Canadians are heading to the polls in the fourth national election in seven years.
While the leaders of the various parties, as they do in every election it seems, say this vote creates a clear choice for Canadians, many voters are wondering how did we get here?
Was Parliament so dysfunctional that we needed our fourth election since 2004?
The Conservatives will tell you no and point to legislation that passed, the need for continued work on an economy not fully recovered from recession and, in their mind, a blind lunge for power by the Opposition.
The Liberals, NDP and Bloc Quebecois on the other hand, will tell you the scandals surrounding the Conservative government—from inappropriate advertising spending, prime ministerial aides being investigated for fraud, a cabinet minister and even the government itself being accused of and, in the case of the government, found to be in contempt of Parliament—are reasons to have another election.
But, will voting patterns change from the 2004, 2006 and 2008 votes that produced first a Liberal minority government and then two Conservative minorities?
And how did a country viewed by the world as having one of the most stable political systems, end up with three successive governments that could not hold on to power long enough to serve out a full term?
These are some of the questions, candidates running for office in the 308 ridings across the country may be asked as they knock on doors looking for votes over the next three weeks.
As Stephen Harper tries to secure his long-cherished majority of seats in the House of Commons, he faces the distinct possibility that little will change after all the votes are counted May 2 and the same uncertain and unstable situation will play out again in Parliament.
The Liberals’ non-confidence motion that brought down the government two weeks ago was based on the finding of a parliamentary committee that the government was in contempt of Parliament because it did not provide information Opposition MPs requested about the full cost of stealth jet fighter planes for Canada’s air force and proposed government anti-crime programs.
Despite the fact a budget was tabled and had not been voted on—the Opposition said it would not support the budget—it was the contempt finding that pushed the Opposition to pull the plug on Canada’s longest serving minority government.
For the third time in a row, the Opposition toppled the government and forced an election. It was not the first time in Canadian history that a non-confidence vote brought down a government in this country but it was the first time a government was found to be in contempt of Parliament.
The most famous non-confidence vote was likely the one that toppled the Conservative government of prime minister Joe Clark in 1979, just eight months after it took power.
In that case, it was the Tories’ budget that prompted the non-confidence motion.
While the last three Canadian governments have lasted longer than that, the acrimony displayed by MPs on what appeared to be a daily basis during the last session of Parliament heralded an early end for the Conservative government.
In 2008, Harper persuaded then Gov. Gen. Michaelle Jean to suspend Parliament rather than face a non-confidence vote in the Commons.
At the time it appeared then Liberal leader Stephane Dion was willing to form a coalition with the NDP and rely on the support of the Bloc to form a new government.
The suspension dampened that attempt and Michael Ignatieff, who replaced Stephane Dion as Liberal leader in 2008, has ruled out a coalition.
So one of the questions candidates are likely to hear on riding doorsteps is why are we having this election.
The Liberals and NDP point the finger of blame at the Conservatives, saying they brought it on themselves, in part, through the scandals that have seemed to be their undoing in recent months.
The Conservatives see it differently and claim the Opposition forced the “unnecessary” election as a grab for power. But no matter who is responsible, the fact is the fight is on in 308 ridings across the country, including here in the Central Okanagan in the ridings of Kelowna-Lake Country and Okanagan-Coquihalla.
The Tories are trying to make the economy the major issue of the campaign, while the Liberals and NDP are trying to make honesty and integrity top of mind.
In the first week of the campaign, all the parties released their platforms and started to make the usual raft of promises.
Voter turnout is expected to be low and follow a trend that has seen voter numbers fall in recent elections to less the 60 per cent turn out.