observations and opinion
This election is defined by three facts and will be decided by how undecided voters answer three questions.
The three facts defining the race are these:
Gridlock which can only be broken by how undecideds answer the three questions.
If opinion polls are correct – and that’s a leap of faith – then the campaign so far has produced almost no change in the support behind each of the three main parties: they’re all hovering around 30 percent. The situation is a reflection of the three distinct personalities vying to become PM, illustrating the power of personality over policy and platform in our politics.
The Conservative Government has been painfully disappointing for conservatives, irritating for others but generally not terrible: tax levels are stable and lower than they were; public spending is still robust; deficits were incurred by necessity (the recession stimulus) and by accident (the tumble in oil prices). By objective measure this government has been neither awful nor wonderful, except in its incessant meanness of spirit, at which it is wonderfully adept at being awful.
That reflects the leader. Indeed, if ever there was a one-man band government in operation it is The Harper Government, as they call it. Bright lights in Cabinet have taken their leave, or are keeping their heads down while the lawn mower passes. The disappointing failures of the government are all about Mr. Harper. Two thirds of Canadians say they don’t like him. A good chunk of that number actively despise him.
The traditional “other” party, the Liberals, is a logical place for people to move with their votes. That’s where they’ve always gone, after all – towards the centre of the big red tent, confident that the Grits will be reasonably coherent with money but spend on all the nice things taxpayers like to think they’re getting for free. Canadians like the Liberals historically, not just for who leads them, but for who they are as a collectivity. The philosophy of the Liberal party, which is to be open and flexible, has always been its main allure.
But as we know, they lost support over the course of several elections and in 2011 were reduced to rubble, as the NDP rose in their dust. After that the Liberals jettisoned safe centrism as their main attraction, instead going with a name and personality: Trudeau. The logic was to draw people and money back with something highly personalized, in a weird way, a reflection of the identification of the governing Conservatives’ cult of personality.
Alas, Mr. Trudeau has been assailed by foe (and even some potential friends) as not “ready”, and has given signs that might be true. He actively alienates a certain percentage of the population and worries a larger share of voters. Thus, the Liberals, who ought to be racing ahead this year, are tied to an anchor – public doubts about their leader. How ironic is it that the personality of their leader (and his perceived shortcomings) is the principal barrier to many Canadians returning to the big red tent?
Meanwhile, the NDP did something very like what the Liberals did: they chose a leader (Tom Mulcair) who they believed to be marketable. Mulcair lacks the charisma of his predecessor and isn’t as telegenic as Trudeau. But he projects strength and intellect. The clear intent of selecting Mulcair was to lock down the Quebec base and present a safe, sensible and smart centrist to the public. This worked – voters seem comfortable with Mr. Mulcair. But…he still leads the NDP, a party which fairly or not is viewed as leftist, spendthrift and non-mainstream. The irony here is that the NDP chose a Liberal (he sounds like a Red Tory to me) for leader, but the voters are uncomfortable with the perceived philosophy of the party.
And so there’s the gridlock: the Liberals had a philosophy that attracted most voters, but have burdened themselves with a leader people don’t trust; the NDP has a leader most people think credible, but a philosophy background most people don’t trust. And the Conservatives? They’ve got a leader who IS the policy and philosophy of the party: hyper partisan, slightly mean, very narrow in its intentions and attractive to a smaller portion of the electorate.
Many people have made up their minds on who to vote for and won’t shift. But a quarter, maybe more of the electorate, could still move. Most of those undecideds are weighing the Mulcair NDP versus the Trudeau Liberals. Will their votes be swayed by leadership, or by party? They probably don’t hate Harper, and so if neither opposition option can overcome its negatives, could vote Conservative or just stay home.
Those undecideds have to answer three questions:
We have 34 days left to decide.