Liberal. Tory. Same Old Story.

About three weeks ago, I reacted angrily to news that Conservative MP Gurmant Grewal had accused a Liberal official of attempting to bribe him out of his seat and that he had four hours of tape to prove it.

You have to understand, up to this point, the suggestion that the Liberals would dare offer ambassadorships or senate seats to Conservative MPs in order to reduce Conservative numbers in the house was largely the invention of Conservative bloggers and strategists. In my opinion, as tired and foolish as the Liberals were, they weren’t this dumb. They had to know that this sort of shinenigan would get caught, and how bad it would look.

Hearing that evidence had come out, made me lose what remaining confidence I had in the Liberal party (which wasn’t that much, frankly). So much so that I ignored the interesting timing of the announcement: on the day that the Liberals were to face a key vote of confidence. Conservative MP Gurmant Grewal’s move was tailor made to hit the Liberals between the eyes just as they went into an election.

I still have no confidence that the Liberals can continue to govern, but recent revelations that Grewal or somebody else in the Conservative Party may have tampered with those tapes, slanting conversations, pulling the Liberals back from an actual offer of anything, and cutting dialogue that made it look more like Grewal was soliciting, have altered my perception. And I’ve come to an uncomfortable conclusion:

In the next election, it is vitally important that the Liberal party be defeated. They’ve run this country for too long, they’re being led by a visionless incompetent, they’re making silly mistakes and they’re getting seriously arrogant. They need to go, for their own sake as much as for Canada’s.

And the Conservatives have to go down to defeat with them.

The Conservative Party showed dishonesty and ineptitude in their handling of the Grewal tapes. However honest the alterations of the tapes might have been, anybody with half a brain should have told them that any suggestion that the tapes weren’t valid records of what actually happened, would have been pounced upon and used to discredit the story. The decision to hold back the complete record from the RCMP and the Ethics commissioner, or even the Conservative Party website for 13 whole days, and the decision to release the tapes in altered selections, strongly suggests that Grewal, at least, has a lot to hide. And the longer the Party stands behind Grewal, the more they risk being taken down with him.

Harper has only one way out, as I see it: if the questions surrounding Grewal’s motives and the veracity of his story intensify, then he has to boot the MP, and possibly his wife, from the Conservative caucus. The bonus of this is that it turns the Grewal negative into a positive, for he can then turn and stare across the aisle at Paul Martin and ask why he hasn’t suspended PMO operative Tim Murphy or health minister Ujjal Dossanjh. But the window is closing rapidly, and Harper’s strong defence of his cabinet colleague, in spite of mounting evidence, brings the rot straight to the Conservative leadership.

This was, politically speaking, the stupidest move the Conservatives could have made. It wasn’t like the Liberals weren’t defeating themselves, what with the revelations of the Gomery inquiry continuing. Plenty of Conservative supporters out there have been telling Harper: now is the time to look prime ministerial. Now is the time to speak positively on Conservative policy.

But the events of this past month offer up a disturbing scenario: what if this is as prime ministerial as Stephen Harper gets? If this is how Harper handles Conservative strategy, how will he handle a Quebec referendum? If his ill-tempered outbursts at Belinda Stronach and Danny Williams is how he handles concerns from political allies, how will he handle real dissent from the electorate?

In measuring up Stephen Harper to Paul Martin, you see disturbing similarities as well as differences: where Martin is visionless, Harper is intelligent, but where Martin is congenial, Harper is surly. Where Martin is accommodating to a fault, Harper is stubborn, and he holds grudges. Both men are attracted to power, but Martin doesn’t know what to do it and Harper is willing to do anything to get it, including defy the will of the Canadian people and his own party, obstruct parliament and campaign on nothing more than killing the Liberals metaphorically.

In short, both men epitomize the word “dangerous”. And Harper has a mean streak. Neither should be allowed within ten miles of 24 Sussex Drive.

Which means we have set ourselves up with a nasty task. The sitting prime minister and the person most likely to replace him are equally odious; equally bad for the country. Even in their shrivelled forms, however, the two parties that support them command roughly 60% of the vote, and those Liberal and Conservative supporters that remain are largely sitting where they are because they fear that to move to a better alternative means giving the other side the advantage.

Still, more Canadians are realizing the desperation of this scenario. Many are choosing not to vote, but some are looking elsewhere. NDP numbers are up, to 21%, and they remain the most popular second choice among Liberal and Conservative supporters. No wonder NDPers like Greg at Sinister Thoughts are wondering if a perfect storm might be brewing for Jack Layton. The Green Party numbers are also up, and they maintain the interest of a number of conservative bloggers. The situation needs only a push to send things along.

It’s time to remind Canadians that, just because the top two choices for this country’s leadership suck, the choice doesn’t end there. Refusing to vote, while an understandible desire, confers upon the winning party as much of a mandate to govern as if everyone voted. The 40% of Canadians who have tuned out to the process should be reminded of their ability to make waves, and should register their dissatisfaction by voting for somebody else. If just half of the people who didn’t vote in the last election voted for a party other than the Liberals or the Conservatives, it would be the biggest political earthquake ever to hit Ottawa.

A decision to not vote is not a message the mainstream parties can hear. A vote for somebody else sends your message loud and clear. It’s time, Canadians: vote for someone else.

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