One week from today, if history is any guide, less than 6 out of 10 adult Canadians will mark a ballot with a pencil, behind a cardboard folded booth, in schools, churches university lecture halls, and perhaps even libraries across the country.
Unfortunately, in the age of social media, (sprung like a tsunami before we had even digested 24-7 media and its implications) many of us over 50 who comprise the highest percent of any voting demographic, do not have an intimate grasp of the parties' platforms, but rather a general "gut sense" of party leaders and leadership styles.
Some, like me, have already voted in the Advance Poll, to remove the Harper government. While that sentiment is loud and ubiqitous, the opposition vote is divided, in English Canada, between the NDP and the Liberals and in Quebec between the Bloc and the NDP. With the recent reports of a surge in NDP support in Quebec, the separatist hold on Quebec voters may finally have cracked a little. In English-speaking Canada, however, there is not a similar surge in NDP support, although the fear of the "socialist" left that the NDP brought to previous federal elections has disappeared. There is so little difference between Liberal and NDP platforms this time as to make many wonder out loud, "Why are these two parties not ONE and thereby rendering a majority for Harper even less likely?
It has to be a Canadian trait of "hanging on" to the past that renders silent and unnoticed the political winds of change that would seek to bring together Liberal and NDP forces in a single party. That, and the political ego's that cling to the leadership of both parties.
We all recall both the quote and the derision that followed then Conservative Party leader, Kim Campbell's statement "that campaigns were hardly a time for serious policy discussion" in the '93 election campaign, after which her party was left with 2 members, and Jean Chretian romped to his first of three majority governments.
However, party ads that assassinate the leaders of other parties like those of both the Conservatives against Iguatieff (he did not return to Canada for you!) and the NDP (Iguatieff missed 80+% of the votes in the last session) do not add to the voter's understanding of the vision of the Liberal Party leader. For the Conservative ad, he was working first as a reporter on international events in Bosnia for the BBC and the CBC and later as a History professor concentrating on human rights at Harvard...neither posts can be considered "chopped liver" by even his most severe critics and both bring a degree of experience and knowledge that none of the other party leaders can boast.
As for the NDP attack ad, Ignatieff spent much of the last two years outside of Ottawa and Parliament getting know by those in the Liberal Party and those interested in Canadian politics, in town-hall gatherings, answering unscripted questions, listening to voters' concerns and generally learning about the tone and rhythm of the most rural political atmosphere. Once again, he was hardly derelict in his duties as leader, yet the ad paints him as irresponsible and even arrogant because he did not "serve his time as a backbencher" in the House of Commons. This NDP attack ad, according to press reports, is playing favourably in urban centres like Toronto, the heart of the Liberal base, and could well provide the NDP with a significant rise in the number of their seats, at the expense of the Liberals.
The petty attack ads, by both the NDP and the Conservatives, both of them personal, and both of them far from an evaluation of the Liberal party's platform and policy proposals, seem to have trumped the substance of the Liberal Party leader's grasp of the country's needs, aspirations and the appropriate political response that most accurately reflects that grasp.
It is a sad commentary on the electorate's appetite for such ads, and their obvious impact on the voters' apparent desire for a street-fighter in their political leaders (Ignatieff has not attacked the persons of the other leaders, but rather their political history or leadership styles! He even amended one ad critical of Harper because it was based on a misquote in the Globe and Mail, which mistake they acknowledged only after the ad appeared.)
"But your leadership style is not gaining any traction," repeated the CBC's Laurie Graham, following the airing of the 30-minute informercial by the Liberal leader..."What are you going to do about that?" she pressed.
There is a very serious danger, in this election, that once again, just as we did in the election when Robert Stanfield ran for the Conservatives, and could not compete with the charisma of Pierre Trudeau, that both the Bloc (in Quebec) and the NDP in the rest of Canada, will succeed in trumping the potential of the Liberal Party leader who is legitimately, diligently and honourably attempting to "do this political electoral narrative" very differently, more openly and more sensitively and more creatively than any of the other party leaders, but he will have to continue to defend his party for sins of the sponsorship scandal, that will render his party incapable of forming even a minority government, after May 2.