This year’s federal election is turning into a three-horse race, the contenders being the outgoing Conservatives plus the Liberals and the NDP.
The challenge for two of the three is that they do not seem to have moved forward in significantly increasing their share of federal ridings in any specific province or federal territory: the NDP is the only one with a clear chance of increasing its holdings in Alberta.
Of the three, the Harper Conservatives have decided to focus their efforts on consolidating their base support while courting swing votes from the “middle class”, higher income groups, seniors, the electoral segments that are most vulnerable to fear-mongering and those segments of Quebec’s population which are uncomfortable with the presence and impact of “visible minority” immigrants.
The Liberals, on the other hand, have recognized that they can no longer coast on the previously rising tide of the Trudeau effect. They have been told in no uncertain terms that their newly emerging economic platform is going in the right direction but must be fortified with meaningful provisions for the struggling “middle class” and the lower income groups.
It has also been pointed out to them that their refusal to strike out on their own security and foreign policy agenda has left them in the undesirable situation of being seen as just another version of the Conservative Party.
In stark contrast to those two parties, the federal NDP has gone out of its way to mark out its own path on almost every issue. Instead of remembering its traditional ranking as the third federalist party, it is behaving as the number one party. If that level of assertiveness could have automatically yielded more federal ridings, Thomas Mulcair would have his prime ministerial chair delivered on a platter.
Though he knows his party is still a long way from that destination, he keeps marching forward at the same firm and consistent pace. The NDP’s main chances are in Quebec where they are still strong; in Alberta where their strength has grown significantly; and Ontario where there are modest options for a slight increase in their number of ridings.
Using that general scenario, the political pundits are trending towards either of two electoral outcomes.
Some predict a three-way split that gives the Conservatives a new minority government; others see the possibility of a three-way split that pushes the Liberals and NDP to form a majority government based on some form of two-party co-operation. There is an absolute consensus among the pundits that there will not be any pre-election coalition or co-operation between the two parties.
But there is still more than enough time for a third, different outcome to prove all those pundits wrong.
Barring the fourth option of a cataclysmic surprise of Notley / Albertan proportions (an NDP federal victory), the Liberals can outrun both the Conservatives and NDP if they decide to launch a spirited attack to take over the electoral agenda which they have so far allowed those two parties to dominate.
Here are the key agenda issues which can rule the electoral roost: the economy and employment; security and the fear factor; the recent highly restrictive changes in immigration policy; corruption and scandals; the frustrations of the “middle class”; and the desire for change.
The Conservatives are reasonably sure that security and the fear factor will be their decisive trump card. The Liberals are still proceeding cautiously. The NDP is waiting on no one.
But only we, the voters, will eventually decide.