Sunday, January 01, 2006

BC will decide outcome of “battle of the blands”

The early days of the federal election campaign have not so far produced the fireworks everyone was expecting. In fact about the only thing that has passed for excitement so far in this campaign is the commitment by NDP Leader Jack Layton to shave off his mustache if his wife Olivia Chow is elected an MP in Toronto.

There was certainly some consternation over Martin’s announcement of a handgun ban early in the campaign. Apparently the strategy was to create a “wedge issue” between the Liberals and the Conservatives. Harper was smart enough not to bite and instead it was left to the Liberal Premier from BC, the Conservative Premier from Alberta and the two NDP Premiers from Manitoba and Saskatchewan to shoot down the ill-conceived policy announcement. Thus Harper came across looking restrained while Martin looked like he was firing blanks.

If the Liberals want to get serious about reducing handgun violence they need to beef up security at our borders in order to reduce the amount of handguns that are being smuggled across the border. The costs associated with this can be recovered by scrapping the completely ineffective gun registry program that has gobbled up two billion dollars of taxpayers’ money and has done absolutely nothing to stem the increase in gun violence in Canada.

The Conservatives meanwhile have scored some good points on putting some money into the military to shore up Canada’s territorial claims over the arctic. Let’s be clear on this the United States and Denmark have both taken steps in recent years to encroach on our northern sovereignty. This is because as the artic ice melts the Northwest Passage is going to be an increasingly lucrative way of shipping goods and services between Europe, North America and Asia.

Prime Minister Paul Martin has dismissed Stephen Harper’s announcement by stating that much of what Harper has announced is already his government’s policy. Yes but what Paul Martin doesn’t seem to understand is that leaders aren’t judged so much on their policy but on their deeds.

But it’s hard to get action out of politicians that are increasingly being selected for their ability to be “non-controversial.” The best way to be non-controversial is to say and do as little as possible. So we have safe middle of the road suggestions emerging from all three federal party leaders while a skeptical public looks on and worries about the NDP’s tax and spend agenda, the odor of corruption still swirling around the Liberals, and a Conservative Party that is dominated by social conservatives.

With Quebec voting heavily for the “none of the above option” i.e. the Bloc Quebecois, it looks like whether we have a Liberal or Conservative Minority government elected in Ottawa will be determined right here in BC. Right now it looks like Vancouver Island is swinging towards the NDP, urban ridings in the Lower Mainland are going strongly Liberal while the rest of BC will likely stick with the Conservatives.

So BC will likely send a fair number of Liberal, Conservative and NDP MPs to Ottawa. But if the combined total of Liberal and NDP MPs is not enough to form a majority both Stephen Harper and Paul Martin may have to think the unthinkable and form a Liberal Conservative, or Conservative Liberal coalition government.

As unpalatable as such a prospect might be to either party it might be the only combination that may end up working. That’s the situation Germany faced in its recent federal election when Angela Merkel, the German conservative whose party narrowly defeated Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder socialists, ended up forming a coalition government with Schroeder’s party.

Certainly there are many areas on paper where the Liberals and Conservatives agree. They both support tax cuts, they both have talked about increased funding for the military and both have talked about having an elected Senate. The difference being is that a Liberal Conservative coalition government would actually deliver on those things rather than just talk about them.

The other great thing about such a coalition is that it would hamstring both the tax and spend left wing of the Liberal Party as well as the religious right within the Conservative Party thus leaving Canadians with pretty much the kind of balanced government that not only talks about doing things but actually does them.