(Note: This blog was finished about an hour before I learned of the awful murder of Corporal Nathan Cirillo at the National War Memorial. This act of violence deeply offends us, still hurts. I was tempted to trash this post. It’s about the prosaic politics of another peaceful Canadian election. However, my thoughts and feelings about yesterday’s events were well represented by the statements of all three of the leaders discussed below. We carry on, as we can in this country, because nothing good can be retrieved from this tragedy.)
Pundits and pollsters are working up a dour meme about the dynamics of Canada’s next federal election: Canadians are deeply polarized over Prime Minister Stephen Harper. Please. That’s far too bland a caricature even of Canada’s bland electorate.
Their case was confirmed recently by two national polls (by Abacus and Ekos) that point out that Harper is the country’s least popular national politician and the national leader least likely to be anybody’s second choice. (The stats: 8% for Conservatives, a whopping 28% for the NDP, and 18% for the Liberals.)
Other than Harper, the electorate isn’t very excited against much else. Half are happy enough with the direction of the country and the federal government’s management of the economy and participation in the Ukraine and ISIS drama. Nevertheless, if you think the people organize their thinking into airtight silos and preserve their decisions in iCloud, you’d expect that they’d stop at nothing to replace the miserable SOB.
There are big problems with their meme.
First off, it’s intolerably boring.
Sure, the meme on Harper has hardened slowly, as most things do in Canada. But it’s too lopsided to allow for any drama. Can we face being surrounded by friends, neighbors, and must-read analysts fulminating for another twelve months about an incremental, unexpressive old coin like Stephen Harper?
Second, Harper’s image problem may not be the visceral, overriding factor out there among swing voters that it is among those social animals scurrying under his shadow in Canada’s gossip capital. While accepting exhaustive reports that his management style is mean-spirited, partisan, and dictatorial, are those unlovable qualities that determinative among voters who have no direct knowledge or much concern for how he does his job?
Third, do we know that only his partisan base is square?
Do any of us feel again that awful '60s pressure to display to the world a little Camelot in Ottawa, alongside ferocious cosmopolitan separatists in Quebec — and a Democrat dynasty to the south?
Do the numbers above overwhelmingly favor an alternative winner on the high side of this bipolar electorate?
Justin Trudeau’s been in the public eye longer and more intensely than any other politician in Canada. Canada’s Queen Mother never had such a ride. Yet potential voters' preferred second choice is the New Democrats, with Thomas Mulcair. Before the divisive concreteness of platforms and election debates, Trudeau has already reduced any significant chance of mobilizing the center-left as Kathleen Wynne just did in Ontario.
Even with three distinct personalities secure on the stage, however, it’s entirely possible that the electorate could simply divide on the meme "It’s Time for a Change." That polarization, though, presumes that there’s nothing else looming out there to relieve the tedium of the status quo.
My preferences — democratizing the Senate and a divisive choice on our relationship with Americans — don’t seem to have any life or champion right now. But others are out there.
The falling off of commodity prices and Barack Obama’s continuing opposition to the Keystone XL pipeline, for instance, could very easily have a radicalizing impact on the imperatives of next year’s election.
When the whole West and its suppliers and bankers rediscover that resource returns aren’t always going to be sufficiently "excessive" to indulge endless "consultations," innumerable "partners," and politicians curtsying before "social license" taxes and snazzy ideas of a "creative" economic engine to replace what’s now propping up Ottawa’s largesse and the dollar, it’s likely that the slumbering "populist" spirit west of the Ottawa River will wake up and turn economic and national in a big way.
The West and squares everywhere will want to win again.