Canada has had a Conservative government for more than two and a half years now, and its record is, on balance, not bad. But making a choice in this election is more complex than it was in 2006, when the Liberals were a scandal-haunted shambles.
Federalists owe Liberal leader Stéphane Dion continued respect for his work on the Clarity Act and related puncturings of the sovereignist balloon. Although we have serious reservations about his Green Shift plan, he has worked with determination and dignity in this campaign even when his party seemed doomed. He has earned the late-campaign gains that polls suggest he has made.
On balance, however, we believe that considering the Conservative record and the goals, policies, and personnel of the other parties, it is the Conservatives who deserve to be re-elected on Tuesday. Amid all the unfair and misleading advertising of this campaign, one Conservative message is truer now than when the writ was dropped: Constancy and prudence with the country's finances are even more important when we're in the economic doldrums.
There is much to criticize in the record of Stephen Harper's government. But on the big issues - the economy, Canada's place in the world, and striking the right balance between Ottawa and the provinces, including Quebec - it has done well.
Obviously, however, the Conservatives have few prospects of winning ridings on or near Montreal Island. Accordingly we hope that Montrealers - and people across Quebec - will vote for the federalist candidate most likely to deprive the Bloc Québécois of members of Parliament.
Just a month ago many Canadians, and not least Quebec federalists, believed happily that this election would drive a stake through the heart of the Bloc. A new era seemed to be at hand.
The Conservatives in power were masterful in demonstrating openness to Quebec, in large ways and small. But two campaign platform planks popular in Rest-of-Canada - tougher youth criminal justice rules and cuts to some arts programs - poisoned the Quebec spring for the Conservatives. These inept moves have resulted in a Bloc resurgence. That party could even have the balance of power in Parliament at a time when the economy is at serious risk - plainly a recipe for damaging mischief.
Gilles Duceppe's wife Yolande Brunelle was quoted recently as explaining the real raison d'être of the Bloc: "Quebec, in voting for the Bloc, prevents Canada from having a majority government. The message? Here's a country that would be managed better without Quebec."
The real message of this cheerless revelation of motive is that this is a country that could be managed better without the Bloc. The actual "best interest of Quebec" would be full, able representation in the federal cabinet, and in the shadow cabinets of both opposition parties.
Jack Layton and his Quebec lieutenant Tom Mulcair have campaigned powerfully. But a number of NDP policies, from the abrupt abandonment of the Afghanistan mission to a sharp increase in corporate taxes, make little sense to us. The Greens, meanwhile, have in Elizabeth May a leader who is passionate and articulate - in English, anyway - but are clearly not ready for prime time.
Accordingly, we believe the responsible vote in many Montreal-area ridings is for whichever federalist candidate is best positioned to defeat the Bloc. In some ridings, of course, the Bloc is no threat, but in others, odd splits of the vote could lead to unforeseen results unless federalist voters are careful.
In the Montreal area, a number of incumbents, and a few challengers, have been or would be first-rate MPs and plainly deserve places in the next Parliament. They include Dion himself in Saint-Laurent-Cartierville, Conservative Michael Fortier in Vaudreuil-Soulanges; New Democrat Tom Mulcair in Outremont; and some other Liberals, notably Irwin Cotler in Mount-Royal and Marc Garneau in Westmount-Ville-Marie. And we admit to being deeply curious about how Justin Trudeau would comport himself in Parliament. We hope he is elected in Papineau.
Inevitably, every election is described by somebody as "the most important in our lifetime." In truth they're all important; this one too will set a path for the country in our troubled times. We invite every voter to think carefully and choose prudently.