Joe Boughner writes a thoughtful post about what, if anything, it means that umpty-dump thousand people have joined a Facebook group against prorogation. There was a bit of back-and-forth this morning on Twitter (I’m @InklessPW) about whether any significance at all should be attached to the act of joining a Facebook group. Ottawa consultant guy Ian Capstick thinks it could be a gateway to more ardent and effective action. You may not be surprised to learn that I was the voice of sarcasm and cheap shots.
Of course joining a Facebook group demonstrates more interest than, say, not joining a Facebook group would. But what has hurt opposition parties (and amused Conservatives) in recent years has been the willingness of the government’s opponents to content themselves with feel-good actions that don’t actually do much to change the fact that the Conservative Party of Canada continues to form the country’s government. If 600,000 people joined the anti-prorogation Facebook group, it wouldn’t change the fact that Parliament is prorogued.
The most simplistic version of the argument I’m making would be, “If you don’t like the Conservatives, defeat them in Parliament and let’s have an election.” I’ve seen variations of that argument on other Maclean’s blogs and in the comment boards. But of course that line reduces our democracy to a binary choice, in which everything short of a confidence vote is meaningless. Of course that’s silly. There are degrees of disagreement with government action. And, of course, the opposition tried to defeat the government in Parliament at the end of 2008 and Stephen Harper…prorogued the House.
So it’d be handy to come up with a yardstick somewhere between 0 and 10, where “0” is joining a Facebook group and “10” is bringing down the government and defeating it at the next election. Here’s one such intermediate measure. In the third quarter of 2009, according to Elections Canada, 39,785 individuals donated to the Conservatives for a total from individual donations of $4.5 million. By contrast, 17,810 individuals donated to the Liberals for a total of $1.9 million, and 13,655 people donated to the NDP for a total of $1.1 million. (This next bit gladdens the heart: 2,688 individual donors to the Bloc Québécois, for a total of $221,259.20. Cut public subsidies for political parties? When I see numbers like that, sign me up.)
But I digress. By a very rough measure, if about half of the people on the Facebook group actually made a new donation to a political party, it would begin to close the financing gap between the opposition parties and the Conservatives. And if they don’t, it won’t.
Readers are welcome to come up with other intermediate measures of political action that would fill the gap between “defeating the government” and “sucking wind.”