There's certainly value to a political system that fetishizes financially-competent management and socially-moderate policies, which the Liberals under Jean Chretien did in spades. At the very least, it makes for predictable policies. However, the other thing Chretien did was appeal to the general Canadian population, with a side of mockery for Stockwell Day. Paul Martin seemed to appeal to nobody outside of the Liberal Party, and fewer of them as time went on.
The point of all this is simply to say that the Liberals began to believe their own hype. Believing they were the Natural Governing Party, they treated Conservative voters as race traitors, and the NDP as thieves. The idea of voters as conscious, agency-bearing individuals never seemed to occur to them. The moment that a serious challenge was posed on both sides of the political spectrum, suddenly the talking points behind Liberal dominance became inoperative.
I bring this all up not to bash the Liberal Party - though I of course enjoy that - but to talk about Stephen Harper, who I enjoy bashing even more. Wonderdog, in comments, writes:
If we can't divorce our operations in Afghanistan from the "war on terror" rhetoric (which Harper, unfortunately, seems very fond of), we will lose.It's ironic - or something - that the war in Afghanistan, the genuine war that was a response to an attack from international terrorists, is now at risk of being lost because it's too closely associated with George W. Bush's War On Terrorism(tm). But whether I like it or not, Harper does indeed enjoy the rhetoric of the GWOT.
The problem is that, once more, the talking points have become stale. They were never terribly popular in Canada in the first place, which is probably why the Liberals seemed careful to not associate themselve too closely with this war. On the one hand, this leaves them open to accusations of not supporting the troops, yadda yadda yadda. Nevertheless, it also leaves them the opportunity to oppose the mission that they initiated - something the Democrats were unable to do in Vietnam, for example.
(As an aside, this will be immensely unfair if the Liberals manage it. This mission changed under Martin, Hillier was named as Chief of Defense Staff under Martin, and this war in Afghanistan really is a Liberal War as much as a Tory one. All the same, Harper has tried damn hard to make it His War in a way Martin and Chretien never did. So you reap what you sow, I guess.)
The polls are all over the place*, but it's pretty clear that Afghanistan is a hard sell, and unlikely to get less so before the next election. Harper can't change this dynamic by accusing 50-60% of Canadians of hating the troops, or saying that all of us want the terrorists to win. If there's a spring election, it might coincide with a new offensive by the Taliban forces, giving Harper the complication of drumming up support for a mission while caskets are being flown home.
He's welcome to try and win the next election with the old talking points, but frankly I think he'll be even less successful than Martin was. As for the Liberals, if they were smart, they'd choose the leader least-burdened with Afghanistan and Iraq-associations, if only to give that leader the room to maneuver around Harper effectively.
Of course, Michael Ignatieff is leading in the leadership contest.
*The latest poll shows Canadian support for the war up to 57%, but it's been done by CanWest, our own homegrown version of Fox News. Frankly, I'm skeptical.