After 18 months, the debilitated 38th parliament has come to its long-anticipated and tiresome end. What should voting Canadians expect next as they crowd around politically charged and festive dinner tables?
A few of the usual electoral trimmings: a marked increase in front page pie charts, ugly talking-heads to explain the pie charts, nasty campaign rhetoric, empty promises, bad photo-ops, more ugly talking heads to explain the nasty emptiness. It should be a lot like 2004’s election campaign – same leaders, same issues, same support levels.
Should we expect the same outcome? This is the question on everyone’s mind. No one can answer this question yet. At least, I wouldn’t believe anyone who said they could tell you the election’s outcome. They would be lying and probably campaigning. I’ll tell you what I suspect we can expect this election, without claiming the victor. It’s the best anyone can do right now.
- First off, this is Stephen Harper’s election to lose. The Conservatives have presumably learned from the mistakes they made in the last campaign. They are the only party expected to have a significantly re-tooled campaign message for Canadians. They are they only party who can replace the Liberals as a national government. If Harper can project a positive persona, convincingly and with optimism, it is possible that he is the man to beat.
Expect to see more of Harper’s wife and kids in this campaign. The Tory strategy is going to be about differentiating Harper, without outright attacking Martin. “Harper as a family man, a hard working, honest, Canadian everyman.” There will be plenty of Liberal corruption rhetoric, but the Tories are less likely than the Liberals to wage personal attacks on the leader, and that may resonate well with Canadians at Christmas time.
- The Liberal party will not stray far from the successful 2004 election message. Paul “The Deficit Slayer” Martin will be branded as a confident leader, a statesman, the only true Prime Minister. Their Liberal message will be to ask Canadians to reflect on the one poll question that Paul Martin continuously dominates: Which party leader do Canadians trust most to be Prime Minister? It is a simple message that won the 2004 election. With the party brand still in some disrepair, the focus will be on Paul Martin. Liberal campaign signs were re-branded in 2004 with the ‘Team Martin’ logo. Expect to see more of the same.
Also, similar to 2004, expect a strong fear campaign aimed at Harper and the Conservative ‘hidden agenda.’ American republicanism has not done any favors for Canadian Tories, who (rightly or wrongly) in some minds are a similar political stripe. The Liberals will try to emphasize that Canadians don’t know what to expect from a Harper government. Of course, the flip side to this is that they know exactly what to expect from the Martin government – for better or worse.
- The NDP, try as they might, are going to have a hard time being heard in this campaign. It’s not that they are unimportant, but rather that this is not an election they are equipped for. This campaign will occur on television, in living rooms, over dinner, while people are on vacation, while Canadians are generally distracted with other pursuits. It is going to be all about compact messaging, visual appeals, negative attacks, and fast, easy-to-digest dialogues about the kind of Canada Canadians want.
The NDP do not have any fast or easy-to-digest message, nor do they speak well in visual terms. They don’t have a clear enemy, and they aren’t about to attack anyone’s credibility. Although these statements may endear them to some, the NDP are not going to be able to deliver a compact mass-message that influences voters. This is my hunch. I could be wrong. In 1988, under Ed Broadbent, the NDP polled similarly at 19% popularity before the election – they won 43 seats. Who knows? Vote splitting is going to be a factor, and anything is possible.
- Pollsters are going to drive us all crazy. Pollsters view this election as the biggest Christmas gift ever. It is a tight race, people are busy, and the issues require summary. They are going to poll the shit out of this thing. Look at the front of the Globe this morning. However, the wealth of data will only make the numbers less credible. The simple fact about polls is this: there is no story if the Liberals are doing well. Pollsters will find a way to make the story compelling. Expect an early dip in Liberal poll numbers, maybe even a long-term dip. This will rebound in January. I suspect, if Harper manages to keep an even-keel campaign, that the Jan. 22 numbers will be very, very, very close.
Enjoy this holiday election Canada. With voter non-participation rising above 40%, you’ve earned it.
This article was written by alevo