Saturday, June 26, 2004

The End of Liberal Dominance

With just two days left to the Canadian election, Andrew Coyne reflects on what is really happening in Canada, and it looks to be a change of monumental importance. Amidst the return of the NDP, the resurrgence of the Bloc Quebecois and the threat of a Conservative minority, the real story is that the Liberals are losing all their traditional strongholds for the first time in a century.

As Coyne points out, those areas once dominated by the Liberals are now in play: the federalist vote in Quebec, the immigrant vote in Ontario and Vancouver, even the disgruntled northern Ontario vote which traditionally went NDP or Liberal.

In response, the Liberals have been desperately trying to save themselves from the new forces alligned against them. In Quebec, we're seeing that not only are the Bloc poised to win the separatist vote in a big way, but they're playing well among numerous federalist voters. It may be hard to believe, but it seems that even those voters who support Quebec remaining within the Canadian confederation will be voting for a party that nominally supports separation. Of course, in his desperation to counter this effect, Paul Martin has jumped all over comments by Jacques Parizeau who said that a big win for the Bloc in Quebec will increase the likelihood of a referendum on sovereignty. Gilles Duceppe quickly said that this was not the case, and his assurances seem to be working. Or perhaps, what's actually happened is that Quebec voters simply don't believe the Liberals, and feel comfortable and confident enough to decide their own future regardless of what the Liberals say.

The same can be said of the Conservatives. Paul Martin has been arguing that this is a different Conservative Party from what we've seen historically, one that will move Canada much further to the right, and as such, a party of which all right thinking Canadians should be terrified. The issue invoked to fan the flames of fear is medicare, and to some extent it has worked. But, despite Martin's histrionics, the polls still show the Conservatives sitting in the low thirties, only slightly behind the Liberals. But here again, the big story, as Coyne notes, is that there are a significant number of Canadians who just aren't buying it. Immigrants, who often share the Conservatives' social views, are no longer flocking to the Liberals. They, like the confident federalist voters of Quebec, don't feel they need to rely endlessly on the Liberal Party to defend their interests.

Also, as Coyne notes, one of the most important phenomenon occurring in Ontario is the turn to the right, or more acurately, to the West. Ontario is becoming more like Alberta - entrepenurial, market-oriented and modern. The old Liberal ideas are collapsing here, especially in rural and suburban Ontario.

And finally we have the New Democrats. As part of his "scare the hell out of them" strategy, Paul Martin has now started begging New Democrat voters not to throw their votes away on the New Democrats for fear that these votes could help to elect Conservatives in tight three-way races. So, Martin has been busy arguing that the New Democrats and Liberals actually have the same values, while Conservatives are monsters from another realm. But here again, it just isn't working all that well. Certainly some voters who don't want to see the Conservatives in power will vote Liberal even though they'd rather go NDP, but many will not. Many feel that they'd rather have a Conservative minority with a stronger NDP presence in the House of Commons than another Liberal government.

In short, the Liberal hold on Canada is cracking everywhere. Canadians no longer seem impressed with the scare tactics, with the arrogance of a Liberal Party that tells Canadians they have no real choice but Liberal Party values. As a result, Canadians are all over the map with the Conservatives, the New Democrats, the Bloc. All the Liberals can do in response is offer up the status quo: "Don't vote for anyone else or something might actually change!" Canada should be so lucky.

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