In any election, there are "three Ps" that matter most — Personality, Politics, and Policy — in that order.
In the last federal election, all three Ps played a significant role. We learned very clearly on Oct. 14 that any party might present a coherent and sophisticated policy, but if it cannot market it memorably over five weeks of intense and competitive campaigning, it will not win.
Successful marketing depends on the other two Ps. Politics determines the language in which a given policy is introduced, regardless of whether it is derivative, innovative, or a mixed-bag. And then comes the most powerful P-factor of all — the Personality edge (or charisma) of the party leader, delivering his or her policy in the very public arena of democratic politics.
Like it or not, the Personality points for the latest federal election go to charismatic leaders on the left — NDP, Greens and BQ, in that order. Although the Green Party did not win any seats, leader Elizabeth May established herself as a fine politician who is smart, informed, cultured and articulate. And May has something none of the other leaders displayed – a captivating sense of humour. She has all the hallmarks of present and potential leadership stardom if she continues to invest her political capital wisely. The flagging and dispirited Liberals could certainly use an Elizabeth May at the helm!
In fact, the Liberal party showed it had most to lose with a double handicap in the areas of Personality and Politics. For all his academic and intellectual credentials, leader Stephane Dion (expected to step down as this was being written), simply could not communicate convincingly – especially when it came to explaining the complexities of the Liberal Green Shift program. Unfortunately, he did not grow into the role of party leader since his election in December 2006 and even managed to alienate a significant sector of grassroots Liberals. The inevitable result among A-B-C (Anybody-But-Conservative) voters was a shift to the left everywhere but in QuÃ©bec, shutting the Liberals out of even longtime "safe" seats.
The Bloc QuÃ©becois’ slight gain in seats reflects how strong a voice and presence they still hold for voters in Quebec. Under Gilles Duceppe’s tenacious, yet flexible leadership, the Bloc maintained a good balance of the Three Ps. In fact, many Canadians in other provinces now wish that they had as strong a voice in Ottawa as that enjoyed by QuÃ©bec.
The now-familiar outcome of October 14 shows that the Stephen Harper Conservatives gained seats as a result of split voting, despite coming up short (far short at times) on both Personality and Policy. In the Politics factor, however, they played the game of don’t-say-too-much and it got them through.
Jack Layton’s NDP gained seats, and credibility, as never before in this latest election. Looking ahead to the next general election (and it might be closer than we expect), an interesting hypothesis would be an NDP-Green collaboration, strengthened by small-g "green" Liberals, which could pack enough clout to be an effective governing coalition – or a formidable official opposition.
The Conservatives may indeed have "won" the October 14 vote, but it’s the Opposition that faces the gargantuan tasks of working saving our health care system and social programs from further Conservative cutbacks, promoting any and all initiatives toward a balanced budget, and advocating the return of our troops form Afghanistan by 2011 or sooner.
We are living amid an economic disaster that completely realigned the focus of all parties at a crucial time late in the campaign. Canada, like every other industrialized country, faces present and future increases in unemployment, lower productive growth, national deflation and a growing gap in wealth distribution that will benefit the rich and powerful while virtually eliminating the cherished concept of an economic "middle class."
Meanwhile, on November 4, we can only hope that our American neighbors will experience a great wave of collective insight and elect a Democratic president.
Barack Obama has consistently scored high on all of the Three Ps. He may not exude the charisma of a John F. Kennedy, yet; he may not radiate the elder wisdom of a Jimmy Carter, yet; and he may not have the elevated grasp of diplomacy and negotiation that distinguished Bill Clinton, yet. But Barack Obama is also a stellar work-in-progress whose timing could prove exactly right for the challenges America faces.
After eight violent and uncertain years under George W. Bush, a victorious Obama could generate enough zeal and energy to bring genuine hope to the U.S. and the world. Even if the war-mongers regroup to sabotage a second term in office, he could transform his country within four years.
And we all badly need a transformation, in the U.S., in Canada, and the world. Let’s hope and pray that American voters will do the right thing and hold an election that really means something.