Which leads us back to this: Be it resolved, there is now a single homogeneous Canadian political culture, expressed via the three main party shadings. How long until platforms themselves become irrelevant? Partisans will argue their own beloved expression of Canadian liberal democracy is not only best, but distinct – as the Tories, Grits and NDP were a generation or two ago, when they disagreed about country-changing issues such as North American free trade, in 1988, or membership in NATO, in 1968.
But tick through the list of assumptions at the heart of the state today – from socialized health care to capital punishment, abortion or free trade, deficits or tax rates – and you find unanimity. The Conservatives must be for gay rights, or be written off as reactionary by the majority. The New Democrats must be for industry and thrift, or be written off as loopy dreamers by that same majority.
This convergence can create a mash-up, as political parties struggle to create differentiation amid their essential drab sameness. Thus, John Baird’s defence of gay rights in Russia doesn’t go far enough, says the NDP’s Paul Dewar. He must crank it up to 11, like the guitar amplifier in Rob Reiner’s Spinal Tap. The Liberals, meantime, are beginning a two-year effort to implant the idea, by every means other than saying it, that they can be more conservative than the Conservatives when it comes to economics, and more new and democratic than the New Democrats when it comes to sex, drugs and rock ‘n’ roll. “Tough on crime” is still exclusive Conservative territory – but only because it’s one of the few old planks they haven’t ditched in the hunt for centrist votes. And, to be frank, it’s not popular enough for the other parties to bother to steal.
Taken together, this still-unfolding spectrum collapse sets up a contest of almost pure personality in 2015. Through the next 24 months, Harper will seek to recast himself as more constructive; Mulcair, happier; and Trudeau, more solid. The ad war will be personal as never before, culminating in televised debates understood by all to be winner-take-all. And the pollsters, perhaps as never before, will be flying blind. Interesting times.