Ottawa ON – The election war drums are beating, sounding louder with each passing day as partisan political staffs on all sides work themselves into a frenzy. Every 10 second clip for their leader or spokesperson is cheered as a great victory, media stories are combed for new attack angles and every poll showing even the smallest gain treated as a great victory and a sign that the election gods are on their side (even if the new numbers fall within the polls margin of error).
The problem of course is that political staff work in a world separated from the mainstream population. Their turf which is essentially a few blocks in downtown Ottawa is far removed from that of most Canadians. They live in their own bubble, their own political world where politics is front and centre 24 hrs a day. They lose sight of the fact that most Canadians have no interest in their antics or in the political intrigue they generate.
While partisans worry about each 10 second news clip, Canadians are worried about how few groceries $200 buys today. Commuters are worried about the cost of gas and farmers are more concerned about the cost of feed than who won the political debate today.
And so we move closer to an election, each party and its partisans convinced that they have the only policies that matter to the country and each party convinced that it will do better this time around. Fortunately, voters have a way of inflicting reality on our politicians and their political staff. Elections rarely go as planned and in some cases they can produce bruising results. Who would have thought that Joe Clark would beat Pierre Trudeau or the Tories only win two seats in 1993? Whatever the result of this coming election, there will be changes to our political landscape. For one thing, who will remain as leader of their party and for how long?
If we look at the three main parties, Harper has been leader for roughly nine years (including both the Canadian Alliance and Conservative parties) and Prime Minister for five years. This will be his fourth election. His predecessors were Preston Manning who was leader for approximately nine years and fought two elections and Stockwell Day who fought one election in roughly two years.
Jack Layton has been leader for three elections and eight years, this will be his fourth election and while he has taken the NDP to their second highest level of seats, will his party keep him on for a fifth election? His predecessors were Ed Broadbent (14 years and four elections), Audrey McLaughlin (Six years and one election) and Alexa McDonough (six years and two elections).
As for Ignatieff, it probably will be a case of do or die. If he wins even a minority, he will survive, without it he will most likely be gone by the summer. His two predecessors were Paul Martin who was leader for approximately three years and two elections and Stephane Dion who fought one election in two years.
Cooler heads can still prevent an election. Harper insists that he doesn’t want one and I believe him. In the two and a half years that I was in the PMO, I never saw him keen to go to the polls, no matter what polling numbers were presented to him. Today there remains an opportunity to make things work as the NDP still seem willing to talk with the Conservatives to avoid an election. With their leader in uncertain health right now there is still time to talk. Yes the NDP will go to the polls if they must, but there is still time for the NDP and the Conservatives to accommodate each others interests and avoid an unnecessary election.
If our leaders truly want to avoid an election that Canadians don’t want, then two of them have to sit down and set aside their partisan differences for the good of the country. Maybe this is an opportunity for the Prime Minister’s Chief of Staff, Nigel Wright, to demonstrate his deal-making skills. After all someone has to be the first one to pick up the phone.