Saturday, October 24, 2009

On common interests

I've seen a few rhetorical questions asking where the Greens have been when it comes to the NDP's effort to get Bill C-311 and its real greenhouse gas emission targets passed in time for the Copenhagen summit. So let's leave no doubt about the matter: to their credit the Greens both called for the Libs to support the bill prior to this week's vote, and criticized them for failing to do so.

But it's worth taking a closer look at where the Greens figure to stand in relation to the other federal parties going into the next federal election campaign. And it looks to me like the vote on C-311 is just the beginning of a realignment of the Greens' messaging which may ultimately bear fruit for both them and the NDP.

In the last federal election campaign, the pact between Stephane Dion and Elizabeth May had an obvious impact on the Greens' messaging. Rather than presenting the Libs as part of the problem in Canadian politics, May explicitly endorsed Dion for Prime Minister against the Cons, while echoing the Libs' criticisms of the NDP on climate change policy and other issues. And that made plenty of strategic sense for a leader trying to get elected in a riding where the Cons and NDP had previously ranked as the top two contenders (and where the Libs weren't bothering to oppose her).

But now, May's focus is a riding where the Cons and Libs ranked well ahead of the pack in 2008, and where a Lib opponent with fairly significant environmental credentials has been less than shy about attacking May personally. And that figures to make for radically different incentives.

Now, any hope of getting May elected depends on the Greens mustering an effective attack on both of the two largest national parties - presumably by linking the two together as holding up any action on climate change. Which means that the main message which May needs to convey - not just in her riding, but nationally to set out the foundation for her argument in Saanich-Gulf Islands - will be a familiar "same old story" theme which highlights how even Libs with some seeming personal interest in the environment vote against it for partisan purposes. (Needless to say, C-311 looks to serve as one of the main examples in favour of such an argument.)

And it won't just be the Greens with an obvious inclination to work with that line of messaging. After all, the Bloc has already put together an ad campaign painting the Cons and Libs as "two parties, one outlook". Which again makes perfect strategic sense, as each time Gilles Duceppe has taken aim at only one of the Cons or Libs as his main opponent during the course of an election campaign, the other has managed to increase its Quebec support by election day.

But while the Greens and the Bloc have obvious reasons to push a "same old story" message against the Cons and Libs out of self-interest, there can't be much doubt that it's the NDP that will benefit most to the extent that theme takes hold. In fact, a campaign where both the Greens and the Bloc reinforce the NDP's argument for change would provide absolutely ideal conditions for the NDP to raise its own share of popular support just in time for voters to head to the polls. And if the Greens and Bloc perceive that the NDP is in a position to make the jump ahead of one or both of its national rivals, that may provide all the more reason for them to keep working in tandem to deliver real change.

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