Beyond the basic fact of my recent ennui with writing, I haven't written much (anything?) about the current federal election campaign. My readers here that are not residents of Canuckistan are probably not aware that we are going to the polls for the second time in two years; they're also probably not aware that Canada more than anytime since 1993, seems ripe to make a significant political change. The once-unfathomable is beginning to seem possible-- not just the defeat of the Liberals, but the idea of a Tory-NDP proto-coalition that would allow Canadians to send the Libs to the woodshed for a widely-wanted ass-whooping. The latter borders on being a lesson in mixology, and the collective bartender has to get things right: four parts right plus one part left seems to be the desired combination, like that of a large martini. If so, you've got to love my countrypeople. They've got a very, very dry sense of humour.
I realize that I made a prediction like this at about this stage in the last election campaign, before the Tories managed to wrest defeat from the jaws of victory. I realize, too, that I'm making this assertion before the debates to come next week. Stephen Harper still has time to self-destruct; the Grits still have time to Chicken Little the country back into submission, perhaps, as Paul Wells wryly notes, by reminding Canadians of the possibility of Stockwell Day as Foreign Minister. Who knows, Paul Martin might finally recover from that nasty case of cranial-glutimal ensconcement that has afflicted him since he not-so-solemnly set down his coronation. But something seems to have happened over the Christmas hiatus, as if people over turkey and rye finally steeled themselves to a decision, and a major one at that. And that, I think, is what makes this election different than the last one.
Set aside some of the other issues people are talking about (Harper not being as scary as he once seemed, a minor surge for the NDP, scandals great and small), because they all now seem to be subsidiary to the larger ballot question, one that the Liberals accidentally and unwisely encouraged. The Liberals-- formerly Team Martin, a brand-name that died faster than New Coke-- didn't counter the cynicism that they helped so prominently to engender, a cynicism made worse and not better by the Prime Minister's mad-as-hell tour and his we're-the-best-you-can-do campaign strategy. The Tories and the NDP haven't really had to articulate broad visions for Canada, and nor have they had to inspire people to vote for them. They haven't had to. Barring a major-- and I think now quite unlikely-- shift in the campaign, we know what the ballot question is. It's not Who will best lead the country? No, it's much more cynical, and yet oddly strategic, than that. The question has become Can we afford to punish the Liberals? The desire to do so has been lurking for some time, but over the break it seems that a majority of Canadians finally leaned towards, "Yes, I think we can." No wonder so many are sniffing blood.
I think, though, we now know the shape of things to come, and Martin has effectively reduced himself and his party to being spectators in their own fates. They've fundamentally lost control of the campaign in a way that hasn't happened since Kim Campbell soldiered her Tories into slaughter. Monday night, I'm willing to bet, people watching the debate won't be paying Mr. Martin much attention. They'll be thinking instead of the viability of a different political cocktail, even if it's the Prime Minister who has ultimately been-- wait for it, you know it's coming-- shaken and not stirred.