Be careful what you predict. Yes, in all modesty I must confess: I did, in this very space only weeks ago, confidently announce that an election would take place in May. I scoffed at fellow bloviators who fussed, as recently as the very morning of the budget, that Stephen Harper was angling to win NDP support. With all his many Achilles' heels -- you might say it's an Achilles body -- the PM knows his chances for a majority are as good now as they're ever likely to be. So the game is on. Whoopee!
Actually, I can barely keep my eyes open long enough to write this. The thought that this poor old nation must endure its fourth election in seven years is almost too much to endure. The media will drench us in electoral politics, drown us in it. There will be second-by-second news that is not new and endless revelations by the punditocracy that reveal nothing. (I fear I'll be among them, but will try to restrain myself.) Fortunately, based on the last umpteen campaigns, we can rest assured that the large majority of Canadians will pay little attention to all the hot air until the very end of the interminable campaigning, and maybe not even then. At the rate we've been going, most Canadians may not even bother voting -- unless they finally get a reason to do so.
What can we expect of the various campaigns?
The Greens may re-materialize under Elizabeth May, MIA. After running a strong campaign in 2008, vindicating those of us who called for her to appear on the leaders' debates, Ms. May promptly disappeared. Since climate change remains one of the world's greatest crises -- I will refrain from insulting readers by pointing out the tragic evidence -- this campaign needs her very badly.
The Liberals continue to have a huge problem. Their leader simply doesn't fit in the Barnum & Bailey world of politics. He can't do indignation convincingly. He can't be brazen. He can't fake sincerity. His attempts at humour are embarrassing. You'd think after sitting across from Stephen Harper, Jason Kenney and John Baird all these years, their capacity for shamelessness might have seeped into him, if only by osmosis. But no. This brilliant man finally found a stage where he remains a rank amateur. Mr. Harper knows that. It's exactly why we're having this election. Oh yes, one more thing. Michael Ignatieff is also burdened by mostly agreeing with Mr. Harper's policies.
For the NDP, this is the moment when Jack Layton must raise big issues, speak big truths and take the honourable gamble that Canadians are ready listen to the truth about our real problems: growing inequality, a declining middle class, the precariousness of daily life for millions of Canadians (including Mr. Harper's beloved immigrant communities), the need for vast infrastructure expenditures so that our kids have a viable country to grow up in, and of course climate change. This will admittedly take major new funding, but if the wealthy and their corporations actually paid the taxes they should much of that funding would be available. But not all. If we really want a better Canada, we will have to pay for it. Tell it the way it is, Jack. People need to know.
Finally, all eyes must be on how different the Conservative Leader's campaign will be this time thanks to Nigel Wright, his latest chief of staff. I learn from a remarkable love letter to Mr. Wright in The Walrus magazine, of all places, that Mr. Wright is a paragon of virtually endless virtue. Indeed the very title of this no-warts article is "Mr. Right," and it's not meant ideologically. Everything that so many Canadians loathe and fear about Stephen Harper finds its opposite in Mr. Wright. How do we know this? Because The Walrus tells us so. How does The Walrus know? Because the writer asked Mr. Wright's Conservative Party pals and his closest business associates (and only them, curiously), and they all agreed on his splendid qualifications.
In fact Mr. Wright's move from the powerful Onex Corporation to the Prime Minister's Office involved "no small amount of sacrifice," The Walrus tells us. He was pulling in about $2-million from his business job and will now be forced to survive on little "more than $300,000." No doubt he'll have to dip into his savings. It's a relief to learn he has shares worth another $3.5-million being held in a blind trust while "millions of dollars are said to be parked for him in Onex's management's deferred profit-sharing plan." A true sacrifice for sure from yet another Conservative who speaks for middle class Canadians.
Of course it's also true that Mr. Wright is a libertarian conservative, kind of like a Canadian Tea Party guy. He was also an early supporter of those two great Canadians, Mike Harris and Stephen Harper himself. Some of those who vouch for his integrity happen to be among the toughest political and business folk around. But here's The Walrus thing. Nigel Wright is nicer than the reactionary policies he espouses and is expected to make a nasty prime minister feel nicer. Nice is nicer. Sure, Mr. Wright's been on the job for several months now and his boss doesn't really seem a whole lot nicer yet. But I'm sure it's coming. So watch for a campaign with no more of those dirty personal attacks on Stephen Harper's enemies (or on their families) that have been running on Mr. Wright's watch, where the low road is less travelled, and without the sheer unadulterated meanness that has characterized every moment of Stephen Harper's entire career. No more hitting below the belt? A new nicer prime minister? A man we can now trust? I'm betting Nigel Wright's portfolio on it.
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