The divided will be conquered

August 5, 2015   ·   0 Comments

SO HERE WE ARE, at the start of the longest election campaign in any Canadian’s memory, stretching all the way from Civic Holiday to a week past Thanksgiving, and the only certain winners are the television stations carrying the countless attack ads.

There’s little doubt that the main (only?) reason Prime Minister Stephen Harper went to Rideau Hall Sunday to launch the campaign in mid-summer was that he sees it as benefiting the Conservatives.

That benefit stems from the fact that his party, as always, has a much larger war chest than either the Liberals or New Democrats, and the last two elections have demonstrated beyond anyone’s doubt the ability of personalized attack ads to destroy an opponent.

Most recently, the Tory attack ads portraying Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau as “just not ready” to become prime minister have seemingly succeeded in pushing him from first to third place among the three party leaders, the most telling poll being one last week that showed Mr. Harper and NDP Leader Tom Mulcair virtually tied as best suited to become PM, at 31 per cent, with Mr. Trudeau trailing badly at 18 per cent.

Of course, it might well be that the attack ad in question had the unintended result in merely moving support from Mr. Trudeau to Mr. Mulcair instead of to Mr. Harper.

Another recent poll showed that 60 per cent of Canadians want to see a change of government.

Although that might be seen as the same situation that led to a Tory majority in 2011, with slightly fewer than 40 per cent voting Conservative, much will depend on how the 60 per cent support for change is shared by the NDP, Liberals and Green Party.

A poll taken Sunday and reported in Monday’s Toronto Star showed the NDP had suddenly vaulted ahead of the Conservatives, with 39 per cent support to the Tories’ 28 per cent and the Liberals’ 25 per cent.

The pollster calculated that if those percentages held the NDP would win 160 of the 338 seats up for grabs, or about 10 seats short of a majority.

(Interestingly, this latest poll came just a few days after one that seemed to show that the millions of government cheques mailed out to families with children had had the desired effect of giving the Tories a big lead.)

As we see it, the main thing the latest poll demonstrates is that the long campaign could have almost any conceivable outcome.

However, one sure thing is that both opposition parties need to find a way of co-operating in ridings where one has a better chance of beating a Tory.

Without a doubt, the Conservatives have far more bedrock support than any of the opposition parties. Nowhere is this better illustrated than in Dufferin-Caledon, where at least in the Orangeville area there is no appetite for change, a recent Citizen web poll having shown 70 per cent support for the Tories.

Perhaps the most interesting outcome from the election would be a three-way tie, with the Conservatives attempting to continue in power on grounds no other party had more seats.

That would potentially lead to a repeat of the situation found in Ontario in 1985, when the Liberals formed an informal alliance with the NDP to defeat the Progressive Conservatives and end their four-decade reign in office.

This time, much would depend on how many seats each party won.

If the NDP and Liberals together had a majority of seats, the logical result would be a coalition government, something Canadians have never experienced but which can be found almost routinely in other democracies, even among parties with widely divergent platforms.

At present, Mr. Mulcair (a cabinet minister in Quebec’s Liberal government) is on record as supporting such an outcome but Mr. Trudeau has thus far refused to be drawn out.

One thing a coalition would tend to establish would be the growing similarity between the two parties’ approaches to the issues of the day, be they the economy, taxation policies or dealing with crime and climate change – similarities that might demonstrate the value of a merger.

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