With all due respect to Prince William and his new-wife Kate Middleton (or as they are now, the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge) now that the regal royal wedding is out-of-the-way it’s time to return to the very un-regal matter of the Canadian Federal Election. Without the pomp-and-circumstance recently demonstrated in London, UK matters here in Canada seem far more sublime. Sure, when the House convenes again we’ll have our own demonstration of pomp, however, the traditions that lead up to the Speech from the Throne will pale in comparison to the majesty just witnessed in the latest Royal Wedding.
Despite the lack of gravitas, the final days of Election 41 appear that they’ll be just as exciting and historic as the events that have transpired ‘across the pond’. With Jack Layton’s New Democratic Party surging and seemingly set to dislodge at least Michael Ignatieff’s Liberals from Official Opposition Party status—and for dreamers, perhaps even moving Stephen Harper and his Conservatives out of government—these final days before May 2nd will be full of high stakes drama, the likes of which haven’t been seen in Canada since the Trudeau years.
The possible implications for Canadian history as well as the country’s economy and social fabric mean that Canadian voters must now make the choice of which party to vote for. For all intents and purposes, it’s not an easy choice. Each party has its own strengths and weaknesses and it’s now time for voters to choose their ballot question.
Beginning with Jack Layton and the NDP: Jack’s recent surge has given new life to an election that seemed reconciled to be another status quo operation. With support rising across the country, and a profound shift in Québec, the Layton appears on track to become the Official Leader of the Opposition—something that is unprecedented in Canadian history. As the most likeable leader of the major federal parties, Layton has struck a nerve with a disenchanted electorate that’s looking for change. However, it remains to be seen if his campaign promises can hold up to the scrutiny of the final days of a campaign, let alone managing the country. Running as a perceptual fourth party, Layton and his team made many promises that will be hard to keep if elected. His populist zeal does not necessarily mesh with the realities of the current climate in Canada and around the world. Voters will need to decide if Jack really is up for the job.
With Jack surging, the Bloc Québécois looks ready to suffer a crushing defeat. A socially progressive party, much like the NDP, the Bloc has failed to live up to the demanding expectations of the Québec electorate. Having had a near monopoly on federal politics in Québec since the Liberal sponsorship scandal, the Bloc has been unable to make tangible benefits for the people of Québec a reality—something a good number of voters expect from them. Leaving the sovereignty question aside, the polling shift in la belle province has provided voters with a new alternative of where to park their votes. Come election day, voters will be deciding if the status quo offered by Gilles Duceppe is good enough or if one of the federalist options deserves a chance.
If before the election, Liberal leader Michael Ignatieff would have had a chance to see the Bloc consistently polling at such a low-level, I’m sure that he and his party would have been emboldened. However, the NDP’s rise in Québec has taken any thunder that the Liberals may have hoped to catch from a Bloc decline. For his part, Ignatieff has run a solid campaign: free from any major gaffes Iggy has toured the country demonstrating that he’s a passionate and pragmatic leader and not the aloof intellectual the Conservatives have portrayed him as. Unfortunately for Iggy and Team Liberal, he has failed to connect with Canadians via television and other media outlets. There he does seem aloof and out of touch. While his party’s platform is solid, with a few exceptions, his inability to connect to the majority of Canadians is becoming apparent. Liberals will need to hope that on or before Election Day, Canadians take another look at the Liberal Party and its platform and do not rely on Iggy’s mediated personality to carry the day.
Which brings us to Stephen Harper and the governing Conservatives. After consecutive minority governments Harper has been adamantly pushing Canadians to give his party the majority that he has always wanted. That seems increasingly unlikely—unless the NDP surge splits the progressive vote in a way that allows Conservatives to slide through the middle and take office—and it appears that at best the Prime Minister will return to Ottawa with another minority mandate. Canadians will need to decide whether a Conservative Party that has run a disciplined but uninspiring campaign deserves more time in office, a majority position or if alternative scenarios are more attractive. The Conservatives have done well amidst the global financial crisis—although much of Canada’s resiliency can be attributed to the country’s enviable natural resource base as well as banking and financial regulations enacted by previous Liberal Governments—and have proven to be effective managers of the day-to-day needs of the Canadian economy. However, their spending priorities seem out of line with the majority of Canadians at a time of supposed ‘fiscal restraint’ and their inability to ardently defend the basic social and public institutions that help to define Canada is worrisome—not to mention their record on democratic accountability in Parliament.
Aside from the four main choices other parties—most noticeable the Green Party—will play a role in determining the make-up of Canada’s next Parliament. It will be interesting to see if Green Party Leader Elizabeth May, who was shut out of the debates and has not made a major impact nationally in the mainstream media, can win her own riding and if another Green candidate can make it to the House of Commons.
With the Royal Wedding out-of-the-way, the only distraction that remains for Canadians is the NHL Playoffs. But with only one Canadian team remaining there is plenty of time for voters to take a second look at all of the parties and vote accordingly on May 2nd.
— Joseph F. Turcotte