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You can't tell the players

You can't tell the players without a scorecard. What's true for baseball is also true for politics. Knowing who's who is the important first step in understanding what's going on in a country's internal machinations. Now that an election is looking imminent, one way or another, for Canadians I though perhaps outside observers would like to meet our Prime Minister and the esteemed leaders of the opposition.

As usual my political forecasts, which I thought were based on common sense and political considerations, have proven totally wrong. I felt for sure the Conservative Party would not do anything to jeopardise the issuing of the fuel tax rebate checks or run an election campaign over Christmas. Well I was wrong on both those counts. In two of the many scenarios for an election call (if you really want to read about all the possibilities "The Globe and Mail" breaks it down really well) and the ones they favour most, will see time expire before the energy rebate bill can get final reading in our Senate. It will also mean that we could have an election anywhere between Jan.2 2006 and January 16th 2006 (of course there is still the possibility of a December 27th election but I don't think anybody is that suicidal)

The Conservative Party is trailing in the polls, have no polices except Liberals bad Conservatives good, and are now going to piss people off by having an election campaign over Christmas as well as ensuring that no one gets there heating oil rebate this winter.

Maybe they're going for the sympathy vote? We're so stupid vote for us out of pity? That's never worked before. The only other thing I can think of is that party officials don't like the leader and want him to go down to defeat so that they can get rid of him. This wouldn't be the first time something like this has happened in a Canadian political party, just the most blatant.

In fact it is truly amazing what is happening. The opposition parties are looking so power hungry and desperate to bring down the government that they are making the governing Liberals look like the only party that's actually fit to run a country. That is a scary thought in itself, but one that could prove the most telling in the election whenever it happens.

Politics is all about perception these days, and whatever people perceive now during this jockeying will be what stays with them throughout the campaign. Right now it looks like the Conservatives are being incredibly Scrooge like just around Christmas. Any people who had fears about their social policies will see that as confirmation that they are the party without compassion.

It doesn't matter whether it's true or not, its what things look like that matters.

Enough you say, get on with telling us about the four that will be leading their political parties to war over the next two months. I'll introduce you to them in order of standing in the House of Commons as of this moment.

In the Red and White corner, coincidently the colour of our flag, waving the standard of the Liberal party of Canada is Prime Minister Paul Martin. He falls with a resounding thud into the category of the "Old Boy" network of political and economic power in Canada. The son of Paul Martin Sr. who was big in the Liberal Party back in the 1960's, and who missed being crowned king because of that upstart Pierre Trudeau back in 1968, Paul Martin junior was born a Prime Minister in waiting.

His business credentials were established by running the family's shipping business prior to becoming a politician. This of course cemented him as the darling of Bay Street (Canada's equivalent of Wall Street) when he entered the political arena. It seemed like his future as a Prime Minister was assured. But his ambitions got seriously derailed when he lost to Jean Chretien in a Liberal leadership convention prior to the 1995 general election.

When the Liberal swept to power, Paul Martin was named Minister of Finance, where he continued to endear himself to Bay Street by slashing spending everywhere. During his tenure he managed to achieve the politically desirable result of producing surpluses each year in his budgets within a short time of assuming the portfolio.

Everybody who was anybody loved him. But of course he wasn't happy, he needed to be Prime Minister. But he badly overplayed his hand and most likely just to spite him Chretien stayed on for another kick at the can and won another majority government. Mr. Martin had to resign his position as Finance Minister, because it doesn't look good if you're trying to topple your own leader while sitting in his cabinet.

He and his people did their best to discredit Chretien during those two years, until Mr. Chretien finally stepped down. Mr. Martin handily won the leadership convention (I don't think I can name one person that ran against him) and was finally Prime Minister, the title he believed was his by divine right of Kings or something.

It was the first time that he faced the people of Canada that he almost managed to lose the election. It was around this time he earned the elegant nickname of Mr. Dithers, not for Dagwood's tough as nails boss, but because he could never seem to make a decision. He'd just dither around making things worse by vacillating back and forth. It really looked like he was too scared of making a mistake to take action on anything.

He seems to have gotten a little better, in public anyway, with being decisive, but he is still a past master of saying a whole lot of nothing if needs be. He also has an endearing habit of blaming everything bad on his predecessor, while still managing to take credit for anything good that happened during that time.

Paul Martin jr. remains the epitome of the old boy ruling class moneyed elite in Canada. For someone who has always pictured himself as a professional politician his political instincts suck when it comes to understanding how people will react to situations. One only needs look at this delay in responding to last years tsunami off Sri Lanka to see how he completely missed the boat on what Canadians think is important.
Unfortunately for Canadians our options aren't that great. The leader of the opposition Conservative Party of Canada is a man by the name of Steven Harper. Prior to becoming leader of the party he was in charge of something called the National Citizens Coalition, which despite its universal sounding title had only one agenda. Cut all taxes.

I had briefly explained the gemenation of this party, how it mutated out of a couple previous parties into the bizarre creature that it is now, but I'll give a quick recap for those who missed the previous lesson. The Conservative Party of Canada is an amalgamation of what were once two separate conservative parties: the socially liberal and fiscally conservative Progressive Conservatives and the social and fiscally conservative Alliance Party.

While more than a few people welcome their fiscal ideas, tax cuts and cutting social programs, their big stumbling block continues to be the impression, well founded unfortunately, that they are the home to uncompromising social conservatives who border on dangerous. They have members of parliament who have openly called for criminalizing homosexuality, been Holocaust deniers, believe that Native people were conquered and should just get over themselves, that day care is unnecessary and women shouldn't work anyway, and we are a Christian nation and if you don't like it go back to where you came from.

In the last election when the liberals were foundering they were able to fight back by playing on those fears, and Steven Harper was not able to counter those attacks because he was too busy trying to shut his caucus up as they kept reinforcing that image. In order to form a government in Canada a party has to be able to win a large number of seats in the most populated provinces in Canada, Quebec and Ontario. Being an Anglophone from western Canada leading a party whose is considered anti Quebec and anti French language rights they have little or no chance of even winning one seat in Quebec.

It's Ontario they need to win seats in. Unfortunately for them not even the Progressive Conservative party in Ontario really wants to endorse them. Attitudes like those expressed by certain party members may not matter in some rural ridings, but in the major city areas where all the seats are, they go over as well as a Swastika at a Synagogue.

Like his opposite number in the Liberal Steven Harper doesn't seem to have much substance. He's a leader who is seen as not being able to even get his own party to keep their mouths shut in critical situations. His denials of these same people never seem emphatic enough either to reassure those who are scared by the rhetoric of hate that comes from their mouths.

This is a party that is out of touch with the majority of urban Canada and in some ways represents a far more serious threat to Canada's unity than the Separatists in Quebec. Their policies are designed to appeal to a segment of society only, not the whole country. Mr. Harper has yet to be able to delineate a vision of Canada that is inclusive enough for more than one segment of the population to be comfortable with.
In actual fact he seems to have fallen into the trap of so many opposition politicians of defining themselves by what they aren't (what the government is they are the opposite) than of what they stand for." Cut taxes" is a slogan not a vision of what you see Canada becoming under your rule. There are still far too many variables and unanswered questions from Mr. Harper for a lot of people to feel comfortable.

"The vision thing" is no problem for leader number three. Gilles Duceppe heads up the Bloc Quebecois the official party of Quebec separatism on the federal level. Not only is their sole interest to preserve the interests of Quebec in the House of Commons, but in the event of their ever being a successful vote for separation in Quebec they will be hand to negotiate the deal.

This party was born out of the ashes of Prime Minister Brian Mulroney's brilliant idea of loading his cabinet with strident Quebec nationalists so the he could secure seats in Quebec to win an election or two. When he wasn't able to convince the rest of country to cave into their demands for increased privileges for Quebec they quit in a huff and joined the Nationalist/Separatist movement. Only in Canada could you see someone who was a federal cabinet minister one year, appear the next year as leader of a party trying to dissolve the country.

The key factor in any election is how many seats will the Bloc Quebecois take from the Liberals? The Liberal look to be taking a bit more of a hit in Quebec over the whole Sponsorship scandal thing than in the rest of Canada which could translate into more seats for the Bloc. Really the only defence the Liberals have against a Bloc sweep is playing up the fear of what the Conservatives would do if they won power.

But since the Bloc will be doing that, for proof that separation is the only way to guarantee French rights, they'll have to be careful. They want to shore up the French federalist vote, not chase them into the waiting arms of separatists.

As the self styled voice of French rights the Bloc don't care about what happens to the rest of the country. It is highly possible that they could enter into some unholy and cynical alliance with the Conservative party that could leave nine provinces and Quebec as a result. The Conservatives will do almost anything to become the ruling party, even if it means trading one province in exchange

The final entrant into this mess is the leader of the New Democratic Party (N.D.P.) Jack Layton. Mr. Layton was an alderman and city councillor in Toronto for years and only recently switched over to federal politics. Although a political newcomer he showed himself quite adept at exploiting his position of holding the balance of power to push through legislation that was on his agenda.

In exchange for propping up the government last spring he got a $4 billion tax credit for business turned into money for health care, education, and subsidised housing. Unfortunately for him that's probably not going to be remembered this election. Prior to the existence of the Bloc Quebecois the N.D.P. was considered the third party. Since they have never really had a presence in Quebec their numbers haven't really changed all that much in this time.

They get the majority of their seats in urban Ontario, British Columbia, Manitoba and Saskatchewan. In recent years they have started to make inroads into the Maritime Provinces while losing some of their Western seats to the Conservatives. They have little or no chance of forming the government so their best hope is a continuation of the present circumstances.

Of all the leaders Mr. Layton is the least afraid to say what he stands for and is quite articulate in voicing his party's platform. Socially and fiscally liberal they are in the one real alternative to conservatism of the two major parties. The hardest job they have is convincing people that voting for them is not wasting your vote.

They have to hope that Mr. Layton has been perceived as sincere in his defence of social issues, but not frightening to middle class voters worried about their tax bills. The best-case scenario for them is another minority government and picking up five or six more seats so that they hold the true balance of power.

Ideally they can sneak up the middle in some races as the Tories and the Liberals cancel each other out and the N.D.P. takes the seat in a three-way race. They don't want to take too many seats away from the Liberals because they are the ones who they will be able to work with in a governing situation not the Conservatives.

The worst result that could happen in this election would be for the Conservatives to win a minority and work a deal with the Bloc Quebecois to prop them up. The other parties might be able to make a case preventing them from forming a government because of the Blocs separatist policies, which could be considered a reason for denying them a role in a coalition.

Technically speaking it is up to the Governor General of Canada to ask someone to from a government in these situations. Would she allow Steven Harper and the Conservatives to form a coalition with a Separatist party? Is she able to prevent it? Once before in Canadian history a Governor General of Canada denied a Prime Minister's request. At that time it was to quickly dissolve parliament so he could call a snap election to try and gain a majority in the house.

The Governor General refused and demanded he try and govern with a minority. In those days the Governor General was a direct appointment of the Queen of England, and the person in question was recalled and a new, more amenable gentleman was found.

Well there you go the scorecard for the upcoming election. The polls are showing the Liberals with a lead, but basically it looks like this election, unless someone shoots themselves in the foot, will end up with pretty much the same results as last time. So I wouldn't be surprised if we see another election as soon as this summer.

If we end up with the exact same minority government as we had before. The Conservatives will lose so much credibility that if the Liberals let themselves be defeated when they bring in their budget this spring, they should then win a comfortable majority.

Good luck in trying to understand the action, maybe next time I'll explain how to keep score.


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