Canada's election: Harper lacking full support, but still likely to triumph

David vs. David
Prime Minister Stephen Harper speaks during a news conference Winnipeg April 23 2015. (Reuters)

Prime Minister Stephen Harper has an existential problem.

Upwards of 60 per cent of the Canadian electorate doesn’t support him. This lack of support ranges from glum tolerance of the consequences of the democratic process that has made him prime minister since 2006 to active distain, even hatred regarding his very existence in Canadian politics by some Canadians. It is difficult to determine why an intelligent, honest, family values-espousing, moral man generates such animus, but he does, and this attitude is a basic element of current Canadian politics.

Such circumstances put it between difficult and very difficult for Harper to win the forthcoming October election. But hardly impossible.

To emerge victorious for a fourth consecutive—minority or majority—government, Harper must rally all Tory supporters, assure they vote, hold as many of his existing ridings as possible, and maximize his opportunities in the 30 new seats added to the National Assembly.  

He has strong cards: An economy (featuring a balanced budget) that while less vibrant than earlier is still better than many international competitors, a foreign policy more attune to Canadian voters attitudes (supporting Ukraine, anti-ISIS, pro-Israel, antiterrorist) than his competitors, and other national political leaders whose predilection for striding forth onto banana peels has damaged their hopes.

[ Opposing view: Vote for local candidates, not for party leaders ]

Liberal leader Justin (Just-in-time?) Trudeau has led the Liberals for two years, following their debacle/defeat in 2011. When selected as party leader, he immediately surged to the front of voter preference ranks, dragging the third place Liberals with him into national lead. With hair to die for, a lovely wife and equally photogenic children, Trudeau was the most dynamic Canadian political figure in a generation. He provided rock-star personal appearance while promising to do politics differently which, combined, were exceptionally politically attractive.

For a considerable period, Trudeau simply floated above his mistakes and missteps (excused as “youth and inexperience”). Akin to how we ignore the personal peccadilloes of Hollywood stars, the electorate blew past essentially idiotic comments: They disregarded his suggestion that the Russian action in Ukraine/Crimea could be sourced to losing a hockey match. They looked past his expression of admiration for the Chinese communist economic system. They even forgave him sympathizing with Quebec’s desire for independence. Then, to show how he was going to “do politics differently,” he evicted all Liberal senators from caucus, interfered in riding nominations, and welcomed party switcher Eve Adams booted from Tory caucus for hissy fits above the norm. Plus he politically defenestrated two Liberal MPs, essentially on the word of two NDP female MPs that claimed sexual harassment—without anything relating to due process.

The Liberals are being hoist by their own petard. They have sought glamour in leaders rather than steady competence: Remember how both Stephane Dion and Michael Ignatieff were going to fire up the base and appeal to Francophone voters in Quebec? They might have done better with engineer/astronaut MP Marc Garneau and slow-but-steady tactics.

The NDP’s Thomas Mulcair has a different problem.

Although widely recognized for effective parliamentary performance, nobody is watching Parliament’s QP or listening to Mulcair’s speeches. He has not been in the hustings, connecting with Tim Hortons voters. Moreover, he is chained to Quebec in a death battle to retain NDP seats from prospective Trudeau/Liberal inroads. He must hold them to have any chance of gaining a federal victory (or even second place). Likewise, Trudeau must have them, too.

They are, however, secondary to Harper who has already proved he win can a majority without significant Quebec representation, so it doesn’t matter whether the NDP or Liberals hold Quebec seats (and mild resurgence of the Bloc Quebecois and even the Tories appears in the offing).

Nor does the much-bruited-about Senator Duffy trial promise smoking guns of the caliber to blow holes in the Tory boat. Senator Duffy, the once-amusing “Puffster” as a journalist, appears to have become absurdly greedy as a senator. But what’s new? Former Liberal minister David Dingwald as head of the Royal Mint proclaimed he was “entitled to my entitlements.” The historical list of greedy politicians continues as long as one’s arm.  

Consequently, after almost two years in polling purgatory, Harper has climbed to margin-of-polling-error-level lead. He is again regarded as the option most trusted to lead Canada. But the ancient political maxim that “a week in politics is a lifetime” prevails. Thus, one can construct imaginative political science “castles in the sky” ranging from another Tory majority or a Liberal majority with every type of in-between minority government construct and/or Liberal-NDP coalitions.

Exciting electoral times ahead for Canada.

David T. Jones is a retired State Department Senior Foreign Service Career Officer who has published several hundred books, articles, columns, and reviews on U.S. - Canadian bilateral issues and general foreign policy. During a career that spanned over 30 years, he concentrated on politico-military issues, serving as advisor for two Army Chiefs of Staff. He has just published Alternative North Americas: What Canada and the United States Can Learn from Each Other.