A week has passed since the by-elections of March 17, and in a week Parliament will resume, with the four new MPs being presented in the centre aisle. Already, though, the drum beats of renewed bluff and bluster, storm and fury, and threat upon threat again takes up the airwaves and hectares of highly processed dead tree delivered daily at the door. All that noise — and the speculation of near immediate leadership change and policy change in one or more parties from the pundit gallery.
We return to the possibility of real governance in Canada facing multiple parties hoist high and fluttering in the breeze of their own rhetoric, leaks and ambitions. This faces the Harper Government no less so than those on the other side of the aisle, although it is, perhaps, working its way out differently within the ranks of the Conservatives. Leaving them to the end, then, let’s look at the others:
It Should Have Been “May is Not a Leader”, Perhaps?
After a year of Conservative advertising under the tag line “Dion is Not a Leader”, it would be difficult to use the line elsewhere, if only for fear of being copied. Yet there are numerous circles of thought in Canada today which coalesce around the following: “the Green Party would be worth a look-in were it not for Elizabeth May”.
Goodness knows May has done a number of strange things: having placed second, last time, in London North Centre (and second with a chance of taking the seat in future, not a “second to Bob Rae’s 59%” as in Toronto Centre last week), she has eschewed running there. She struck a bargain with Stéphane Dion (detrimental, certainly, to the Liberals in setting the Green Party up as a viable alternative to the local Liberal — a move that almost cost Joyce Murray her chance to parade next Monday, what with the 3:1 growth of Green votes, mostly from the Liberals, in Vancouver Quadra) to enable her to carry out a quixotic tilt against Peter MacKay in Central Nova, a seat closer to an inheritance than a contest. She could even have sought a seat in one of the four by-elections just held — one of the comments regularly heard in Quadra was “Dan Grice is doing well, but why didn’t May contest this seat: she’d have won and have made it to the Commons”. (Nothing against Grice, mind, simply a recognition that this was a likely opportunity to succeed and that the leader of the party didn’t take it.)
Then there’s the positions she has spoken on, far more Liberal-me-too than charting positive reasons to vote Green.
Come the next election, the battle will be over media time, and participation in the debate. May’s job since the election of 2006 has been to (a) create those positive reasons to look at her party so that (b) the demand to expose the party in the debates would be there (in the newsrooms as much as in the streets) and (c) get a Green into the Commons, much as Reform got Deborah Grey into the Commons. Even one seat makes a difference.
At a time when Canadian politics is showing the early signs of realignment (consider the sheer number of MPs crossing the floor — and winning re-election under their new colours! — this decade) the Green leader had, above all, the responsibility to become a viable destination for those seeking alternatives. In this she has failed.
Jack! Wishes Paul Martin Was Back
Do you recall when Jack Layton became NDP Leader in 2003? Since then, he’s been consistent: he has claimed, over and over again, that the Liberals have moved too far to the right, and that the New Democrats are their successor on the centre-left of Canadian politics. The NDP popular vote has risen in both the 2004 and again in the 2006 general elections. However, there is a huge difference to the NDP in facing a Conservative minority Government and facing a Liberal minority Government, one that Jack Layton has bet everything on — with little to show for it.
Layton’s strategy for the past two-plus years with the Liberals on his side of the aisle has been to try and convince Canadians that the Liberals are not needed. This is, of course, a welcome move from the Harper Government’s perspective: the squeezing of the middle term in the three-party equation by both ends potentially helps lead to a Conservative majority — and, if BC politics (where this squeeze occurred back in the 1950s) is anything to go by, such a squeeze would make the Conservatives the “natural party of government” and the NDP into the strong-yet-almost-never-good-enough “Permanent Opposition”.
The problem Layton’s facing is, despite the reams of truth he dispenses — his party votes against the Government while the Liberals abstain and abstain; his party raises a non-confidence motion against the Government while the Liberals avoid anything so direct; his “Canada’s Effective Opposition” tag line reflects the reality of a Liberal party silenced by its loss, going through a leadership process, then never really settling down after the convention to the task of constructing its own policy positions — the message is fundamentally rejected by the Canadian people and the Canadian media. The media rejects it both because it comes from what, in their book, is generally considered “the filler at the end of the story” (the fundamental story being the horse race between the leading parties and the knifings and back-stabbing potentials within them), and because they know it’s irrelevant: Canadians are often followers of tradition and vote from habit more than from constant consideration of the issues.
Then, too, some elements of NDP policy — even those these are consistent with who the NDP are deep in their roots — don’t sit well with the public. “Out of Afghanistan” may sound noble to many ears, but even many of those (judging by call-in radio) who don’t support being there and don’t want to stay also don’t want to be seen to cut and run. There’s a constant sense that “Working” or “Ordinary Canadians” is code for people who earn less than me: that makes some of the notions on offer seem dangerous, especially since it’s those in that family income between $40,000 and $140,000 range that are feeling stressed, yet feel Jack Layton may be talking about them paying more to transfer to others.
Jack’s best days were when he faced off against Paul Martin, with his sense of entitlement, his wealth, his dithering “all over the mapism” to be exploited (especially in a minority situation), and with the fracture lines the Chrétien-Martin wars dug deep into the Liberal party. None of these face him now with the Harper Conservatives in government. He must either position the NDP squarely with positive attributes and reasons why voters should choose them on their merits, or he will find his party squeezed.
After all, only a few Canadians per hundred spend time thinking about politics between elections. All his actions in the House since 2006 will be dust in the wind once a general campaign is underway.
Anything to Say About the Bloc?
Well, frankly, no. First, I am no expert on Québec and can’t say one way or the other whether Bloc voters are tiring of the game of blocking action in Ottawa rather than being (potentially) a part of it. Second, if Duceppe wasn’t forced out after his dalliance with moving to the PQ (and dashing back to the Bloc within a week) then the post is his regardless of performance, for neither his caucus nor voters (in the three Québec by-elections of 2007) seem disposed to make him the issue.
Tomorrow: the Liberals and the Conservatives.