By Jason Menard
Remember the old jokes? A PC dinner reservation would be announced by the maitre d’ as, “Conservatives – Party of Two.” That was back in 1993 when, after the failure of both Meech Lake and Charlottetown, along with the residual distaste of the GST implementation and the rise of the Reform Party left the once-mighty Progressive Conservatives a shell of their former selves.
So could the Liberals now be preparing for a similar serving of crow in an election that suggests that the once lightly regarded NDP has passed the once-mighty Liberal Party of Canada in the polls?
Back in 1993, as in today, there were many similarities in the political climate. Instead of a fractured left, we saw a dismantling of the right-wing monolith. Where once right-thinking Canadians had only one choice, suddenly the Reformers presented a viable alternative.
Today, the right is united under the renewed Conservative banner. The centre-left, however, is the one that’s suffering from vote-splitting. Canadians now have viable choices: the NDP is legitimate in many voters’ eyes; Jack Layton has emerged as a strong leadership candidate; and even the Green Party has a not-unsubstantial level of support.
Back in 1993, the PC party was still tainted by the image of Brian Mulroney, even if Kim Campbell had been thrown under the party bus to take the hit. Today, memories of the Sponsorship Scandal still resonate and Liberal leader Michael Ignatieff just hasn’t been able to capture the theatrical intrigue that a national leader needs.
Chrétien-era politics and Martin-era arrogance have been mixed with Dion-era naiveté to leave today’s Liberals fighting a battle on three fronts: a strong right, a viable alternative on the left, and the much-harder conquest of their own ghosts.
The question that has to be answered on May 2nd has nothing to do with the Liberals – and they have little impact upon it: are Canadians ready to vote NDP?
Sure, there have been pockets of support inCanada. My own London-Fanshawe riding has been ably supported since 2006 by NDP MP Irene Mathyssen (not to mention a stint back in 1990 to 1995 as an MPP during the much-maligned Rae Days). The NDP has enjoyed moderate success at the federal level, especially under the leadership of the popular Ed Broadbent. In 2008, the NDP had 37 members in the House of Commons.
Talk that the NDP could reach 100 seats seems a little aggressive. Even the gains made inQuebec, where some polls have them ahead of the Bloc, may be muted by the fact that he seems to be pulling back from his statement of “bringingQuebecinto the constitution). The likelihood is that many voters are flirting with the NDP when it doesn’t count – but they’re not quite ready to cast their lot – and their ballot – in with this party.
But if that’s not the case; if NDP support is more galvanized than previously thought, then this election could mark a seismic shift along the centre-left side of the political spectrum.
It’s not likely that the Liberals will fall to that two-seat low that the PC party suffered. However, it will likely mean the end of Ignatieff as party leader, and it may mean that the party will require a comprehensive rebranding to recapture the hearts of lower-case liberals across this country – a rebranding built upon a foundation devoid of the party’s former arrogance.
It’s not an easy process, but it can be done. One only needs to look at today’s Conservative Party to see that.