Looking beyond just the horse race, here is Stephen Harper's bigger-picture game-plan / agenda:
1) Take majority control of the Senate.
2) Take majority control of the appointments to the Supreme Court of Canada.
3) Take majority control of the funding of political parties, riding associations, and candidates.
All of the above will be the case if Harper obtains a majority in this election:
Conservative majority control of the Senate is already checked off on Harper's checklist, thanks to Mr. Ignatieff's short-sighted refusal to form a coalition, formal or informal, with the NDP in January 2009, (opting, instead, for a 2-year-plus de-facto coalition with Harper.) That allowed Harper to go on a Senate appointment spree over those next 2 years, and by December 2010 a long-term Conservative majority in the Senate was locked in.
As observed by Mr. Layton in December 2010:
"He's gradually peeling away the veils so that we can see that he really will go to any length to have his will imposed upon Canadians."
"He has already frustrated the will of the elected House of Commons. Now he has locked in a solid majority to be able to guarantee he will be able to do that. Even after he is long gone, he will have a majority in the Senate because he has appointed some quite young senators who will be there, in some cases, decades."
As covered by The Current two days ago:
"The clock is ticking for four Supreme Court Judges nearing the mandatory age of retirement. Their eventual replacements may be the biggest election issue you've never heard of."
Over the next four years, "by 2015, four of the nine justices will have to step down because of the mandatory retirement age of 75."
Two of the nine current justices are already appointed by Stephen Harper. If he obtains a majority, by 2015 he will have appointed at least 5 of the 9 justices (- and quite possibly more in the event of other retirements before the age of 75.)
Harper's most recent Supreme Court appointment will remain on the bench until the year 2027. His next appointments could also very well remain in the Supreme Court for 15-20-25 years.
With a majority of the Supreme Court justices appointed by Stephen Harper, for as long as the next two decades or more, what does this mean for Canada's healthcare system and the relentless attempts to privatize it even further? What does this mean for the abortion debate? What does it mean for gun control?
Stephen Harper has pledged as part of his election platform to unilaterally eliminate the per-vote subsidy if he obtains a majority. So if he gets that majority, he will do this, and be able to claim that he was given the mandate by the voters to do so.
The other political parties will be financially crippled by this, while the Conservatives' financial advantage over them would become even more insurmountable. Yet, strangely, this has barely been mentioned in the campaign.
As such, this too is "the biggest election issue you've never heard of".
With the per-vote subsidy eliminated, the Conservatives would control 55% of all the funding - private and public - that are received by Canada's federal political parties, riding associations, and candidates.
Even if all of the other parties, Bloc included, merged or pooled together, their combined funding would still be significantly less than that of the Conservatives.
With the majority of the funding, and the demonstrated ability and willingness to use the funds (and government funds) to deploy promotional and attack ads on Canadians outside of election periods, the Conservatives could be in power for a long time.
Does the advent of Sun TV (aka "Fox News North"), driven by former Harper spokesman Kory Teneycke, fit into this set of long-term moves to reshape Canada's political landscape, and thoroughly control the Canadian political agenda?
In addition to his long-plotted move to cripple the other parties at the knees by cutting off their funding, Harper has also demonstrated the recurring pattern of seeking to incapacitate any groups that do not conform to his ideologies, or that hold him to account, by starving them of funds - a page out of the Bush-administration playbook. This was seen most recently with the NGO development agency KAIROS, with maternal and child-care programs in Africa, and with starving the office of the Parliamentary Budget Officer of funds.
And once all opposition is incapacitated and all this control is in place for Mr. Harper, what is next?
Put all of this together, and it is as Mr. Layton observed: "He's gradually peeling away the veils so that we can see that he really will go to any length to have his will imposed upon Canadians."
Put all of this together - a majority in Parliament, a decades-long majority in Senate, a decades-long majority of appointments in the Supreme Court, and an engineered funding advantage - and this is "the biggest election issue you've never heard of".