Published Oct, 5, 2015, in the Waterloo Region Record.
The moment of truth is approaching.
For months a majority of Canadians – up to 70 per cent in polls – have been claiming they want nothing more than to get rid of the Harper Conservative government. It is time for a change, they insist.
In reality, how strong is this desire for change? Is it strong enough to cause voters to actually reject the Harper Conservatives who, for all their flaws, have become familiar, like a comfortable security blanket, protecting Canadians against the unknown for a decade? Is the desire for change strong enough to embolden voters to cast their lot with a party they may never have supported in the past and with a leader about whom they may have misgivings? Continue reading
Stephen Harper gambled when he called this elongated election campaign that he could manage the desire for change. In 11 weeks, he reckoned, the public would grow tired of the opposition parties’ complaints. And 11 weeks would give the Tories plenty of time to play the “fear card,” to frighten voters away from the precipice of the unknown.
Never, it seems, have Canadian voters had so many things to fear at election time. Fear of terrorists lurking at the border. Fear of foreigners. Fear of people who look different or who speak different languages or who are dual citizens of another country. Fear of harmless Muslim women who choose to cover their face in public.
Fear of criminals who stalk the streets when they should be locked in prison. Fear of legal marijuana. Fear of scientific information. Fear of the religious tolerance preached by Naheed Nenshi, the Muslim mayor of Calgary, Harper’s hometown. Fear of fiscal ruin (as Harper warned on the weekend) if the Liberals or New Democrats are elected on Oct. 19.
Most of this is absolute nonsense, of course. It is irresponsible claptrap, as was Harper’s pledge at a small Conservative rally in Bay Roberts, Newfoundland, on Saturday: “We will not give up on the future of this country.” Was anyone seriously suggesting Thomas Mulcair or Justin Trudeau intends to throw in the national towel?
The politics of fear diminishes the political process. It detracts from sensible discussion of real issues, of which there are many: the true state of the Canadian economy; Canada’s waning role in a rapidly changing world; the neglected needs of aboriginal communities; climate change; restoring respect for Parliament and the courts. These issues may not be sexy, but they are important.
Does the politics of fear work? Yes, it works to the extent that it helps to shore up the Conservative base – that 25 or 30 per cent of electorate that forms the backbone of Harper’s support. If a significant slice stays home or votes for someone else, Harper is finished.
He may be finished anyway. There is no evidence that the fear card has lessened the desire for change. If anything, it may have intensified as anti-Harper voters move to the party and leader they think has the best chance of ousting the Conservatives. The Liberals are the beneficiaries of this movement to break the NDP-Liberal logjam.
Trudeau had the advantage of low public expectations in the early stages of the campaign – lower, certainly, than expectations for Mulcair. By exceeding expectations in the leaders’ debates, Trudeau gained momentum. He held his own with the other leaders. He was informed about issues. He became seen as an articulate advocate for progressive policies. Not least, he brought passion to a campaign that had been lacking in real emotion.
This does not mean the Liberals will win the election. With two weeks to go, anything can happen. A majority seems to be out of reach for Harper, but a minority Conservative government is still possible, as is a Liberal minority.
Written off as an also-ran at the outset nine weeks ago, Trudeau now has a chance to emerge as prime minister. It’s been quite a ride – and it’s not over yet.