The federal election is half over and the parties are neck and neck. The CBC Poll-Tracker, compiled by Eric Grenier, is keeping a rolling tab on the polls, the polling preferences by popular vote and by projected seats, nationally and by region. It is excellent fodder for everyone interested in what is happening in this totally unprecedented federal election campaign.
Seven weeks ago, everyone was surprised by Harper’s calling so long and unnecessarily expensive an election campaign. How had we missed this possibility in earlier discussions of the misnamed “Fair Elections Act’? How had we not appreciated the partisan advantages an unusually long election campaign would give to the Tories with the most money and the greatest vulnerability to third-party campaigning?
So, what have the extraneous six extra weeks provided to the Tories? At this point in the campaign, they are in third place in the polls and even conservative columnists in the national press are writing Harper off.
On September 10th, Andrew Coyne wrote in the National Post that “This is the great achievement of the Harper government. Not only has it made itself unelectable, but it has made even conservatives indifferent to its fate. It did not invest its political capital in difficult but necessary changes to national policy. It frittered it away on pointless vendettas, sideshows and gewgaws, all the while congratulating itself on its cleverness. Yet for all its aimless vote-chasing, it has managed to make itself more unpopular than if it had actually done anything worthwhile…. It is a remarkable feat, is it not—to have discredited conservatism without actually practising it.”
And the same day Margaret Wente in the Globe and Mail, under the headline “Why Stephen Harper is toast,” wrote how “Stephen Harper has hit the ditch…. (The refugee crisis has shown that) Harper is not a man who alters course. What you see is what you get, as he told CBC’s Peter Mansbridge the other night. And that’s the problem. We’ve seen Mr. Harper, and we get him. He’s the man without a heart. When he’s gone, not even the most diehard Conservatives will miss him very much. And gone he will be. A majority government is beyond his reach. He will resign, or the opposition parties will bring him down, and he’ll go quietly. The question now is what, and who, comes after.”
The polls and the pundits scare me. It is too easy to write off Stephen Harper at what is effectively the beginning of a normal federal election campaign. To conclude that he is a goner at this stage is to underestimate the onslaught of Tory electoral advertising that is to come. Or the cumulative effect of “slice and dice” domestic and foreign policies designed to win over particular blocks of voters. Or the impact of the “Justin is not ready” ads. The Tories are masters at subliminal advertising. That everyone refers to Trudeau as “Justin” or says “they don’t like Justin,” for whatever reason, shows the extent to which we have all been sucked in by the Tory diminutive. If our priority is getting rid of Stephen Harper, we must not lose sight of the ball.
I am mindful of a very perceptive analysis by Will McMartin that appeared in the Tyee.ca on August 17th. McMartin is a long-time political consultant associated with the Social Credit and Conservative Parties in British Columbia. His article reminds us that, in our federal election, we elect individual local MPs in 338 ridings across the country. He notes that “Harper’s Conservatives may trail in national polls, but compared to other parties they are rich in “safe” seats. Those are the redrawn electoral districts where they dominated the vote in 2011 (see sidebar) and, in many cases, previous elections as well.” On his analysis, there are 123 seats won by Harper’s Conservatives in 2011 with more than 50% of the popular vote. He concludes that “Conservatives will almost certainly keep them, barring a historic election tsunami rewriting Canada’s political map.”
He also notes that the all-pervasive attack ads on Trudeau are readily explained by the fact that the ridings which are least “safe” for the Tories are ridings where the Liberals have the greatest strength. These are ridings where the Tories won by the smallest margins in 2011, and in which votes for the NDP will divide the opposition and allow the Tories to win on the splits. We can be sure that the “Wizard of Oz” whom Harper has imported from Australia to help pull this election out of the fire will be concentrating on these types of details.
McMartin concludes that both the Liberals and the NDP must do well for the Stephen Harper government to be defeated. If defeating Stephen Harper is the primary goal, voters must be aware of which of the opposition parties is in the best place to defeat him in each individual riding and vote accordingly. More on this theme in another post.