So okay, the election may not be May 2, Prime Minister Stephen Harpergovernment may not win a majority and there may be no election. Sue me. These are my opinions and I'm sticking to them until I change them. That's what pundits do, whether we know anything or not, especially the latter. Why we're expected to know more than any normal person has always been a mystery to me. These are things that can't be known, only speculated about more or less uselessly. But we're expected to have firm views and mine are steadfast until the next paragraph.
Here's a somewhat different prediction. Let's say some anonymous soul added a "not" the headline. As in: There will be no election at all this spring because the NDP can't possibly run a serious campaign with Jack Layton in the shape he's in, hobbling gamely from one event to the next. Naturally there's a hardball clique in the party - they think they're like Liberals - who argue that this is the perfect time for an election, since Jack on crutches would clean up the bleeding-heart liberal sympathy vote and maybe even the liberal Liberal votes. Nothing's impossible in a weird world, but personally I wouldn't bet the party's fragile future on it.
As for the Liberals, for my money they must be certifiable to have talked themselves into wanting an election at this time. In five published polls in the last month, their best total is 27 per cent, their average is 26 per cent, and one poll offered 23 per cent (as does a new one just published). This is Stéphane Dion country, folks, even lower, and goes to show the extraordinary self-contained bubble in which Ottawa exists. When it's over, there's a good chance Michael Ignatieff will be pleading with a community college to take him on as a part-time teaching assistant.
Thinking rationally - an extremely scarce commodity on Parliament Hill - it seems impossible to believe that the Liberals fail to grasp how pathetically they're doing. It is quite true, I concede, that one poll shows the party up in Alberta, of all places, but probably not quite enough to think of a comeback just yet. And then there's the big Liberal populist issue of Mr. Harpergovernment's contempt for Parliament, which will surely galvanize the Canadian public.
While the Liberals stagnate, the Conservatives thrive. It may be inexplicable to normal people but it's true. The Toronto Star has been thoughtful enough to hype Tory fortunes to the hilt: "Conservative Majority Looms," screamed a recent front page. "Tory majority within reach," echoed the headline on page 6 devoted to nothing besides this poll. The Star ain't dumb. If nothing else can stop Stephen Harpergovernment from garnering his lusted-for majority it's the very possibility he might get that majority. And this time he really might.
Of the five polls I mentioned, fully four show the Conservatives at 39 per cent. Given splitsville on the centre-left, this translates into a slam-dunk majority. I tremble as I write this sentence but we'd be damn fools not to take it seriously. And since we can count on them running a more ruthless campaign than we've ever seen before, we can also count on seeing Mr. Ignatieff abused and crushed in ways we can hardly begin to imagine.
That leaves the ball right smack in Mr. Layton's little court. All these polls but one show the NDP at 17 to 19 per cent, but repeatedly in the last few years it's fallen to 15 to 16 per cent levels. These are treacherous waters for the NDP, for they can as easily lead to a sharp decline in seats as to maintaining existing numbers. The results are completely beyond the NDP's control - it all depends on how the vote splits in many seats. But the ancient dream of replacing the Liberals is as illusory as ever, although generations of otherwise sensible leaders and their advisers have been unable to resist it.
If it were up to me, matching the polling figures with an ailing leader (however spunky a monkey he is) I'd work awfully hard to avoid an election any time soon, though I can see how awkward this can be for the NDP. How exactly can they maintain this gang in power for another nanosecond? And don't expect Mr. Harpergovernment to offer the NDP a single pretext to support the March 22 budget. He can just smell that majority looming and he'll do whatever it takes to organize his own defeat in the House. That's why I don't believe the NDP can escape joining a no-confidence motion, which of course makes an imminent election inevitable, exactly as the Conservatives want.
But I'm not sure they should be quite so chipper about the prospect. There's a powerful, exciting and unanswerable campaign to run against Mr. Harpergovernment, especially by the NDP. The target is broad as a battleship, the issues irresistible - a government that can neither be trusted nor afforded. The examples are legion; there are almost too many to keep track of. But me, I'd begin with inequality and the multiple ways it's increasing, thanks to corporate tax cuts, tax havens, tax loopholes, tax evasions, tax subsidiaries and government subsidies to corporations. There's a very explicit class war being waged out there, with the government as enthusiastic enabler of the filthy rich getting even filthier at the direct expense of the rest of us. This is the perfect NDP issue since the Chrétien-Martin governments were active collaborators in this unrelenting war against the middle and lower classes.
What a campaign Mr. Layton could run on these issues. He could easily produce a new case every day throughout the entire campaign that would shock and outrage most Canadians. Jaded New Democrats would be revitalized. The many progressives disgusted with the present political system would be re-inspired.
This is why the NDP was founded. This is what the NPD exists for.
An election? Bring it on!