Thursday, April 28, 2011

#elxn41 Primer: Conservative Party

Five Hundred Twenty-Five Thousand Six Hundred Minutes...

Give or take, depending on orbital wobble, that's how many minutes are in one calendar year.  Criticisms about the amount of time Parliament sits (or doesn't) in a given year notwithstanding, it is worth mentioning that the Stephen Harper Government (TM) has been the longest-lived minority government in Canadian history.

Of course, our man Stephen isn't satisfied with being a trivia answer...  he wants to wield REAL power... he wants his majority. And it almost worked out that way... in fact, it still might.

Today's Special: Tory-ander Chickpea Salad

Stephen had it all planned out...  the Liberals under Ignatieff were stagnant in the polls. The Greens were a non-factor to voters who couldn't spell the word "patchouli". The Bloc was facing a backlash against separatist sentiment in Quebec. And the NDP was the NDP. It was the perfect storm... a passed budget would give Harper a mandate from Parliament to push his agenda forward for the year. A budget failure would trigger an election, and almost certainly an increase in seats for his Tories - maybe even into majority territory. Everything was going according to plan...

And then Jack happened.

This isn't to say that the surging NDP are going to form government - although, it's not outside the realm of possibilities. For that matter, the Tories could still capture a majority or minority government, as result of some of the idiosyncrasies of our first-past-the-post system. National polling numbers, while interesting, don't mean much to the people in Goose Bay or Wasa or Acme.

Where the Harper Tories made their first mistake was in assuming that because Ignatieff was stuck in the mud, they were in the clear. Their first major announcement - that tax relief was coming to families within the next 5 years - was akin to Wimpy's old line "I'll gladly pay you Tuesday for a hamburger today". I effect, the Tories promised tax relief in 5 years in exchange for your vote on May 2nd - and probably at least one more time after that, as well.

They've stayed quiet on a lot of fronts, hoping for opposition stumbles. While this is usually sound strategy, especially when your opponents are as likely to stumble as the divided Liberal camp and the NDP, it results in next to no momentum - a decision which is coming home to roost in the final days of the campaign.

The Tories are rightly pointing out that Canada is the envy of the first world when it comes to our position emerging from the global economic downturn - our public finances are relatively strong, although a strong dollar relative to the U.S. greenback is hurting Canadian exports. Unemployment is much lower than many of our neighbours, and the stimulus spending that the Tories championed seems - on the surface, at least - to be having the desired results.

Likewise, opposition attacks against the Tories have been far too "inside" to resonate with average Canadian voters - arguments about contempt of Parliament or fighter jets or spending on prisons is fine when you're sitting around a poker table with your fellow policy wonks, but Henry and Martha don't generally care which politicians have been found in contempt of Parliament - truth be told, it's a pretty accurate description of how many Canadians feel about the institution, when they pay attention to the goings-on in Ottawa.

But despite the general satisfaction with the job the Tories have done, they haven't captured the imagination of the populace. "Things are pretty good - let's not change anything" is hardly the stirring motto that the Tory War Room was hoping for. And while the Liberals were the only opposition the Tories were facing, the reality is that the Conservatives were campaigning LESS badly than the Grits, so a majority was inching closer to closer to fruition.

Now, with the NDP making significant gains in British Columbia and Quebec - both provinces where the Tories were hoping to wrest seats from the Liberals - the results are somewhat less sure. Conservatives in ridings they consider "safe" are tending to avoid all-candidates' forums, to the chagrin of local voters.

A result of the conscious choice to run the Tory campaign under the radar? Surely.

A bad gamble? Not necessarily.

The voters will decide on May 2nd.

But if the unthinkable happens, and Jack Layton is measuring the Prime Minister's Office for drapes on May 3rd, expect a very significant number of Albertan Tories to take a good, long look about what steps they can take to protect their home province's energy reserves from the new federal government.

Bloc Albertois, anyone?

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