following election night, Ensight conducted 12 focus groups with a total of 108 committed voters recruited using random digit dialling. In addition, there were two national online panels, one made up of young voters and one of rural voters.

The results, which will be released Friday in a study called Mind Your Majority, Eh?, are qualitative rather than quantitative.

But Jaime Watt, another Ensight principal, told a news conference Thursday he is confident they reflect broad Canadian opinion because all of the participants were saying the same thing. "They were clearly suffering from minority fatigue and they craved the stability and action that they believe that stability will allow," Mr. Watt said.

The focus group participants blamed Liberal Leader Michael Ignatieff, along with Conservative Leader Stephen Harper, for triggering what many referred to as an unnecessary and expensive election.

Meanwhile, Mr. Ignatieff's reiteration of the ethical issues that dogged the minority Conservative government appears to have fallen largely on deaf ears. Many of the study's participants noted that any party could point a similar finger at any other contender.

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Mr. Sears said political observers have had trouble tying together all of the shifts that have taken place in Canadian politics in recent months: the election of Rob Ford as mayor of Toronto and Naheed Nenshi as mayor of Calgary; the replacement of B.C. Liberal leader Gordon Campbell with radio host Christy Clark; and now, the rise of the federal New Democrats at the expense of the Liberals and the Bloc Québécois.

"If you look at it through the lens that says, 'I don't think the people who want to represent me in government are behaving well or treating me respectfully and I am going to give them a kick in the bum,' " he said, "then it all does connect."

What the focus groups said to Prime Minister Stephen Harper

Canadian voters want to hear from Mr. Harper on the economy. They don't want to hear from him on a "sharp ideological agenda," Mr. Watt said. Many participants in the Ensight survey expressed fear of unchecked social conservativism and the possibility Mr. Harper may indeed harbour a "hidden agenda."

"They expect Mr. Harper to get to work, not tomorrow, but today, on the economy," Mr. Watt said. "They expect him to deliver on the continuation of the economic-action plan. They expect lower taxes, less regulation, less spending, and a focus on attracting foreign investment."

What the focus groups said to Opposition Leader Jack Layton

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The participants said Mr. Layton won his position because they weren't at all happy with the alternatives, Mr. Watt said.

Despite all of the talk about the "orange crush" as NDP fortunes began to surge in the polls, it was Mr. Layton's own personal charisma and not his party brand or platform that Canadians found enticing, the study suggests.

"But he has to still earn his position as Leader of the Opposition," Mr. Watt said. And Canadians will lose patience with him "the moment he starts to act as though he is the prime minister in waiting or imagines he has the mandate to pursue a strong NDP program."

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About the Author
Parliamentary reporter

Gloria Galloway has been a journalist for almost 30 years. She worked at the Windsor Star, the Hamilton Spectator, the National Post, the Canadian Press and a number of small newspapers before being hired by The Globe and Mail as deputy national editor in 2001. Gloria returned to reporting two years later and joined the Ottawa bureau in 2004. More

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