It's testimony to how bungling and cynical Liberal Prime Minister Paul Martin's brief regime has been that he's managed to make corpse-like Conservative crank Stephen Harper look good to many disgruntled Canadians.
In the last election, Canadians were frightened into "strategic voting" and elected a Martin minority, hoping the PM would reform the arrogant and corruption-tainted party. Instead, he's done little more than remind us he isn't Stephen Harper, the unreformed Reform party pol poised to foist George W. Bush-approved Christian social conservatism on Canada.
Despite this very available bogeyman, Martin's lack of vision, smell-the-wind political principles and disastrous campaigning prove he doesn't deserve re-election. Even as the country recoils from the stink of the Liberals' sponsorship scandal, Martin's finance minister, Ralph Goodale, is accused of impropriety in relation to the PM's last budget. Martin has tried to sweep these latest accusations under his soiled red carpet, and instead of asking Goodale to step aside until the probe is complete, asks voters to bite back the bile of their own discontent.
Our angry nation is desperate for change, but more Canadians would reject Harper if the media probed his dangerous every-family-fend-for-itself policy obsessions.
The Liberals don't have a monopoly on corruption or arrogance - they've just had the latest long kick at the can. When the most recent despised Tory PM, Brian Mulroney, was dumped in the biggest election defeat ever, the country was determined to rid itself of presumption, promise-breaking and corrupt rule. Sound familiar?
There is a positive alternative, a party to believe in rather than settle for - Jack Layton's NDP. In a period when the country is likely to get locked into minority governments, we need a strong NDP to defend the share-the-wealth, save-the-environment values we all care about. The NDP showed in the Martin minority that it can be as effective as Tommy Douglas was in the 60s, when he forced minority Lib rulers to enact medicare and other policies.
Had the scam of "strategic voting" not succeeded last election, we'd have had enough NDPers in the House to avoid this latest white-knuckle vote.
But this time there's no need to even consider strategic voting in Toronto, because despite Martin's incompetence, there's no local race where the Tories have a chance. The contest here is about Martin versus Layton, a government that's had 12 years to deliver and hasn't, versus a party that's done more for Toronto in 18 months than decades of old-school rulers.
Without NDP strength, Martin would have ignored Toronto just like Jean Chretien did. Ask yourself what the 22 Liberal MPs who have represented this city since 93 have actually accomplished. It was the NDP threat that forced the former finance minister to campaign from the left and that brought us the New Deal for Cities, the gas tax for transit, cash for the waterfront and a new childcare plan the Libs couldn't deliver despite their years in power.
It was the NDP that seized all those millions for affordable housing, decreases in tuition and aide for the ecosystem from a Martin desperate to shore up his minority. Unless the NDP is in their faces, the Libs consider Toronto's election of Grits just money in the bank, something to be socked away with no political debt to pay. The NDP is running on its record, and it's an impressive one. It has delivered.
The NDP has not had a stronger leader and candidates since the days of Ed Broadbent. The party should take at least three Toronto ridings - Olivia Chow in Trinity-Spadina, Layton in Toronto-Danforth, and Marilyn Churley in Beaches-East York - and has a good chance in four others: Peggy Nash in Parkdale-High Park, Paul Summerville in St. Paul's, Gord Perks in Davenport, and Paul Ferreira in York South-Weston.
Layton's party has earned our support and trust by doing what it said it would. This is the moment to help Canada's third party make a breakthrough while the party that pretends to be progressive at election time, the Liberals, is in tatters and readies to find a new leader. A strong NDP vote means Canada will move closer to breaking the Liberal-Tory stranglehold. A strong NDP will mean we begin to think of it not just as this country's conscience but as one day being its government.