Editorial Cartoon by Graeme MacKay, Editorial Cartoonist, The Hamilton Spectator – Wednesday April 18, 2007
Dion eyeing the fringe of the battlefield
Stephane Dion’s decision to give Green Party leader Elizabeth May a pass in the riding of Central Nova in the next federal election has more to do with a war of attrition between the Liberals and the NDP than with the cause of the environment.
If that particular crusade was as central to their actions as the two leaders purport it to be, logic would dictate that Dion spend the next campaign aggressively wooing Green sympathizers rather than helping May raise the profile of her party at his potential expense.
In logic, it would be more natural for the Liberal leader to make the case that the quickest way to get back on the Kyoto track on climate change is to support a federal party that is both committed to that process and has a realistic chance of unseating the Conservatives.
Even in their wildest dreams, the Greens have little or no hope of electing even the minimal number of MPs (12) required to have official status in the House of Commons in the next election.
But in some closely fought ridings, they could help take out like-minded candidates — from both the NDP and the Liberals — by splitting the anti-Conservative vote.
On the face of it, that makes it hard to jibe May’s endorsement of Dion as her preferred choice for prime minister with the fact that her party will be running candidates against 100-plus Liberal incumbents in the next campaign. If that endorsement is as heartfelt as it sounded yesterday, she has now turned them into needless sacrificial lambs.
At the end of the day, the common interest of the Green and the Liberal parties in bringing down the NDP is as least as strong as their common concern for the environment.
For the Liberals, boosting the Green Party only makes sense if it results in the NDP taking a hit in the ballot box. That is what happened in a byelection in London, Ont., late last year.
The New Democrats were pushed back by the Greens while the Liberals held on to the seat with a comfortable majority.
Whether that scenario would actually repeat itself in a general election and in ridings where May is not the actual Green contender remains to be seen.
Still, by securing her blessing for Dion, the Liberals can hope that they have insulated themselves from Green inroads into their share of the vote in the next election.
For her part, May, as the leader of an emerging party, clearly feels she needs a seat in the House of Commons and an inside track to overtake the NDP in the future more than she needs to score points against the Liberals.
But while May and Dion are teaming up to play checkers against Jack Layton, they may be creating new openings for Stephen Harper on the election chessboard. On that score, they may both have gotten ahead of themselves.
For years, the Liberals benefited from the war between various factions of the right. Those battles drove many moderate conservatives to their party.
But now it is the Conservatives who stand to benefit from the manoeuvres taking place among their progressive opponents.
That starts with Central Nova where, as of yesterday, the 10,000 voters who supported the Liberals in the 2006 election have been turned into political orphans.
Some of them will certainly take Dion’s cue and give May a hand in her bid to secure the first Green seat ever in Canada.
But inasmuch as a vote for the Greens remains a protest vote, many will be tempted to switch to more traditional options.
Dion’s decision not to run a candidate in Central Nova could end up boosting the Conservative vote. And May’s cosiness with the Liberals could actually firm up the NDP vote not only in that particular riding but also elsewhere in Canada.
MacKay, who won almost two votes for every Liberal one in 2006, need not necessarily ponder his retirement options just yet.
Regardless of the eventual fate of the minister of foreign affairs, the larger consequence of Dion’s move is to further engage the Liberal party in a three-way battle with the Bloc Quebecois, the NDP and the Greens for the anti-Conservative protest vote.
As Harper strives to advance his party further to the centre by making it more attractive to middle-of-the-road voters, Dion has his eye on the fringe of the battlefield.
It is hard not to think that his approach is awfully convenient for the Conservatives. – Chantal Hebert (Hamilton Spectator, A23, 4/14/2007)