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How this 'unnecessary election' has changed Canada for the better

Voters wait to cast their ballots at an advance polling station in Vancouver on April 22, 2010.

Brett Beadle/brett beadle The Globe and Mail

There's plenty of time to dwell on what disappoints us about politics. Today, I'm feeling compelled to write about some things that are worth feeling good about in this election campaign. In no particular order:

1. As many as three out of four Quebec voters seem poised to vote for a pan-Canadian party. No disrespect to the men and women who have served in the Bloc Québécois, but the sovereigntist party's presence has meant that our national political competition has been weakened, and a consensus on direction for Canada confounded, for 20 years.

2. The message that performed best in this election campaign was a largely positive one. We've spent so many years telling ourselves there is no plausible alternative to negative campaigning; trying to disprove this thesis was becoming real hard work. I'm not commenting on the substantive merits of the NDP message, just noting that it spoke clearly and frequently to voters about outcomes that government can achieve on their behalf (health, pensions, jobs). Hard not to like some evidence that positive campaigning can be effective.

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3. Younger voters are paying more attention than they have in decades; the evidence is everywhere, unmistakable and cheering. My 18-year-old daughter handed out flyers for a local candidate this weekend and she and her friends have been hotly debating election issues online for weeks. Every under-35 eligible voter I've spoken to across Canada in the last month is saying politics is more interesting and they are more engaged. Please go out Monday and make whatever difference you feel is right.

4. For all of the chronic sense of the sameness of what's on offer in our national politics, we appear to be struggling with a pretty a distinct philosophical choice in this election. The choice between Conservative and any of the other parties is not like Coke or Pepsi, McDonald's or Burger King. Reducing corporate taxes is a fundamentally different priority than hiring more doctors, or the Liberals Education Passport.

5. After tomorrow's dust settles, parties on the centre-left may end up taking a harder, more serious look at a merger. From the standpoint of how to ensure robust, vigorous competition for the long term, this has been a necessary step for some time. True, it would be messy and difficult, fraught with tribal anxieties and petty politics. Just like the alternative, but with better prospects of electoral success, financial stability and organizational competitiveness.

Stephen Harper has called this an "unnecessary election" probably thousands of times in the last two months. He is making a legitimate point to those who felt nothing needed to change about our political system. But it turns out there seem to be fewer of those people than he bargained for, especially in Quebec and among Canada's younger voters. He may get the number of seats he was hoping for Monday, or he may not. But it seems to me that even if he is returned with the same number or more seats, his feeling about the value of this election is debatable.

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About the Author
Bruce Anderson

Bruce Anderson is the chairman of polling firm Abacus Data, a regular member of the At Issue panel on CBC’s The National and a founding partner of i2 Ideas and Issues Advertising. He has done polls for Liberal and Conservative politicians but no longer does any partisan work. More

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