When Prime Minister Stephen Harper walked into Rideau Hall to ask the Governor General to dissolve Parliament and issue the writ of election this past September 7, 2008, he was smug enough to believe he could transform his uncomfortable and "unworkable" minority situation to a stronger majority.
But, not so fast, Stephen Harper!
Canadian voters are stupid, but they are not THAT stupid. Calling the election a year early is Harper's idea ... full, front and center. So, if his party self-destructs as a result of calling this election at the worst time, guess who is going to carry the blame?
As the election moves along, other news we read about in the papers involves numbers outside of those pesky political election polls: these numbers are jobs being tossed out by the thousands as company after company decides to spurn Canada for the greener pastures of Mexico or even the southern U.S. As the country continues to bleed jobs, Harper struts along as he continues to "go the course". Dion calls it "doing nothing". Layton calls it "giving his buddies at Exxon and the banks a $50 billion gift".
As Harper landed and exited his campaign UFO in Niagara Region lately, he likely had no idea where he landed ... he began to talk about regulating the sale of chocolate cigarettes, something that he condemned as being marketed to children. This was here, in the Region of Niagara, where thousands of jobs just left the Region and workers recently given the pink slips were not even allowed to cross Harper's barricade to bring the Prime Minister up to date on this reality.
As he left the discussion about cigarettes, he reassured us folks in Niagara that our economy is producing more jobs than it is losing and for us to be reassured that our economy is doing very well, thanks to his government's policies ... well, tell that to our folks that were pushed out of jobs that paid $25 - $30 an hour and are now working at jobs that pay $10 an hour. The push to drive wages down has been in force for quite some time, although the two major political parties never talk about it.
So, as one part of the news highlights further and further job losses and bigger and longer dips in the TSX and Dow Jones, the Conservatives' popularity numbers appear to be following. I am not naive enough to suggest that there is a lot the government can do about the stock market, but there are steps they can take, in conjunction with the private markets, to ease the blow. As Dion suggested time and time again, Harper's answer to this problem is to "do nothing".
It is said the Dion was the winner of the French language debate last week and for the English debate, the victory was split between May, Layton and Duceppe. While the Conservatives continue to portray Dion as being a "weak leader", I watched him speak today before the Canadian Club in Toronto and boy ... if I was a Liberal supporter, I would be wow-ed back into his camp! If I were a tentative Conservative voter, I may be as well. No, Dion is not a "weak leader" ... he was called that in order to lead the weakest minds among Canadian voters to follow the blue brick road to the Conservative camp.
The unfortunate thing about this election is that it started off being about nothing ... other than Stephen Harper's allegation that Parliament has been dysfunctional (despite passing over 63 pieces of legislation, two budgets and one economic statement). Harper was getting impatient and no longer wanting only a piece of the pie. He wanted the whole pie.
So, he starts off on the attack ... long before an election was called. Somebody should do a Freedom of Information request to find out how much of our tax dollars were spent on pre-election ads and where this money came from. Elections Canada might like to know. For me, I could not care less about the attack ads. It took almost to the eleventh hour of this election for Harper to even release a platform, let alone answer any questions ...
The Conservative election platform is a 41-page document which includes 22 pages of glossy colour pictures of himself, some of which include that lovely sweater he started off this campaign with ... others of his kids. How cute. The sad part of this whole affair is that I do like Stephen Harper as an individual ... he has two young children, both of whom he walks to school. He does not come from big money like many former PMs have. He is an economist, but is also not a lawyer or from Quebec, which gives Canadians a breath of fresh air. He also takes in stray cats ... something on its own makes me feel for the man.
Stephane Dion is more of an intellectual with a background as a university professor. He is married and has an adult stepchild, as well as a dog named Kyoto. The fact that he named his dog Kyoto makes me wonder about this man, not that he is not allowed to name his dog anything he wants ... but he takes pride in the fact that he helped create the Kyoto Accord, which Harper came in and rapidly unraveled.
Jack Layton is a controversial individual. He was a professor at Ryerson University in Toronto, as well as at one point operating a type of environmental consultancy. He is married to Olivia Chow, also an NDP MP from the Toronto area. Neither came from money; in fact, Layton's fortunes probably grew after the two of them became city councillors for the City of Toronto. Both are known to travel by bike as well as public transit, something you will never see happen in Niagara with ANY of its politicians, no matter how humble their beginnings.
While I will probably be voting for the NDP this time around, I still have considerable issues with this particular party. I might personally prefer the Green Party, but I might want to see their party and organization grow first. My concern right now is to get people to vote for the candidate who is most likely to keep the Conservative candidate out. It is nothing against Stephen Harper; in fact, if I could vote for my local candidate and Prime Minister separately, I would definitely vote for Stephen Harper as the Prime Minister. I just don't like a lot of his underlings.
Now down to the point of this entry ... a recent opinion poll has placed the Conservatives at 31% of the vote, Liberals at 27% and the NDP at 24%. I smell a minority government of a different type. Maybe there might be enough NDP votes to keep a minority Liberal government in place. The best interests of this country would be served by a minority government of any stripe at this time, as it forces the parties to work together ... as opposed to one party imposing its own ideas, hell or high water, on everybody ...
The election campaign started with Harper well ahead of the Liberals, at one point his party was at 41% ... there was a lot of talk about a Conservative majority. There was even talk about who will be picked to be in his Cabinet. At the same time, many people are fearing a Conservative majority ... apparently now, enough of them to prevent one from happening. Dion seems to be taking his votes back, probably because he isn't spending much time babbling about the Green Shift, which his advisors probably realized is too complex to talk about during an election.
Instead, Dion speaks about a 30-day economic plan following his election as Prime Minister, something Harper appears to lack, even AFTER the release of his 41-page platform. His focus is on finding ways to alleviate Canadians' fears about the stock market which is now in a free fall, talks of the "Great Depression" are intercepting news reports on the $700 billion bailout in the United States (another unfortunately necessary measure, though controversial). People want to hear about jobs, their savings and their incomes.
All this talk about chocolate cigarettes didn't work, Mr. Harper.
However, I don't vote for political parties anymore. I vote for local candidates. After all, these are the people I will be darkening the doorsteps of in order to push my own agendas, as well as the people who will be taking issues of the people in Niagara to Ottawa. Sometimes, I want to vote for the person whose lens it is that will be interpreting what I tell them, as opposed to a party and/or a platform (which as it demonstrated during this election, can change at a whim).
On October 14, 2008, my husband and I will probably be working at the election. I do this, not for the money, but for the support of democracy. This is an institution that is very important to me ... although I am not a Liberal either, but there are reports of people with Liberal signs on their lawns in three Toronto ridings and in Niagara Falls, who are getting their car brake lines cut, their homes vandalized and are getting threatening telephone calls telling them to take their signs down. This to me is reminiscent of Third World elections, where people are made to feel fearful of expressing their opinions or support for particular candidates.
In this country, we should have nothing to fear when we speak out or show our support for any particular candidate. People in Canada should be safe to put ANY sign on their lawns, voice unpopular opinions and even join pressure groups to influence public policy. This is a part of our democracy that I feel strongly about ... and this is what I am sometimes fear we are losing.
Educate yourself, my friend. Learn about all of your local candidates and vote with your mind and your heart and turn up at the ballot box on October 14, 2008.