Prime Minister Jack Layton?

Jack Layton

Various sources have brought to my attention this poll from Harris-Decima. Now, it’s just one poll, but it isn’t far off the mark from other recent polls which have recorded considerable public disgust over the conduct of the federal Conservative Party, but no willingness to embrace the Liberal alternative. The difference is, with the Liberals and the Conservatives now in a statistical tie, both parties combined now have the support of just 56% of the population.

I think that’s a historic low. There has been no election where the combined vote of the Liberal and the Conservative bases have dipped below 60% (if you combine the Reform and Progressive Conservative votes during the 1993, 1997 and 2000 elections, that is). Typically, the two together poll around 70%. The Liberals are often seen as Canada’s natural governing party, with the Conservatives never far from jumping in should the Liberals stumble. To see these two great parties reduced to such shambles in public opinion really speaks a lot about the poor quality of the leadership at the head of both parties.

Indeed, I suspect that this poll has been some time in coming. The public have never been warm to Stephen Harper, and the Liberals haven’t been able to nominate individuals with half the gravitas of Jean Chretien (and that’s saying a whole hell of a lot, let me tell you). This fact alone is probably why the Greens have been polling as high as they have — within striking distance of the NDP on occasion. That the Liberals and Conservative numbers have been as high as they’ve been, to me, suggests a public that hadn’t yet gotten disgusted enough with current shenanigans to consider the great unknown of voting for a third party.

Until now, perhaps. At 20%, the NDP are within striking distance of the two front runners.

I remember the summer of 1990 when a languishing David Petersen called an election for Ontario, fully intending to coast to victory. At first he had the numbers on his side, but something strange happened on the way to the ballot box. The Ontario public, sick of Liberals and sick of Conservatives, decided to kick both parties between the legs and shifted strongly to the New Democrats, giving them a landslide majority based on 37% of the vote, thanks to our first-past-the-post system. On Election Day, we knew something was up. My father came home, reporting that he’d heard people at the ballot box calling to their spouses, “who’s the NDP candidate?”

And that was with David Petersen enjoying poll numbers that, at the start of the campaign, promised another strong majority. What happens now with the NDP just nine points away from catching up and passing the two front runners?

The electorate is volatile. They’re sick of Conservatives, sicker still of Liberals, and the policies and the political actions the two parties have taken thus far have got to have contributed to this state of affairs.

Unless somebody in either the PMO or the OLO change tactics, there might be a bit of a political earthquake the next time we go to the polls.

It does happen. It’s not just a work of fiction.

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