My plans to blog regularly on the 2008 by-election here in Guelph have unfortunately run aground on my vacation time and research trips out of province. However, the expert tea leaf readers in Ottawa seem to believe that this, and the other three by-elections, will soon become irrelevant as they are rolled into a general election for some time in October. So, unlike my students, I'm getting an unasked-for extension on my assignment! For what it's worth, I'm finding the jockeying for position over who is and who isn't willing to meet with whom by what arbitrary date to be ridiculous. But I never much cared for the fixed election date law, and so don't really care that it's being loopholed. (Although, to be perfectly clear, I do think that Stephen Harper is violating the spirit of his own law to get the election timing and optics that he wants.)
To get to the meat of this post, I am worried. I'm worried because the media reporting from inside the Ottawa greenbelt is spinning precisely the election narrative that the opposition parties don't need. I'm not sure if it's because the media is selectively reporting on what the leaders are saying, or if it's a true reflection of their rhetoric. But my own tea leaf reading based on reporting to date indicates that the opposition, and particularly the Liberals, are planning on wasting a good chunk of their campaigning time complaining about how the election was called. My hunch is that most voters could not care less. For a tidbit of evidence, witness the fact that they rewarded both the NDP and the Conservatives for prompting a Christmas election last time around with many additional seats. Nobody expected this gong show to go on for so long, and many will be glad that it's over. Furthermore, if I were a Liberal, I wouldn't want to open the door to the "antics in Parliament" sideshow, given how many votes they have abstained on in the past year.
There has also been a fair bit of speculation around the blogosphere that Harper's eagerness to rush to the polls might be to prevent more hearings in the ethics committee about "in and out" election financing or the forthcoming epic saga of Julie Couillard. Again, while both are fodder for the political junkie, I think that they'll have minimal impact on the campaign. The financing issue is too complicated for the average voter, and Maxime Bernier's dating woes are a non-event outside of Quebec. If there is a timing issue to consider, it's that this will conveniently ensure that our own election is completely overshadowed by the one to the south, which won't wrap up until November.
My take on the campaign - should it begin in a week or so - is that there will be some attempt by the Liberals (and perhaps the other opposition parties) to huff and puff about the timing and try to ressurect the scandals they were hoping to run on. Meanwhile, the US election campaign will be in full swing, and it will centre on their tanking economy. I think that foreign policy issues will be a factor too, but that this will mainly be an economy-centred election. And that debate over the economy will get cross-border coverage. I also think, unless the opposition moves very
quickly, that this will sink the apparent attempt by all three opposition parties to make this a federal campaign about the environment. The signals have been up for a while that the Conservatives intend to debate the "Green Shift" as a carbon tax plan. The US economic woes will make this much easier to do.
To boil this down to numbered points, here's what I think the opposition parties think they can focus the campaign on:
1) The environment
2) Electioneering tactics
3) Election financing and ethics
4) Julie Couillard (and ethics)
Meanwhile, I think the Conservatives have decided to gamble that Canadians think all politicians are unethical (at least a little bit) and that Parliament is dysfunctional. They will therefore focus on:
1) The economy - particularly taxes
3) Their record to date
4) In Quebec - openness to provincial demands
To be sure, there will be sideshows like the cuts to cultural programs (again, an issue with little traction), and the "unborn victims of crimes" law (which, ironically, was killed before it was fully born). But I think this is a campaign which will come down to Taxes vs. Environment. And much as many people think that values have shifted, I still think that taxes will still win in the ballot box.
Jack Layton, Stephane Dion, Elizabeth May - please prove me wrong and don't let Stephen Harper dictate the terms of this election and claim the issue that voters will actually vote on. Show the leadership traits that Stephen Harper thinks you don't have. And for goodness sakes, pay attention to what is going on off of Parliament Hill!
Labels: 2008 election, Elizabeth May, Guelph, Jack Layton, Stephane Dion, Stephen Harper