Rick Mercer, Hot On The Canadian Campaign Trail

Canadians will go to the polls soon, again. On May 2, they'll hold their fourth federal election in just seven years. Host Scott Simon speaks with Rick Mercer, host of the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation's The Mercer Report about the upcoming election.

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SCOTT SIMON, host:

Canadians will go to the polls soon - again. On May 2, they'll hold the fourth federal election in just seven years. Prime Minister Stephen Harper and the Conservative Party have held power with a series of minority governments since 2006. We're joined now from Ottawa by Rick Mercer, host of "The Mercer Report" on CBC TV, a show that's what you get when you cross "Nightline" with Jon Stewart and Lady Gaga. Rick, thanks so much for being with us.

Mr. RICK MERCER (Host, "The Mercer Report"): Hello. How are you?

SIMON: Fine, thanks. You've been on the campaign trail, right?

Mr. MERCER: I have indeed. I got off the Conservative plane last night and tomorrow I'm getting on the Liberal plane. You know, we have main English language parties, federalist parties, and traditionally the ones to watch would be the Conservatives, who form the government, and then the Liberals. But now a poll has just come out where the NDP are actually moving - some people are saying - moving into second place.

SIMON: The New Democratic Party is the NDP. They might be moving into second place at the expense of the Liberals?

Mr. MERCER: Well, they're picking up support in Quebec. And they're drawing support away from the Separatists. And they...

SIMON: The Bloc Quebecois.

Mr. MERCER: The Bloc Quebecois. And in English Canada, no one really knows where the support is coming from, but Conservatives would assume that it's bleeding from the Liberals. So we have a divided left in Canada.

SIMON: This tends to happen with third parties in the United States, too. They will frequently, at this point in the election, show well in the polls but when it gets to casting a vote, people sometimes shrink back because they say, in the end they're not able to win so Im throwing away my vote.

Mr. MERCER: Aha. Aha. This is very interesting because the Liberal Party of Canada, heading into an election, at the last minute they always stand up and they say: We know there's people out there that want to vote NDP and God love you. But if you vote for them you're throwing your vote away. You must vote for us now and that's the only way we can stop the right. They've always done it. It's a play that actually works.

Now in Canada, we have the Liberals and the NDP neck-and-neck. So the voter that likes to vote NDP but at the last minute they always moved to the Liberals, the question is now, why would they, because those two parties are tied. So this could, in fact, invigorate the NDP like never before.

SIMON: Issues?

Mr. MERCER: Stephen Harper, who's the prime minister of Canada, he is saying that this - we have to give him a majority government, otherwise there will be a Separatist coalition. And he says it every minute. It doesn't matter whether he's asked about. And under our system, much like you see in the U.K., of course, a party working with another party can form a coalition and govern the country.

So the issues aren't really the real issues. I mean the issues of health care, Canadians say that's a big issue. Of course, the economy is a big issue. But really, the big issue that the frontrunner is running on is fear of the Separatist coalition.

SIMON: Talk a little bit about Michael Ignatieff, if you could, please, the head of the Liberal Party...

Mr. MERCER: Michael Ignatieff...

SIMON: ...who, when he was at Harvard, he, you know, he was on our program at NPR all the time.

Mr. MERCER: Well, and of course that - how did that work out for him? The...

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. MERCER: Because the big thing they attack him on is that he was out of Canada for too long, he's an elitist, he's a snob. And their big slogan is: Michael Ignatieff, He Didn't Come Back for You. And so he's got his work cut out for him. The feeling is he did not do well in the debates. And then he did a major interview on the CBC with Peter Mansbridge, our chief political news anchor, and people feel he did not do well there. So he dropped the ball on two of the big potential game-changing nights of this campaign.

SIMON: And is there a possibility this will open the door to it just a fifth election in eight years?

Mr. MERCER: You know, if you believe the polls on day one, the polls seem to indicate that we were going to get a repeat of exactly what we got. That said, if we are in a system of perpetual minority governments, we could be looking at that. And in Canada we, you know, it costs us three or $400 million to have an election. You know, it's always been my position that we shouldn't complain about that; that's the price of admission for a living in a great democracy.

But certainly it's a lot of money and every two years there's a bit of fatigue there. But I guess if you believe the Liberals or the Conservatives, whoever they say, well, give us a majority and it will go away.

Things are pretty good in Canada. We weathered the recession fairly well. And, of course, were up here up living here, we're watching American news and we're constantly saying, wow, it's not as bad as it is in the United States. And, of course, the government of the day is saying it's because of us.

Stephen Harper gets up there. He spends probably, you know, five percent of his stump speech talking about how many gold medals that we won the Olympics, because clearly he had something to do with it.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. MERCER: You know what I mean? It's like...

SIMON: He...

Mr. MERCER: ...he takes credit for everything.

SIMON: He showed Sidney Crosby how to...

Mr. MERCER: Absolutely...

SIMON: ...fire that slap shot, didn't he? Yeah, that's what I understand.

Rick, always a pleasure.

Mr. MERCER: Thank you very much.

SIMON: CBC's Rick Mercer of the "Mercer Report," joining us from Ottawa.

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