Bringing you the issues since 1986

View Online Print Edition


Canadians not comfortable with idea of Harper majority

March, 2011

There are two questions fluttering around about a federal election: When will it be and will Prime Minister Stephen Harper achieve his majority?

The key date to keep your eye on is when the budget comes down toward the end of this month. Two parties – the Liberals and the Bloc – want an election. The Bloc wants one because the party figures it has Quebec sewn up and because it needs the money from taxpayer political subsidies.

It’s more difficult to understand why the Liberals want one. They are 14 points behind the Tories who, at 39, are on the cusp of majority territory. Perhaps Michael Ignatieff has concluded that he can run a strong campaign to win enough of the electorate over and take Harper to the cleaners. It’s a long shot.

As for the NDP, they can take an election or leave it. Whatever happens, it will almost certainly be Jack Layton’s last campaign. He wants some economic concessions from Harper. If he gets them, there will be no election. If he doesn’t, we’ll see.

The Harperites keep saying they don’t want an election. But as Jeffrey Simpson points out in The Globe and Mail, any government wanting an election will insist on the contrary. That’s why no one should take seriously declarations by Harper that he doesn’t want an election and that, if one should happen, it would be entirely because of the opposition.

Harper would go into a spring election not only with a strong lead in the polls, but with a strong record, especially in economic matters. Canada is doing far better than the U.S. and most other G7 countries.

Our deficit of $56 billion is about three per cent of GDP; the U.S. deficit amounts to $1.6 trillion, more than 10 per cent of American output. Canada’s unemployment rate of 7.8 per cent is far better than the nine per cent south of the border. The Canadian economy created 69,000 jobs in January, far more than the 15,000 forecast, while the U.S. economy produced 36,000 jobs, far fewer than the 150,000 predicted. Canada has recovered all the jobs lost in the recession while the U.S. has lost 7 million jobs, most of which are gone for good.

In a survey of 33 advanced countries by the International Monetary Fund, Canada ranks second only to Australia in a series of economic, health, social and education metrics, while the U.S. lags far behind in most categories. For example, Canada’s life expectancy at birth is 81.29 years compared with 78.4 years in the United States. Canada’s wellness index of 62 per cent who say they are thriving compares with 57 per cent in the U.S.

This is a splendid economic record for the Tories to take into an election campaign. But it is not only in the domestic arena that Harper has shone. He has acquitted himself very well on the international stage. When he stands beside President Barack Obama (with whom he gets on well) and makes a statement in French, or beside British Prime Minister David Cameron to answer questions in English, Harper does Canada proud.

But—and it’s a very big but, voters are reluctant to give Harper a majority government. Only 26 per cent of Canadians say they would be comfortable with the Conservatives winning a majority after the next election. About 30 per cent are decidedly uncomfortable with the prospect of a Tory majority, with the rest responding “somewhat” one way or another.

Still, the Conservatives are attempting the audacious feat of achieving a majority with only minority government polling numbers. Even if a campaign does not boost their overall popularity, they hope to pick off at least 13 vulnerable seats with most of their attention centred in suburbs around Toronto and Vancouver. We will have to wait and see if they kick in money to build a hockey arena to save their seats around Quebec City.

The Tories must contend with the block of Canadians who think if Harper manages a majority, he will zap us with a secret agenda. They believe he harbours a radical social and fiscal agenda he would unleash if given the opportunity. The right to abortion and gay marriage would be reversed; Canada Pension Plan privatized; health care turned over to corporations; the CBC stripped of its funding; safety and environmental regulations trashed. In a word, Harper would carpet-bomb the country back to the stone age.

Is it likely that Harper, having achieved his majority, would govern from the extreme right? I doubt he would make that political mistake. Unlike the U.S., Canada is a centre-left country. Our watchword is moderation. We do not like extremes. But Harper has another problem. Despite his solid economic and fiscal record, a significant share of the electorate simply doesn’t like the guy. For starters, they see him as controlling, secretive, manipulative and vindictive. His cabinet, with the exception of Finance Minister Jim Flaherty, is one of the weakest in Canadian history. The ministers virtually have to ask Harper to go to the bathroom. If this bloc of disaffected Harper voters is large enough, he will have little chance of winning a majority.

That may not be entirely bad. Lester Pearson never had a majority and he passed some of the most significant legislation in our country’s history.



Post a Comment