Yesterday, Michael Ignatieff stood in front his caucus and declared that Liberal support for the reigning Conservative government has come to an end; it was time to ‘take the government off life support’.
You’ve failed to protect the most vulnerable. You’ve failed to create jobs. Failed to defend our healthcare. Failed to restore our finances.
If, as Bob Rae predicts, the Liberals put forward a non confidence motion at the earliest possible date (October 1st) the country could be in for an election before Christmas. If Iggy is successful, we could see two old men in red sneaking into your house the Christmas.
So where do we stand with this potential election? What are going to be the issues at stake? What will be the winning strategies?
Conservatives – Out with the new, in with the old
The Cons have proved themselves successful enough in the past two elections to rid Canada of the feeling that the Libs are ‘Canada’s natural party’. In 2006, when Harper defeated Martin to bring the Cons to power after 13 years of Liberano rule, leadership was the main issue at hand. This has stuck with Con strategists as their go-to tactic. It worked on Dion because the bumbling professor wasn’t able to stand up for himself. However, this strategy has run its course. The Cons will struggle to maintain their image of being the new, anti status-quo party that they appeared as in 2006 and 2008. Nonetheless, Conservative hitman have been launching the assaults at Iggy on his many years spent outside of the country, and his ‘I love America’ comments (as well as some other oddities that I’ve written about previously). The Conservative attack dog tactic is looking worse and worse for them.
There have however been some bright spots for the Cons. They have been doing a good job attacking the newly proposed (but not thought through) Liberal EI policy. The plan was to reduce the EI qualification period to 360 hours before being able to claim employment benefits for 50 weeks. Conservatives have correctly dubbed the policy as the creation of a 9-week work year. It appears to be a sore spot for Liberals who haven’t been making an effort in the past months to redefine their stance or defend the proposal.
The prospect of an election based around EI policy gives political pundits wet dreams. It would be the first time in memory that an election would be fought over a true policy instead of the leadership/sovereignty battles that we’ve seen in the past. It is a chance for the Conservatives to shine as being something other than just the party people vote for if they don’t like the Liberals.
So what strategies will work for the Cons? A continued rhetoric of ‘its a recession, what did you expect?’ in regards to the budget will probably score them points. Another positive direction will be criticizing Iggy and his contradicting statements about tax increases. Claiming responsibility for having the best banking system in the world and a fast recovery from recession won’t hurt them either.
Obama and The Canadian Election
It will be interesting to see how the election of B-Rock in the US will affect perceptions of Harper. I’m going to go out on a limb and say that he will actually benefit from them. My logic is as follows. Something that really dogged Harper in the last election (and indeed his entire time as PM) has been comparisons to George W. With Bush out of the Whitehouse, it is much harder for Liberals to make that comparison (more of juxtaposition), strengthening Harper’s image.
Many have worshiped thought Obama’s election as a signal of a global shift to the left. I don’t believe this will be the case in Canada, just as it hasn’t been the case in the UK. Obama’s election in fact signals an end to parties that handled events such as Iraq and Afghanistan badly, as well as the end of closely held American ideals, most notably American exceptionalism and the Washington Consensus (to a lesser extent).
Because of Harper’s handling of issue surrounding the Bush administration he will gain some immunity from the trend. Sure the war in Afstan isn’t popular, but statistically is isn’t unpopular either.
This will work to Harper’s favour when he faces the inevitable criticism from the left of being an American sympathizer (not so bad to be one of those anymore).
Liberals – Looking for the forest, getting lost in the trees
Iggy has a lot going for him. He is well spoken, good looking and not a robot. Three traits that Harper is jealous of. What Iggy doesn’t have is a platform that attacks Harper on issues that he can win on. To be fair, if an election is called it will be followed swiftly by a document from the Liberals similar to the Green Shift. In it, the Liberals may outline an exciting plan that will truly capture the imagination of the country. Will this happen? I doubt it, but who knows.
Miggy’s past isn’t going to help him out much either. It would appear that the Liberals are a fan of the bumbling professor politician. The wanna be PM has help highly regarded positions at Oxbridge followed by Harvard. The result? He hasn’t been living in the country and paying taxes since 1978. As I said before, I think that Conservative attacks on Iggy will have limited effect in this election, but his ‘unCanadian’ past certainly won’t help the leader of the Liberals.
So if I was the Lib leader, what would I do to win? They have to succeed where Dion failed. Finding a magically policy that separates them from other parties as being truly progressive while remaining fiscally responsible (not raising taxes). Where Dion went wrong was not pursuing and defending the Green Shift enough. He put it out there and left it to drown. The Liberals need to find something inspiring and then go Billy Mays on the shit! (too soon?). Sell! Sell! Sell!
One thing Liberals can’t do is get over confident. They claim to be feeling great about recent polls that put them even with the Cons in popularity. Libs need to look back at some polls from 2005 (when Iggy wasn’t even in the country). On Dec 13, 2005 (about a month and a half before the election) they were 9 points up on the Conservatives in polls (this included a 19 point lead on the Cons in Ontario). The election results gave the Cons 6% over the Liberals, proof that when the Harper machine starts on the warpath, there is little you can do to stop it.
If the Liberals don’t come out swinging with an innovative and fiscally responsible platform with a few great talking points, they are doomed to mediocracy against a efficient and well oiled Conservative campaign machine.
Overall – Harper’s Election to Lose
Since Harper’s election in 2006, Canadians have become more accustomed to the Conservative party. The sky didn’t fall, we didn’t cede to the US, and our health care is still free. This would come as a shock to voters who listen to Liberal rhetoric leading up to the election during Christmas of 2005. The Liberals are still coming to grips with not being Canada’s only party. Lets face the music, Dion was a dismal failure for his party and have forced them to restart yet again. The plus side for the Liberals is that most of the Trudeau era Liberanos are gone. They created the party culture within the Liberals that lead to numerous scandals and the eventual decline of the party. Now they have a fresh look and (another) new leader, things that are good for our country and for their party. Unfortunately for them I don’t think they have the experience to walk toe to toe with Harper and his ruthless campaign tactics.
Harper plays chess. Iggy’s still mastering checkers.