Sadly, not a lot of issues of come up so far in the Canadian election. Rather than talk ideas or about the challenges confronting the country we’ve been mired in a debate about one thing: coalition governments.
On the surface, as John Ibbitson points out, this has been a win for Stephen Harper. But I’m not so sure it will remain that way.
I’ve always felt that Harper’s greatest strength has been his perceived integrity. Canadians don’t particularly like Stephen Harper – nobody wants to have him over or to sit down for a beer with him. And many believe he is overly thuggish and ruthless. But most have come to trust him. But now, with Giles Duceppe running around waiving a signed letter between him, Harper and Layton, and Layton talking about how a Conservative-NDP-Block coalition was “on the table” the hypocrisy of the coalition argument, could be slowly eroding Harper’s brand. Combine it with the unwillingness of the Conservative government to disclose the real price of new fighter jets and the crime bill/new prisons and the mix could become toxic.
The flip side of the problem is that no one really cares for Ignatieff either. So getting that message to stick won’t be easy – but it’s probably the best chance the Liberals have had in a number of years with Mr. Harper. Indeed, on my flight to Toronto yesterday I asked 2 women sitting next to me what they thought of the election and they both said – “anyone but Harper” even though they thought “they were all pigs, but let’s give a new pig a chance.” Hardly flattering words for anyone, (and definitely not a representative sample) but harsh indictment of our politicians and potentially an ill omen for the governing party.
Finally, the one exception I’ve seen to the non-issue based campaign was out west where Jack Layton hammered on the HST issue. I thought this was an interesting strategy. From what I can tell living in BC most residents associate the HST decision with the provincial, not federal government. Moreover the anger of the tax has clearly waned. As Vaughn Palmer’s recent article “Recall campaigns test notion that any publicity is good publicity” outlines the issue has lost traction among the public. If the NDP can reignite and exploit it I’ll be impressed. But the strategy is not without risk, given people appear to have moved Layton risks seeming behind the times, and trying to exploit an issue for crass political gain, rather than addressing something that really worries BCers. Will be interesting to see if it the HST issue sizzles, fizzles or implodes.