With the recent NDP surge in the polls over the past week, I think media outlets – myself included – have tended to write about the big story, the drastic change that many people are looking for to justify what Stephen Harper has relentlessly called a ‘needless election.’ The outside chance of Jack Layton and the NDP forming the official opposition is just such a story, and it has been nice to take a few moments amid the turmoil of an election to dream that, one day, a left-wing party would attain some measure of power in Ottawa.
But as John Ibbitson wrote the other day in the Globe & Mail, lost in the shuffle this past week has been the fact that Liberal Leader Michael Ignatieff has been enjoying a renaissance on the campaign, finding his stride and his message – his political self – on the hustings. Ibbitson just wondered aloud if anyone was listening.
I, for one, think people are still listening to Ignatieff and the Liberals. It is a difficult mental shift for many Canadians to consider the NDP the go-to voice to oppose the Conservatives – and so the message that the Leader of the Liberal Party is putting out will never be sidelined for long. Decades of being the ‘natural governing party’ of the country have ingrained in many of voters the notion that flirting with the fringes can be fun in times of stability, but when push comes to shove, there are two real choices.
And while I reject this view as simplistic and self-fulfilling, I’ll admit that it is a difficult impression to shake. This makes the increasing confidence and ease with which Ignatieff is delivering his centrist message all the more important in the final days of the campaign. And for those of us who have been watching and waiting for this transformation, we can finally stop wringing our hands.
The Globe & Mail editorial board also helped the Liberal cause over the weekend by helping voters discern the differences between the Liberals and the NDP, lest anyone think that if you have seen one non-Conservative Party, you have seen them all. Highlighting differences in approaches to spending and governing priorities, the Globe concluded that there exists “sufficient distance between the NDP and the Liberals…They may be chasing some of the same votes, but they are not interchangeable.”
Owing to their centre status, the Globe also positions the Liberals as “a welcome antidote to ideological politics,” something that the Conservatives and NDP can never claim with a straight face. This domain belongs solely to the Liberal Party in the minds of most Canadians, however much the Green Party may want in on the action at the centre. Their platform is also overwhelmingly centrist, but they suffer from misleading branding, and struggle to convince a large enough percentage of Canadians that they are more than a single issue party. The Rent-Is-Too-Damn-High Party in the United States suffers from a similar aesthetics problem.
But, while it is true that the majority of the focus has shifted away from the Liberals as the main opposition to the Conservative Party of Canada in the past week, there is evidence that the fad is losing steam. I think this is largely due to the NDP becoming the focus of a three-party attack across the Country which has taken its toll, and that the strength of the NDP surge remains questionable. Their projected spending in the first two years in office is more than triple what the Liberals commit to spending, which is alarming, and you cannot shake the fact that the Dippers have no national governing experience. However, I’ll be the first to admit it’s an impossible Catch-22.
People – myself included – seemed to enjoy flirting with the idea of an openly left-wing official opposition, but the story had no substance: and you can only make so much political hay from speculation and polls.
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Here is Michael Ignatieff’s Town Hall for Canada. You see a comfortable, able statesman emerge in this campaign video – the Michael Ignatieff that the Liberal kingmakers saw was possible when they headed to Harvard all those years ago on a headhunting trip.