How do you make a conservative economist—whose most treasured possession is competence, whose message is stability, and who can’t be bothered to raise his voice even when he’s called a dictator—into a compelling campaigner? Simple. You put a social democrat in second place.
Yet again, unwittingly, the people of Quebec are causing hearts to race across Canada. The so-called Quebec consensus for more government, according to a sheaf of polls, has pivoted in favour of Jack Layton and the New Democrats. With a little help from British Columbia, in particular, Layton is now literally running second nationally. Indeed, one survey reported that over the last couple of days the NDP could have elected 100 MPs.
This week, Layton and his crutch will probably sustain intense scrutiny with grace. However, the attention he’ll get will likely do magical things for Stephen Harper.
Harper has meticulously girded himself to defend and advance his economic vision. Bristling with weaponry, he has, nevertheless, looked increasingly overdressed, standing awkwardly without a serious adversary.
Michael Ignatieff hasn’t offered drama. You know in your heart he’s not equipped to fight for a new vision for the economy or, for that matter, any fundamental shift in Harper’s perspective on Canada’s federal and external relations.
His rhetoric is hot enough. However, you know, as a Prime Minister, he’d be pulled back into the centre by the Liberal Party and its abiding respect for the latest conventions of technocratic government in Ottawa.
An alternative Layton coalition government, however, would, at the very least, be highly suspenseful.
It’s every instinct would be to dismantle and move to the left of Harper’s five years of stewardship. In addition, its new base in Quebec and its old base in Ontario’s labour movement oppose Harper’s approach to taxation, environmental regulation, western economic expansion, business incentives, health and pension reform, and his overriding foreign policy priority—being the US government’s first and best friend.
Layton’s surging campaign could turn Harper’s business as usual “affordable” platform into the ballot question. In Canada, bland government is winning politics when it’s seen to be at risk.
It could give Harper his majority, and in securing that majority, force his progressive opponents finally to build a united, coherent alternative.