Three leaders, different strengths

July 22, 2015   ·   0 Comments

WITH LESS THAN THREE MONTHS remaining before the federal election currently scheduled for October 19, it’s anyone’s guess as to the outcome.

Based on recent polling, if an election were held today the Conservatives would remain in power but with at most a slim majority of seats. However, a lot can happen in the remaining weeks, and not all of it may become public knowledge.

For example, if it starts to become clear that a large number of Conservative candidates will fail to get a majority of votes in their ridings, is it possible that Liberal and NDP organizers will for once work together to assist strong local candidates from each party?

Although there’s no hope that the two opposition parties will contemplate merging to form a single centre-left party, you would think they might see mutual benefit in selecting 40 or so ridings where one of them has an edge and at least stop pouring money into local campaigns they know will be lost.

As matters stand, there’s precious little difference in the Liberal and NDP platforms, one example being in their approach to marijuana. There, Liberal leader Justin Trudeau wants to see the weed’s recreational use legalized and taxed, while the current stand of the NDP is that it should simply be decriminalized.

Currently, all three parties have regional strengths and weaknesses. Despite the recent NDP victory in Alberta, the Conservatives will likely retain most or all of their seats west of Ontario, if only because they are the only conservative party (unlike Alberta’s situation, where the NDP won power because of the split between the Progressive Conservatives and the farther-right Wildrose Party).

Although the Liberals are at least nominally in power in Canada’s three largest provinces and three of the four Atlantic provinces, that’s due to widely different local circumstances. For example, the Liberals in B.C. are really an amalgam of Liberals, Conservatives and former Social Creditors formed to provide an alternative to the New Democrats.

A similar situation exists in Quebec, where the Liberals have retained power as the only truly federalist party, gaining the votes of those who traditionally supported the Conservatives federally.

In the circumstances, this will be an election in which an unusually large portion of the votes will be influenced by the personalities of both the party leaders and the local candidates, rather than the party platforms.

That may be one reason the Conservatives’ attack ads have thus far all targeted Justin  Trudeau rather than Thomas Mulcair, their belief being that he is a more sympathetic figure and because of his age might have a chance of getting younger Canadians out to vote.

There’s little doubt that while most of Canada’s prime ministers have been uncharismatic and some, like William Lyon Mackenzie King, as dull as they have been successful, a few others have triumphed because of at least a temporary attractiveness accompanied by a command of electoral oratory, two examples being the Tories’ John Diefenbaker and Brian Mulroney and the Liberals’ Pierre Trudeau.

There’s no doubt that the current three main party leaders have different personalities.

Of the three, Stephen Harper alone is seen as having much of an ideology. There’s surely no doubt that the last decade has seen him leading a government that has saddled Canadians with many neoconservative policies developed by the Republicans south of the border. And moves to kill the long gun registry, scuttle the long-form Census and use longer prison terms as the solution  to crime have all taken place despite a lot of negative comment from experts.

Mr. Mulcair is an interesting case, a sort of Bob Rae in reverse. A cabinet minister in the Liberal government of former premier Jean Charest, he quit the party in 2006 and the following year ran successfully for the NDP in a federal byelection.

Both he and Justin Trudeau seem to have decent senses of humour, and both have solid grassroots support.

In the circumstances, a lot will depend on  how well each of the three performs in the planned televised debates.

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