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Most academics do say that local issues matter and that national elections don't matter a whole lot. A colleague who teaches in New York, who is a Canadian and has written a couple of books around this, found that local politics (influence voters) by a factor of 10 to 15 per cent, which can be a lot in a close race. The exception is when you have a particular local champion, high-profile candidate - that can make a difference. In Burnaby-Douglas, when Svend Robinson ran as an (NDP) MP it was for a third- or fourth-ranked party, but he was known nationally and that played out locally.
Sometimes you get a big local issue. I imagine the politics at Fukushima, Japan will be a little different when they rebuilt it. You always get things that affect a community positively or negatively that make local matters more important. But most studies of federal elections suggest what matters is leadership and national party branding.
Having said that, in close races - and there are about 10 in B.C. - that 10 per cent factor is enough to change all those results. In Burnaby-Douglas it's NDP versus Conservative, in Vancouver South it's Liberal versus Conservative, in Surrey North it's Conservative vs. NDP. Some are calling it a three-way race in Vancouver Centre where Hedy Fry usually wins, but the other parties have found good competitors where local matters and the local profile of the candidate could make a difference.
Pique: What are your views on political reform, given that we still have an appointed senate, a governor general, first-past-the-post voting, etc. Is it time for an update with an elected senate, or to abolish the monarchy, or move to proportional representation? What are some of the reforms you favour?
PS: I would say Canada might indeed benefit from some reform, but we have to face up to all the challenges that come with it. It might benefit to have some system of governing that's more proportional, for example. As far as our first-past-the-post system goes, one argument has always been that it fosters stable majorities. But with the situation with Quebec we don't get political majorities, and instead we get all the bad parts of minorities rather than a stable government. We would get a more reflective form of government if we adopted a proportional system, whether it's STV or mixed-member, but the reality is that change, if it came, would probably produce a need for Canadians to feel less scared about coalitions.