The winner of this campaign? Citizen engagement
TheStar.com – news/canada/politics
Published On Sat Apr 30 2011. By Chantal Hébert, National Columnist
Conventional wisdom with its attending numbing effect on citizen engagement is the early loser of the May 2 federal election.
Canadians — including, as it turns out, Quebecers — are less jaded about their country’s public affairs than much of the political and journalistic elite that purports to represent and inform them.
For the third time in six months, voters have thumbed their noses at the safe assumptions of the chattering class.
The populist mood that could result in a dramatically realigned Parliament on Monday changed the face of municipal politics in Calgary and Toronto last fall, bringing a left-leaning mayor to Alberta’s energy capital and a right-wing one to the home of Canada’s caviar Left.
The wave that could carry Jack Layton and the NDP to a historical finish next week has tapped into the same powerful desire for change but it is different from the one that propelled Rob Ford to the Toronto mayoral office in one significant regard.
In Quebec, where the so-called orange wave originated, the surge of support for the NDP is borne out of more hope than anger.
In spite of the best efforts of Conservative Leader Stephen Harper to claim the role for himself, it is Gilles Duceppe who has emerged as the angry man of the campaign.
The more the Bloc Québécois leader has raised his voice over this campaign, the less his call for a seventh strike vote against the rest of Canada has resonated.
To a lesser degree the same could be said of the Conservative and Liberal campaigns.
If anything, the developments of the past five weeks have shown that there is a lot more appetite for a discourse based on hope than one based on fear.
The Conservatives with their opposition coalition scarecrow; the Liberals and the Bloc with their fear-mongering warnings about every other party’s agenda all did more poorly than Layton did with a resolutely positive message.
When they perform the autopsy of this gruelling month, the Liberals will rightly conclude that relentless Conservative efforts to corrode the image of their leader had a lethal impact on Michael Ignatieff’s capacity to establish a connection with voters.
But if they search their own conscience, the Liberals will also have to admit that the formula for the poison that rendered their last two leaders toxic was concocted in their own kitchens.
After the Big Red Machine demonized Canadian Alliance leader Stockwell Day in 2000, Liberal strategists glorified in the success of the insidious approach that Harper has since made his own.
Serious policy never really made it to the centre stage of the campaign. On many core issues, starting with health care, none of the leaders rose to the occasion.
But the reality is that there are ultimately less irreconcilable policy differences between the parties than their partisan hype would lead to believe.
Regardless of the final makeup of the next Parliament, there is enough common ground to make it work — provided the men and women who sit across from each other in the House of Commons are of good will.
A significant amount of the latter will be required if Canada is not to spend the next two to four years watching another toxic Parliament unravel
On the morning after the election, chances are the country will wake up in uncharted waters.
Both a last-ditch Conservative majority and a radically recast minority Parliament would present distinct and unfamiliar challenges.
Canada has had majority Conservative governments in the past but John F. Diefenbaker and Brian Mulroney’s brand of conservatism was softer than Harper’s and his hold-no-prisoners approach has not grown on a majority of his fellow citizens.
A fourth consecutive minority Parliament that could feature more federalists and fewer sovereignists but also more New Democrats and fewer Liberals would equally represent a leap in the relative unknown.
Still, comparable democracies — starting with the United Kingdom and Australia — have overcome the challenges of hung parliaments to come to constructive governing arrangements. There is no reason Canada could not.
But whatever the outcome of the election, no one should have cause to lament that Canadians slept-walked to the result.
Go vote on Monday: It is better to risk buyer’s remorse than to let others do the shopping in your place.
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