In the stormy waters of the 2011 general election a prediction is hard to come by. The old adage "a week in politics is a long time" has never been so true. The campaign started with a well orchestrated dissolution of Parliament. A focused Conservative strategy that included several months of preparatory attack ads on the credibility of Liberal leader Ignatieff. Not unlike a military operation where you fire artillery at the enemy and attack when there are only dead and dying left.
Every detail was planned. In Newfoundland and Labrador we witnessed Senator Manning announce multiple federal financial commitments to communities in his own riding right up to the date of the fall of government. We witnessed the signing of the Quebec Offshore Accord one day before the fall of government. We witnessed the unholy alliance of Kathy Dunderdale, and the provincial PC's, with the Harper Conservatives. A dubious commitment to provide funding or guarantees for the Lower Churchill being the grease on the wheel. All things were a go, and the Conservatives believed the twelve elusive seats they needed to form a majority were well in place.
However, as we say in the military, no plan survives the first contact with the enemy. In Newfoundland and Labrador the peace treaty made by the provincial PC's almost immediately proved futile. Mr. Harper's credibility with the people here was not improved. Ms. Dunderdale was viewed as a traitor to Danny Williams - and he has not come out to disprove the notion. The collection of "respectable" candidates, trotted out from all sorts of previous political appointments to run was viewed with immediate suspicion. The ultimate result of the back fire in this province was Mr Harper's rather catastrophic campaign stop last week where barely 100 people turned out. Even worse, Ms. Dunderdale and her Cabinet did not show. To be sure this reflects as badly on her as it does on him, but he's the one facing election now.
Several potential scandals against the government surfaced, and then almost as quickly subsided. The deliberate leak of the second Auditor General's report casting a less damning view of the government's handling of the G20 funds seemed to put it to bed - for now. However, the real game changer in the campaign was the English language debate. Mr. Harper was not bruised as expected in the debate. Mr. Ignatieff gave some strong moments, but was shaky at times and hurt the perception that he could make a strong Prime Minister. Mr. Layton came out swinging, as usual, but only really hurt Ignatieff. Mr.Duceppe had a terrible performance. He seemed to lack focus, intensity, and was largely hard to understand. The English debate left Mr. Harper as the front runner, and cemented that position.
The french debate was the clincher. Mr. Duceppe was equally unimpressive in the french debate as he was in the English debate. This time, however, he had the most to lose. He was successfully portrayed as a dinosaur. A man from a different era fighting battles that had little relevance to the every day lives of Quebecers. That debate, combined with his lazy campaign, left the battleground for hearts and minds open. The Conservatives could not fill the void. They had aligned early on with Newfoundland and Labrador over the Lower Churchill, which alienated the "nationalistic" vote in Quebec. The federal Liberals were not in a position to capitalize as they were still being blamed for the Clarity Act, and the sponsorship scandal. The only real alternative left for Quebecers to look at was the NDP. Of course it helps that Mr. Layton played up his Quebec birthplace. It also helped that the NDP has been flirting with the pro-separatist unions in Quebec for years. Ultimately, Quebec voters decided to move toward the NDP as their seemingly logical choice.
What that move will result in is not known for certain at this time. However, it will radically alter the post election political scene. Going out on a limb, with a little over a week to go, I'll make the following prediction based on the move recorded in the polls: Conservative 128 seats; NDP 89 seats; Liberal 78 seats; and Bloc 29 seats. What the configuration does is several things: there will not be a coalition; there will be leadership changes in two parties at least; and the next election will likely take place in 2013. My guess is it will be framed on the huge equalization battles coming in the next year or two. There will be a call for a strong central government. One that reflects a national vision, and one that can hold the country together as the provinces wage war against each other to keep the dollars they have, or to get more of someone else's share.
It is a virtual certainty that the federal Liberals would never form a coalition with the NDP that would see an NDPer become Prime Minister. It would, however, give them a chance to change their leadership and give a new leader the time in Parliament to show his stuff. The next federal Liberal leader will be french - that is certain based on the alternating French/English tradition of the Liberal Party of Canada. Look for Justin Trudeau to take over the reigns. The Bloc will change leaders to. Look for them to seek a younger leader to work with the upcoming PQ government in Quebec City. Mr. Charest may be a great guy, and a dedicated Canadian, but he has been mortally wounded. The Conservatives will be in the unenviable position of needing a leadership change without being able to achieve one. It defies the imagination that a Prime Minister of a minority Parliament could be challenged.
As much as I hate to see it unfolding, it appears the NDP is on track to become the Official Opposition. Perhaps there will be a miracle in the last week of the campaign. Jean Chretien, the most popular Prime Minister of modern times, is coming out Wednesday to support Mr. Ignatieff. If anyone can change the course of the election it may be him. However, it appears that people are becoming very decided in their positions, and it may be impossible to sway them at this late stage.
In any case, a prediction is a prediction.
Here's to the crazy ones, the misfits, the rebels, the troublemakers, the
round pegs in the square holes... the ones who see things differently -- they're
not fond of rules... You can quote them, disagree with them, glorify or vilify
them, but the only thing you can't do is ignore them because they change
things... they push the human race forward, and while some may see them as the
crazy ones, we see genius, because the ones who are crazy enough to think that
they can change the world, are the ones who do.
US computer engineer & industrialist (1955 - 2011)