April 27, 2011
If you can stand yet another theory about the NDP surge in federal election polls, here’s a new one I came up with: polarization.
Back in the old days — before the Reform Party, before Harperites hijacked the Conservatives — there were two main parties vying for our affection: the Liberals and the Progressive Conservatives. Both were big-tent parties, staking out as much of the middle ground as possible, co-opting each other’s ideas if they figured it would get them votes.
This system worked fine for the Liberals, but not so fine for the Progressive Conservatives. So Stephen Harper dropped the “Progressive” and pushed the party to the right, figuring that if he presented Canadians with a clear alternative, there would be a better chance of winning.
To a certain extent, the strategy has worked. You can’t argue with two election wins, even if they did lead to minority governments. In the process, though, Canadians have become used to the idea of being governed by a party with a strong ideological bent. Leaning hard to the right has not produced any of the calamities we might have once feared.
So . . . why not give a hard lean to the left a try? That’s what I figure may be going through voters’ minds, at least at a subconscious level. It’s like the swinging of a pendulum.
Canada could wind up like Britain, where the two main parties are the Conservatives and Labour (the rough equivalent of our NDP). The Liberals are stuck in the middle without enough votes to form a government, but enough to play kingmaker if one of the main parties is unable to muster a majority.
What started out as a boring repeat of the last election may turn out to be one of the biggest political shifts in Canadian history.