May 2 will mark the second anniversary of the federal Conservatives winning a majority government, which in turn was five years after the Stephen Harper-led party won the first of two minority governments. The seemingly momentous political shift is the subject of several recent political books, analysing what happened in that election and what could/should happen in the future. One should be cautious about simple narratives purporting to explain the complexities of any election, and while none of these books does a great job on their own, together some of them begin to provide a better explanation than the standard media analysis in recent years.

The Big Shift: The Seismic Change in Canadian Politics, Business, and Culture and What it Means for Our Future by Darrell Bricker and John Ibbitson (HarperCollins, $27.99, 254 pages) is the most recent and it’s justly getting a lot of attention. Bricker, CEO of polling firm Ipsos Global Public Affairs, and Ibbitson, a political writer for the Globe and Mail, offer a big thesis that the “Laurentian elites” – the political, business, academic, and journalistic elite of the Toronto-Ottawa-Montreal corridor – have been displaced by an economically vibrant and politically more powerful Western Canada, whose voters have combined with immigrants (mostly in Ontario), to bring the Conservatives to power. This is so obviously true it hardly needs saying, but Bricker, a pollster, and Ibbitson, a journalist, marshal a fair bit of evidence to support their argument, telling that narrative in a fairly compelling way.

In short, the authors say that the West and immigrants vote Tory because they are “strivers” –they are aspirational, not resentful – and share the values Conservatives talk about: low taxes, balanced budgets, and tough-on-crime. The authors mention abortion just six times in their book, saying that eventually Harper determined that if the Tories were “identified with fundamentalist Christian values,” such as “opposition to abortion or gay rights,” it would “tear the party apart” and alienate many voters. Of course they have polling evidence to support the notion that Canada is generally more socially liberal, but they fail to explore the possibility that even a sizable minority in Canada, in a multi-party race, can win a plurality. They also fail to consider the possibility that eventually many social conservatives who have voted Conservative may stay home or look elsewhere if their most important policy concerns keep being ignored, downplayed, or actively opposed by the Prime Minister and senior staff.

There are a few other niggling concerns about Ibbitson and Bricker’s book, such as over-stating the support of immigrants, which is a commonly misunderstand political narrative in Canada. The Tories did not “win” the immigrant vote, they simply made it highly competitive so Liberals no longer win the vast majority this demographic. If a block that used to vote 70 to 80 per cent Liberal is now voting for Conservatives, Liberals, and NDP about equally, the Grits lost a major core of support among a growing demographic. The authors focus a great deal on how the Conservatives won over so many “New Canadians,” but an alternative explanation is that many immigrants left the Liberals and seriously looked at the other parties for the first time since arriving in Canada; I would be curious to know if the polls might confirm my hunch that many traditionally minded immigrants turned away from the Liberals after the Paul Martin government legislated same-sex “marriage” (with the assistance of the NDP and Bloc Quebecois).

A book like The Big Shift risks looking foolish if the trends they dissect prove to be temporary, and the Conservative Party’s hold on power was the result of something less than a massive political, cultural, and economic shift than perhaps something as simple as voters being turned off by Liberal corruption (the sponsorship scandal) and weak leaders (Stephane Dion and Michael Ignatieff).

Fight the Right: A Manual for Surviving the Coming Conservative Apocalypse by Warren Kinsella (Random House, $22.95, 277 pages) is a game plan to prevent what most worries Kinsella, a Liberal “strategist” and pundit: the entrenchment of conservative policies if the Liberals do not win back power. And for Kinsella, conservative policies are essentially American imports borrowed from the big, bad, scary Republican Party. Harper’s government – Kinsella is careful not to smear Harper himself as an extreme right-winger – is “anti-Kyoto, anti-abortion, anti-gun control, anticulture, antigovernment.” Kinsella implies that Conservatives are frightening because of the presence of backbench MPs who are pro-life.

Kinsella sets out to fear-monger – the title hints at the tone – and his screed is a rallying cry for the Left to fight back. He says that “battlefield analogies” are apt when talking about politics because “a lot of politics is like war. It’s tough. It’s nasty.” One reason it is tough and nasty is because people like Kinsella, who will say and do anything to beat up on an opponent, run the political war rooms. He is willing to get in the gutter to destroy a political opponent. While Fight the Right is ostensibly a manual for the Left on how to counter the supposedly extreme right-wing policies of Canada’s Conservatives, it is also provides lessons for those on the Right on what to expect when battling for the hearts and minds of voters.

While it is not an original observation, Kinsella is quite right to point out that “voters vote their values – and their morality and their self-identity – before they vote their economic self-interest.” He says this is inherently emotional rather than rational (which one might view as a self-congratulatory posture for someone on the losing side of recent federal elections), and urges the Left to embrace cultural debates rather than pandering to the economic benefits of their policies. Liberals have a vision for a fair Canada of equality and equity, he says, and they should fight for it.

The contradiction in Kinsella’s argument is the denial of a significant number of socially conservative voters, as evidenced by those scary socon members of the governing party, while he maintains voters vote their values. He seems barely able to comprehend the possibility that these pro-life and pro-family MPs are in Ottawa precisely because they represent the values of a good number of Canadians. It does not seem to cross Kinsella’s mind that as the Liberals lurched further and further left on social issues, those values-voting Canadians (especially immigrants) abandoned the party in droves. The problem for the Liberals in the decade after Jean Chretien is not that Liberals aren’t making the case for their values, but that a growing number of voters are rejecting those values.

Another book along the lines of Kinsella’s, but without the shrill tone, is Power Trap: How Fear and Loathing Between New Democrats and Liberals Keep Stephen Harper in Power – And What Can be Done About It by Paul Adams (Lorimer, $22.95, 290 pages). Adams, a veteran political journalist who has also worked for polling firm Ekos Research, now teaches at Carleton University and worries about the Tories becoming ensconced in power for too long. His book makes the case for a political unification on the Left to thwart Stephen Harper’s re-election in 2015. He suggests a “common platform and candidates, preferably under a single leader.” He says that the obstacles, including institutional ego and separate histories, should be overcome because most voters do not care about the historical and mostly behind-the-scenes differences between the party (or parties, if you include the Greens). He says most “progressive” voters would prefer one alternative choice to the Conservatives. This analysis misses the point: if left-wing voters want one party, they’ll have to do that by collectively voting one into irrelevance or out of existence. Right now, the parties’ leaderships have visions to recapture power on their own, without cooperation or unification, so there is little incentive to merge or work together. In time that may change, but Adams is naïve to think there is any chance of this occurring any time soon.

Adams is convinced that the Left must unite because the Harper Conservatives are harming the country with its fiscal conservatism, decentralization, and, most of all, refusal to “confront climate change,” which the author says is “the overarching moral challenge of our generation.” Adams exaggerates the government’s supposedly small government record which is not as austere and laissez-faire as he imagines. A common complaint among Canadian libertarians is that the Conservative government has not chopped away enough at the size of the state.

Surprisingly, for someone who gets Harper’s fiscal conservatism fundamentally wrong, Adams astutely captures the relationship between Harper’s Conservatives and social conservative voters. Harper’s electoral victories are about appealing to groups of voters, often in highly targeted micro-groups, while alienating a bare minimum of would-be Conservative voters. The Tories use the language of values, but in general eschew the most contentious issues such as abortion and same-sex “marriage” (and as all these authors are wont to include, capital punishment).

In his first few elections, Harper successfully appealed to social conservatives because enough pro-life and pro-family voters were also concerned about crime or big government or high taxes. Ironically, socons get most of their policy victories under Harper when the government is libertarian: preventing a system of national child care or defunding special interest groups (such as eliminating the Court Challenges Program). Adams says “under Harper, the party’s social conservatism has generally been narrowed to issues where it could be expressed as a limitation on government.” No doubt a large part of Harper’s 2006 electoral victory was his tax credit for kids under six, to counter a proposed large federal bureaucratic implementation of a national daycare scheme. One area in which Adams comes up short is imagining what happens to the Conservative base when the “easy” socially conservative issues have been all addressed, and pro-life voters become more demanding. This possibility is not even mentioned.

These books have interesting points to make (especially Power Trap and The Big Shift), but other than Adams’ acknowledgement that Harper himself is uninterested in abortion and same-sex “marriage,” the treatment of social conservatism as a force in Canadian politics is poorly understood or badly misrepresented. It seems that the Laurentian Consensus that economic issues and not moral ones will dominate Canadian politics is still strong.