Along the line of smoky hills, the crimson politicians stand .. and wonder what the people of Canada will demand

Oct 14th, 2014 | By | Category: Ottawa Scene

[UPDATED OCTOBER 15]. Coming home on the airplane from a recent trip to Europe, I read an article by an eminent Cambridge academic in a British political magazine. And I was almost shocked when it proclaimed that the “two most successful leaders in contemporary western politics are Angela Merkel and Stephen Harper.”

This international point of view nonetheless helped refocus my attention on the Canadian federal election of 2015 – the big overarching political event before we the various voters in all parts of northern North America now.

And for some reason, at this point in time all this reminds me of the poetic (and worse) Ottawa civil servant of the late 19th and early 20th centuries, William Wilfred Campbell, who wrote what “remains among the most beloved of Canadian poems” – with its intoxicatingly geographic first verse : “Along the line of smoky hills/The crimson forest stands/And all the day the blue-jay calls/Throughout the autumn lands.”

Back in the real world of politics the polling guru Éric Grenier’s latest review of “Five national polls and two in Quebec” (October 8 – “September 2014 federal polling averages”) was still suggesting “a continued sizable lead for Justin Trudeau’s Liberals.”

Justin Trudeau, right, Liberal Party Leader and Thomas Mulcair, Leader of the NDP participated in the iVote, Youth vote/political engagement event on Tuesday, March 25, 2014, organized by Kevin Page at the University of Ottawa. Photograph by: Jean Levac, Ottawa Citizen.

Grenier’s September 2014 seat projection similarly gives 143 seats in the elected branch of the parliament at Ottawa to the Liberals, 112 to the Harper Conservatives, 81 to Thomas Mulcair’s New Democrats, and 2 to Ms. May’s Green Party. (Or a Liberal minority government, probably dependent on NDP support to pass a budget and so forth?)

Yet by the end of last week there were reasons for wondering how much longer the sizeable Liberal polling lead could last? See, eg : “Coyne: Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau’s stance against Canadian combat mission in Iraq is discreditable (October 3, 2014) ; and “Conservative Party, Jason Kenney pounce on Justin Trudeau’s terrible week via social media” (October 10). The next pot of polling tea leaves will be scrutinized with extra care. (And for just an early taste from Nik Nanos see  “Liberals score higher than other parties in Power Index, but register decline” ; and for Éric Grenier himself try “Stephen Harper’s polling picture bleak, but history offers him hope.”)

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German Chancellor Angela Merkel greets Canadian prime minister Stephen Harper prior to a meeting at Chancellery in Berlin on March 27, 2014. AFP PHOTO / ODD ANDERSEN.

Meanwhile, Angela Merkel’s successful colleague (up to now?) Stephen Harper has just called November 17 federal by-elections for for Whitby-Oshawa in Ontario and Yellowhead in Alberta. According to the Ottawa Citizen : “Pair of byelections will test Tory support prior to general vote …  While both seats have been Conservative for years, public opinion polls in the provinces suggest the opposition parties will eat into the Tories’ share of the vote …’Neither of these ridings are in particular danger,’ said Eric Grenier …‘But [in earlier by-elections] the same thing could have been said about Brandon-Souris and Fort McMurray-Athabasca, where the Liberals almost pulled off some major upsets.’”

Riding resident Barb Taylor, centre, had her picture taken with Justin Trudeau, leader of the Liberal Party of Canada, and Whitby-Oshawa Liberal candidate Celina Caesar Chavannes, August 12, 2014.

Of special interest for those of us who live nearby, Whitby-Oshawa in Ontario is the old riding of the late federal finance minister, Jim Flaherty. The Liberals had acclaimed their candidate to succeed Mr. Flaherty, the local businesswoman and mother of three, Celina Caesar-Chavannes (or just Celina Chavannes), by the middle of this past summer. And the young Mr. Trudeau and Mrs. Chavannes have been working the riding for a while now.

Who knows just what may happen on November 17? But a Liberal victory then and there in Whitby-Oshawa could nicely take the edge off “Justin Trudeau’s terrible week” now just behind us. And that may still be possible.

How many Whitby-Oshawa by-election voters, eg, have really been paying attention to the debate over Canada’s struggle against ISIS, ISIL, or just IS?  And just how golden is Trudeau Junior charisma – especially in such places as Atlantic Canada, Quebec, and Ontario, where Éric Grenier’s exercises still show the Justin Trudeau Liberals pretty comfortably ahead? (The Harper Conservatives still lead on the Prairies, and of course especially in Alberta.)

Éric Grenier, accompagné d'une fille du Garage, lors de la promotion du docu-réalité Le bum, les belles et la brute. Photo courtoisie. (Alas, this is NOT the Éric Grenier who tries to make sense of federal and provincial political polls in Canada. But the professional poker playing Éric Grenier from Quebec pictured here may be a new NDP voter!)

Alternatively, will most of any new softness in Trudeau Liberal support benefit the Mulcair New Democrats rather than the Harper Conservatives? On the grounds, eg, that Mr Mulcair has not been quite as inept as Justin Trudeau in responding to rather cleverly concocted Harper government ISIS/ISIL/IS proposals that both opposition parties might have been better off just quietly supporting, or letting slip through the House without great debate? Moreover, according to the most recent Grenier exercise noted above, the federal New Democrats are actually ahead in BC (30.1%) , albeit closely trailed by both Liberals (29.4%) and Conservatives (29.3%)!

Still more to the point, perhaps, the most that even Grenier’s “continued sizable lead for Justin Trudeau’s Liberals” suggests right now is a Liberal minority government in Ottawa. And this can’t help but raise at least suitably vague thoughts about Liberal-NDP co-operation, after the 2015 vote.

(Oh and btw, it still is not quite clear just when the 2015 federal election in Canada will take place. If PM Stephen Harper follows his own fixed-date election legislation, it will be on October 19 – almost exactly a year away at this point in October 2014! But Mr. Harper could still legally call an election for a time more advantageous to his party before October 19, 2015. And there are still some, even on his own side of the ideological divide, who think he just may do this!)

Finally, William Wilfred Campbell was in his day an incorrigible and appalling British imperialist in Canada – a posture that no longer makes even the limited sense it may have made when there actually was a British empire abroad in the global village. But it may still be quite appropriate to conclude here right now by quoting the last two verses of Mr. Campbell’s rather maudlin but still much beloved poem, “Indian Summer,” which concludes with : “Now by the brook the maple leans/With all his glory spread,/And all the sumachs on the hills/Have turned their green to red … Now by great marshes wrapt in mist,/Or past some river’s mouth,/Throughout the long, still autumn day/Wild birds are flying south.”

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