Politics·Point of View

Monday's choice: the economy or Laurier's vision

She said/he said: Tasha Kheiriddin and Scott Reid offer two version of the ballot box question for Monday.

Partisan musings: Tasha Kheiriddin and Scott Reid on the ballot box question

A national realignment or more of the same? Heading down to the wire. (Reuters/Canadian Press)

Kheiriddin: Don't focus on all the baked crow

If Baked Crow Entrees were featured at Loblaw's, the grocery chain would have run out of them by now.

Canada's chattering classes are consuming them 24-7 in this last week of the campaign as we struggle to make sense of the rise of the NDP, collapse of the Bloc Québécois and self-destruction of the Liberal party.

Tasha Kheiriddin is a columnist and member of the editorial board for the National Post newspaper. She is a regular contributor to CBC's Power and Politics and hosts a radio show, Sunday with Tasha Kheiriddin, on CFRB Newstalk 1010 in Toronto.

Tory majority? NDP minority? All bets on the outcome of this election are off.

But will the ballot question itself have changed over the course of this 37-day campaign? Actually, no.

On May 2, when faced with the little piece of paper in a polling booth, voters in English Canada will likely ask themselves: Whom do I trust most to steward our economy?

In French Canada, it will still be about who best represents the interests of Quebec.

Distribution

The evidence for this is in the distribution of the NDP surge.

While the NDP is enjoying a spectacular rise in la belle province, it is being embraced more cautiously in Ontario, where voters still flinch at the memory of Bob Rae's 1990 disastrous provincial NDP regime.

Deficits, high unemployment, ballooning welfare rolls, labour unrest. No one wants to see that movie again.

But in other parts of the country, including Quebec, which has no provincial NDP, and B.C., which has seen the party come and go in power, voters are less fearful of an NDP opposition — or even government.

The losers on these ballot questions are the Bloc and the Liberals. In both cases, they are the architects of their own demise.

The Bloc tried to spin its 20-year-old-line of "standing up for Quebec" while, at the same time, complaining about how Ottawa never gives the province its due.

The Liberals played the ethics card — ignoring the fact that less than a decade ago, their party engaged in the most unethical patronage scheme in modern Canadians politics.

Both parties effectively drove their own voters to the NDP, which embodies Quebecers' leftist leanings, and which is the only federal party not tarnished by political scandal.

How will voters answer the above ballot questions on May 2? From the latest polls, first choices are Conservative / NDP in English Canada, and NDP in Quebec.

But the results, in terms of seats, are completely unpredictable: Vote splits could advantage the Tories in ridings where their candidates are duking it out with the Liberals and the Bloc, and hurt them in others where they are battling the NDP.

One thing is certain: the pundits were wrong. So Monday, bring on the crow, and extra coffee — it promises to be a long night.


Reid: The Liberals and the fight that is left

The least conventional ballot question in Canadian history is taking shape: Do you care about the Liberal party's future?

That may seem like an issue far removed from the daily bread of "What's in it for me and my family?"

Scott Reid is a principal with Feschuk.Reid and has held senior roles in numerous federal and provincial election campaigns. From 2003 to 2006 he served as senior adviser and director of communications in the office of Liberal prime minister Paul Martin.

But upon clear-eyed examination of the current landscape (not to mention a day or two more of inching improvements for the NDP), it is emerging as the honest question of consequence for many voters.

As things stand, Jack Layton is on the brink of an unprecedented success. It is a credit to the strength of his campaign and the shine of his personal appeal.

But with days yet to go, the outlook remains unpredictable. Everything from a Conservative majority to a NDP minority remains plausible.

For the Liberal party, the stakes are high, indeed. Harper and Layton lust for an outcome where the Liberals fall to third place in seats held.

A Parliament they can polarize with the explicit aim of extinguishing the light of Laurier. Of silencing the party that championed national unity, public pensions, medicare and balanced budgets.

However, Harper and Layton may be taking too much for granted. It is far too early for Conservatives and New Democrats to celebrate.

Outside Quebec, the NDP rise has been less a tidal wave than a basement filling slowly with water. There is time left yet to seal the leak and dry the carpets.

In Ontario, the Liberals are still in second. In all, roughly 60 seats remain in play across the country — ridings where straying Liberal supporters can reconsider and make a world of difference. Battles that Liberals can yet win.

As for swing voters, the final few public polls will drive home political realities.

By the time Will and Kate's confetti has been swept away, there will be open discussion of the challenge facing the Liberal party.

Some voters will be indifferent. But Harper and Layton may discover that many others dislike the idea of overlooking an institution that offers a reliably sensible and centrist option.

They may learn that Canadians are none too eager to reduce future national debates to twin poles of extreme opinion.

They may find that in the quiet of the ballot box, there are many voters who decide they value the Liberal party and will vote to preserve its ability to positively influence their future. Just as it has their past.