Tuesday, January 10, 2006

Spring thaw

Spring has come early for Stephen Harper and the Conservatives. The political ice, which seemed to be frozen solid throughout the first half of the election campaign, has cracked and is melting. Suddenly, a slew of polls give the Tories a significant lead over the Liberals. The income-trust fuss may have been the last straw, with many more people deciding that the Liberals really do need to be sent to their room for a time-out. But more than that, Harper has done what he didn’t manage to do in the 2004 campaign: give voters some reason to believe that he has a positive programme, and is not simply the devil we don’t know.

The Prime Minister’s headline-grabbing proposal in last night’s debate, to amend the constitution to get rid of the notwithstanding clause, seemed like a desperate attempt to draw Harper into the same-sex marriage morass, where Martin could pose as the defender of human rights. Harper’s reply, to the effect that the constitution as it stands strikes a reasonable balance between the role of the courts and the rights of Parliament, hung Martin out to dry on that one. It’s time to start getting used to saying the words “Prime Minister Harper”. But before you get too comfortable, take a look at his cabinet, helpfully chosen for him by Rick Mercer.

David Turner, who was poised to knock off Liberal cabinet minister David Anderson and win Victoria for the NDP in 2004, told me his victory slipped away in the last three days of the campaign, as many potential supporters voted for Anderson to stop the Tories. This, I must note, was prime stupidity on the part of these voters, since the race was between Anderson and Turner, with the Conservative candidate a distant third; all they did by voting Liberal was defeat their first-choice candidate. In other ridings, where the real fight was between Conservative and New Democrat, it was worse, with the upshot of ignorant attempts at strategic voting being the election of Conservative candidates. Liberals will be hoping for a similar reprieve this election. They’ve just pulled out negative attack ads. Will those potential NDP supporters freak out again at the prospect of a Harper victory? Perhaps not. If they have become reconciled to the prospect of a Conservative victory, they may opt to vote for their first choice and send more New Democrats to Ottawa.

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