In this morning’s Globe and Mail, Tom Flanagan laid out the reasons why an election now — and not necessarily a majority as a result — serves Stephen Harper’s strategic needs. Picked up on by bloggers Trusty Tory, Patrick Ross, and Steve Janke (amongst others), the story line that the goal Harper has is to continually weaken the Liberal Party in a series of soi-disant “Punic Wars”, tied to the current funding model for politics in Canada, has credibility.
Why interesting? Simply put, because each of these leaders has a reason to have common cause — a cause not shared by Dion (or May).
Duceppe’s Need: For the Bloc, this election must maintain relevance in front of the Québec electorate. With the latest poll at 31% for the Conservatives vs 30% for the Bloc in the province, Duceppe needs to win or hold seats which previously might have been out of reach for the Bloc. This means trading off the Québec City region — where the Conservatives are strong — for seats in the 450, the périphérique of Montréal’s banlieues. These seats become more solid for the Bloc with the rise of the Conservatives, turning former two-way races into three-way battles.
Expect, therefore, that during an election Duceppe will expend equal effort trashing the Conservatives and the Liberals — but in different parts of the province — while running on a campaign similar to last time’s, with the sentiments of “it’s a good thing we’re here” (that can be used regardless of the focal point du jour).
Then, too, the Bloc is a fusion of rural fiscal rectitude types coupled with social democrats, overlain with the motif of “what’s in it for Québec?”. In other words, on an issue-by-issue basis, the Bloc can work with the Conservatives or the NDP, whereas working with the Liberals is more difficult for them (and made more difficult by Liberal sensibilities about “being seen in bed with the separatists”: Trudeauvian muddleheadedness continues unabated).
Layton’s Need: For the NDP, if there ever was a time to advance significantly, it is now. NDP policies offer alternatives to Liberal ones: cap-and-trade vs the Green Shift mass-economic-alteration approach, more interest in infrastructural needs, etc. Dion’s Green Shift has painted the Liberals into a corner: neither can it be explained simply (although it can be attacked in a sound-bite) nor does the relationship between its social engineering, spending plans and incomplete taxation model “fit” NDP priorities. It is, in other words, a natural target for Layton.
Much as with the Bloc, the NDP needs more three-way races. Layton is no doubt cognizant of the latest polls in BC — always fertile territory for NDP battles — where the BC NDP has now pulled three points ahead of the BC Liberals, primarily on dissatisfaction amongst BC Liberal voters with the carbon tax and the arrogance of the Government, with its “to hell with you” attitudes. It will be easy in that province, for instance, to campaign on a simple “if you like Gordon Campbell, you’ll love Stéphane Dion” approach: it is credible given the wanton spending and social engineering of the BC Government in the past three years (whereas, in the past two elections, Campbell looked more like an ideological bed-mate of Stephen Harper).
So, although Layton too will need to campaign against both the Liberals and the Conservatives, much of his fire will, too, likely be directed against the Liberals, trying to turn weak Liberal seats into NDP seats in three-way battles. Then, too, at the present time, gains in the 416 (Toronto Core), 613 (Ottawa Core) or 514 (Montréal Core) are more likely to come from the Conservatives beating up the Liberals to the benefit of the NDP. There is, in other words, common cause.
Canadians of a Tory bent should welcome this. It was no accident that, at the founding of the NDP in 1961, noted Canadian Tory philosopher George Grant welcomed the new party as an analogue of the (then) Progressive Conservatives, but on the left. The Conservatives and the NDP outside of French Canada are as much two sides of the same coin contra the dominant political philosophy of the Liberals as the Conservatives and the Bloc are two sides of une pièce de monnaie commune against the philosophy of the Liberals in la nation de Québecois. It is why I, a Tory, can say ”Layton? Why Not?” — but not “Dion? Why Not?”
Harper’s Need: Aside from staying in Government, what the Prime Minister needs is to trigger another wave of navel-gazing as the Liberal knives come out. So he needs to campaign softly against the other two opposition parties, and focus his fire on Dion and the Liberals (which is already occurring, of course).
But Flanagan is right about Liberal Party finances: they are strained, and failing to win the next election will likely strain them even further.
Today, on CKNW, a dual polling result was offered: that (a) a majority of Canadians in the poll want a change of government and (b) a majority of Canadians in the poll liked what the Conservative Government had done over the past two and a half years. What this suggests is that there is a fatigue (which I have previously written about, in the context of the March by-election in Vancouver-Quadra and elsewhere) with the perpetual “election readiness” and confrontation. To that extent, the Prime Minister is right about Parliament being dysfunctional (although that ignores his Government’s part in that dysfunction). Still, if the record is approved of, turning the dislike for the messenger that currently exists around ought to be in reach.
What Canadians are looking for, at this point, in my view, is adult behaviour: neither Harper nor Dion have come off particularly well in that department this year. So a reversion to the 2006 approach: policy announcements, coupled with a reiteration of accomplishments (one presumes “fixed election dates” won’t be mentioned too loudly), and a change from advertising that insults opponents to advertising that analyses deficiencies in the opponents’ platforms will probably consolidate most of the disaffection that currently exists.
We are likely, after this election, to have made it quite clear that the Liberal Party is fundamentally a rump in Toronto, Ottawa and Montréal. That, plus the unleashing of a “gathering of friends in the Forum” for Dion and an increased fiscal impairment of the the Liberal Party, is what Harper needs. This meshes with the needs of Duceppe and Layton. The alliance may be informal, but it is how the election is likely to play out, despite the desire of media personalities located in the Liberal Heartland of the three major cities of the Eastern time zone to “equate Liberal values and Canadian values” (a patent nonsense when one considers the many differing approaches to Canada found in its regions from coast, to coast, to coast. (When one’s social interactions centre on a common point of view, it is easy to come to believe that this is reality everywhere: no cabal or plot need be assumed.)
So, as Margaret Wente said in today’s Globe and Mail, bring it on, already. It’s time to stop playing chicken and start playing for votes — for real.