In Groundhog Day, Bill Murray famously quips, “do you ever have déjà vu, Mrs. Lancaster? To which Mrs. Lancaster replies “I don’t think so, but I could check with the kitchen.” For many avid political watchers there is a sense of déjà vu as we compare the current 2015 election campaign to the one 11 years ago in 2004 when the Liberal Party was reduced to a minority government by the newly formed Conservative Party of Canada.
In 2004, Liberal Prime Minister Paul Martin began the election with a majority government and 168 Members of Parliament. Fast forward to 2015 and we see the Conservatives under Stephen Harper also beginning with a majority government, at 170 seats.
In 2004 the Liberal Party was plagued by the sponsorship scandal. In 2015 the Conservative Party is besieged by Senate scandals.
Additionally, in 2004 the Liberals were campaigning on the slogan “Moving Canada Forward”, similar in positive tone to the Conservative 2015 slogan of “Proven Leadership. Strong Economy”. And both governing parties were faced with opposition parties campaigning on themes of change. In 2004 it was the Conservative slogan of “Demand Better” versus today when we have not one, but two parties campaigning on change. The Liberal Party of Canada who is looking for #RealChange, which is not to be confused with the NDP, who are “Ready for Change.”
The good news for the Conservatives is that the Liberals did retain power in 2004, but only with a minority government. But the bad news is that with the benefit of hindsight many saw that as the beginning of the end for the Liberal Party, who would go to one of their worst showings by 2011.
Now the reality is that 11 years later the political landscape is of course drastically different and Canadians are viewing an unprecedented three way tie of the major political parties. But similar to 2004, with all parties polling around 30%, a minority government is looking like a realistic scenario.
Also similar to 2004, the electorate will be faced with a stark choice on October 19, 2015. A Prime Minister who they feel has been at the helm too long but represents stability or one of two parties that embody the change they believe this country needs.
The 2004 election marked a shift in Canada’s political ideology. The Liberals were reduced to a minority and over the course of the next 11 years, Canadians swung further to the right of the spectrum under consecutive Conservative Governments. 2015 sees us in a remarkably similar situation and the question is, can the Conservatives continue the swing or, like any pendulum, will the opposition parties be able to force the swing back? In short we are in unprecedented territory with a three way race and there is simply no predicting the outcome on October 19.
But one thing is certain, with a typical full length campaign ahead of us, anything can happen. To quote from Groundhog Day once more, when Bill Murray is told that you “can’t plan for a day like this” he responds with “Well you can. It just takes an awful lot of work.” And that is exactly what all three political parties have to do in the next 5 weeks…an awful lot of work.
Matt Triemstra is a Director at ENsight Canada where he provides public affairs advice. He has over a decade of experience consulting and working for Conservative Members of Parliament and the Conservative Resource Group on Parliament Hill.