Although I'm a small-c conservative and a complete rube on all things campaign oriented, I'm still going to try to put on paper what I see at this point in time. Of course, there's still 17 days until voting day on May 2nd, so who knows what will happen to campaign dynamics before then?
The NDP is Coming, is Coming ...
Jack Layton and his NDP team have finally gained traction in the campaign, based principally on his performance in the debates. Jack is always entertaining and sincere-looking, in a way that endears him to prospective customers on a used car lot. Young voters are particularly impressed by what Jack has in the way of promises.
This campaign has been difficult for Jack, because the Liberal platform was extensively re-designed from 2008 to promise everything in the world to everyone, at zero cost to anyone of course. They did this by shamelessly stealing every previous and current platform idea of the NDP, and putting it in their own platform. It was the Liberals' attempt to sweep every left-of-centre voter, a mission previously perceived to be the exclusive preserve of the NDP.
So when it comes to platforms, the Liberals and NDP are virtually the same, +/- a few promises. Their deciding factor across Canada, then, will be the age-old ballot box question: "Who do you trust more to represent your view, Jack Layton or Michael Ignatieff?". The principled and trustworthy Layton wins hands down every time in every poll that focuses on trustworthiness, competence and vision for Canada.
Layton's numbers are solidifying in key metro areas, and this is not good news for Liberal strategists who hoped to at least form the next government with a minority or, even better, a slim majority. If we look into our crystal ball and see the NDP at 17% of more in Ontario, and higher in BC and Quebec, Jack should be able to hold onto his seat count and maybe make some new gains in Quebec, but may lose a seat or two down East. My SWAG (Sophisticated Wild-Ass Guess): 30-32 seats (36 currently).
The Liberals are Stalled ... at Best
Liberal strategists, though their friendly media newsletters (Groan & Wail, Red Star, CTV NewsNet, etc.) have thrown every piece of sticky doo-doo in their arsenal at the Conservatives, and it failed to stick. Ignatieff's performance in the English language debate met the low expectations placed on him by his friendly media, but failed to convince the electorate that he's trustworthy, capable, or Prime Minister material. And that was before Layton's classic zinger of, "If you are looking for a promotion, you have to show up for work".
Anyone looking at the Liberals' platform will see it for what it is: a kazillion promises, with few of these promises costed ... in tried and true Liberal fashion. Ignoring their completely uncosted Carbon Tax (Cap & Trade) promise, itself estimated to suck $33 - $34 billion/year from our wallets, significant gaping holes in the Liberal "budget" include the following wallet-rippers:
- HST funding for Quebec (Cost — $2.2 billion)
- New Montreal/Champlain Bridge (Cost — $1 billion according to Ignatieff; $2 billion by others)
- Pharmacare (Cost — Estimated at $6.6 - $10.3 billion by 2006 Federal-Provincial study)
- High speed rail (Cost — $18 billion for a QC-Windsor route according to 1995 study)
- Arenas for professional sports (Cost — unknown). The QC arena estimate is $400 million. How many more arenas is he planning to build/fund? Team owners will cough up little, if any, of their own money. This is a Triple Crown entry, folks, because we taxpayers empty our wallets to all three levels of government for these money-losing palaces!
- Mandated Pay Equity: Easily in the $ billions per year. The last taxpayer pain for this "Liberal Freebie" was $3.5 billion in just backpayments. And that doesn't count the cost of the bureaucracy to create and manage the program(s). Just think of squaring up the pay of a pipefitter level I with a mail clerk level III. The bureaucracy cost alone should bankrupt the nation.
- Expand Postal Service: No details, but expect an annual ton of money for infrastructure and hiring a lot more postal workers ... to service declining volumes, and to deliver more junk mail at higher cost. It's $ billions, folks, each and every year. Insane? Yes, but priceless too.
- "Fix" Refugee/Immigration Problems: Having created the problem, and processing delays, by making Canada a Patsy for everyone else in the world, the Liberals now want a second crack at it. Our money, for their buying of the "ethnic vote" for future generations of good little Liberals.
- Next Generation Bilingualism: Sounds good, short on details, probably yearly $ billions from our wallets.
- Cancel Jet Fighter Contracts: Last time the Liberals did something this stupid on the $5.8 billion Sea King Helicopter fiasco, it cost you and me $500 million to break the contract, and pilots died in the old crates of junk they were expected to fly. Take a shot at estimating what the penalty will be on a $60 billion fighter jet deal. Yeah, billions and billions. No wonder the Liberals didn't include the costs!
Seat projections for them are tough. A few East Coast seats are in jeopardy, they should hold onto their Montreal and Toronto "islands", plus or minus, but should not look for any material gains beyond the Manitoba border, and perhaps a loss or two. My best-case SWAG for the Liberals is 70 seats (77 currently).
This assumes campaign dynamics don't change. But I expect the Liberals and their captive media to immediately start an "anything but Harper/Conservatives" desperation movement. The objective, of course, will be to position the Liberals as the only party that can stop Harper. BTW, I note this morning that Duceppe has already begun his "Stop Harper, Vote Bloc" messaging, which can't be good news for Liberals in Quebec.
Layton will have nothing to do with this, sensing oblivion if he helps Liberals save their own skins at the expense of votes for the NDP. Layton's tactic, and he's already laid the base for this, will be to convince voters that the Liberals are a spent force and that the NDP are the only true defenders of the Canadian left and its social programs. "First step: official opposition; Subsequent election: form government". His trustworthiness index amongst Canadians, compared to Ignatieff, gives him a clear advantage in any messaging for this.
It should be an interesting 17 days, eh? The political pros say that we should start watching which ridings that Ignatieff goes to in the next 17 days. If his rallies stops are mainly at "hold this seat" ridings, we may be witnessing the Liberals in a classic "save the furniture" campaign.
The Conservatives ... Slow but Steady
They aren't flashy, they have kept the high road, their campaign promises are practical, modest and well costed (since they are essentially in Flaherty's budget), and they have kept their powder dry. Their differentiator is continued good economic stewardship, job creation and positioning as the Federalist champion for any Quebec votes searching for a new home. A low-key campaign reinforcing these strengths is probably what we will see until May 2nd.
The key asset (and liability) in the Conservative campaign is, of course, Harper. About 40% of the electorate feels he's a great guy and the best leader by far. Another 20% are "in play" because, while they may not like him personally, polls continually show that he's their first choice in terms of leadership, trustworthiness, competence and vision for Canada. This is where Ignatieff has failed to make gains, but Layton will begin to pick up some votes. He and Layton are fighting over the remaining 40%.
Seat projections? Difficult for the Tories. At a minimum, they will be back with a heavy minority (a few seats shy of a majority). At best, they could have a soft majority. The key variables here are: any "ABC" attempt by the Liberals; voter turnout; NDP performance, and the East Coast/Quebec dynamics.