Why 2011 Is Not Like 2006

Scott H. Payne

March 9, 2011 | 11 Comments

If the past few weeks has shown us anything, it is that the Opposition parties are on the warpath. From Bev Oda to Jason Kenney and now to Nigel Wright, the resignation calls have been flying fast and furious in the House of Commons. And has almost become their comically ironic role, the government seems incapable of not handing the Opposition fresh ground for incredulity on an almost week-by-week basis.

The Opposition game plan has become clear: they are bound and determined to find this government’s sponsorship scandal — the one issue that will invoke outrage amongst the electorate and ensure the government’s defeat. And yet, no matter how hard they try or how many opportunities the government keeps handing them, nothing the Opposition parties serve up seems to stick.

Polling seems to suggest that this government has an almost Teflon coating to it.  A series of public opinion outfits showed the Conservative Party nearing — and in some cases crossing the threshold of — a majority government. And while those buoyant numbers have since receded, all of the controversy stirred up by the Opposition parties doesn’t seem capable of denting this government’s hold on at least a minority position.

Have the Opposition parties just not found the right issue yet? Perhaps, but the sponsorship scandal wasn’t the only factor that lead to the 2006 eradication of the Liberals thirteen year hold on government. The other ingredient to that fateful turn of political events was the existence of a clear and viable alternative.

By 2006, Stephen Harper and his newly united Conservative Party of Canada had spent three years defining and disseminating a compelling counter-narrative to the then moribund Liberal legacy. It was an alternative that gave Canadians, tiered of the Liberals and angry over their corruption, somewhere to go in the face of a scandal that couldn’t be spun out of existence.

Indeed, it is that that very narrative that is now being used to tarnish this government. Integrity, transparency, accountability, openness: these were the catch words of a new government that caught the political wind of an exasperated electorate and gave disaffected voters a place to land.

It wasn’t enough that Canadians circa 2006 wanted to vote against the Liberals, they needed something to vote for instead. The Conservative alternative gave them that option and created the political dynamics in which we now find ourselves.

The problem then is not that this government doesn’t have a sponsorship scandal. It is rather that the Opposition parties have not built an effective alternative with which to woo voters when that scandal comes around.

A coalition government of the variety toyed with in 2008 might have presented such an alternative. But the Tories have effectively condemned the idea as somehow anti-democratic. And the players in such a coalition have all retreated to their respective sides, unwilling to resurrect the possibility for fear of recrimination.

On their own, none of the individual parties has captured the imagination of the electorate with an inspiring alternative. Their focus, it seems, remains trained on finding the scandal instead of building the alternative. Experience of the past five years has taught us that this is a misplacement of effort.

Left to their own devices, the Tories seem incapable of avoiding perfectly avoidable scandals.

As CBC’s Greg Weston suggests, perhaps this latest in and out campaign financing issue will be enough to scorch Stephen Harper and the Party once it has fully played out. But without a persuasive alternative put forward by the Opposition, that scorching is unlikely to leave much more than singe marks.

This government — like those before it — seems destined to sew the seeds of its own demise. But whether that death is sudden or drawn out lies largely in the hands of the Opposition parties. Until Jack Layton and Michael Ignatieff stop focusing on why Canadians shouldn’t vote for Stephen Harper and start focusing on why Canadian should vote for them, 2011 — and years to come — will not play out like 2006.


11 Responses to “Why 2011 Is Not Like 2006”

  1. Arnold Kwok
    March 10th, 2011 @ 8:20 am

    A landslide victory is rare. Usually the ruling party loses confidence of parliament and voters. Newspaper-published voter surveys, if you trust them, have shown that the Harper Government has staying power and the opposition parties lack the votes to become the next government.

    The difference between the current and the last governments was that Prime Minister Martin initiated the Gomery Commission to study the sponsorship scandal. Notwithstanding Prime Minister Chretien’s HRDC funding scandal and Auberge scandal, Judge Gomery uncovered enough to disgust even former Liberal supporters. Prime Minister Harper enjoys the solid backing of right-of-centre voters and attracts former Liberal who are conservative in nature. His discipline on government has come up short in individual oversights, e.g. a briefing book left in a girlfriend’s house, another briefing book left in CTV, and a fundraising letter sent to the entire Alberta parliamentary consort instead of the Conservative Party Alberta caucus. Prime Minister Martin could only rely on the lone support of Belinda Stronach to remain in power. The Harper Government could get support from the Liberal Party and NDP, e.g. the Quebecois nation, Afghanistan, and the Budgets of the last five years.

    We should know whether we will have a federal election during Lent 2011.


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