If Conservative Party leader Stephen Harper is re-elected next week as Canadian prime minister, he will owe the biggest vote of gratitude to the New Democratic Party and its leader Jack Layton.
There has been comment enough about the lack-luster performance of Harper's most dangerous opponent, Liberal leader Stephane Dion, but the Liberals aren't losing this election because Dion lacks charisma. The Liberals are losing because the NDP has pushed tax-averse voters into Stephen Harper's lap.
The proof of this clumsy and wrong-headed maneuver can be gleaned from the rolling public opinion polls that Simon Fraser University collects and makes available here. You will see that, as of today (Thursday, October 9, 2008), Tory popularity is down slightly from where it was when the party won a minority in 2006, but that Liberal support is down even farther.
In most places in the country, you could imagine that the reason was - again - Stephane Dion's failure to use the English language in a way that voters find appealing. But if you look at the polling results in British Columbia, you'll notice how effective the New Democrats have been with their attack on the federal Liberal carbon tax.
In a cynical effort that values political opportunism over sensible policy, the NDP has been attacking a provincial “Liberal” carbon tax since early this year. (For people who are not from these parts, BC Liberals are NOT the same as federal Liberals. The BC brand is a coalition of Liberals and Conservatives, who stand together to keep the NDP from power on the Left Coast.)
When Stephane Dion's federal Liberals found the courage to propose a carbon tax this summer, the federal NDP (which IS connected to the provincial NDP) extended the craven anti-tax attack, critically undermining support for what is - according to 230 top economists - the most promising piece of climate change policy that has ever been made available to Canadian voters.
So, the NDP has successfully undermined the federal Liberals. Bravo to bare-knuckle politicking!
But did the disaffected voters switch to the NDP? No chance. People who are blindly anti-tax are not ever going to join Jack Layton's lefty army. They drifted instead to the Tories, who have enjoyed a bigger increase in support in British Columbia than in any other part of Canada.
Looking at national results, it seems likely that the New Democrats have done enough damage to provide the increasingly unpopular Tories with a free pass back to the halls of national power. The only hope is that environmentally conscious voters will act strategically in tight ridings and gang their votes for the candidate most likely to defeat the Conservative.
Perversely, in my own riding, that will leave me voting NDP, an act that I am inclined to avenge by campaigning hard against the party when it comes time for the provincial election next May. Given the alternative of a party that is determined to take NO ACTION on climate change, however, I see no alternative but to suck it up in the meantime.