Tuesday, May 02, 2006

Tories Surge

I don' think there is any question the Conservative government is winning the battle of appearances. Today's budget is sure to generate more positive spin, as Harper is determined to grease the palms of voters. While political junkies debate the merits of the individual policies, the Tories carefully present the favorable headlines, that are hard to derail. Yes, the "devil is in the details", but Canadians are generally too distracted to invest in any understanding beyond the general. This news is music to Conservatives ears:
The Conservatives are rapidly gaining support in Quebec and are now more popular than the province's separatist party, according to a new poll published on Tuesday.

The CROP poll for La Presse put the Conservatives at 34 percent in Quebec, up from the 25 percent the party won during the January 23 election. The separatist Bloc Quebecois, which a few months ago was flirting with 50 percent backing, dropped to 31 percent from 42 percent on January 23...

CROP also found that 56 percent of Quebecers were satisfied with the federal government, an enormous jump from the 22 percent recorded in a CROP poll from January 11 to 16 this year.

The strategy is going according to plan. Appease Quebecers with "renewed federalism", offer taxcuts and accountability, deliver on elections promises to look sincere and competent. From a purely strategic point of view, it is hard to argue against the masterful Conservative agenda. The only real opening on the policy front was the environment file, but it now appears the government is preparing to blunt any potential criticisms. Does all this mean that Harper will win a future majority? I see only one option and it necessitates an engaged electorate.

Toronto Star columnist James Travers sums up the landscape:
Knowing Canadians were determined to toss the Liberal rascals in January, Conservatives detoured around every obstacle threatening that momentum. Since the last day of the last election was unofficially the first day of the next, the Harper minority government is still following the same safe road in the hope a majority waits at the end.

The result is feel-good agenda that demands as little of the administration as it will ultimately ask of voters.

Drawing substance mostly from myth, the five Conservative priorities won't do much to make this a better country. But that's not how this government expects itself -- or its budget -- to be measured.

Harper's priorities have a singular purpose: To convince Canadians, as Mike Harris convinced Ontarians, that a government that keeps its promises deserves a second chance.

It's a low standard but it is consistent with the self-imposed limits of the government's five defining objectives. From the complex Accountability Act to the simplistic notion that getting tough on crime does something more than disproportionately punish those already dispossessed, the government is advancing policies that wouldn't normally withstand Harper's intellectual rigo

The only hope to stop the Tory surge is a detailed discussion of motivation. Gerard Kennedy offered a glimpse of the strategy, when he referred to the Conservatives agenda as a "marketing strategy". The opposition must frame this government as a slick machine, who's only motivation for popular policies is power. Legislation is not presented from a set of values, but as a means to the majority end. It is crucial that the opposition attach cynicism to the Tory plan. Arguing details about policy is futile, in the face of this mountain of manipulation. The discussion must differentiate between good government and good politics.

Admittedly, this tactic is a longshot because it presupposes a voter who is engaged enough to follow the argument through the maze of propaganda. Harper is banking on a disinterested electorate, the opposition must make the case that this government is challenging the voters intelligence. Make it a debate about manipulation and the opposition has a chance. Make it a debate about policy and we are assured of a future majority. The Liberals must present their own vision, within the context of a values first approach, and in that way they can contrast it with Harper's hyper-politicism. Canadians may react to accusations that they are being manipulated, if the alternative looks "pure" beside the motivation of power- it's their only chance IMHO.


Anonymous said...

Sad, but true.

Anonymous said...

Good luck with that.

Anonymous said...

Quite curious that those figures came out almost at the same time as the Neocon budget ...

Anonymous said...

Steve, I also wanted to add the following comment. Harper cons may be doing well in Quebec but not necessarily because they agree with the neocon policies. Indeed, it may well be that a lot of sovereignists see in Harper a ticket to Quebec independence and are thus supporting him.

To wit this excerpt of a column penned by Professor Claude Bariteau that appeared a few months ago in Le Devoir in which he predicts the Harper neocon effect on Quebec society: Avec le Canada de Stephen Harper, il y aura refoulement de la nation politique québécoise et déferlement de valeurs contraires à ses aspirations sur plusieurs plans. Le projet de pays du Québec paraîtra alors le choix le plus raisonnable. (translated roughly: In Harper’s Canada, Quebec political society will be rendered impotent and be simultaneously bombarded with values that go against its grain on so many levels. Under those circumstances, opting for a Quebec Nation will turn out to be the more reasonable path to take.)

Steve V said...


I still maintain the Tories are vulnerable in Quebec because their social philosophy is clearly at odds with a relatively progessive society. The Liberals are a much more natural fit ideologically, but Harper is appealing to the soft nationalists with his "renewed federalism". Harper takes his cues from Alberta's desire to neuter the feds effectiveness, nothing to do with a geniune appreciation of Quebec's distinct character.

That article you cite is interesting, and does find some weight with Duceppe's willingness to work with Harper. Clearly, Duceppe has calculated that Harper's regionalism can be used to help him attain his goal. Of all the issues I have with this government, their political game with Quebec represents the most dangerous threat to the country.

Thanks for the link, it sounds logically. Harpers social conservatism, which will rise to the fore after the majority, may well cause a chasm that pushes Quebec farther away. So, in the near term we have "renewed federalism" which makes sovereignty less of a leap and then the social side shows itself, providing the final nudge.