Saturday, December 31, 2005

NEW YEAR, NEW GOVERNMENT?

Is the Canadian election over? I've been going around some of these blog sites and the sense I get is that there is considerable panic in the Liberal Party about the way the election has been going.

I've been reading Bourque, usually a big Liberal supporter, and he's been trashing Paul Martin all week, talking about threats of people on the campaign team getting the axe and so on. Today he was ranting about a whole host of people- Frank McKenna, John Manley, etcetera- getting ready for a leadership race. And so on.

Warren Kinsella, a longtime Liberal, has also been harsh about the Martin campaign. He thinks the race is OVER and that the bottom has already fallen out of the Liberal campaign, that the last straw was this Ralph Goodale income trust leak RCMP investigation. And he thinks people are finally fed up with the Liberals' arrogance, even if the polls do not reflect it yet.

Conservative supporters meanwhile look at rants like these from the likes of Kinsella and get suspicious. They think that if the Conservatives peak too early that the "mainstream media" and all the Liberal friends will circle the wagons about the Tories and start to rant and rave, and that will get people in Ontario freaked out about the Tories enough to defeat them. So they think this is all part of the Liberal grand strategy for this election campaign.

But I look at it from a different perspective. Kinsella is a Chretienite from the Trudeau wing of the party, as far as I can tell, and so is Sheila Copps. I suspect Bourque leans the same way as well. I don't think any of them were very impressed when the Gomery report came out and the Martin gang decided to use it as another excuse to blame Chretien for the scandal and all the party's problems. Not exactly a good way to promote party unity.

I think these more progressive Liberals are genuinely mad at Paul Martin and the gang running the show with the Liberal Party at the moment, and want to see this gang defeated so that there can be a big housecleaning at the top of the Liberal Party. Then, maybe the likes of Sheila Copps and other good Liberals might feel welcome again in the party.

THE CONSERVATIVES: SMOOTH CAMPAIGN

This election has done one thing: it has exposed the divisions in the Liberal party. They're tearing each other to pieces in print and looking generally disunited. Nice to see the media start to report this.

Last election the media focused on Conservative divisions and all these upset people like Joe Clark, going on about the merger being an "Alliance takeover" and ranting about Stephen Harper. That led to a lot of news stories with confused reporters thinking the old PC party fell victim to an Alliance takeover and that the new party was basically all about pushing discredited Reform policies. That was the tone of the reporting and the tone of the Liberal campaign. These reporters were all trying to nail down the Conservative stance on abortion and official bilingualism all campaign and sowing confusion, because they themselves were confused about what the party stood for. I noticed, myself, confusion and apprehension from voters about what the Conservatives' policies were and what they stood for. Conservatives knew what they stood for but the general public did not. Joe Clark was spreading this nonsense about going with "the devil you know" and making life miserable for the Harper campaign.

But it's different this time with the Harper campaign and it's obvious to me why things are different. For one thing, all the malcontents are gone from the party. Joe Clark, David Orchard and Scott Brison are old news. Same with Belinda Stronach. In fact Stronach is still being raked over the coals for switching parties. She looks like just another power-mad individual who's out for herself, who bolted the party because she was mad that she lost the leadership race to Harper. She's just a sore loser and people recognize it.

These dissidents are history. Who cares about them. The truth is that the Conservative party is right now genuinely united. Nobody's interested in swinging any axes against the leader right now, in part because of the impressive campaign so far. People are genuinely interested in winning and booting the Liberals out of there.

Second, Harper's people actually have policies to promote this time. They had them last time, of course, but the party hadn't voted on it at a policy convention and so people thought there was a "hidden agenda". Not this time, folks. The Tories had their big policy convention and got people to vote on all the various positions in Montreal, including the controversial hot-button issues. Moreover, this campaign has seen the party push a policy a day on every policy under the sun. And the policies have been moderate enough to get people like Chantal Hebert to say in print that Harper was putting the "progressive" back into "conservative". There isn't any confusion about a GST cut or a child-care allowance. The policies are clear cut.

The other piece of good news is that the Conservative Party has completely put the boots to these foot-in-mouth people and other wingnuts, and read the Riot Act to all of them. These people have been all frozen out, and this is all good. It means when a wingnut speaks, they'll be dismissed as wingnuts and will be thrown out of the party, and it won't affect the central campaign.

That's the best you can hope for. Yesterday some campaign manager guy in Alberta going by the pseudonym of "Psycho" got the boot for saying he'd campaign for Western separation if the Liberals got in again. Thanks a lot for helping the Tories lose, Psycho. The Tories disowned his comments and booted him out on the street so fast that it wasn't even a story. But the Tories have to watch it because they are still one foot-in-mouth-disease person away from blowing the election.

I think the key so far is that the Tories have removed all semblance of confusion about their policies and what they stand for in this campaign. That's a major difference from last time and it has rescued them from all of their typical problems. It's the reason why things are far different this time from the last campaign. Whether it is enough to change the final result from last time remains to be seen. But it's clear to me the Liberals have been thrown for a loop. The Liberals were clearly banking on another typical lousy Conservative campaign---- and that strategy has been a flop.

We saw what happened in 2003 to the Ontario PCs when they relied on the perceived incompetence of Dalton McGuinty in order to win an election (Kinsella talked about this): it blew up in their faces. Same thing with the Liberal strategy of waiting for Harper to trip up. It's not working. But then again, the campaign is not over.

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