What's the point of a fall election?
Saturday, August 15, 2009 – Print Edition, Page A19

Commentator with The National and host of CBC Radio's Cross-Country Checkup

Summer is slipping by and, quite soon, it will be a whole year since we had a federal election. A whole year. It's a wonder we still have a country.

Our politicians understand all too well that this is an unnatural state of affairs. Understand that, outside of hockey and (it pains me to write this) our inexplicable fidelity to Tim Hortons' increasingly less than satisfying doughnuts - I sense a falling off in the Old Fashion Plain, and there are days when the Boston Cream is not the saccharine puck of ecstasy it should be - a near annual run to the polls is fast becoming the other glue that binds us.

Hence, it is with some gratification I note that, in the past few weeks, our federal parties have started to make the familiar noises that sound the approach of another futile, inconclusive visit to the polls. It's like a symphony of spin doctors tuning up before the big performance. "Futile" and "inconclusive" are harsh adjectives, I know, but what others are there to describe the past three trips to the polls and the largely sour minority Parliaments they have produced?

And should we have another election this fall (which I rate with the likelihood that the leaves will change colour), does anyone really think the Canadian electorate will discover in the Liberals or the Conservatives some fresh seam of excitement or virtue so far unperceived or overlooked that will boost either one to a majority government? Hardly. Our two main parties are becoming more and more timid mirrors of each other.

Stephen Harper, despite the image he bears of being a dogmatic, ideologically fired conservative, is as Liberal as Liberal can be when it matters most. Whether it's a bailout for the auto companies or a blissful embrace of the return to deficit financing, Mr. Harper is as flexible as the most pliant Liberal. The stimulus funds that are being dispersed these days - for those of us with long memories - have all the focus of those programs the Liberals used to scatter across the land to build tiny bridges over dried-up streams or paint the larger rocks in village playgrounds. They also did a lot for graveyard upkeep, a forgivable piety perhaps, but not one that should be confused with an industrial strategy for those above ground.

Michael Ignatieff, on the other hand, insofar as he allows us glimpses of how he really thinks on any major issue, seems very concerned that he should not be mistaken as a too liberal Liberal. He might widen the employment insurance program more than Mr. Harper, but I doubt he would swell the deficit much beyond its already tumid state. He's been trying his best to make friends with Alberta. On Afghanistan, I fail to see a shade of difference between him and his rival. He is that familiar figure, a Liberal trying his best to radiate a conservative temperament. Just as Mr. Harper is a conservative temperament decorating himself with Liberal foliage.

If one is not a partisan, this is a very difficult question to answer: Why should Mr. Harper be preferred to Mr. Ignatieff, or vice versa? When these two, if they do, present themselves to us again this fall in another Groundhog Day campaign, is it likely we will see at the end of it anything but what we already have - another minority?

The New Democrats, at least, are signalling they are aware of how static and stagnant our politics has become. They are wrestling, if that is not too vigorous a term for so bland a manoeuvre, with the large question of whether to take the "New" out of their name. Go for it. If a party has to kill the word "New" to signal it is really new, if it has to remove the "New" to prove it is not old, then more power to it. An oxymoron should never impede a good branding effort.

Meantime, also under the heading of there is nothing new under the sun, Green Party Leader Elizabeth May has concluded she must seek, again, a new riding. She has run in Central Canada. She has run in Nova Scotia. She may run next time in British Columbia. Lead the Green Party and see the country.

Ms. May is quoted as saying that the most important thing for her party is for her to win a seat in Parliament. It probably is. Because for all intents and purposes, the Green Party is mainly an instrument for her continued visibility. It has been personalized as the Elizabeth May party, so perhaps the only real question that will be answered, should the writ fall and we troop dutifully to the polls again, is whether, when it's all over, the Green Party has succeeded in placing its leader - itself - in the House of Commons.

Worth $300-million, do you think?

Copyright © 2003 Bell Globemedia Interactive Inc. All Rights Reserved.