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Gentlemen, start your rhetoric

Friday, November 18, 2005

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  • We know where we're going. Just not when.

    We know where we're going. Just not when.

As I write this, I have no better idea than anyone else if the next federal election is going to be held in December, January, February or even April (although a couple of weeks ago, I picked Monday, April 10 in the election date pool, so I'm still kind of pulling for that date).

In any event - whether we're humming Christmas music on our way to the polling station in December, brushing snow away from our lawn signs in January or February, or taking a break from devouring a chocolate bunny to watch the leaders' debate - it seems clear that the campaign has already started. Politicians are tripping over one another on the way to photo opportunities. Poll results are being released daily in order to answer the all important question of "Who is ahead?" And, most importantly, people other than political junkies like me seem to be actually paying attention to politics.

Just as it's helpful to have a program when you go to see a show, it's highly advisable to enter an election campaign having a basic idea of the plot and the cast of characters. So, without further ado, let me give you a heads up on what to expect from each of the players in the pending episode of National Election.

Prime Minister Paul Martin

Profile: He's conservative by nature, but he's in the Liberal Party for two reasons: his dad was a Liberal, and being a Liberal is the surest route to power in Canada. In fact, he has wanted the job of Prime Minister for so long that he's forgotten why he wanted it. Now that he has it, he's so afraid of losing it that he'll do anything he can to avoid making a decision - lest he offend anyone. When he does take action, it's always calculated to try to appeal to as many people as possible (a program announcement for you, a tax cut for you…), which is why his government is completely lacking in direction.

Script: "Run for the hills. The scary Conservatives are coming! The scary Conservatives are coming! Run!"

Strengths: Incumbency. He can still leverage the public purse and the power to make appointments to reinforce his grip on power. With no credible alternative government in waiting, he hopes to win by default (hey, it's already worked once).

Weaknesses: Although he has total disdain for his predecessor, Martin utterly incapable of figuring out how Jean Chretien achieved so much electoral success. He'll wear the sponsorship scandal even though Justice Gomery did what he was appointed to do and cast all of the blame elsewhere.

Conservative Leader Stephen Harper

Profile: Given the Liberals' weakness, Harper should be poised for victory. But, most Canadians aren't buying what he's selling - and that's not likely to change. Despite the logic behind the merger, Harper has peaked at roughly the same level of support that the laughable Stockwell Day reached in 2000, and he's got nowhere to go but down. In other words, as wrongheaded as his policies are, his party is not a threat to win (meaning that people can vote based on what they want, not based on what they fear).

Script: "Shhh... Don't say anything, and we just might get through this campaign unscathed."

Strengths: There is still a core of people in this country who will always vote Conservative. There are also some disillusioned Liberals who are willing to move their vote to the Conservatives.

Weaknesses: Since the merger, Harper has lost more support than he's gained. He's driven moderates from the party and made the Conservatives the brand name for bigotry. Many voters simply won't touch them.

Bloc Quebecois Leader Gilles Duceppe

Profile: Once ridiculed for wearing a hairnet, Duceppe is now seen as a credible voice for his province and for separatism - even if that is an option that most Canadians abhor.

Script: "Liberal corruption proves that Canada itself doesn't work. Send us to Ottawa to help us gain even more evidence that Canada doesn't work."

Strengths: The Bloc can count on winning a majority of Quebec seats, even if support for sovereignty falls (and it's not falling currently).

Weaknesses: There are only 75 seats in Quebec. Therefore, the Bloc can never aspire to government in Ottawa. And, holding the balance of power won't make other opposition parties want to work with it.

NDP Leader Jack Layton

Profile: Having eighteen seats didn't quite give Layton the balance of power in this Parliament, but he's managed to play his hand as if he did. A focus on achieving results for Canadians has gone over well, although the risk of being seen as too close to the Liberals eventually put an end to that strategy (along with the Liberals' own unwillingness to protect public health care).

Script: "You've seen what a small group of New Democrats can do. Elect more of us and we'll do even better."

Strengths: Not only is Layton the most trusted federal leader, but his party is picking up support from voters alienated by both the Liberals and the Conservatives. Twenty-five per cent of voters list the NDP as their second choice, making them the only party with potential for growth.

Weaknesses: Layton's party is perceived as being incapable of winning (which deters a certain number of voters from voting for them, and therefore creates a self-fulfilling prophecy). That won't change unless the party itself begins to believe that it can win and changes its messaging accordingly.


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