What's Iggy thinking?

So… this place called Canada inches ever closer to yet another federal election. Michael Ignatieff, known in these parts as ‘egghead Iggy’, has announced that the Liberals will not support the minority Conservative government when parliament resumes this month. Iggy has grown a spine! This stalwart action after Ignatieff and the erstwhile Grit leader Stephane Dion served in a virtual coalition with the Conservatives since 2006.

But what’s up?  The timing could be iffy for Iggy. Signs abound that Canada is coming out of recession. Under the Tories, no banks failed in the worst of the economic crisis. This cannot be said of governments in the USofA. This may have been blind luck, but it could make Stephen Harper look good in an election campaign. Nothing pleases English Canadian voters more than to think they are different than Americans.

The current polls suggest no one will win a majority government. These polls show that the Liberals are tied with the Conservatives. In fact, the Conservatives have enjoyed a pretty good summer.  Harper’s trip to the Canadian arctic provided some great optics (watch for them in Tory campaign ads) of Steve Standing on Guard for Thee. The Tories’ absolutely brilliant “Just Visiting” attack ads on the the aforementioned Iggy, who did not live in Canada for close to 4 decades before choosing to save us from ourselves, worked like a charm. Surging Liberal fortunes stalled in mid-air. Following Ignatieff’s non- contested coronation at a Liberal convention in May, he had opened up a 3-5 point lead on Harper. That’s gone. Conversely, Iggy’s brand new ads seem oddly soft and, dare I say it, kind of out-of-focus…politically at least.

So it begs the question: why push the country into an election now? It certainly has Jack Layton’s NDP stumped. They, of all people, now seem the most reluctant! While the savviest and most experienced practitioner of Canadian federal politics, the Quebec independantiste Gilles Duceppe says ‘Bring it on, Etienne!’. That’s because Duceppe remains confident of winning at least 40 seats in Quebec. Oh…and in a political afterthought if there ever was one….in the country with arguably the worst environmental record in the developed western world, Green leader  Elizabeth May is still searching for a riding to run in.

So, once again, why go now? My guess is that Ignatieff thinks he can make big gains in Quebec and sweep most of Ontario. That’s dicey, but plausible. I also predict the Liberals will trade on Ignatieff’s Harvard past to make nice with the Obama administration in a visible way. Weirdly, next to thinking we are different than Americans, one of the things that turns the cranks of English Canadian voters most is to feel the love of  a youthful, Democratic President. The newly minted ads play up Ignatieff’s internationalism. Team Liberal will try to contrast Iggy the sophisticate with that hard-hearted Harper and his gang of western rubes. Again, that’s not without risk. In many voters’ minds, Harper is quintessentially Canadian…a hard-working, lumpy guy with a young, attractive family.

Further, the Liberals should be cautious with playing the ‘Democrats love us’ card. I suspect Canadians’ collective honeymoon swoon with Messiah Barack is slowly abating. Discerning voters might cotton on to the increasingly disastrous Obama approach to Afghanistan; and take pause with more news of protectionist “Buy American” campaigns. Given that he must establish his Canadian cred (odd task for a Grit leader) Ignatieff might not want to appear too much like an American Obama Democrat.

If team Harper can make the PM look like the custodian of mainstream English Canadian values; if it can spin matters in a way that make it appear it was the Liberals alone who forced reluctant Canadians to their voting booths, the nerd Steve, in a move worthy of Mackenzie King, might just be in a position to win the majority that’s eluded him to date.

En tout cas, fun time ahead for political junkies! Happy autumn, all.