The Stornoway scenario: could we get the NDP as official opposition?
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by L. IAN MacDONALD
The Gazette, Wednesday, April 27, 2011
Jack Layton has already won the campaign, and Stephen Harper is winning the election.
The only question is the ballot question: majority or minority?
There's a second ballot question that's emerged with the surge of the NDP in Quebec and British Columbia. Who do you want in opposition to keep Stephen Harper and the Conservatives honest?
It's still too early for the NDP to be measuring the drapes in Stornoway, but it's no longer out of the question.
As long as the NDP looked to be peaking in percentage of voter intentions in the low 20s in Quebec, that was a very inefficient vote for a party that had no ground game to deliver it. But now that the NDP has moved into first place in Quebec, around 30 per cent, it's a different story. The New Democrats have moved into different territory, where the vote delivers itself, as it did for Mario Dumont and Action démocratique du Québec in the 2007 provincial election.
The NDP has reached the point where a rising tide lifts all the boats, including Conservative boats in the 21 ridings of area code 418 in eastern Quebec, where every vote the NDP takes from the Bloc Québécois is one less the Conservatives need to hold their nine seats in the region. Unless, of course, the NDP is now running first in 418 as well.
It's very hard to predict how the NDP surge may translate into seats, because we are in uncharted waters. But if the NDP numbers hold until next Monday, the party could be looking at 20 seats in Quebec. Maybe more. Which is where, with the collapse of the Liberals in Ontario, the Stornoway scenario comes in.
It's no mystery, though it is a surprise. Layton has run a very good campaign. In his fourth election, he's managed to become the new and different candidate. And Quebecers, who never paid any attention to him before, are turning to him because of Bloc Fatigue. On the left - and many Quebecers are on the left - they're comfortable with the NDP's positions on everything from the environment to ending the mission in Afghanistan.
They also liked what they saw of Jack on Tout le monde en parle, and in the two leaders' debates where, even when he was landing punches, he had a smile on his face. He's un bon jack, a good guy. He's Smiling Jack, playing through the pain. His cane has become, instead of a crutch, a symbol of his courage. Quebecers remember another man who campaigned with a cane, as Tasha Kheiriddin noted yesterday in the National Post, and they admire Layton now just as they did Lucien Bouchard then.
So in Quebec, Layton has become the candidate of hope and change. The fact that his numbers don't add up is beside the point.
In Ontario, it's different. In Ontario, they have memories of the NDP government in the 1990s, when the provincial debt doubled in five years, when public servants and teachers were given days off to cut the deficit. Bob Rae was the only guy ever to have days named after him for the wrong reasons. This is why the NDP isn't growing in Ontario, where the Conservatives have opened up a big double-digit lead (18 points in Monday's Nanos poll, 14 points in an Environics poll).
In Ontario, the Conservatives will spend the closing days attacking the NDP brand, not the leader. All the Tories need to say is: The NDP will do for Canada what it did for Ontario.
Which brings Harper to his closing argument: his case for a majority government, to avert the possibility of an opposition coalition, possibly one even led by the socialist hordes. Harper hasn't always been a strong closer - the Tories faded on hidden-agenda fears and strategic voting in 2004 and 2006.
But Harper's been in government for five years, and the Conservatives have brought the country through the recession in better shape than any other country in the G7. Half a million new jobs have been created in the last two years. Canada is a lucky country, and people know it. How much of this is due to good management is something for the voters to decide. Competence is a core attribute, and the Conservatives are seen as competent.
The Liberals, who have usually played the strategic voting card in the last week, find themselves in the position of attacking the NDP rather than courting their "progressive voters." How's that going to work? Not very well.
And Michael Ignatieff doesn't have a closing argument, because his arguments have failed to stick.
From contempt of Parliament to health care, none of the Liberal arguments is a ballot question. That's because Iggy and the Liberals brought on an election the voters didn't want. Which is why they're losing.
As for the Bloc, I don't know anyone who doesn't think them taking a hit isn't a good thing for Canada. Smiling Jack is the immediate beneficiary, but the long-term winner is the country.