Having lived with the threat of a federal election for so long now, it almost came as a surprise when one of the opposition parties didn’t cook up a last-minute deal to let the Harper government survive for another while.
Did I say threat? Yep. Promises are meant to appeal, to imply that there is a better outcome in store. A threat is a message to toe the line or some sort of undesirable responses will be forthcoming.
Recently I was speaking with a Liberal party organizer from Vancouver. We had that conversation only a few days before the opposition passed a non-confidence motion but the Liberals were kicking into election campaign mode. Obviously the Conservatives were, too — attack ads were already in full swing on television. It’s a clever, if transparent, ploy — spend a whack of money attacking your foes just before an election is called and that spending doesn’t count as campaign funds, which are restricted under the Elections Act.
I don’t have television and, as I write this from another location, I am studiously avoiding Canadian TV. Only one ad has snuck by my defenses. In it, Prime Minister Harper was going full tilt boogie at the opposition, claiming that they have a plan to form a “coalition” if the Conservatives don’t win a majority in the coming election. This is one of the many legacies from master Republican strategist Karl Rove — find a message you think might resonante with your potential supporters and then hammer away at it. Don’t worry about whether there is a shred of truth to the message, just repeat it ad nauseum in the usually justified belief that the average voter will come to accept what he or she hears if he or she just hears it often enough.
In the case of the coalition bogeyman postured by Harper, there are any number of reasons to dismiss it as complete nonsense. First, the lame attempt to create one several years ago died a quick death. It didn’t resonate with the public and, in truth, it doesn’t resonate within parties who really have only one thing in common: a dislike for Harper and the Conservatives. There is no reason to believe in the likelihood after the next election as there would be if it were the Conservatives, NDP and Bloc Québécois who were conspiring to oust a Liberal government. Dislike of a party or leader is just not usually enough to eliminate the differences between parties (though the three national parties might pull it off if the Bloc Québécois had enough seats available to them to form a minority government).
In my discussion with the Liberal organizer, I surmised that the only motivation for the Liberals to help topple the Conservative minority was to lose an election, which would then allow them to deep-six Michael Ignatieff and find a leader who might actually appeal to a broad segment of the population.
In my opinion, Harper, Ignatieff and Jack Layton have more ability to annoy the majority of Canadians than they do to win a majority of seats. Layton has failed to move the NDP beyond its limited appeal to labour and other left wing interests. Ignatieff looks unable to be more than an academic who looks perpetually uncomfortable as he lectures to an audience that isn’t much interested in being treated like students. And Harper? Well, he is every bit the Republican that Karl Rove had in mind, hateful of anything and anyone that doesn’t fit the Big C corporate agenda. While there is a surprisingly large number of Canadians who have fallen for the quarter-century-long campaign to improve the lot of the wealthy and large corporations, I wonder if at least some won’t figure out that very few individuals and families benefit from moving more and more wealth and power away from the middle class and into fewer pockets.
Canadian voters, come May 2, might not be faced with a Hobson’s choice, but there aren’t a lot of genuinely appealing options, either. Personally, I think we should keep electing minority governments until at least one of the major parties learns to grow up and treat the electorate like adults and not as pawns in their silly games.
Lorne Eckersley is the publisher of the Creston Valley Advance.