Less than a year from now, on October 19, 2015, Canadians will vote, or not, in the next federal election. If the next election is like four of the last five contests, about 40 per cent of Canadians will not cast a ballot on election day.
Choosing not to vote is as good as voting Conservative. If you did not vote in the last election, you put Stephen Harper in the prime minister's office with a majority government.
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Parliament took its summer recess last week. MPs return to their riding looking for signs of support, and indications of dissatisfaction. Political scientists proceed more formally to assess how parties are performing. How many citizens qualify as partisans of one party or another? To what extent do people identify with a party without being a member? And how do we evaluate voter intentions?
The meaning of the sudden NDP surge is this: It's a grasping for hope in a dispiriting situation in which all of the likely outcomes are bad. That grasping comes from within the majority -- from the 60 per cent or more who see Stephen Harper as a negative, anti-democratic force.
Above all, it raises the question of how to ultimately bring together this loose centre into one, uniting not only Liberals and New Democrats, but disaffected Progressive Conservatives and both federalists and soft nationalists in Quebec, perhaps leaving the Greens in the left-wing slot the NDP used to occupy.