Canada's plebiscite may be just around the corner but all three major parties (the Conservatives, New Democrats and Liberals ) continue to lay claim to the premiership given that the polls have been indicative of a very close race throughout the pre-election period.
All began way back on August 2 when Prime Minister Stephen Harper called the vote, thereby initiating an inordinately lengthy campaign period of 11 weeks which would be the longest for the nation since the 19th century.
The pre-electoral period of 78 days (the largest since those of 1867 and 1872) was looked upon by the Prime Minister's team as a way to "outlast" his rivals as it was common knowledge that none of the opposition parties possessed the funds of the ruling Conservatives, rendering their ability to survive such a drawn out campaign highly suspect.
However, the script did not play out as planned and the strategy may have backfired as the Canadian economy continued to weaken over the course of those three long months with commodity prices descending continuously, exports declining precipitously and the Canadian dollar collapsing versus its American counterpart, leading to an electorate coming to realize the following:
1) That the Harper government may, indeed, have guided the country through the (Lehman Brothers) financial crisis relatively unscathed but that this may have simply been a result of it luckily inheriting, from preceding Liberal administrations, the world's soundest banking system;
2) That the Conservatives had based the country's success solely on the strength of its natural resources without foreseeing a need to stimulate the economy in other ways. Thus, given the rapid decline in the oil market, the government was faced with an economy starved for growth and hard pressed to produce its much vaunted budget surpluses;
3) That the administration found itself in a long campaign right in the throes of a major Senate expense scandal, with shocking abuses by many of the Prime Minister's elite appointees coming to light daily. Mr. Harper's feeble attempts to wash his hands off the matter only served to shed light on the fact that there was involvement from those in his inner cirlce, giving fodder to the idea that the Prime Minister himself had something to hide.
Thomas Mulcair, revelling in his role as leader of the official opposition and performing admirably in Parliament during the run-up to the election, started out as the favorite, buoyed by the New Democratic Party's historical victory in "conservative" Alberta's provincial vote last spring. His charismatic presence at the outset of the campaign gave a boost to his heady hopes that he could emerge victorious but two key issues would lead to his party's quick demise, especially in its fiefdom of Quebec where the NDP held an overwhelming number of the seats in the outgoing Parliament:
1) the fact that many of the party's sitting members are very young and have no experience in government, causing reluctance among the voters to hand them the reigns of power;
2) Mulcair's unwavering support of the right of Muslim women to wear the "niqab," or full veil, during official ceremonies, sparked outrage among Quebecers, not simply on the basis of religion the vast majority of the population is Roman Catholic, but mainly due to reasons of sexual inequality, with Quebecers viewing the feminine submission in this Muslim tradition very suspiciously.
Justin Trudeau, on the other hand, seemed to have launched his bid from a position of weakness, with many in the electorate adopting a negative opinion of him as a result of:
1) his tender age (Conservative ads targeting his youth have become legendary);
2) his "nepotic" or "privileged" origin given he is the eldest son of late Canadian Prime Minister Pierre-Elliot Trudeau;
3) his stubborn refusal to accept any pro-life candidate among the Liberal fold, irrespective of their stature.
4) his "inclusive" policies that are often negatively depicted as being openly "Muslim-friendly."
Regardless, Trudeau has proven very feisty and resourceful, even managing strong gains throughout the campaign in Quebec where he had been all but written off. He has demonstrated an admirable ability to allay fears of his inexperience by appearing at rallies alongside revered Liberals such as former leaders Jean Chrétien and Paul Martin, as well as championing an economic program heavy on infrastructure investment to jump start the economy and denouncing the need for a balanced budget at any cost.
Whatever the outcome on October 19th, the coming election will bring about a conclusion to an exhausting but exciting political thriller while, at the same time, putting an end to three long months of non-governance in this unique democracy.