Well, obviously, depending on the results of the next election, this article applies only to three of the four mainstream parties. I had thought about waiting to write this post until after, you know, the next election, but the ideas have been rolling around for some time, and I thought it would be nice to let them out.
Besides, with Liberal arrogance as high as it is, it looks as though we’re going to the polls sooner rather than later.
With the strength of the Bloc and the weakness of the Liberals and the Conservatives, we can expect the next election to yield yet another minority parliament. I think it is likely the seat count results may even be roughly the same what we saw in 2004. With things as tight as they’ve been, however, a small swing one way or the other could easily make the difference between Canadians opening 2006 with Prime Minister Martin or Prime Minister Harper, and whoever finds himself in the opposition leader’s chair in the next few weeks will face some very tough questions about his future.
If this prediction comes to pass, I think we can all guess what the losing parties will do (eat their young), but what should they do? That’s another matter entirely. So, here goes:
Advice to the Conservatives once they Lose
Keep Stephen Harper.
This is probably the most counter-intuitive advice of this post. Most people agree, if Harper fails to sit himself in the Prime Minister’s chair next election, he’s toast. But, as I’ve said: what likely will happen isn’t necessarily what should happen.
And I’m not saying this in some Trojan Horse fashion to keep the Conservatives in the political wilderness. One of the things keeping the Conservatives in the political wilderness is their remarkable impatience with their leaders. Take Preston Manning.
I firmly believe that Preston Manning was within one election — two, at most — of being accepted by Central Canadians and making a big breakthrough east of the Manitoba border. Although many Canadians were philosophically opposed to his policies, they were warming to his personality, his sense of humour, his clear personal integrity. He was doing a good job of selling Reform Party policies to Ontario, especially the need for deficit reduction. Slowly but surely, he was building momentum.
In his failed attempt to unite the right, absorb the Progressive Conservatives and create the Canadian Alliance, however, he was swept aside by the impatience of conservatives, out for a flashy new leader by the name of Stockwell Day that they hoped would lead them to government. So impatient were they that they failed to recognize Stock’s many flaws. Worst of all, though: Canadians east of the Manitoba border now had a new leader they knew little or nothing about. Result: the Canadian Alliance fails to make its expected breakthrough east of the Manitoba border.
So you have this leader by the name of Stephen Harper and what are the most common complaints about him? He’s cold. He’s awkward in public. Canadians don’t really know him. Short of a complete personality transplant, what’s going to fix that problem? Only time.
If Stephen Harper can approach the next few months with the honest understanding that most Canadians, even Liberals, are decent people honestly looking for a better government, if he can take the time to explain why his policies are honest government and, most importantly, if he can take the time to listen and respond constructively to dissent, this basic decency will be communicated to Canadians. And, gradually, Canadians will respond.
Ditch him, and you are back to square one.
Adopt a more libertarian platform.
Whether you campaigned against same sex marriage or not (and, hopefully, you were smart and didn’t), the Liberals still harranged you for it and you lost. Look at the numbers of the parties around you. Fully two-thirds of Canadians voted in favour of parties who came down mostly on the side of same sex marriage. However Canadians might feel about same sex marriage personally, they do not feel about it strongly enough to make it their overriding issue in an election. So it’s time to consider the discussion closed and move on to other things.
Earlier, I said that there were four ways to win the next election: be Liberal-lite, forge a coalition across the centre with the NDP, or adopt a radical-centrist agenda like the Greens. You chose to be Liberal-Lite, a tactic which failed because the Liberals tied you to your social conservative wing and bashed you with it. To remove this albatross, you need to adopt a platform that runs counter to your social conservative reputation. How do you do that and still be conservative? Simple: choose option four: be libertarian.
A honed-down party campaigning on personal responsibility and getting the government out of our pocketbooks and our bedrooms is, at the very least, going to be something new to talk about. Ask if urban affairs should be a federal responsibility or if tax dollars on the issue would be better spent by the provinces. Promise to reinvest in the military and in health care, but ask if we really need to spend $1.5 billion to fund the CBC. And should the employment insurance program be like it was at the beginning: a real insurance program? Come out in favour of informing the public about birth control and tighten up the laws to allow for more freedom of expression (a bone to toss at the jittery social conservatives convinced the government’s next step is to attack them in their pulpits).
The best thing about this tactic is that it’s new. Canadians haven’t had this debate. The Liberals will be forced to change their arguments, and Canadians everywhere will have to take a second look at the Conservative platform to assess their opinion of it. I can’t guarantee that this will win you the next election, but it will wipe the smile off of Paul Martin’s face. If it shakes the Liberals from their complacency and arrogance, then it will have done considerable good. It could even improve the discourse of the election by giving Canadians something different than the current campaign pablum to think about.
Yes, you lost yet another election you should have won. Get over it, and don’t blame Ontarian or Atlantic voters for your shortcomings, or for that matter Quebec voters or voters from B.C. The fact of the matter is: you’re close. You’re really close. You have no idea of just how close you are to winning the next election. The federal Liberals are so tired and complacent that they enjoy the support of just 1 in 3 Canadians who bother to vote. Four in ten Canadians are so sick of the process, they’re not voting at all. The Liberals cannot possibly stand up against a fresh centre-right opposition party with its act together, but you’ve spent the last two elections trying and failing to take these guys down. And this is why, next time, you need to change your tactics, and not your leader.
Oh, and stop treating Jack Layton like he’s the spawn of Satan. Mike Harris had a far better strategy in 1999, acknowledging the philosophical differences between the Conservatives and the NDP, but complementing the NDP in the honesty of their approach and the sincerity of their desire to improve the lot of Ontarians, unlike the slippery Liberals who talked out of both sides of their mouths. It would go a long way to ditching Harper’s Mr. Angry reputation.
Advice to the New Democrats once they Lose
Actually, if you won twenty seats or more during this election, you’ve won in terms of what’s been expected of you. It’s likely that your struggles are going to continue, however: the parliament’s hung, and the Bloc Quebecois — the party that actually holds the balance of power — won’t be too interested in helping parliament function while Quebec goes down the road to yet another referendum.
But stay the course. You came out on top after the spring 2005 session of parliament. You rose above the obnoxious chatter of Stephen Harper and Paul Martin and you made Canadians realize that you were interested in actually getting things done. You need to keep Jack Layton as your leader (I expect you’ll do that), and you need to keep playing yourself as an independent party, aggressively laying out the policies you want to see enacted if either the Liberals or the Conservatives want your support. But it would be good if you could open the lines of communication between yourself and Stephen Harper — assuming he’s willing to listen. If he has an ounce of sense in his head, he should be open to the possibility of a Conservative-NDP informal coalition. And if he does have that sense, so should you, or else you’re dead in the water. There is no benefit of being seen as a Liberal Mini-me in this parliament.
Keep your list of priorities short, but make them big. Put proportional representation on the top of the list and harp on the fact that first-past-the-post is undemocratically exacerbating the regional divisions of this country. Then get the government to focus on the infrastructure deficit and health care. No more. If you make the list too large, you’ll muddle the message. Clarity is the key, here.
Oh, you’re already doing that? Carry on, then!
Advice to the Bloc Quebecois once they Lose
Since you’re not going to take my advice, drop soveignty and merge with the NDP, there’s not much else I can say. Unless a miracle has happened, you’ve won this election by the limited standards you set for yourself. I hope you’ll take the time you’ve been given to keep parliamentarians honest and to make the House work. I know some of you want to prove to Quebeckers that the system is broken and to break up the country, but as you may see in the next referendum, that argument has little credibility when you yourself are helping to keep the system broken.
Advice to the Liberals once they Lose
Get across the floor to the opposition side, sit the heck down, dump Martin and have that cathartic, no-holds-barred leadership race that you so desperately need. Don’t come back until you’ve learned how to be humble again. Now go to your room!