By Salloum, Habeeb
Contemporary Review , Vol. 290, No. 1691
'Thirty-seven lost days and 300 million squandered loonies [a Canadian term for a one dollar coin] later, there's one simple election question that has yet to be given a satisfactory answer in either of our official languages. What the hell was that all about? To put it more delicately, why were Canadians, who had more important things to do this fall, from raking leaves to watching their Life savings vanish, subjected to this pointless political circus?'
SO wrote Gordon Henderson in the Windsor Star on October 15, one day after Canada's 2008 elections. His words reflected what many Canadians thought about the election - a stunt by politicians for their own personal benefits.
Canada's fortieth general election was called for on Sept. 7 when Prime Minister Stephen Harper asked the Governor General, Michaelle Jean, to dissolve Parliament. The Prime Minister was apparently trying to maintain his job and potentially increase the Conservatives' seats to a majority in Parliament. Harper and his Conservative government had prepared for this call three months prior to the election by making spending announcements totalling $8.8 billion. Realizing that to form a majority government they needed many more members from Quebec, they worked hard to convince voters in that province to support the Conservative candidates.
But why was the election called at this time? Some political pundits say that the Prime Minister knew that unlike in the US, Canada's economy was still upbeat and that he hoped to win a majority before there was a downturn. Others indicated that the Conservatives were watching the Barack Obama phenomenon in our neighbour to the south and were mindful that Canadian Conservatives historically had a majority in Parliament only when Republicans were in power in the US. They thought that they would try and get a majority government before the Democrats won in November.
One amusing comment made by a person being interviewed in a street in Toronto when asked as to why the election was called, replied: 'The election mania the Americans are experiencing is too much for the Canadian government to handle so they have called an election'.
With a minority Conservative government running the country and knowing it might fall at any time, the other political parties were somewhat prepared for the election. Five parties were in the arena: the Conservatives led by Stephen Harper, in the main supported by the affluent; the Liberals led by Stephane Dion, supported by the middle of the roaders and the majority of newcomers to Canada; the New Democratic Party (NDP) led by Jack Layton, a social democratic party; the Bloc Quebecois led by Gilles Duceppe, a Quebec Separatist Party; and the Green Party, an environmentalist movement led by Elizabeth May.
The leaders of these parties criss-crossed the country trumpeting their solutions to problems in the economy, the environment, health care and Canada's participation in the Afghanistan War. Much was made of the track records and personalities of party leaders. However, there was not much interest by the voters in these meanderings of the party leaders. People were more interested in the US election, which gave the US voter a more distinctive choice and was much more vibrant. The charismatic Democrat candidate. Barack Obama, with his crowd-drawing speeches overshadowed the Canadian election.
All the leaders of the political parties came under attack by their opponents in the other parties. This was especially so when it came to the demo-ni/.ation of the Liberal Party leader Stephane Dion. For two years the Conservatives attacked him and this, as a whole, partially produced the desired effect of portraying him as weak and ineffective. A fine, honourable and honest gentleman, he seemed out of place in the political arena. Even though he did some travelling across the country he did not enthuse party members and, until the election began, he was hardly noticed by the media. …