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As Mulcair gains momentum, NDP and Liberals trade places and policies

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Well, we were warned there was a mood for change in Canada, but we had no idea how ferocious this mood actually is. You might even say that it changes everything.

According to at least one survey last week, the NDP is on the way to forming a majority government after October 19. Now that's a sentence you won't have read often. Evidently the time-for-a-change (TFAC) mood among Canadians is real. The desire to get rid of the Harper government is strong across the country, and right now the NDP is the party that's capturing most of that craving. The party seems to have the Big Mo (momentum), and merely needs to sustain it for the next seven weeks. Or what politicians will tell you is substantially longer than all eternity.

Truthfully, it's a bit of surprise that it's the NDP that's benefiting most from TFAC. Last year it seemed far more likely that the Liberals would be the chief benefactors. But this is far from the only surprise of this neverending campaign. It seems that before our very eyes, the two opposition parties are exchanging some of their most distinguishing stripes. Soon you won't be able to tell the players without a program. Or as that nice Mr. Orwell fellow once explained, war is peace and ignorance is strength.

In this past week alone, for example, the NDP refused to participate in a leaders' debate that focused on issues of particular concern to Canadian women. The Liberals, though, readily agreed. Of course the NDP had another excuse -- their reasonable strategic determination never to have Mr. Mulcair debate if the Prime Minister is absent. But in so doing, they angered a large number of progressive but non-partisan women who must very soon decide between Tom Mulcair and Justin Trudeau.

The old NDP, pre-TFAC, would most likely have decided to be conciliatory here. They'd probably have said that this was a singularly important opportunity, since women are so often neglected in the political system and since the NDP has always been passionately committed to the cause of women. So Mr. Mulcair would, this once, have agreed to debate whichever other leaders showed up. But the TFAC NDP held tough and forced the debate organizers to come up with another format.

Here's an even more poignant example, straight from a Toronto Star front-page headline last week: "NDP vow for balanced budget means big cuts, Liberals warn." Now who in their wildest dreams ever thought they'd see such a headline in their lifetime? For decades the old New Democratic Party has inveighed against conservative dogmatists who insisted that a balanced budget was the solution to all life's problems.

Indeed, it's Mr. Trudeau who's been schlepping former prime minister Paul Martin around the hustings with him lately, the very Paul Martin who once swore he'd eliminate Brian Mulroney's deficits "come hell or high water," a.k.a. Paul the Ripper for his brutal shredding of Canada's social safety net in the process.

And if memory serves, it was Stephen Harper who resorted to deficit financing to fight the recession of 2008, a move strongly urged on him by the Old NDP and that, as predicted, kept Canada from being damaged too calamitously during that economic crisis.

In fact the reversal in positions is even more stark than this. Mr. Mulcair has now promised that he'd balance the budget in his first year of office -- listen to these magical words: "The NDP's first year of office"!! -- even while remaining true to all of his election promises, regardless of their cost.

The new Liberals, in response, are claiming that the first Mulcair government would be forced to introduce austerity policies to meet his balanced budget promise. The fun here, it hardly needs pointing out, is that New Democrats have long accused all dogmatic budget balancers of favouring austerity budgets that would inevitably most hurt the poor and vulnerable.

Finally, we have the Mulcair NDP pledging not to impose extra taxes on the very rich, while Mr. Trudeau's Liberals pledge they'd do exactly that. Remember old Mr. Orwell? Slavery is freedom.

All of this is deeply exciting, though for us down in the rabbit hole with Alice these unexpected turnarounds naturally take some getting used to. Of course it also takes some getting used to being in first place.

But, as astute readers might guess, there's a secret hidden agenda at work here, which this space can now reveal for the first time.

Clearly the leadership of the NDP and Liberals are quietly preparing to work together after October 19 if neither of them gets a majority of seats. As their policies get interchanged and reversed, as one morphs into the other in full public view, it will become ever easier for the two to form a unity government (but not a coalition!) that would deny the Conservatives their fourth consecutive government. Which is what the large majority of Canadians strongly prefer.

Some in both parties may initially be uncomfortable with some of these U-turns. But the likelihood of saying a heartfelt sayonara to Stephen Harper and his accomplices will surely more than compensate.

History is being made in this campaign, comrades, unnerving as it sometimes may be, and we have the privilege of watching it unfold before our eyes.


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Image: Wikimedia Commons

This article originally appeared in The Globe and Mail

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