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Decision 2008: Here We Go (At Last!)

10-Oct-08 08:33 am EDT Leave a comment Go to comments

This may be the most volatile election in Canadian history.  Indeed, it’s unfortunate I couldn’t find a comprehensive digest of polls over the course of Canadian electoral history because I’m sure we’d see points in this campaign where definite and very obvious shifts in public opinion occurred.  To recap:

 

  • We started off the campaign with Stéphane Dion’s Liberals having taken a sudden plummet in the polls and riding approval ratings that were near historical lows.
  • Shortly after the campaign began, Jack Layton and his New Democrats (NDP) pulled a repeat of the 1988 election involving another low point in Liberal Party fortunes: Liberal Leader John Turner fighting the election on a protectionist stance with respect to the Free Trade Agreement against the governing Progressive Conservatives under Prime Minister Brian Mulroney.  During the campaign, NDP leader Ed Boradbent declared that Canada’s political system would be better off under a two-party system like in the United States (a very strange thing for a socialist to say!) and almost overnight the Liberals bounced back, although they still lost the election.  Likewise, Layton’s assertion that he being elected as PM is the only real option to Steven Harper given the Liberals poor performance caused the Liberals to start gradually gaining strength.

    Historical poll data for the province of Ontario; the Canadian province with the largest number of seats in the House of Commons.  Liberal fortunes could have chaged indeed if these trends hold true through to election day (October 14th).
  • But before this could happen, the leadership issue that dominated the first 2 weeks of the campaign resulted in the Liberals tying the NDP for second place in one Harris-Decima poll.
  • And then there was the debate debate concerning whether Elisabeth May’s Green Party should be allowed to join the other 4 mainstream parties in the televised debate.  The Conservative slide really began along with the NDP stalling in their reeling in the Liberals when the two parties declared their opposition to May’s inclusion in the debate at the behest of an overwhelming majority of Canadians.  Layton would back away from the position opening the door for May to join the debate, but the damage was done.
  • Although the NDP lost some support as a result of this mistake, it would be Harper that was decisively routed in the French language debate as Dion, engaged in his mother tongue, found himself in his element and came away from both debates, but the French debate in particular, as the winner according to follow-up polling.
  • Coupled with Dion’s good performance, the Conservatives suffered measurably from a poor showing by Harpoer (again, according to trial by follow-up polls).  Harper was mercilessly attacked from all 4 other major party leaders (including the Bloc Québecois); either unwilling or unable to respond to the various criticisms concerning the environment and the economy, Harper merely responded that we should ‘stay the course’ on both seemingly deaf to recently developments in the latter and long-standing scientific opinion in the former.
  • Finally, the recent ongoing stock market crashes worldwide are starting to cause panic in the general population – but not, seemingly, in Mr. Harper.  Indeed, he’s been reluctant to even acknowledge there’s a real problem, saying Canada is in a unique position with respect to the global economy since no banks have failed.

The results have been (perhaps predictably) the loss of support nationwide for the Conservatives:

As you can see, starting last week, the slide begins – although as Harris Decima is now reporting, the slide appears to have levelled off (at least for today).  Also of interest is the climb in Green Party support, as is the NDP to some extent (as some of this is allegedly coming from CP/NDP contests in British Columbia in ridings where Liberals are not a factor).

And then late yesterday, Dion suffered his first "gaffe" (if you can call it that).  He was in a CTV interview (a Conservative media outlet) and although the reporter agreed to ‘start over’ after Dion misunderstood a question, of course the tape kept rolling and it was aired on CTV News and on You Tube as an example of Dion waffling on the issue of whether or not he has a plan.  But that analysis is extremely dubious; it’s very clear to me, at least, that Dion’s poor English skills (blogged about here previously) were the real cause of his response to the question.

   

CTV’s botched interview with Liberal Party leader Stéphane Dion (October 9, 2008).

Indeed, it’s bizarre that Harper is reacting to this the way he is – and I see it as, frankly, desperate given his current showing in the polls.  Of course, misunderstanding a question isn’t a sign of poor leadership or that Dion "doesn’t have a plan" – he’s only been talking about his plan for a week after all.  No, it’s a sign that someone’s losing the election and needs a lifeline.  (Harper must’ve been watching the Sarah Palin impersonator on Saturday Night Live and thought asking for a lifeline had become okay in a political campaign.)

A botched interview is so trivial a matter, I too wondered if it was relevant to post on my blog.  But, just like the CTV host conducting this interview, on reflection – I too thought it was important to show and talk about, albeit for very different reasons.  Clearly, CTV unsatisfied with its role reporting the news has taken to trying to shape the news in its own image.  Although as far as "gaffes" go, this one isn’t very big – which is why I think it has a good chance of backfiring.

It will be interesting to hear Ottawa radio station’s CFRA this morning to see what a solid, Conservative media outlet has to say about this interview, although I expect they too will try spinning it as a major "gaffe" by Dion.  Even so at least they will only be spinning it and not making a concerted effort to embarrass a public figure to change the outcome of an election.

Shame on CTV for demonstrating such naked bias!  At least nobody will be claiming this election was without its own drama and intrigue.  I expect the volatility in the polls we’ve seen to continue through to the end – an in particular if the Dion video will gain traction as a gaffe and hurt Liberal fortunes or if Harper’s reaction to it will (as it already seems to be in Québec) make the Conservatives appear mean-spirited and damage their campaign.

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Terry Glavin

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