Many say an election will change nothing; the polls are at the same place they were on election day in 2008. While I completely understand the sentiment behind this, history does not support this statement. First, a lot happens an election campaign. With increased national attention on the political scene, new policy announcements by the various parties, and direct public debate at the national as well as the local level, things inevitably change. The 2006 federal election is a huge example of how our country's political landscape can change in the middle of a campaign. There was a Liberal minority government, and when the election was called, everyone assumed the election would produce the same thing; that's what the polls indicated. However, a lot changed throughout that campaign. Harper's Conservatives announced new policies throughout the campaign and garnered a lot of media attention. Paul Martin's Liberals never really did get their heads on their shoulders, and about halfway through the campaign, people began to predict that things were changing. Against what everyone predicted when the election was called, Harper's Conservatives formed government after election day.
Further re-enforcement can be found by simply looking at the statistics of the gaps between pre-election polls and election day results. The Globe & Mail did a great analysis of those statistics for elections dating back to 1980:
The dice need to be rolled at some point. There was going to be an election sooner or later. Our first election scare after the 2008 election was only about a month later. It has now been 2 1/2 years since the last election. Sure, many Canadians wish we only had elections every 4 years, but this is how our system works. Was it wise for the parties to roll the dice now? There are a few factors that play into that questions. I suppose it can be taken party by party.
Conservatives: Stephen Harper has been a minority Prime Minister since January of 2006. That's 5 years in a minority. He is again attempting to gain a majority Parliament but hasn't been able to make any major gains between elections. If that majority if ever going to be won, it would have to come from a fairly significant shift, the kind that doesn't come too often but is much more likely if the wind blows his way during the campaign. If he still can't get his precious majority, we can expect Mr. Harper to make his exit from federal politics sometime relatively soon after the election.
Liberals: Michael Ignatieff is not the sort of leader many Liberals thought he might be. There were big hopes for him when he was a leadership prospect, but now that he has made it out into the spotlight, even the Liberal base is unsure of the future of their party. Though I don't claim to know whether Ignatieff will prove even less popular than Stephane Dion, it is quite possible. Unless the Liberals come out of the election with at least some growth in their seat count, it is likely that Ignatieff will be moving on as well. And if that's going to be the result of his leadership, his party would rather know sooner rather than later so they can move on to their last hope in the foreseeable future: Bob Rae.
Bloc: Duceppe has been the Bloc leader for quite some time too. He has been able to maintain his popularity but still hasn't attained the sweep of the province he had his eye on in 2006. However, his party remains popular and is stable. They may not gain much in an election, but they look like they'll be able to hold their ground and continue to hold their 2/3 of the 75 seats in Quebec without much trouble. So Duceppe has decided his party will continue to vote on principle and not play the "election or no election" game the other parties are forced to engage in. Election or no election, it's not a big deal to them.
NDP: It's difficult to see where the NDP will go from here. The upcoming campaign is definitely a gamble of which no one will know the result until it's over. Jack Layton has been the party's leader for 3 elections already. Win or lose, this one is likely to be his last as leader of the party. What I have found most interesting is the way the NDP has been playing the lead-up to the election. Without many really noticing, Jack Layton has stolen the opposition spotlight for the past week. He has had everyone talking in the NDP narrative. The media has been looking at the federal budget through the NDP frames due to Layton's "shopping list" of what he wanted in the budget: more money for new family doctors and nurses, strengthened CPP, tax removed from home heating oil, more money for low-income seniors, and renewal of the home energy retrofit program. Harper threw Layton of few crumbs of the loaf he had asked for and, not surprisingly, Layton didn't take it. The question many are not asking at this point is this: where are the Liberals and the Bloc? The answer is that by deciding long before the budget was released that they would oppose it, instead of putting forward their own ideas, they got lost in the debate. For the last while, it has been what does Layton want and what is Harper willing to give. They have been the only two players talking about the issues in a substantive way. The strategy might even be looked back on as a game-changer if the narrative continues this way. Only time will tell. Either way, the horses are out of the gate, and the crowd is currently watching only two participants: Layton and Harper.
The last thing I want to say a few things about before finishing up is what the election will look like in Edmonton, since I have a much better idea of what politics looks like here than anywhere else. There are 8 seats in the Edmonton area. There are only 3 of the 8 seats in which any challenger came within 35% of the Conservative candidate (with the exception of Jim Ford, Tim Uppal's independent conservative challenger in Edmonton-Sherwood Park) in either the 2006 or 2008 elections. Those seats are Edmonton-Strathcona, Edmonton Centre, and Edmonton East. Two of these are clear two-way races.
Edmonton-Strathcona is currently held by New Democrat, Linda Duncan, who is being challenged by young Conservative, Ryan Hastman. Hastman has been working hard with a young, energetic team to attempt to recapture the Conservatives' only blight in the province. However, he is inexperienced both in politics and in the general sense. He runs a small web business in Edmonton and has worked in Harper's office. His resume gets no more impressive than that. Running against a high-profile environmental lawyer who has vast experience in her field throughout the world and has built her local political reputation over the course of three consecutive election campaigns, Hastman will have a tough time matching her on his first try. Both campaigns will no doubt be spending up to the legal limit. Despite the seeming mismatch, many factors come into play during an election campaign, and it is difficult to predict the outcome.
I have to disclose before getting into Edmonton East that I will be staff on the NDP's campaign in the riding. That said, I'll offer only some very general observations. Edmonton East is currently held by Peter Goldring, who has represented the area (with some boundary changes) since 1997. There is regularly speculation that he will retire (he is 66 years of age). In fact, rumours are that there are many in his own Conservative riding association who would like to see that happen. The riding had the 13th-lowest voter turnout in the country in the 2008 election at about 45%. Goldring won with 51% of the vote with NDP candidate (and former Leader of Alberta's official opposition) Ray Martin coming in 2nd at 32%. Martin decided to run again and was re-nominated in the fall of 2009. Given much more preparation in this election, it will be interesting to see if another riding can be stolen away from the Conservatives in the city.
Lastly, Edmonton Centre is the only other riding in Edmonton (and the province of Alberta) where anyone came anywhere close to beating a Conservative in 2008. The seat was formerly held by Liberal Deputy Prime Minister, Anne McLellan. Since then, Liberal support has begun to evaporate in that riding and around the city. In what is still the strongest Liberal riding in the province, the party's vote share has gone from 43% to 39% to 27% over the past 3 elections. Given the riding's volatility and the evaporation of Liberal support, the NDP has decided to run a high-profile candidate, Lewis Cardinal, with the hope of taking away the Liberals' last hope in Edmonton and setting up a clear Conservative-NDP narrative across the city (ie. where the NDP is seen as the only viable alternative). The riding has been announced as one of the NDP's 3 target seats in Alberta (along with the 2 already mentioned). It will be interesting to see what Cardinal's campaign can do to edge out the Liberals and take on Laurie Hawn there.
Alright, this blog is long enough, and my mind is starting to run in circles. I will no doubt be sharing more thoughts throughout the election campaign. It will be my first time being this involved in an election, so I'm looking forward to it! I've just realized this is probably my least partisan blog so far (not that I claim to be objective anyway). So let's hope we can bring some more progressive voices to Ottawa from Edmonton in this upcoming election! ;)