Four days from now, Canadians will decide if they want to legitimize Paul Martin as prime minister and give the Liberal Party a fourth majority in the House of Commons. If indications are accurate, they’ll do the first, but not necessarily the second.

The public has no great passion for the Liberals. The government has been taking a pasting over the sponsorship scandal, and Martin’s decision, when he was finance minister, to balance the federal budget at the expense of health care. Moreover, no federal party has ever won four consecutive terms. As the saying goes, governments are voted out, not voted in, and it would seem that the Liberals should be on the way out.

“Seem,” though, is the operative word, because a fourth Liberal government is a virtual certainty; the only question is whether it will be a majority or a minority. The basis for this counterintuitive prediction lies in the lack of a credible alternative this time round.

The New Democrats will doubtless pick up a lot of anti-government votes and could see a record number of MPs elected, but the party still doesn’t have enough appeal outside of its core left-wing constituency to challenge for government. Nevertheless, it finally has a strong leader in Jack Layton, who is already musing about supporting a minority Liberal government.

That leaves only Stephen Harper’s “Conservative” Party as the only national alternative. I say “Conservative” because the party is nothing of the sort. Properly speaking, “conservative” connotes support for national institutions, defence of tradition, incremental change, and a preference for societal rights over individual rights.

None of these criteria applies to Harper and his puritanical posse of Christian populists, Israeli apologists and U.S.-style republicans. The party name reflects Progressive Conservative leader Peter McKay’s decision to betray his party and his principles to merge with Harper’s Canadian Alliance, which was hardly Canadian and not even an alliance.

On June 28, those who might ordinarily turn to the Conservatives now face the spectre of voting for moral reactionaries and anti-statist zealots who worship at the altar of unenlightened self-interest and would reduce Canada into a full-blown lackey of the U.S. and Israel. Therefore, enough disaffected Liberal voters might support the government as the lesser of two evils.

The other factor in the Liberals’ favour is the appalling stupidity of Harper and his posse. Because they are driven more by dogma than reason, they are prone to dangerous lapses in judgment. The subject of Canada’s refusal to join the invasion of Iraq is particularly instructive.

In the House, the posse relentlessly berated, assailed and insulted then-Prime Minister Jean Chrétien for refusing to stand “shoulder-to-shoulder” with our American “allies.” On March 30, 2003, Harper said on CTV’s Question Period: “This government’s only explanation for not standing behind our allies is that they couldn’t get the approval of the Security Council at the United Nations—a body [on] which Canada doesn't even have a seat.”

It appears Harper hasn’t read the National Defence Act, or doesn’t think it matters, or else he wouldn’t have uttered such a condescending howler. It states that some or all of Canada’s forces may be placed on active service if:

(a) by reason of an emergency, for the defence of Canada; or

(b) in consequence of any action undertaken by Canada under the United Nations Charter, the North Atlantic Treaty or any similar instrument for collective defence that may be entered into by Canada. (my emphasis)

Dubya’s pre-meditated aggression, based on willful disregard of critical intelligence, does not in any way qualify as an instrument for collective defence. Nevertheless, Harper called the attack force a “multilateral coalition of forces,” giving the false impression that it had some form of moral sanction. It did not. In fact, it violated articles 2, 33-38 and 51 of the UN Charter.

In short, Harper would have had Canada violate national and international law, and involve our soldiers in a war crime. Perhaps he should warn Canadians that he plans to contract out the country’s military policy to the Pentagon, but that wouldn’t go over well at a time when the posse is trolling for votes and needs to downplay its image as a bunch of gormless hicks.

Today, Chrétien is praised for his courage and principle, and Harper is desperately trying to rewrite history. He charges that Liberals are lying when the say that if he had been prime minister Canadians would be in Iraq this year.

Yet here is Harper speaking to Canadian Press on April 1, 2003: “We support the war effort and believe we should be supporting our troops and our allies and be there with them doing everything necessary to win.” The headline on a Globe and Mail column by Lawrence Martin said it best: “Iraq: Harper, Harper, Pants on Fire!”

On the matter of Israel, foreign affairs critic and former party leader Stockwell Day stands out as the posse’s most conspicuous embarrassment, and potentially one of Martin’s biggest assets.

Believe it or not, Day is a biblical literalist who believes the Earth is 6,000 years old and that humans and dinosaurs co-existed. Not surprisingly, his understanding of Canada’s Middle East policy is non-cognitive and obscurantist. Any attempt by Ottawa to hold Israel accountable to international law is denounced as “anti-Israel” and any show of support for the Palestinians is equated with endorsing terrorism.

Denouncing the atrocities committed in Rafah and Jenin, to say nothing of Israel’s role in the tortures in Iraqi prisons, matter not to a man whose idea of reality comes out a self-contradictory book of myth and interpretive narrative. Day might as well say he would let Tel Aviv make Canada’s Middle East policy, but that also wouldn’t go over very well.

Come to think of it, you don’t hear these “Conservatives” say very much at all. Their campaign looks a lot like George Bush’s—keep your mouth shut and don’t give your opponent an opening. Do we really want to entrust our country to these people?

For Canadians, the most important consideration should be to keep Canada in the hands of Canadian parties. No party that would have Harper or Day as a member deserves to govern.