The Big Shift by Darrell Bricker and John Ibbitson

Barry Cooper, Book Review, Canada, Politics (historic), Uncategorized

Professor Barry Cooper reviews Bricker and Ibbitson’s book The Big Shift, and emphasises that Canada is entering an era of greater plurality when it comes to the way in which we understands who we are as a country.

Darrell Bricker is the CEO of Ipsos Global Public Affairs and an expert in public opinion polling. John Ibbitson is the chief political writer for The Globe and Mail. Together, they have written a splendid little book, The Big Shift (HarperCollins Canada), which deals with recent changes in Canadian society and politics. Early in March, the National Post excerpted a couple of chapters and the book has received extensive coverage in the regular media. Of the reviews I have consulted, many simply take issue with the authors’ conclusions and pay scant attention to their arguments. This may be bad academic practice, but neither the authors nor the reviewers are concerned with academic practices, so it’s a good place to start.

Their main conclusion is simplicity itself. The Conservatives have become, and long will remain, the governing party of the 21st century. Regarding this turn of events, the authors claim neutrality. “We don’t say this is a good thing or a bad thing. We simply say that it’s a thing. The root of the Laurentian elite’s frustration is their inability or refusal, to accept this truth.” The real divisions in Canada’s future are not those of French and English speakers or of Aboriginals and settlers but those between poor and rich regions, declining and growing regions, regions that embrace the past and those that shape the future. And the dividing line is the Ottawa River.

Here is a sampling of critics. John Moore, writing in the National Post (February 27, 2013), states that their polling data are flawed and declared that “nostalgia for Pierre Trudeau’s left-wing utopianism is still a powerful force,” which explains why “an under-qualified, mop-haired Liberal boy-king from Montreal is a threat to Harper’s Conservatives.” Time will tell just what kind of threat Justin poses, but in any event, Moore did not provide an argument based on evidence, but a prophecy.

A couple of days earlier, Michael Den Tandt, also in the National Post, declared the argument to be “fundamentally flawed, for the simple reason that political parties are not static.” They evolve and steal ideas all the time. Den Tandt granted that the Conservatives had forged a new coalition between suburban Ontario and Alberta. He also agreed that their successful strategy was based on extensive polling and the purging of social conservatives who, allegedly, harboured dangerous hidden agendas. So, Bricker and Ibbitson got that part right. Nevertheless, Den Tandt argued, they ignored “[t]he loathe effect,” which, apparently, “overtakes a government that becomes popularly despised” when it develops “anti-democratic tendencies that progressively corrupt individuals who hold power.”

View entire review as PDF (9 Pages)