Liberal Paul Martin doesn't deserve to be Prime Minister of Canada, and Canadians don't deserve radical Conservative Stephen Harper. Still, one of these two men will lead the country after this Monday's vote. Our best hope is a strong New Democratic presence, whether in a minority government or in opposition.
After a lifetime waiting to become PM, Martin finally got his chance and has alienated Canadians with remarkable speed. He foolishly made the focus of his early days punishing those in his party who had supported his predecessor. It was a strange tactic for a onetime cabinet member, and all the more shocking because as Jean Chretien wound down his rule he actually took stances popular with many Canadians, like his decision not go to war in Iraq and his support for same-sex marriage.
Martin attacked or undermined what little good his party had done and was left trying defend its massive failures.
His calls for increased spending on health care and a "new deal for cities" ring incredibly hollow considering that he and his party have had more than a decade to act on these so-called priorities. And his slippery dealings on the Island bridge fiasco serve only as a metaphor for a lack of commitment to Toronto.
Then there's the former finance minister's local caucus, the oblivious two dozen MPs from this city who have managed to wring absolutely nothing from the feds and do not deserve re-election. Martin's Liberals have arrogantly assumed that Toronto voters are a lock; they've made it their priority to soothe voters in other areas.
And Martin can't escape the stink of the sponsorship scandal or the destruction of party democracy at the riding level.
But the spectre of Stephen Harper's renamed but not retired radical right Reform/Alliance party has many Canadians justifiably terrified. Torontonians remember all too well the appalling Mike Harris Conservative years, when the disadvantaged were treated as enemies, single mothers and the working poor treated as criminals.
Harper's Conservative party is even worse than the Mike Harris/Ernie Eves party, because fundamentalist Christian elements add to its radical right mandate. He is pro-war, anti-choice, pro-gun, anti-public health care and remarkably out of step with the largely humanist positions embraced by most Canadians.
Harper's crazy promise to expand military spending to an unobtainable 2 per cent of GDP (planning to go to war, Stephen?) and his plan to drop bucks on other right-wing priorities - all the while promising massive tax cuts - mean yet another right-wing reign where alleged money managers rack up immense debt while cutting the services Canadians rely on.
Harper is having a right-place-at the-right-time moment, getting a hearing from Canadians simply because he isn't Paul Martin or the disgraced Liberals. But fear of Harper shouldn't send voters charging back to the undeserving Liberals.
That happened at least once before with terrible results. Canadians afraid of Stockwell Day's Reform lunacy abandoned the NDP in 2000 and stormed to the lesser-of-two-evils Liberals. The hubris created by their massive majority gave rise to a climate where the sponsorship scandal was just business as usual and citizens had to fight to get the attention of an over-confidant government.
Don't send an undeserving Liberal majority back to Ottawa to save us from Harper.
Jack Layton's NDP has an opportunity unlike any other the party has had in years. With the former councillor's history of fighting for cities, the environment and health care, among other key issues, he has a track record that ensures he will use increased NDP might to make things happen. These are not vote-getting schemes but fundamental principles from the principled party leader.
And it's not a time to throw votes away on the Green party. The NDP is the real eco party in Canada, the one that has a chance to make a difference, not just a protest.
If there's a minority government, Layton's NDP would actually be able to make whichever party leads deliver on health care and city issues that they all claim to support.
Great candidates like Layton himself, Olivia Chow, Peter Tabuns, Michael Shapcott and Peggy Nash, to name a few, sound like a dream team caucus for the city that would keep Toronto on the federal radar.
Don't be stampeded into hold-your-nose voting for the Liberals. Vote for positive change and hope. Vote for the NDP for a future you don't have to fear or be ashamed of.