Friday, April 29, 2005

Nowhere to go but sideways?

I find the results of recent polls to be quite disturbing for the prospects of democratic change in this country. In effect, they signal that Conservative support has stalled, and may have nowhere to go but sideways. While Liberal support appears to be rebounding, Conservative support has slipped considerably, almost to levels existing prior to the juiciest revelations of the Gomery Inquiry.

A number of commentators have suggested that the rebound in Liberal support is largely due to the skilful way the Liberal spin machine has steered the public focus away from the corruption scandal to the possibility of a spring election that no one wants. That may be so.

But the interesting question is why does the Canadian electorate not want another election? Is it because they want to give Justice John Gomery time to report on the real culprits behind Adscam? That may be Paul Martin’s line, but I suspect not the real motivation for most people, who would rather see the whole thing go away.

Or is it simply that, remembering the all-out assault from their living room TVs during the last election, Canadians feel that the longer they put this thing off the better? Undoubtedly, that has something to do with the general distaste for a snap election.

However, I want to put forward another interpretation which, if true, does not bode particularly well for Canadian democracy. I think the Canadian public is simply leery about the prospect of a government headed by Conservative leader Stephen Harper. While they may be fed up and disgusted with the Liberals, they do not want to contemplate the alternative.

Now do not get me wrong. I admire Stephen Harper. He appears to me to be an honest, intelligent and forthright politician. But how else can you explain the fact that, in face of perhaps the worst corruption scandal in Canadian political history, the best the Conservatives can do is to briefly boost their support to a potential minority government, before retreating back to traditional levels of support?

Questioning the intelligence of the average Canadian voter is no help. Neither does blaming the media. Democracy may be hard to fathom at times, but it is the system we have. We have to make the most of it.

What it is about Stephen Harper that seems to irk many Canadians? For the most part, the Conservative platform adopted at the CPC’s policy convention in March is more in tune with the views of Canadians than the Liberal platform. Personally, I think Stephen Harper and the Conservative Party is getting a bum rap. Yet, it is the Conservatives that are accused of being scary and harbouring a hidden agenda.

One thing for sure is that the Conservatives are not getting their message out. It is almost as if people believe that the Conservatives’ preoccupation with the sponsorship scandal is merely a tactical device to draw attention away from their “real” agenda. Such a belief is a real obstacle to democratic change in this country.

Ironically, Quebec seems to get it. The Liberals are sure to be decimated in that province in the next election, although unfortunately to the benefit of the separatist Bloc Quebecois. But what does it say about the Conservatives – the only real alternative – that voters outside of Quebec are willing to give the Liberals another chance?