Politics
Mark Rendell
Mark Rendell

Three Amigos, and the Art of Vote Splitting

Floyd Roland skips a tough crowd at the Alternatives North forum for federal candidates. His absence highlights how little there is to differentiate his rivals.

On EDGE | Opinion

It’s a scenario that’s playing out in town halls and churches across the country: a Liberal, an NDP and a Green candidate take the stage in front of a friendly audience; the Conservative candidate? Well, they’re off door-knocking somewhere else.

Such was the scene at last night’s Alternatives North “All Candidates (sic) Forum” at Northern United Place. While Dennis Bevington, Michael McLeod and John Moore, fielded questions from the floor, Floyd Roland was out door-knocking, ignoring tweets in his direction and tweeting his own pics: “Great response at the doors tonight! #nwtpoli.”

While skipping any debate is unfortunate, I’m not disparaging Roland, who’s expected to appear alongside his competitors at tonight’s CBC forum (and has yet to confirm for our own debate this coming Tuesday). The folks of Alternatives North, it should be said, would be a tough crowd for even the thickest-skinned Tory: digs at Stephen Harper were met with applause; questions were prefaced with long recitations of supposed Harper-era sins. As a case in point, as I left the event I saw NNSL’s John McFadden interviewing seniors’ advocate Merlyn Williams – McFadden had struck the jackpot, having found the sole Conservative supporter in the packed room who could comment on his candidate’s no-show.

With no one to play the “bad guy,” however, one thing soon became clear: on almost every single issue, you had to squint to see the light between the three candidates on stage. And this, at least for me, was the main takeaway from the night.

Sure there were minor differences. Bevington panned the Transpacific Trade Partnership to great applause while McLeod spoke of the importance of international trade to complete silence. Moore said Bevington and the NDP’s cap-and-trade carbon pricing policy was wrongheaded. Both McLeod and Bevington wanted to keep income splitting for seniors while Moore wanted to trash the whole program.

There were more differences, of course, and the occasional shot across each other’s bows. But on key Northern issues, they all seemed to sing the same tune: more money for Nutrition North, more spending on infrastructure and public housing, more investment in alternative energy and support for the NWT’s biomass industry, increases to the Northern Resident’s Tax Deduction, more emphasis on science, more support for child care, improved relationships between the federal government and Indigenous people, the importance of an inquiry into missing and murdered Aboriginal women.

Maybe each candidate just knew the evening’s audience well enough to be aware of which phrases to brandish and which to save for the next business gala; you can be sure Roland, had he been there, would have been tossing around much of the same rhetoric.

But dig into the NDP and Liberal Northern platforms, and there’s not that much difference between them. Shift a few numbers on tax deductions, Nutrition North and green infrastructure spending, change the letterhead from red to orange, and few would be the wiser. (I’ll admit the Greens offer somewhat of a different vision, but let’s be honest, Moore’s not going to win the NWT – and judging from his strong performance and due diligence in checking key progressive boxes, I wouldn’t be surprised to see him toting an orange button in a few elections’ time.)

And here’s the rub: all across the country, the Bevingtons, McLeods and Moores of this world are butting heads over relatively minor differences, while the Rolands – the real target of their collective vitriol whose party represents a fundamentally different vision of the country – waltz towards forming another government on Oct. 19.

I know, I know, moaning about vote-splitting is passé. Decisions about coalition building happen thousands of kilometers southeast of Yellowknife and our local politicians are just doing their jobs and flying their party’s flags. Besides, Bevington has cruised through the last three elections with an ease that belies the curse of vote-splitting, at least in the NWT.

Nonetheless, when I see three supposed opponents basically finishing each other’s sentences, the contours of this strange three-way Federal election come into sharp focus, and the palm heads straight for the face.