On the Hill – Playing It Safe

With just three and a half weeks left until the Federal election, the pollsters are having a field day. One day, the Conservatives (or Liberals or NDP) are up; the next, they’re down. (You can also find those fluctuations on the same day, depending on which polls you consult.)

But as fascinating as it may be to watch the little dots on those rolling polls track up or down, the results of the upcoming election aren’t really that hard to predict: the next Parliament will be a slim majority for Stephen Harper and the Conservatives.

The reason? Simple. In a climate where drastic upheaval is the order of the day, the average voter will be more likely than not to play it safe, and sticking with the status quo (for better or worse) means one less uncertainty to worry about.

A key factor in this decision will be the global economy. Although the relationship between markets is incredibly complex, it doesn’t take a Wall Street analyst to understand the significance of the recent financial mayhem. The first obvious signs of trouble became evident with the slow unravelling of the US credit crisis, and the situation quickly gained momentum. Two of the largest US mortgage lenders had to be saved by a multibillion dollar government bailout; industry stalwart Lehman Brothers fell into bankruptcy; Asian markets have plummeted; Northern Rock was rescued by emergency financial support from the Bank of England. The list goes on.

Into this jittery financial environment, St├ęphane Dion is trying to sell his Green Shift, basing a large part of his platform on a new tax that many people find confusing. Will it be beneficial in the long run? Probably; the way we consume resources will be forced to change whether we like it or not, and the Green Shift at least attempts a proactive approach to an unpleasant (but unavoidable) reality.

But an incomprehensible new tax is seen as one more source of apprehension on the horizon, and voters aren’t in the mood to gamble. Right now, any long-term benefits just seem too remote to encourage taking a risk at the polls.

And Dion’s recent announcement of $70 billion in infrastructure spending isn’t likely to shift the prevailing mood either. Prime Minister Harper immediately labelled the funding promise as ?not even close to being affordable.? Whether it is or it isn’t, he chose his words well. ?Affordable? is a term most people relate to on a visceral level, and as headlines declare that world markets are bleeding money, a $70 billion spending promise conjures up an unfortunate image of yet more lavish outlay, even if cities will eventually benefit.

David Herle, a political consultant and former Liberal campaign manager, looks at it one way: ?. . . as a basic truism, bad economic news is never good news for the incumbent party . . . because It’s happening on their watch.?

But an important part of the equation is whether or not voters blame that party for financial woes. In this election, with an abundance of other players to point the finger at, odds are good that, even if the Parliamentary boat has a few holes in it, voters will decide It’s safer not to rock it.