My old pal Liam McHugh-Russell, formerly Michael Ignatieff's NDP nemesis in Etobicoke-Lakeshore (who, by general consensus, dusted the great man twice in the 2008 riding debates) and currently an LLM Candidate at McGill's Institute for Comparative Law, wrote me recently to unburden his considerable mind as to the state of the current federal fisticuffs. I'm not sure that I agree, but it's definitely worth pondering ahead of tonight's food fight:
The word on the street is that Jack Layton is going to get trounced in this election, but that's because the word on the street apparently lives in 1988 and is still peeved about free trade. Yes, like 1988, Layton has brought the party to a high-water mark after three elections. But Layton's no Broadbent. In fact, the word on the street is the only thing keeping Layton out of 24 Sussex.
What's keeping the NDP at their traditional 18 per cent nationally? The conviction that, unlike Ignatieff's Liberals, the NDP will never form government. It's the old Catch-22: people like the NDP, and Jack, more than the Liberals and Ignatieff, but fear and distaste for the Conservatives keep them voting for and supporting a party 'that can form government'; but until that support breaks and the NDP gets a good run of polls setting the waterline above Liberal support, the Liberals continue to be the party which people believe can do it. No matter that the NDP is a powerhouse, having spent more money than the Liberals in the last election; no matter that, with the option of Jack Layton as prime minister, 44 per cent of Quebec would vote NDP, 10 per cent more than for the Bloc. That poll is from a year ago, but there's probably a good reason that Gilles Duceppe's campaign involves stressing to voters that Layton will never become prime minister .
This is the crazy thing, the difference between Layton and Broadbent: people loved Broadbent, but they weren't willing to make him prime minister if it meant voting for his party. Today, people love Layton and they aren't afraid of an NDP-led government: if there is an option for an NDP-Liberal coalition, people prefer Layton and his party to lead more than two to one. The problem is, they just don't think it's going to happen.
When Egyptians succeeded in deposing Hosni Mubarak in February, what was revealed to them and to the world was that what had seemed impossible had been entirely possible. Their situation was much as that facing Canadians now: it was precisely their continued belief in the impossibility of achieving what they wanted which perpetuated its impossibility.
So the question to Canadians is: why not vote NDP, leave the Liberals in the wilderness, strike a blow against Quebec separatism and get the government you want? All that's stopping you is the belief that it can't happen.
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