Bruce Anderson is the chairman of polling firm Abacus Data, a regular member of CBC The National's "At Issue" panel and a founding partner of i2 Ideas and Issues Advertising. He has done polls for Liberal and Conservative politicians in the past, but no longer does any partisan work. Other members of his family have worked for Conservative and Liberal politicians, and a daughter currently works for Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau. He writes a weekly digital column for The Globe and Mail.
Former Florida governor Jeb Bush and Wildrose Party leader Danielle Smith brought to mind a truth about political life in democracies like Canada and the U.S. Parties built on ideologies routinely face the same choice: to be moderate and win or to stay pure and lose often.
As a big chunk of the Wildrose caucus joins the Progressive Conservative Party of Alberta and Stephen Harper ruminates gently about how best to price carbon, we are watching a familiar story: the most able politicians, wherever they start, end up closer to the middle of the spectrum than its edges.
In the U.S., there's always plenty of talk about voters being polarized on the right and left. It's seems plausible because with them there are only two parties and the candidates always magnify what divides them. Doing so helps raise money and motivates base voters to turn out on Election Day.
But ideological chest thumping doesn't attract the most voters; it makes them roll their eyes at politicians. Today, record numbers disapprove of Congress and think all members should be tossed out on their ear. Is this because they think the politicians are too consensus-oriented, or the opposite?
"Moderation" sounds like a reasonable idea to the average voter. But in some political parties "moderates" are considered pariahs.
There are those who argue that the Tea Party movement has been the best thing to happen to the Republican Party in years. But it has hobbled that party badly: driving some great political talent out of politics. And every potential Republican presidential candidate knows only too well that what it takes to win the nomination might doom you with the rest of the country – and vice versa.
This isn't only a challenge facing parties of the right. Once Barack Obama's health reform package became characterized as a far left, interventionist idea, his support tumbled and has never recovered.
Here in Canada, the nemesis of the now-defunct Progressive Conservative Party was always internal – those who felt that "progressive" meant "dilutive." Eventually, this tension fuelled the creation of the Reform Party. In time, the Reform Party was replaced by a desire to enlarge the tent and craft a more accommodative platform that could win seats everywhere.
Events in Alberta's provincial politics have a lot to do with the acumen of new Premier Jim Prentice. They reflect an underlying truth that he and keen observers of Alberta politics could see plainly for some time.
Plenty of voters wanted change in Edmonton, but far fewer wanted Alberta to turn hard right. They wanted fresh leadership, less sense of policy drift and entitlement, and frugality with tax dollars.
Once Mr. Prentice began ticking off these boxes, Ms. Smith knew she was left with a losing hand: trying to convince a modern, pluralistic, moderate Alberta that it needed a stronger dose of conservative ideology.
In Ontario, Kathleen Wynne and John Tory won victories that seemed unlikely at first. It's no coincidence that both were the centrists in their respective races. Christy Clark's win in B.C. featured a similar storyline.
Obviously, Jim Prentice, Danielle Smith, Kathleen Wynne and John Tory are not all cut from the same cloth. But they have at least one thing in common. They know that earning a mandate requires embracing voters who won't embrace a pure ideology. Is this "selling out" or is it "buying in": recognizing that most Canadians prefer accommodation and pragmatism over dogma and creating winners and losers.