With just a few days to go before voting time, it looks like all the certainties of the campaign have come undone.
The Tory sweep has turned into an Ontario disaster for them, with the Liberals polling eight points ahead at 34 per cent and the NDP at 24 per cent, just two points behind the Conservatives in Wednesday's Harris/Decima rolling poll release.
Leadership isn't just a sweater job after all.
Harper's numbers are heading south because he met the economic crisis with the same politics of denial that have served him so well on the climate crisis.
When it was just about the environment, burying his head in the tar sands worked just fine. Turned out to be a bad habit, though. Mouthing meaningless reassurance in the midst of a global market meltdown just doesn't sell.
Change is not a choice this time. It is a clear foregone conclusion. We are in a new time. The credit-driven American (over-)consumer has been the engine of the global economy. They are now tapped out. Turns out unbridled lending and trading on debt has its natural limits, just as natural resources do.
The old economics have come unhinged. A new, more sustainable basis for economic growth is needed, and there is a major environmental message embedded in this crisis. When huge issues go unaddressed, they will come crashing down on us.
Denial is disaster.
And from a climate standpoint, we have been stuck in denial politics during most of this campaign - mostly from Harper, but sadly also from Jack Layton.
He has run a sterling media campaign and galvanized an effective and eloquent response to Harper's many erosive policies and actions. But Layton's approach of counterposing cap and trade to Dion's carbon tax was driven by partisan political necessity rather than good environmental and economic policy.
Motivated by the need to differentiate himself, Layton has been denying the fact that no matter how it is implemented, pricing carbon will cost us all.
I live in Toronto-Danforth and proudly sport a Layton sign on my front lawn. I will be heartsick if his wonderful Toronto team doesn't include my favourite women in politics, Olivia Chow, Peggy Nash and my own former MPP, Marilyn Churley. I urge you to please vote for these incredible contributors to our federal dialogue, who have earned our support with their talent, energy, commitment and integrity.
But that doesn't mean the NDP is the best and only hope we have on all and everything. Dion has definitely outdone Layton on climate change.
Layton claims cap and trade is about making the polluters pay. But every credible expert agrees that any price on carbon will ultimately be paid for mostly by consumers. Cap and trade would be just like a tax, but, like the gas price surges we have all been experiencing, imposed in fits and starts, without warning. The two policies are actually complementary and should never have been counterposed. One is immediate and the other long-term.
Dion's carbon tax plan starts out with a relatively small added cost that increases over time. The tax increase on energy use will be steady and foreseeable, allowing for innovation, planning and incremental investment over time. This is the new foundation for a sustainable economy that we need.
Cap and trade, on the other hand, involves the creation of a complex new regulatory and market system that targets the country's largest emitters only. It takes a long time to get going (five to 10 years), its effectiveness depends on very technical aspects of implementation, and it's highly subject to manipulation. While the cost is initially incurred by large emitters, most if not all of these costs are passed on to consumers.
"The argument that a policy capable of reducing carbon emissions will only affect producers is without economic merit," reads an open letter released Tuesday to Canada's federal leaders, signed by 200 economists teaching in Canadian colleges and universities
At the same time, although I think Dion's carbon tax initiative is the best environmental policy ever put forward by a major party, that doesn't mean I think everyone should vote Liberal.
We are so fortunate in Toronto to be able to express our political will freely among the three pro-environment parties without any worry that vote-splitting will elect a Conservative. There is not one race in downtown Toronto that requires strategic voting, and if anyone says so, they aren't telling the truth.
If you live in Mississauga, check the website voteforenvironment.ca for info on strategic voting. Otherwise, you're in the clear.
I think the NDP deserves to be rewarded for its important contribution to the political dialogue in this country, and I strongly urge an NDP vote in the winnable NDP ridings of Toronto-Danforth, Trinity-Spadina, Parkdale-High Park and Beaches-East York. Outside of these, I suggest you see your vote as dropping $1.75 (the amount that every party receives for every vote it gets) into the hands of whichever individual candidate is most ready to work with those they disagree with, to make change happen. Because when we wake up on October 15, we will really need these people. It is already clear that any positive political future for the country involves leaders working across party lines
Here I offer kudos to another amazing woman politician. I truly appreciate Elizabeth May for her visionary insistence that politics can stay truthful and include mutual respect. She is onto something that has been resonating across the country.
Signs of the changing times inserted themselves into the election even before the market dive. This campaign has been a real demo run for a new emerging politics that places value on collaboration and co-operation over intense party partisanship and competition.
Over the last few weeks, I have been writing about and participating in one of the most hopeful and exciting new political developments we've seen in a while - a growing citizens' movement that goes beyond the old politics of us-and-them, seeking ways to work together to get the job done.
The message to our leaders needs to be loud and clear. A new consensus is emerging that on October 15 we expect our leaders to find common ground and work together in a way they never have before.
If they listen to us, we may all be winners this time out.