The major movement in conservative politics in Canada over the turn of the century was to unite the right, to unify the two right-wing parties, the Progressive Conservative and the Reform, into a single political party that could mount a successful challenge to the Liberal party hegemony. And they succeeded brilliantly. I disagree with virtually every Conservative party platform except the general idea of being very careful with government spending in hard economic times. But I have to congratulate them on accomplishing the considerably difficult task of bringing together two political parties who regarded each other with resentment, anger, and suspicion.
It was their unity as a party that enabled them to succeed in a federal system like Canada's. We simply do not have a political culture where parties can conceive of working together in a governing coalition. This means that any minority government is afflicted by petty squabbling, and an almost total lack of ability to govern. So any attempt at cooperation between the Reform and PC parties, like not running candidates against each other or appointing the other party to one's cabinet, was inconceivable. The united front of the new Conservative party had led them to election victory and the longest-lasting minority government in Canadian history.
And the Conservative party will probably get a majority in this election thanks to just the kind of deplorable petty squabbling on the left side of our parliamentary spectrum. All the possible leadership candidates after Paul Martin's retirement were going to shift the party leftwards, but Dion has emphatically done so. The Green Shift tax plan is a special mark of this, the centrepiece of his focus on environmental issues.
But the Liberals are being shouted down on the left by the New Democrats, with Jack Layton's campaign focussing on a request to the Canadian people to make him Canada's first New Democrat prime minister. His own program on childcare, healthcare, pacifism, and a carbon cap-and-trade system solidly anchors him on the left. And his higher presence than Dion's on television in central Canada makes him the more visible voice of opposition to Stephen Harper. Add to the mix the Green party's inclusion and left-leaning voters are torn in so many directions, their limbs are falling off. Of course, the Green's fiscal and social policies are quite conservative, reflecting their origin as an offshoot of the old Canadian rightist parties of people who simply differed in that they were environmentalists.
Two key conditions in Canada's current political climate are going to give the Conservatives an unfortunate majority this October. The main reason is the systemic problem I've just outlined: Anything But Conservative. I am just as opposed to the Conservative party plan for Canada as the majority of Canadians. But the sheer number of alternatives to Harper work against each other. The leftist and centrist vote in Canada is split practically evenly among Liberals, NDP, and Green. In an electoral environment like this, a Conservative candidate can capture his (and it will probably be His) riding with little more than thirty per cent of the vote. Quite likely, the majority of Conservative candidates will do so. The right has taken governmental power in Canada by uniting, and the left will lose it for the foreseeable future by dividing so terribly.
The most depressing of the two reasons is Dion's complete inability to control how Canada's populace perceives him and his message. From the beginning of his party leadership, the Conservatives have painted him as a nebbishy, weak-willed Woody Allen type unsuitable to lead a classroom, let alone a country. He has totally failed to communicate to the general public his intelligence, tenacity, assertiveness, and personal strength. New websites like ThisIsDion.ca are potentially effective, but they come too late to matter. Canadians have made their decision, and they have been bamboozled. His painful public relations failure will probably cost him the election, at least half the Liberal party seats, and probably his leadership of the party. He will be an unfortunate footnote in Canadian history: the first Liberal party leader never to become prime minister. Dion could have transformed Canada for the better. But he has already failed.