Stephen Harper rode a wave of prosperity for the last five years while most of the rest of the world suffered during a worldwide recession. A booming economy fueled by high oil prices and Canadian banks that thrived while many others failed (thanks to regulations set down by former Liberal finance ministers) together made Harper look great.
The euphoric run came to an abrupt end with the crash in oil prices. Those same heads of state that Harper sanctimoniously lectured on how to fix their economies are passing Canada by. Meanwhile, Harper’s government is fraught with scandal and major mistakes are being made by his administration. Many Canadians are concerned about the dramatic changes he is making to the country and a growing number of his supporters are questioning his dogmatic leadership style.
The stink of scandal will dog Harper over the next several months as the court cases of ex-senators reveal behind-the-scenes ugliness reminiscent of the sponsorship scandal that brought down the last Liberal government. Embattled and long-in-the-tooth, the Harper Conservatives are vulnerable. Will this coming October be time for Canadians to choose a new path?
Would you want Justin Trudeau as Prime Minister? Canadians are still unsure of that. For two years he has been seen as the leading alternative to Harper, but he has still to win either the hearts or minds of most Canadians. He has made bold moves, acting swiftly and decisively on major issues, sometimes with inspired solutions, yet has also fumbled at times. Will he ever show that he has the chops to lead the country?
What of Thomas Mulcair? He is not youthful and charismatic like Trudeau; in fact he is staid, even tedious. Would those impressions prevent Canadians from voting NDP? Mulcair has earned respect in his role as official parliamentary protagonist. He is seen as intelligent and tenacious, perfect attributes for a leader of the opposition. Is that enough to earn him a majority in the House of Commons in the fall, so he can sit in the big chair?
It is widely believed that if Jack Layton, Mulcair’s predecessor, had not been taken by cancer, he was on a fast track to becoming Canada’s next prime minister. Mulcair inherited a party in ascendancy, a large group of MPs, a strong Quebec caucus, the status of Leader of the Official Opposition. Even with all that, he has yet to inspire.
Trudeau and Mulcair seem on an equal footing in opposition. Both take similar stances in opposing Harper so it has been hard to differentiate. The debate over Bill C-51 changed that. It helped Mulcair that the Trudeau Liberals chose the ambiguous position of conditionally supporting the controversial, anti-terror legislation. That gave the NPD a chance to stand alone against the Harper Conservatives in denouncing the legislation. With former Supreme Court justices and prime ministers plus a variety of national leaders expressing grave concerns over flaws in the bill, Mulcair’s stock value went up.
In this run-up period, seven months before Canadians go to the polls, all parties are trying to score points among voting blocks over singular issues, but as the election nears, jobs and the slipping economy will become the feature. The Harper Conservatives are preaching law and order to keep their base loyal and playing to emotional fears over terrorism, but their mantra later on will be that they are the best custodians of the Canadian economy. Trudeau and his Liberals are rumoured to have a plan for tax cuts for the middle class, which could be popular. The economy is not seen as the strong suit for the NDP, and there are fears that they will overspend on social programs, run up debt and increase taxes. They badly need to change that image, convincing Canadians they would be good fiscal managers.
We would be remiss not to mention Elizabeth May. Principled, honest, diligent and very nice, possibly the most appealing of any leader, she would be lucky to gain two seats, but she will win voter support in every riding. Because she will mainly draw votes from the NDP or the Liberals, she is oddly Harper’s ace in the hole. The stronger her support, the happier he is.
The way things look right now, the Liberals will pick up some seats at the expense of the Harper Conservatives thanks to Trudeau’s charisma, the NDP will win a few seats but lose a few and Harper will hang on enough to form a minority Conservative government.