It sounds more exciting than it actually is. Chantal Hébert writes:
With the calling of a general election for Oct. 14, the stage is tentatively set for the most dramatic make-over of the federal scene in 15 years.
Not since the Bloc Québécois and the Reform Party took over the opposition side of the House of Commons in 1993 have so many of the ingredients of a major shift in the federal dynamics been in place.
I suppose that’s true, but it’s kind of a race to the bottom.
At the top, the Conservative Party is almost certain to be elected to serve another term in office. There’s some possibility that Prime Minister Stephen Harper will achieve his longed-for majority government. We’ll see what happens during the campaign, but the polls haven’t budged much since the Conservatives were elected in 2006 with a plurality of the seats in the House of Commons.
The likeliest result is another Conservative minority. It’s the other parties Hébert is thinking of when she speaks of a dramatic make-over of Canada’s political landscape:
- Will the Bloc Québécois (which fields candidates only in Quebec) slip toward oblivion? Voters in Quebec have a history of shuffling the political deck every couple of decades: new parties are created and old parties vanish from the scene. The Bloc appears to be growing increasingly irrelevant, and this election may signal whether the party is a spent force.
- Can the Liberals rebound from the sponsorship scandal (aka adscam)? The Liberals dominated Canadian politics in the 20th century because of their strength in the two most populous provinces, Ontario and Quebec. But the sponsorship scandal has badly damaged the Liberal brand in Quebec. They still have a smattering of support in most parts of the country (the prairie provinces excepted). But they have done shockingly little to rebuild the party since their defeat in the last election.
- Can the NDP supplant the Liberals as the primary opposition party? In my lifetime, the NDP has always been Canada’s third party, with no chance of forming a government at the national level. (They’ve elected plenty of provincial premiers.) I doubt the NDP can leapfrog over the Liberals, but admittedly their leader is bound to look good by comparison to the Liberals’ uninspiring leader, Stéphane Dion. Dion is not only geekish, his English is sometimes literally incomprehensible.
- The Green Party is the only party introducing an element of excitement to this election. Their new leader, Elizabeth May, is getting positive reviews from the media. Canadians have never elected a Green Party candidate. (Though the party currently has one Member of Parliament: he was elected as a Liberal and then switched parties.) But the Green Party has polled as high as 15% nationally since the 2006 election, and they’re hoping to establish themselves as a presence to be reckoned with.
I can’t get excited about this election. Prime Minister Harper has governed with open contempt for opposition parties, for the media, and even for his own MPs (he rarely lets them speak). Harper doesn’t care much for the federal government, either, even though he is the leader of that government. He thinks the Government of Canada should concentrate on only a few core functions (notably national defense and criminal law) while giving the provinces a free hand in areas of provincial jurisdiction. He was happy to acknowledge the Québécois (without defining which Canadians fit into that category) as a nation within the nation. He has managed to fritter away a substantial fiscal surplus without having anything to show for it.
As for Canada’s aboriginal population — one of the clearest areas of federal jurisdiction — Prime Minister Harper lacks a clear vision. Indeed, his vision seems entirely political (obtain a majority!) rather than governmental (here’s what we can do for the benefit of Canadians ).
And yet Harper is the best of the bunch, and likely to be re-elected. Bah! It’s a good thing Canada isn’t facing any kind of crisis, and we can muddle along without much federal leadership.
I might just park my vote with the Green Party and await further developments.