Some of the other political blogs in Canada are giving their own thoughts on the end-of-session survey the At Issue panel responded to last night on The National. Here are my thoughts:
Most Underrated Politician: Gilles Duceppe. Both Stephen Harper and Jack Layton have seen their support levels drop significantly, while Michael Ignatieff is only returning the Liberals to their pre-Dion levels. Duceppe has been the leader of the Bloc Quebecois since 1997 and has been in the House of Commons since 1990, yet he remains popular in Quebec. People outside of Quebec don't hear much about Duceppe except a rare phrase or two, usually when there is some sort of issue that involves Quebec or could result in an election. Duceppe is more than just an "oppose, oppose, oppose" sort of politician.
Most Overrated Politician: Michael Ignatieff. While he isn't a bad politician or a bad party leader, he isn't the next Trudeau, as he was touted for awhile. He's managed to return respectability to the Liberal Party, but the Tories have had a bad first-half of the year and it is hard to say whether Ignatieff has earned that 6-10 point bounce or if Harper has given it to him. Ignatieff has managed to be a pretty good Opposition leader, but he still hasn't shown why he should be seen as a good replacement for Harper as Prime Minister.
Most Shamelessly Exploited Issue: Canadians' ignorance of the parliamentary system. The Conservatives did have some justification in strongly criticising the coalition in terms of whether it would have been a good government or whether Stéphane Dion would have been a good prime minister. But the party exploited the ignorance Canadians have of their own parliamentary system, describing the coalition as anti-democratic or an over-throw of the government, when in fact it was nothing of the sort. Canadians understand their Parliament less today than they did before the coalition talks began.
Most Under-Reported Event: The War in Afghanistan. I'm going to go along with Allan Gregg here and say that this war hasn't been given as much coverage as it deserves. It rarely makes the news other than when a Canadian soldier dies. As a corollary, I'll add the Iraq War. I feel completely uninformed concerning the current situation in Iraq. Granted, I don't follow American news closely, but you would imagine that this story would be important enough for Canadian news as well.
Best Political Play: Michael Ignatieff taking Liberal leadership. Without any real difficulty, without dividing the party (at least in public), Michael Ignatieff walked into the Liberal leadership. Think of how difficult it had been to choose a leader last time and how divisive the Chretien/Martin conflict had been in the party during the 1990s and early 2000s. And this wasn't a case of a very successful Minister of Finance taking the leadership after having proven himself, like Paul Martin. Ignatieff had been an MP for only a couple of years but was handed the leadership of the most historically important political party in the country.
Worst Political Play: Conservative Slide in Quebec. The attacks on the Bloc Quebecois during the coalition days and the successful attack by the Bloc on the Conservatives for their cultural cuts during the election have effectively poisoned the Tory well in Quebec. That Harper was able to elect 10 MPs in both 2006 and 2008 demonstrated that he had built a pan-Canadian party and that he could hope for majorities in the future. However, with the Conservatives' disastrous handling of the Quebec file since the election, they have lost almost half of their support in the province and have even dipped to NDP and Green numbers in some polls. Losing anywhere from five to eight seats in Quebec hurts the party at a time when the Liberals are making great strides in Ontario. Burning that bridge was not a good idea.
Next Election: November 2009. If the polling data continues throughout the summer, the Liberals will not pass up on the opportunity at the end of September/beginning of October. It's perfect campaigning weather. The New Democrats and Bloc Quebecois will probably not be willing to support the government, but we'll have to see how they act this summer. If the two parties make political hay out of the Liberal vote with the government today, they will be forced to vote against the government in September/October. If polling numbers take a turn for the worst for both the NDP and the Bloc, we may have to wait until the Spring of 2010 and the budget for the next election.