By: Don Newman
Shakespeare’s adage from his play The Tempest has never seemed more true than it does as we reach the Labour Day week end and the mid-point in the longest Canadian Federal Election campaign since the nineteenth century.
All that has happened throughout August on both the campaign trail and in an Ottawa court room has set the stage for the final five week sprint to election day on October 19th.
And while the testimony brought out in the trial of Senator Mike Duffy, the falling price of oil and the slumping economy and stock market have all been damaging the Stephen Harper and the Conservatives, the government has been able to keep its hold on the traditional party base and remain competitive in what is a highly unusual three way race.
Now, with the Duffy trial again on recess until after the election, Harper and the Conservatives can only hope that the focus will shift from what did the Prime Minister know about the $90,000 payment of the Senator’s dubious expense claims by his chief of staff Nigel Wright, to the issues they want to run on; the economy and national security.
However, as the focus will undoubtedly shift, it will not necessarily be good news for the Conservatives. Economic uncertainty is on the rise. Stock markets are roiling, oil prices are falling, investment decisions are on hold and confidence is shaken.
In fact the major economic discussion at the moment is whether the lack of economic growth means the country is actually in a recession. And the most dramatic split amongst the parties is the Liberals’ break from the Conservative and New Democrats promise to balance the budget come what may. Instead they are offering a plan to run deficits for the next three years to fund a major infrastructure program.
While at first look this policy approach would seem to play into the Conservative narrative of “tax and spend” Liberals, the Liberals are hoping it will resonate with all but hard core Conservatives.
First, it is serious policy, countering the argument that Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau is all glitz with “nice hair.”
Second, it provides direct action to counter the economic slowdown, while at the same time providing badly needed infrastructure renewal, instead of hoping that “trickle down” economics of selected tax cuts will generate the neccesary stimulus.
And third, it puts the New Democrats and leader Tom Mulcair in a squeeze. Slightly ahead in the polls since the election call, Mulcair and his party have been running a cautious, front runners campaign.
Whether they have been far enough in front to justify that approach is open to debate, as is the decision to embrace a cautious economic approach and echoing the Conservative pledge to balance the budget no matter what economic challenges may come along.
The NDP have felt that pledge is crucial to counter the claim that they are poor managers with no economic experience. But for voters on the centre-left that they compete with the Liberals for their support, it may not be seen as sufficient change from Harper at a time of economic difficulty.
This issue will be the dominant one in the week after Labour Day, culminating ten days later on a stage in Calgary. That is where and when the leaders will meet in their second televised debate. The subject will be the economy.
After that debate there will be one month left until the election. Clearly, the prologue will be past.
Don Newman is Special Advisor at Navigator and the former senior parliamentary editor for CBC Television as well as the former host of several political affairs programs including “Politics”, “This Week in Parliament”, and “Capital Report”. Newman ‘s career provided him with vast experience in covering elections and other major political events both in Canada and abroad. One of Canada’s most respected journalists and an award-winning broadcaster, his career spans five decades. He is a Member of the Order of Canada, a life-member and past president of the Canadian Parliamentary Press Gallery, and has numerous other honours, awards and honorary degrees.