Tuesday, June 01, 2004

A Conservative Minority in Canada?

Is the unthinkable possible? Could Paul Martin’s Liberals actually lose the Canadian federal election? The latest Ipsos-Reid poll, taken last weekend, shows the Liberals have just 34% support among those polled, while the Conservatives are right behind with 30%.

Not only does a majority Liberal government look less and less likely, but after the votes are counted on June 28, we might just see the Conservatives in first place in the seat tally. Though the Liberals lead in the Ipsos-Reid poll, the real telling figures come from Ontario where the Liberals and Conservatives are now tied with 36% each. This is devastating news for the Liberals who’ve had a virtual stranglehold on the province for the last three elections. And, together with the fact that the Liberals are fading badly in the West and Quebec, this poll could presage the Liberals’ doom.

Another key element to consider is that Liberals always poll better during the campaign than they do on election night. And in 1979, the Conservatives under Joe Clark knocked off the Liberals even though the Liberals received a higher percentage of the vote than the Conservatives.

A sure sign that the political winds are changing is coming from NDP leader Jack Layton who is now warning of an alliance between the Conservatives and the Bloc Quebecois should the Conservatives win a minority government. How quickly the tide turns. Of course, for the Liberals, they’ll be happy to see Layton diverting his attention from their sputtering campaign to the other opposition parties.

Bloc leader Gilles Duceppe, naturally denies any alliance is in the works, but he has to say that in public just as Conservative leader Stephen Harper will. Yet it’s worth remembering that since the 1930’s, the only time the Conservatives were able to govern with a majority in the House of Commons was precisely when they formed strategic alliances with Quebec nationalists (under John Diefenbaker in 1958 and under Brian Mulroney in 1984 and 1988). The problem was that they all sat under the Conservative banner and eventually their internal disagreements tore them apart and almost destroyed the Conservatives. Perhaps the most natural antidote to the Liberals is precisely a Conservative minority government with strong support in the West and rural and suburban Ontario, working in a lose alliance with the Bloc Quebecois.

Whatever may come of it, the Liberals are running scared.

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