As we wind through the final weekend before voting day, we find that we have been inundated with so many polls, side-issues, and individual stories that it can be easy to forget exactly what it is we are voting on. It is an aspect of every election where individual points are won and lost, where personalities have come to the forefront instead of policies, and where accusations have been made and rebuffed. And while individual sub-stories may have captured your attention, when the time comes the decision on which party to support should properly be made after due consideration of the full measure of each party’s platform. So it is time that we need to step back and recall exactly what it is that each leader is offering.
First up, the NDP. It is hard to take a measure of a platform that is a huge laundry list of promises designed to contain something to appeal to everyone. So much so that it comes with the specific caveat that the NDP promises not to implement it all until such time as they can afford it, which they admit could take years. In that respect, their entire platform is no more reliable than Harper’s promises early in the campaign on items he announced conditionally depending on a future balanced budget. For the NDP, the reason for a delay is far more simplistic – it takes time, after all, to implement new taxes to raise the tens of billions of dollars required to fund their plan. Indeed, as you scan down the list of poorly costed items, one begins to wonder if the NDP has been so long out of contention that they approach their platform definition by treating each issue as a unique opportunity to sell an idea without ever once actually looking at the entirety of the platform as a cohesive whole to be budgeted. The fact that circumstances thrust them into contention must have surprised no one more than Layton – well, with the possible exception of his team members who had not even bothered to stay in country for the campaign. Similarly those on his team who insist on continuing to level baseless attacks against their rivals at the same time as their leader is complaining about attack politics.
To recap, they have a job incentive program that assumes few jobs are to be created – which is in line with his odd idea that companies do not create jobs, a doctor training program that is not funded, and although just last year Jack was telling the EU that his Cap and Trade scheme would require short term pain, in his platform he is stating that this tax will not be passed down to the customer.
Frankly, he is simply not to be believed any more than his platform is fiscally believable.
Next up, the Conservatives. In this case, the platform is easy to describe. Take the existing budget and add…pretty much nothing. Oh right, except for that mystery 11 Billion dollars that he seems sure he can conjure out of thin air from departmental budgets, magically without affecting programs. Other than that, he has described no vision for how to solve the impending health care crunch, no bold outline on how to better Canada’s future, refused to honestly address the contempt ruling against his party, and pretty much refused to answer any questions that he didn’t care to or having his supporters shout down the questioner. This must be his idea of making accountability work if we recall his lament on government integrity when first brought to power.
In fact, if you watch his meetings you will find no real statements of any meaning whatsoever, except that you need to be afraid of any alternative to the Conservative Party. Yes, although our country survived and thrived for almost 140 years without his divine leadership, at this point in our history if you choose anyone other than him the economy will spontaneously combust, criminals will overflow the streets, and – well – perhaps plagues of locusts will infest your breakfast cereal.
And just in case the fear of the other parties in general doesn’t stick, he also hopes that his concerted efforts to define his opposing leaders as evil caricatures might just depress their support enough to allow him to eke out another win. Let us not forget the underhanded attempt to plant a story misrepresenting Ignatieff’s involvement with the Iraq war that Harper himself supported. This week someone has passed on to the Sun a late-breaking 15 year old smear of Jack Layton. It is hard to imagine where else it may have come from.
With one day to go one thing is absolutely clear – Harper is running scared. So scared that his fallback position is to attempt to sway the very Liberals who have topped his hit list for his whole career to support him out of fear of the NDP. The gall of this is astounding given his unrelenting contempt for all things Liberal that he couldn’t even refrain from expressing it again in his plea for help.
So, a vote for Harper is a vote for the status quo of secrecy, unaccountability, and dishonest dealings with Parliament. A reward for his unrepentant contempt citation.
And then there is the Liberal platform. It includes returning the government to a surplus situation and with a reserve fund as we had under Paul Martin’s fiscal leadership. They are also focusing more resources on ensuring that education is accessible to more students, providing support for families acting as caregivers for family members, enhancing the Guaranteed Income Supplement for retirees, and changing bankruptcy laws to better protect retirees from loss of benefits should their former employer go bankrupt. There is also a firm commitment to continue to increase the investment in health care dollars when the 2004 Health Accord expires in 2014.
On the economic front, the major difference between the Liberal and Conservative platforms is that the Liberals want to hold corporate taxes at last year’s rates while the Conservatives are insisting on going ahead with further cuts. Cuts which were first scheduled back when the Conservatives were promising no recession and no deficits. This demonstrates the Conservative adherence to dogma over modifying plans to suit changing circumstances. Then again, considering the Conservative refusal to accept that even the Department of National Defense is upwardly revising their estimates on the cost of the F-35s, it is all just par for the course.
This is not to suggest that Ignatieff has proved the most polished campaigner of the three. His presentation might not be as smooth as the career politicians that he is facing, a fact never more in evidence than when he stumped alongside the Liberal Party’s grand master of presenting a narrative to the public – former Prime Minister Jean Chretien. Then again, it is his first campaign and he has performed without needing to resort to the teleprompter to stay on point – which is more than Harper can say. What stands out most to differentiate the two boils down to one thing. Michael Ignatieff is willing to engage with Canadians in an open dialog, taking as many questions as are offered. If you had any questions about him, his ideals, or his direction for our country you have had ample opportunity to get to one of his meetings and ask.
If there has been a downside to that openness to questions it is that it has, at times, had the media driving the dialog more than perhaps he would have liked. If all you are asked is questions on the latest poll numbers you are not ensuring that the conversation with the media is properly focused on the platform. Arguably, Ignatieff also might have spent a bit too much time reminding people of the damage to our democratic institutions that have been under assault from the Conservatives for five years now rather than focused on his platform. For truly political voters this was a winning narrative, however for many citizens who only wanted to know what a Liberal government would do for them this was a side issue that failed to resonate fully. It didn’t tell them how the Liberal platform would help them find and keep work, how they will pay their increasing utility bills, or how it will keep their families safe and healthy – despite the fact that those issues were well addressed.
But if you are inclined to accept the NDP mantra that Ottawa is broken, then you need to ask yourself whether it is another career politician who is more likely to fix it or whether that job best belongs to a man who has not just succeeded but excelled at every challenge that life has thrown at him thus far.
Because contrary to what you may have been told – he did come back for you, and for Canada. He is a regular working Canadian instead of a career politician. Of the three he is also the one who has a fiscally sound commitment to make concrete improvements to our health and education systems and who will respect the office and institutions of Parliament that have been so abused these past few years.
If you want to pick the leader who is offering a realistic platform that can be implemented right away, and who finally offers the openness and accountability that have been a hot subject for several years – there is only one leader who fits the bill. His name is Michael Ignatieff.