Minority Report

28 May

Great historical events not only represent turning points in national and international affairs, but often stir up personal memories of time and place:

• If you’re old enough to remember the assassination of John F. Kennedy, you never will forget where you were and what you were doing when you heard the news…

• “Trudeaumania” describes a specific political campaign, but it also evokes an entire era…

• The patriation of the Constitution… The fall of the Berlin Wall… South Africa’s first free elections… The 9-11 attacks… there are many examples.

Which brings us to this political punch line:

Where were you and what were you doing during Gilles Duceppe’s campaign for the Parti Québecois leadership?

Since the campaign lasted about 24 hours, it’s possible you slept through a third of it. So… what are your personal recollections of the era?

How was lunch that day?

Did you pick up the dry-cleaning before you heard that Duceppe had dropped out of the race?

Already, the high and low points of the campaign-that-wasn’t fade from memory.

Duceppe launched his bid on a Friday afternoon and was greeted by polls Saturday morning showing he was well behind Pauline Marois as the choice of voters to lead the party. By sundown, he changed his mind about running.

Maybe you opened your cottage that weekend and missed his entire campaign.

By Monday morning, Duceppe was back in Ottawa, tail between his legs, asking for his old job back as Bloc Québecois leader.

The Bloc caucus unanimously agreed. After all, Duceppe hadn’t quit the job, so much as taken a lost weekend away from it. Also, can you name – off the top of your head – a single Bloc MP who would be an obvious successor?

“I’m very pleased to see the leader of the Bloc with us,” said one cabinet minister in the House of Commons that day. “It’s almost as if he never even left.”

Duceppe can expect more of the same kind of razzing all the way into the next federal election. It’s not a question of whether or not, but rather how much, the self-inflicted wound of an aborted campaign damaged his political career.

But if leaders of other federal parties are tempted to give Duceppe a hard time for a while, they should keep in mind the old saying about politicians who live in glass houses of commons.

Duceppe is not the only political poobah limping into the summer barbecue circuit with his status diminished.

Take Stéphane Dion. He was the surprise choice of Liberals to lead their party through the wilderness of opposition. But he actually led them lower in the polls than where they had been as a leaderless party, before recovering somewhat. His biggest break probably came when a long-predicted spring election failed to materialize – an election that might have been a disaster for the rookie leader and his party.

Similarly, the NDP – under Jack Layton – has not exactly set afire the imaginations of Canadian voters. The party is struggling both in the polls and also to distinguish itself as it gets squeezed by a growing number of parties on the left of the political spectrum.

One of those parties is Elizabeth May’s Green Party. The Greens have surged in the polls relative to where they were in the past. But they haven’t actually arrived at a point where they are likely to win any seats. And May, too, has stumbled in her political judgment. She chose to become a candidate in a Nova Scotia riding she has little chance of taking from Foreign Affairs Minister Peter MacKay, instead of picking one where the Greens are more competitive. Stéphane Dion’s decision not to run a local candidate against her may help, but May would have had a fighting chance elsewhere.

Finally, with the finish line of a possible election campaign nowhere in sight, Stephen Harper’s governing Conservatives seem to be running out of gas. As files such as the environment and the war in Afghanistan drag down the government’s popularity, it appears to have lost the sense of purpose that characterized its early months.

The result? With no federal party in any position to confidently bring down the minority parliament, election talk has cooled off completely.

If this keeps up – and that’s, of course, a big “if” – we may be looking at the longest-lasting minority government in Canadian history.

You’ll be able to tell your grandchildren where you were and what you were doing when the record was broken.

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