The campaigning has begun

Federal election campaigning has begun, although we keep hearing that no one wants an election.

Although he doesn’t openly admit it, Prime Minister Stephen Harper wants one so he can try again for that majority that has so far eluded him; a majority so that he can pursue his own truly conservative agenda.

Harper has done a masterful job of skirting around the opposition to move forward with some of his policies but a majority is his holy grail. However, with four parties sitting in Parliament, another minority government is almost assured.

Who else wants an election? Certainly Liberal leader Michael Ignatieff does. He wants to be the country’s next prime minister, even in a minority government. That is the reason for his latest familiarity tour, neatly timed to take place when Harper and the federal Conservatives are marking their fifth anniversary in government.

And, of course, the New Democrats, under present leader, Jack Layton, whose fortunes could be greatly improved if, for example, he is called upon to join one of the larger parties – the Liberals or the Conservatives – in a coalition government. He could be a king maker.

An election has not been declared but the telltale signs are emerging. Along with Ignatieff’s current 20-city tour, Conservative attack ads have begun appearing on television. Perhaps you’ve seen the ones that again question Ignatieff’s true sense of nationalism, suggesting that he is just visiting Canada, a jab at his many years of sojourn in the United States.

The other parties may decry these tactics, but you can be sure they have ads of a similar colour waiting to be launched. No one will be left out of the mudslinging. The last political leader to take the high ground has left the building. Former Liberal leader Stephane Dion was a high-minded professor characterized by his integrity; he was not made for the blood sport of political maneuvering at the federal level.

So, while we will be subjected to the low end of political campaigning, we also expect clearly articulated positions from the various parties on what they stand for and where they want to take the country going forward.

Harper has already taken the lead with his law and order message, for example, the construction of more prison complexes, with no mention of rehabilitation for those who are convicted. He will continue to promise to get rid of the long gun registry and defend his plan to purchase $16-billion in military aircraft which we don’t need and cannot afford.

Ignatieff has been sticking to the Liberal script on education, healthcare and childcare. But, he is still to come up with an issue that will resonate with – and fire up – the Canadian electorate.

During his past five years in power, Harper has made some decisions based on pure pragmatism. We have seen massive spending and expansion of government bureaucracy quite contrary to his party’s main tenets of less government. But, we do have a good sense of where he and his party stand politically.

We need, however, to get a better measure of today’s Liberals, for it is not clear whether this is the same party as that of Jean Chrétien, Paul Martin or Pierre Trudeau. How much is this party an alternative to the Harper Conservatives, in terms of Canada’s social and economic values?

And, where does each party stand on the issues that really matter to everyday people in this country? On a federal plan for housing? On a realistic solution to the growing demands on the healthcare structure? On creating equity for children living in disadvantaged circumstances?

We know that election campaigns are mostly a lot of bluster, but we still want to believe that something substantive can occur in the process.

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