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by Archives April 7, 2009

As the country gets ready for the long days of summer, folks around Ottawa will soon be closing yet another chapter in the saga of the Canadian parliament. There have been a lot of changes since this time last year. Everything was up in the air as last year’s session was coming an end. The Liberals were still under Stéphane Dion, who had just unveiled his Green Shift plan. The party was already showing signs of being fractured and directionless that would which would manifest in one of their worst elections in their history. The Tories on the other hand were flying high both in the polls and in spirits.
The Liberals were fading, the Conservatives were rising and it seemed, as though it would have take a crisis to change the political landscape. Low and behold, a crisis we got. Parliament got pretty crazy around December; even the best analysts were having a hard time predicting what would happen. The powder keg never did explode though, and tempers have cooled down to normal levels on parliament hill. But in minority governments we’ve seen that periods of calm don’t last very long. As the Conservatives and Liberals grow into themselves, the stage is being set for another clash some time in the not so distant future.
The Liberals are only now showing signs of having finally worked off the Dion hangover, in the polls, the party is finally retuning to its pre-Dion numbers. They’ve got some confidence back, Bob Rae introduced Michael Ignatieff as the next Prime Minister of Canada at a recent party event, and Ignatieff often refers to ‘when he takes power’ during his speeches.
The party has seen a much-needed boost in donations, a result of growing public interest in Ignatieff, who’s speaking tour has been pulling out big crowds in recent weeks. The Liberals may not have much to offer in terms of policy these days – it’s still hard to find areas where they genuinely differ from the Conservatives – but they are looking united in the opposition to Stephen Harper’s minority government.
Despite Liberal gains, Harper and the gang have been able to hold their ground. Harper’s been reaping the benefits of his tenure on his recent trip to Europe. He has a comfortable working relationship with a handful of world leaders. If, as Harper has been suggesting, the worst days of the economic crisis are over, he will have escaped the downturn practically unscathed, which would be very fortunate for him. Dissent in the caucus has been an issue recently, but dissent affects every party so it isn’t too much to worry about.
When the two big parties are doing well, that usually doesn’t bode well for the other parties. Ignatieff poses a real threat to the New Democrats and he could take Layton to task in either official language. Regardless of the threat, there’s little to indicate that the NDP are going to change up their game rather than hammering at the same nail over and over again. As for the Bloc, the Liberals are coming close to matching them in Quebec, which could signal rough waters ahead for Duceppe and the gang.
And ditto for Elizabeth May, who you may remember from her spectacular failure in the last election. Dion was her inside man in the Liberal party, now that he’s gone she’ll be going it alone.
The Ignatieff effect has been to marginalize all three “third parties” and make the story about the Liberals and Conservatives. The country is shaping up for a major clash between the two at some point in late 2009 or during 2010. Both parties know the confrontation is coming and are getting ready for it. Whatever the leaders do though, the winning the next election will probably have very little to do with merit. The recession, whether it clears up now or never will define how politics play out in this country for the next little while.

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