The Liberals “no longer have the moral authority to govern.” With these words Gilles Duceppe opened campaign 2006. Speaking only in French, he was the first party leader to address the cameras after the defeat of the Liberal government on a non-confidence motion.

Jack Layton was next to be scrummed in the lobby of the House. He told voters “good things will come from electing more New Democrats.” Citing the NDP support for the Liberals in April, and the policy package that addressed the concerns of cities, students, natives, and provided for increased foreign aid, Layton said that the situation had changed. Recent negotiations had shown the NDP the Liberals were unwilling to protect health care against privatization, so they had to be defeated in the House. The people needed to decide, the NDP wanted more members to make Parliament work again, as it had in the spring.

Both the Liberals and Conservatives chose to show their leaders standing in front of their caucus, using Canadian flags as props. With cameras running, and journalists packed in at the back of the room, Paul Martin was in full campaign mode. Under a Liberal government “it was easier to buy a house and to get a job.” Low inflation, and lower interest rates, plus eight successive budget surpluses, were the proof the Liberals had restored prosperity lost after “ten years of Conservative mismanagement.”

Rather than address the nation, Stephen Harper spoke to his caucus directly. We’ll be back together and, “in a few weeks time there will be a few more of us,” he intoned ironically. Breaking from his script he identified by first name the members who would not be running again, and spoke about how the caucus was a family, and how united they had become. Harper warned about the Liberals being negative, attacking the Conservatives and himself directly. It’s a sign “we are winning” he said, the Conservatives would talk about the future “of this great country.”

The Environics poll released by CBC showed the Liberals at 35 per cent, the Conservatives at 30 per cent, and the NDP at 20 per cent. If the initial preferences hold, the Liberals and the NDP (with 55 per cent between them) would have enough seats to form a stable coalition.Call it a better outcome than an unstable Parliament.

Paul Martin has the most to lose from a re-run of the last 17 months of parliamentary uncertainty. His new caucus would be unlikely to want him around for a third election, especially against a new Conservative leader

So long as the Conservatives look like they are going nowhere, the NDP vote should hold, Liberal scare tactics notwithstanding.

If Harper falters badly, the Liberals could be in range of a majority, according to an Ekos poll published by the Toronto Star. But, should the Conservatives come on like fundraisers for the Council of Canadians, and make the country forget their Reform Party roots in American republicanism, it would only take a few Liberals missteps for the Conservatives to head to a short-lived minority.

As it was the first time these four leaders led their parties out onto the campaign trail, the election will be decided on a regional basis.

Liberal popular support in Quebec is down, so its 35 per cent (or so) national support is spread out more effectively across the country. Conservative support in Quebec is up, so its support across the country is down.

The 24 Conservative seats in Ontario (out of 104) are the first Liberal campaign objective. Win some back, and Liberals breathe easier.

The three way split in B.C. left the Conservative seats on top with 22 (out of 36). The NDP fortunes nationally may well rest on its ability to come up the middle, so to speak, in tight three way races in B.C.

As the Liberals went down to defeat in the House they clapped and cheered for each of their departing members. When their defeat was announced, Martin made no statement. With the media lined up and waiting, he left to give his upbeat performance for the cameras in a caucus room. Not for him to acknowledge the defeat of his party.

Martin wants people who think the country is heading in the right direction to vote Liberal.The issue of moral authority to govern raised by Duceppe is one that will be raised in conversations around the country until January 23 (the expected election date). The NDP have something to say that speaks to that. Let the re-match begin.

Duncan Cameron

Duncan Cameron

Born in Victoria B.C. in 1944, Duncan now lives in Vancouver. Following graduation from the University of Alberta he joined the Department of Finance (Ottawa) in 1966 and was financial advisor to the...