POLITICS

Political Traction: EI, climate change and protests

05/22/2012 07:45 EDT | Updated 07/22/2012 05:12 EDT

Jaime Watt joins Power & Politics host Evan Solomon each week to look at how issues making waves in Ottawa resonate with Canadians.

Monitoring the House of Commons' question period, mainstream media and the conversation on social media, Watt and his team at Navigator Ltd. determine which issues gained the most attention in official Ottawa, and then measure how much traction those issues managed to find with Canadians outside the nation's capital.

The week ending May 18 saw three issues on the radar screen: EI changes, the government's climate change record and continuing student protests in Quebec.

The government's intention to reform employment insurance is signalled in its omnibus budget implementation bill, which removes definitions of "suitable work" from current legislation and gives cabinet the power to decide what constitutes a reasonable effort to find work, while adjusting the complex formulas for calculating payments.

In Ottawa, pundits in the media continue to broadly support the government's objectives, but many are arguing for greater transparency. The national conversation shows Canadians want more details but are willing to consider proposals as they are presented. Both conversations are pointing to tactics rather than policy as points of contention.

For the government, getting the reforms out in the open may not win over all Canadians, but there is a bloc who believes reforms are needed, while a strong, coordinated opposition won't let the issue be forgotten.

Climate change record

The Ottawa traction on this issue was pushed by the NDP attacking the government for abolishing the National Round Table on the Environment and the Economy, while Canadians have been engaging in a broader climate change conversation.

While the end of the NRTEE was a small part of the national conversation, Canadians were using it as a reason to criticize the government's climate change record.

The Harper government was re-elected with a mandate to control spending and can make the argument that there will be cuts. The NDP, meanwhile, has an opportunity to coalesce increasingly vocal opposition into a coalition for the next election if it can insert itself into the conversation so it is pro-NDP and not just anti-Harper.

Quebec student protests

Both the Canadian and Ottawa conversations are trending in the same direction: both are fed up with the protesters' unlawful behaviour. What started as a conversation about the merits or downsides of raising tuition has evolved into a conversation about the protesters' tactics.

English media may be missing an important part of Quebec culture: while the numbers show the students losing ground, many in the province still support the broad principles of a progressive and equitable society. Protesters may be winning the battle but their tactics are moving them toward losing the war.

The conversations suggest the students might do well to pivot to more concilliatory rhetoric and tactics, while Quebec Premier Jean Charest must be careful not to overstep his public support and risk alienating Montreal. He must find a way to end the protests without finding himself on the wrong side of the Quebec zeitgeist.

Next week: With the House not sitting this week, expect the Quebec protests to stay on the radar screen.

Here are the numbers for the week of May 12 to 18 — the most evenly split in Political Traction's history: