Friday, January 20, 2006

Canadian election campaign enters final weekend

Some observations going into the final weekend before Monday's election:

The latest Strategic Counsel poll for CTV and The Globe and Mail (which, admittedly, is just one of a number of major polls) shows the gap between the Conservatives and Liberals narrowing after the Conservatives had built up a substantial double-digit lead. On Jan. 17, the Conservatives were up on the Liberals 42 percent to 24 percent, an 18-point spread. Since then, the Conservatives have fallen to 37 percent while the Liberals have risen to 28 percent, a 9-point spread.

The other three "major" parties, the New Democrats, the Bloc Quebecois, and the Greens, have remained relatively consistent since the start of the campaign. The New Democrats, Canada's socialist party, has tried to bill itself as the only real alternative to an anticipated Conservative government, and there has been some concern among Liberals about defections of progressive supporters of the Liberals to the New Democrats, but they haven't been able to rise above a ceiling of 17 percent. They currently stand at 16 percent. The Liberals will need to pull over both New Democrats and Conservatives, as well as attract most of the independent and undecided voters (and there are many, even at this late hour), if they hope to narrow the gap any further and have any chance of pulling a last-minute comeback or even of holding the Conservatives to a minority of seats in the House of Commons.

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Is it possible that American conservatives are keeping quiet so as not to remind Canadian voters that Conservative Leader Stephen Harper is one of them? See here.

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The turning point in the election campaign seemed to come on or about Jan. 4. The Liberals had been in the lead until then, but the Conservatives pulled even on Jan. 4 and started to pull away on Jan. 6. It's not yet clear to me why this happened. We'll likely have to wait for the post mortem to learn just how the Conservatives turned the tables on the Liberals. But it does seem that the Liberal campaign stalled at or around that time and has only in the last couple of days emerged from its slumber and, upon waking, frantic desperation. Prime Minister Martin is finally, it seems, on message, articulating a liberal-progressive vision of and for Canada that goes all the way back to Prime Minister Pearson's (and Martin's father's) Liberal Party of the mid-'60s. He likely won't succeed -- this is all far too little far too late -- but Martin's shift to the left places him in stark contrast to the Canada of his opponent.

Apathy will likely keep voter turnout low, a key to a Conservative victory -- Conservative support is soft, and a Conservative victory depends on a lack of enthusiasm for the Liberals even from its traditional supporters). The Liberals are using negative campaigning (Harper = Bush) to stir up fear and loathing for the Conservatives, especially among traditional Liberals (many of whom, like the author of The Reaction, were thinking of sitting on their hands and looking elsewhere on election day) and "new" Canadians (recent immigrant communities tend to be solidly Liberal).

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In the key Toronto riding of Etobicoke--Lakeshore, usually a fairly safe Liberal seat, celebrity-candidate Michael Ignatieff, the academic bigwig dropped in straight from Harvard, may be in trouble. The president of the local Liberal riding association has come out in support of his Conservative rival.

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From the Toronto Star: "Ontario is the final battle site in the federal election and it's turning into an epic Liberal-Conservative fight over sex, politics and religion."

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The Star also wonders if the religious right will set Harper's agenda. See here. I say no, but a Prime Minister Harper would have a hard time holding back the populist, western-based right flank of his party. It was that large element of the Conservative Party that was behind the founding of the Reform Party back in the '90s. Reform eventually merged with the old Progressive Conservatives, the traditional party of Canadian conservatism, to form today's Conservative Party, but the Reformers, long out of the mainstream of federal politics and motivated by alienation from the power centers in central Canada, are clearly itching to govern -- and to steer Canada towards economic neo-liberalism, social conservatism, decentralization, and possibly a break-up of our federal system.

And then there are the quasi-neocons in Ontario.

How long will the old Progressive Conservatives (or Red Tories, as they're often called) put up with the rule of the Reformers? Will Harper be able to hold his coalition together?

Canadians may be willing to give Harper a chance, perhaps a probationary period with a slim majority (although a minority is more likely), but do they even know what this Conservative Party stands for? From the Globe: "Liberal Leader Paul Martin is accusing Conservative rival Stephen Harper of keeping his socially conservative candidates out of the public eye." Hardly a surprise, if true (which I think it is).

As they say: caveat emptor. Harper isn't Bush, but do we really want Stephen Harper's Canada?

I'm leaning more and more towards the Liberals.

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