By Jason Menard
Circling the battered and bloody Liberal carcass like vultures, the Tories and the Bloc have used the trickle of information flowing from Gomery inquiry to fuel a campaign to shut down our Parliament in the hopes of riding a wave of public distrust to an election victory.
But by masking political opportunism with the façade of public concern, will their plans blow up in their respective faces? The next election may come down to how each voter answers the question, “Is the devil you know better than the devil you don’t?”
As the Bloc and Conservatives work themselves into a lather about the alleged misappropriation of funds in the Sponsorship Scandal, voters will have another number in the back of their minds — a quarter of a billion dollars. That’s approximately how much last year’s election cost Canadians, through donations and dipping into the government coffers – which are filled with our tax dollars.
Voters will have to reconcile how parties preaching from a pulpit built on fiscal responsibility can employ tactics to shut down the Parliament, prevent it from doing its duty to its constituents, force another election down our throats, and stick us with the bill. Might that cause some resentment in the electorate?
How will voters react to the potential scrapping of one of the most humane budgets we’ve seen in ages? Will voters be resentful that the so-called deal with the devil — which saw the Liberal Party plugging the holes in its political dyke with a band of New Democrats all-too happy to sell their allegiances for fiscal concessions, finally able to leverage their legislative presence for power — trampled by a stampeding conservative caucus racing towards a chance at power?
And how will those disaffected swing voters upon whom the Tories are counting, reconcile the presence of that Unholy Trinity – separatism, the alleged hidden right-wing conspiracy, and George Bush? If we thought last year’s campaign was ugly, when the Liberals went into the election somewhat confident of the outcome, how will this wounded animal, fearing its very survival, fight back during this year’s campaign?
As the Bloc enjoys the swelling bandwagon from soft-separatists just looking for a reason to jump back on board, the Liberal Party will raise the spectre of political turmoil and financial instability caused by an emboldened sovereigntist movement. And to counter the right-wing parties, will the Liberals float the rhetorical balloon invoking mass cuts to our social programs, attacks on the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, and any number of insidious inferences to a hidden small-c conservative agenda? As well, if there’s one thing that many Canadians will agree on is its general antipathy towards the President of our neighbour to the south. By tying Stephen Harper to Bush Jr.’s politics, the Liberals are well aware – as they were in the last election – that they can play on Canadian fears of increased Americanism in our social and financial policies.
Already we see the public’s initial venom towards the Liberal Party is dissipating. There is any number of polls showing any number of results, but as we’ve seen time and time again, polls aren’t worth the time and effort it takes to get them. Canadians will be vociferous in their opposition when it doesn’t count, but the act of marking a ballot prompts sober reflection and fear of the unknown. If the current Liberal Party is able to distance itself from these accusations – or find someone who will fall on their sword – they may be able to convince the electorate that this scandal will usher in a new era of accountability.
Most importantly, can the resurgent right fight the hardest battles of all – voter fatigue and apathy? Last election, only just over 60% of Canadians went to the polls in an election that was rife with intrigue. Indications are we may see even fewer as voters express their resentment of being called to the polls yet again. And, as the pundits like to say, poor voter turnout favours the incumbents. Can the Conservatives win over the hearts of an electorate that really doesn’t want to have an election? If not, can the right effectively translate the anger of those outraged voters into fuel for an election win?
The final question is whether or not the status quo is the best option available? The Conservatives and Bloc have shown that they wield the power in Parliament, and can demand greater concessions from the Liberal minority. By refusing to play nice now with the Liberals, does that set up a culture of retribution should they be voted in as a minority government in their own right? Is turnabout fair play? It would seem that forcing an election is an all or nothing gamble – anything less than a majority government would result in a Parliament paralyzed by Liberal and NDP opposition, and an emboldened Bloc Quebecois concerned only with its own best interests with added clout to back it up.
The pawns are in motion but will the Conservatives’ gambit eventually lead to their desired end game, or will their bold move to wrest power backfire? The Tories are banking on a nation that hates politicking but loves its politics forgiving such a brazen power grab. Yet, Canadian’s love their politics from afar, and when it comes to consummate the affair, they generally shy away from actual commitment.
Who said politics was boring? This year’s pending election stands to be one for the ages.
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