Polls paint apathetic political picture
December 8, 2005

It’s time for Canada’s political opposition to put up or shut up. They brought down Paul Martin’s minority Liberal government, and forced us into a winter election.  I hope they’re satisfied, because voters certainly aren’t.

If Opposition leaders Stephen Harper and Jack Layton thought they could capitalize on massive public disaffection for the government, they miscalculated badly. For all of its faults, and there are many, the Liberals are still the most popular party, and Martin is by far the most popular choice to be prime minister.

Here’s how the public rated the party leaders on Dec. 3 according to the polling firm SES: Martin, 30%; Harper, 17%; Layton, 10%. Not exactly a ringing endorsement is it?

Here are the two other categories: None, 13%; Undecided, 20%.

If “none” and “undecided” were added together Martin would finish second. That’s the real story of this election—not lukewarm support for the government, but the abject failure of the Harper Party to present itself as a credible governing alternative.

Officially, Harper leads the Conservative Party of Canada, but that’s a misnomer: His party is populist, not conservative, and generally appeals to the religiously backward and economically selfish. In other words, it’s a contempt of everything secular Canadian conservatism stands for; hence the neutral term “Harper Party.”*

Layton’s centre-left New Democratic Party, however, does represent a legitimate alternative to the Liberals, but it has no hope of becoming government. At nine percent support, it’s a non-entity in Quebec where the Bloc Québécois has a hammerlock on anti-Liberal votes. In Ontario the NDP took only 7 of 106 seats.

The upshot is that Canada has degenerated into a one-party state where voters, especially in Ontario, understandably care more about preventing a cabal of baby Bushes from seizing power than in voting out a sclerotic political machine. The only real unknown on Election Day is whether we get a majority or a minority Liberal government.

The best scenario, as Layton himself has said, is a minority Liberal government with the NDP holding the balance of power to keep them honest, which is what we just had. Nevertheless, Layton brought down the government because he was disastisfied with Martins's measures to stop the growth of private health care. Although voting against the government was philosophically satisfying, it was reckless and self-indulgent because it gave Harper another chance to grab power, slim though it may be.

This is a man who said all tax is bad and who takes gun-control advice from the National Rifle Association. Harper would also reopen the issue of homosexual marriage by putting it to a public referendum, even though it would violate the equality provisions of the Charter of Rights.

Just to make things more interesting, a Dec. 2 commentary piece “Gift from Canada?” in the über-right-wing Washington Times gave us this mental picture to contemplate: “A Harper victory may prove to be the exception to the international rule—a rare foreign event that manages to put a smile on President George W. Bush’s face.” (shudder!)

Was Layton's risk worth the reward? You tell me. If the polling results in the above graph stay consistent (+/- 2.5% 19 times out of 20), the House of Commons on Jan. 23 will look pretty much the same as it did at dissolution. Then, if Martin puts forth the same plan, what’ll Layton do? Vote it down again? Most unlikely. Two elections in 18 months is bad enough, but three within two or 2.5 years might infuriate voters so much that for the sake of stability they’d punish the NDP by giving the Liberals a majority, which would be a disaster.

The most contemptible act the Liberals committed under Martin has been the debasement of our Middle East policy. As I have repeatedly shown, the Israel Lobby makes the policy, and Israel-firsters in government like Irwin Cotler and the “Little Knesset” implement it. Of course, what helps Israel helps the U.S., Israel’s partner in state terrorism, and so Canada has endorsed the contrived “war on terrorism” and begun persecuting Muslim Canadians. To its shame, the NDP has been rather mute on this subject.

The NDP had better do appreciably better this time or Layton will find his political clout considerably weakened and his party’s support largely taken for granted.

The best thing that could happen after Jan. 23 would be the implosion of the Harper Party, after yet another electoral failure, and Layton’s realization that he needs to reinvent the NDP if he ever hopes to appeal strongly to disaffected liberals and conservatives.

This could happen for two reasons. Peter McKay’s infamous sell-out of the Progressive Conservatives to the populist Reform Party did not translate into instant power. McKay badly misjudged the sanity of Canadian voters, and it is only a matter of time before this unstable molecule fissures into its constituent parts.

Second, the schisms in Canada are now nationalist/continentalist and urban/rural. The Harper Party caters to the continentalist/rural crowd but the nationalist/urban constituency has no clear voice, yet many Canadians would love to vote for a national party that cares more about governing this country than pandering to the U.S. and Israel, and selling off our unprocessed natural resources.

Layton needs to learn from publisher Mel Hurtig, who led the National Party of Canada in the 1993 election. The NDP will always be associated with socialism, which will never sell except to the true believers, but a National Party could find a strong following. For his own sake and the sake of the nation, Layton has to reinvent himself and his party.

*See: “Christian populists, Israeli apologists and U.S.-style Republicans do not a Conservative Party make,” (June 24, 2004).