Tag Archives: minority government

United Left Harper’s Worst Enemy

By Jason Menard

Well, that certainly didn’t take long. Not even 24 hours into the federal election campaign and Conservative leader Stephen Harper threw down the first sequined gauntlet, promising to hold an open vote on the question of legal marriage in this country.

Yet, what Harper and both capital and small-c conservatives haven’t figured out yet is that if they want to reach out to the soft middle, the gay issue has to be kept aside. Otherwise, the same ol’ fears that keep Harper out of a Sussex Drive address will continue to flourish – and a polarized left will rise to send the Conservatives to defeat.

At a time when there are so many other topics with which Harper could effectively campaign from, he chooses to bring up an issue that was cooling nicely on the back burner. What’s next? Will Harper advocate a plebiscite on the return of the death penalty? How about introducing a motion to make kids recite the Lord’s Prayer in school? Maybe a little missive on abortion laws, just to keep the conversation going?

Instead of promoting talking points that are inclusionary, he has to choose to turn the heat up on one of the most divisive issues affecting our country. And when you take one side of a polarized issue, it’s only natural that an opposing side will unite to fight back – which is exactly what the Conservatives don’t want.

The Tories best chance at unseating the Grits is to play to the soft centre of Canadian politics. They’ve already wrapped up the right-wing vote – in fact, they’re the only game in that town, so why the need to focus on those polarizing issues that cause anyone that leans a little to the left to run screaming away from his party?

Harper could run a successful campaign simply focusing on the Liberal’s lack of accountability, the need for a new voice in Parliament, and a commitment to fiscal responsibility – which was the hallmark of the Liberal party until its recent string of budgetary/campaign promises running up to the non-confidence vote.

But no, that gay issue obviously is quite the bee in his bonnet. Instead of letting sleeping dogs lie, he’s decided to grab it by the tail and wave it around. Now, he can only hope that this particular dog doesn’t come back and bite him.

There’s a reason why the Liberal’s 2004 campaign included allusions to a hidden agenda. It’s the same reason why so many left-leaning voters chose to support the Liberals instead of the NDP at the last minute. Rightly or wrongly, a significant number of people believe that the Tories actually do have a secret agenda. And it doesn’t help when lesser issues like gay marriage come to the fore at the first available opportunity.

This election is ripe for the picking. The Tories could have it easily if they just learned to be compassionate conservatives. Canadians want a viable alternative to the Liberal party but they’re also leery of losing what it means to be Canadian. Rightly or wrongly, the Conservative party has been painted as threats to our social programs and our inclusionary culture – and taking on gay marriage doesn’t soften that perception one little bit.

The Conservatives have to stop preaching to the converted and realize that they’re playing right into the Liberal’s hands. Those who lean to the right will support Harper, while those who lean way to the left are going to support Jack Layton. But it’s the majority of us who reside somewhere in the vast middle that will decide this election – and that’s the demographic that the Liberals have been able to leverage so effectively over the past couple of decades.

Harper needs to realize this and stop alienating the soft Liberal. In the end, while he may see a few former Liberal voters come into his camp, his best option is that he prevents the fear-mongering and polarizing effect an “anything-but-Conservative” campaign can produce.

If he stays away from the hot-button points – or at least stops bringing them up on his own – then voters may be lulled into a feeling of security where they feel that they can comfortably cast a vote for the NDP. That way, the Conservatives can split the left and walk up the right lane, uncontested, to assume the mantle of power.

To Harper, a vote for Layton is just as good as a vote for himself. Secure in the knowledge that the Canadian centre-to-right will support his party, as they’re really the only viable option, then his focus has to be on preventing a unified left from rising up to challenge him in this election. And to do that, he doesn’t necessarily have to appeal to left-of-centre voters, but he does have to avoid being demonized.

Unfortunately, he’s already stumbled coming out of the gates and tripping over the relative non-issue of gay marriage. The Tories have to hope that he rights himself and sticks to issues – not opinions – in order to stake their claim on a very winnable election.

2005 © Menard Communications – Jason Menard All Rights Reserved

Spending Millions For What We Already Have

By Jason Menard

Imagine you’ve gone on one of those home renovating shows that dot the television landscape like Tim Hortons locations on a map of Ontario. Now, the twist is that you pay for everything the renovators do, and on the big day, everything is revealed before your eyes.

And it’s exactly the same. Think the censors would let your comments air?

“Yes, the room may appear to be the same, but if you look carefully, we’ve rearranged some of the potted plants. And instead of six calla lilies, we’ve taken two out and put in a pair of tulips. Oh, but we’ve put two new calla lilies in that old bowl of tulips over there, to replace the other two we tossed out.”

You’d be pretty P-Oed, right? Now imagine if the producers then turned around and presented you with a bill for $25,000. Needless to say it would make for some entertaining television.

Now, multiply that $25,000 by a factor 10,000 and you’ll get what the next federal renovation will set the country back. And what will we get for our money? Probably nothing more than a few cosmetic changes and a whole lot of buyers’ regret.

The Conservatives are upset that Alberta premier Ralph Klein said what many of us believe – that the upcoming election will bring more of the same, another Liberal minority. Now, as they say in the sports world, if the games were won on paper we wouldn’t need to play them. But it’s hard to believe that we’re much different than we were back in June 2004, but that’s what we’re going to spend upwards of $250 million to find out.

The opposition parties are treating the election as a game of chance: rolling the dice with our money hoping to strike it big. But the one lesson that any gambler worth his or her salt learns is that although the odds may look stacked in your favour, in the end the house always wins.

The Conservatives, NDP, and, to a lesser extent, the Bloc are gambling that our displeasure over the sponsorship scandal and other political boondoggles will send swing voters rushing to the ballot ready to turf out the long-ruling Liberals. They’re hoping that the electorate will believe that they – the Conservatives especially – are capable of ruling the next Parliament.

Of course, they’re also gambling with the fact that voters will forget that they never learned to play nice and make this government work.

The defining memory of this minority Parliament will not be one of greater accountability, parties negotiating together for the betterment of all Canadians, or the maximizing of a coalition government. No, we’re left with less-than-pleasant memories of implied and expressed desires to grind the wheels of government to a halt, of holding the electorate hostage with threats of forcing another election, and general pettiness and sandbox-mentality fighting in the House of Commons.

And these are the guys and gals we’re supposed to elect in with a minority? I always hated the kids that would only play nice when they held all the cards – do I really want to vote them into power?

Again, we’re stuck at a crossroads in Canada. It seems like years, if ever, where we were actually voting for ideals or picking a candidate that we actually want. More often than not, it comes down to choosing the lesser of two evils. That’s what we had last time around and the Devils in question are still wearing the same masks.

So, as it appears we’re heading to another minority government, we can only expect more of the same behaviour for however long the next government lasts. If we are saddled with another Liberal minority, do we expect any different behaviour from the opposition? And if the Tories leapfrog the Grits into minority power, should we be surprised if the Liberals try to exact some revenge?

We’re headed to more of the same. And if that’s the case, can any party actual revel in what is essentially a Pyhrric victory at best. All parties can only lose credibility and stature through this process and an already-fatigued electorate will only tire further.

Play the safe hand? Shuffle the deck? Double down? Any way you cut it, the result will be the same – the house always wins, and it’s our money that they’re playing with.

2005 © Menard Communications – Jason Menard All Rights Reserved

Losing Confidence May Send Voters to Safety

By Jason Menard

One key to any successful venture is to know your audience. With that in mind, the opposition parties who are frothing at the mouth to take a bite out of the minority Liberals may find that voters prefer the security and safety that comes from numbers.

And, with no viable governing alternative on the horizon, those swing voters may decide that a majority Liberal government that is capable of working is better than no government at all.

A generation of voters has grown up not knowing what life in a minority government is like. With the last minority formed in 1979 and disbanded in 1980, anyone under the age of 40 can reasonably be expected to have fuzzy memories of the process. That being said, our first taste of minority governance has not been sweet.

As voters, we’ve been forced to swallow the bitter rhetoric of parties waiting for the most politically opportune time to press the issue. We’ve watched as the country has essentially been stuck in neutral, rendered impotent and ineffective by its minority status. All the benefits of a minority government – greater accountability, coalition building which ensures the needs of a wider variety of Canadians are met, and the opportunity for negotiation – have flown out the window.

So a generation of voters is left thinking, is this all there is? Do we want to go through this again? Do we want to waste another year waiting for the inevitable downfall of another minority government? Or do we go back to the ol’ tried-and-true majority format?

And that’s a question that the opposition parties don’t want to have asked.

For many, a Liberal majority would be simply the lesser of all evils. A minority government, no matter who’s at the helm, has been rendered ineffective by our culture of political opportunism and infighting. The NDP is looked upon as an acceptable opposition party, or social conscience, working best in a secondary role but not ready for Prime Time.

So that leaves two choices (sorry Bloc voters, but even the Bloc admits they have no interest in forming a government that has to work FOR Canada – their mandate is Quebec. And Greens? Well, you really didn’t do much for that four per cent of the nation that voted for you and gave you funding rights, now, did you?) Do we go Liberal or Conservative?

Do we choose between a Liberal party that still receives support across the nation, has recently been in power, and is running on a campaign of renewed integrity and honesty? Do we believe those statements or are the wounds from the sponsorship scandal still festering? By re-electing them to a majority are we tacitly approving their pattern of patronage, or will we accept their promises of accountability at face value?

Or do we make a jump to the Conservatives? A party that’s rife with internal turmoil and appears to be uncertain of the abilities and capabilities of its leader – and, as we know in politics, appearances are everything. Are Canadians ready to make that leap of faith and put their future in the hands of a party that can’t even show faith in its own leadership?

Most importantly, are we ready to take a chance again on the unknown, now that we’ve been burned so badly by our experiment with a minority?

How deep is the conviction of those voters who voted New Democrat instead of Liberal in the last election? Are they willing to continue to support this party at the expense of the security that comes from a majority rule? And how about those small-c conservatives who threw their support behind Steven Harper last time around? Has there been anything over the past year to reinforce their decision?

Or will we eschew the unknown in favour of security? As they say, the Devil you know is better than the Devil you don’t – and Canadian voters much prefer an active demon to one whose hands are tied by its minority status.

The opposition parties should remember that 1979 was a long time ago and much has happened since then – including the birth of an overwhelming number of voters, for whom a minority government has meant nothing but headaches.

So as they band together to bring down the Liberal minority, they should remember the old caveat of being careful for what they wish – they may just get it.

2005 © Menard Communications – Jason Menard All Rights Reserved