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Why He’ll Lose

The case against a Harper win: part logic, part wishful thinking

by John F. Conway

Stephen Harper will lose on Monday, May 2, 2011. The reasons are obvious to any sane, rational person.

Six in 10 Canadians do not support the Harper government, never have, never will.

Harper is out of step with the increasingly progressive attitudes and values of a majority of Canadians on a huge range of topics. He's out of touch on fair taxation, same-sex marriage, women's right to reproductive choice, reducing the growing income gap, eliminating child poverty, implementing measures for crime prevention rather than harsh punishment, gun control… and on and on.

Furthermore, a clear majority of Canadians oppose the incredible increase in military spending, topped by the recent mad decision to spend billions on advanced fighter jets - the cost of which apparently doesn't include engines.

In fact, a majority of Canadians are ashamed of Canada's new international role as a junior imperialist power engaging in wars of aggression and occupation. They are also ashamed of their Prime Minister's smug, self-righteous promises of international aid which stop at photo ops and press conferences, with the aid never materializing on the ground. Just ask the people of Haiti.

Stephen Harper is not trusted by the citizens of this country. Every time his poll numbers push the possible majority panic button among Canadians, his numbers drop.

An overwhelming majority of Canadians fear a Harper majority government. And it has become a primal, gut fear as he has successfully engineered hanging onto the powerful Prime Minister's Office despite his minority in Parliament.

Harper is an authoritarian control freak. He runs a one-man show. Canadians know this and it makes them extremely uneasy. Yes, he tries to present a controlled, reasonable, amiable, quiet public persona, but when he is crossed he is brutal. (The Prime Minister's Office is one of the most fear-riddled, authoritarian places to work in Canada.)

Every now and then the mask slips in public and we see the real Harper.

Stephen Harper is also nasty and dishonest. Just watch the savage attack ads he has approved, note his contempt for Parliament and for this annoying democratic system that burdens him. He shrugs off and dismisses revelations of his many acts of deception of Parliament and the public - on the Afghan detainee issue and torture, on the real costs of his tough-on-crime policies and proposed massive expansion of prisons, on G8 spending. He does not have a shred of respect for democracy and its institutions, or for fairness in the give-and-take of democratic debate. His version of democracy is to destroy your opponents personally by any means necessary.

Canadians are sick and tired of the Harper regime - and "regime" is increasingly the term most appropriate to his dictatorial, regal ways.

For Harper, this is a campaign of quiet desperation. If you watch him closely you will see it lurking behind the forced smile. This is his last chance to win the majority he needs to realize his dark dream of a free reign to reconstruct Canada from top to bottom. His repeated focus on "the reckless coalition," the more savage than ever attack ads (which have been airing steadily since the last campaign), the carefully managed "iron bubble" campaign, and his boring, simplistic speeches - all these reflect his quiet, controlled desperation. Behind all the smiling promises - dependent on getting a majority and delayed for three or four years as he responsibly manages the economy - are the promises to cut and slash billions in public spending and thousands of public servants.

But he refuses, with a smile and a shrug, to say where the cuts will happen and asks us to trust him and give him the majority he needs to bring us prosperity and economic stability.

Harper is asking Canadians for a carte blanche, and, if he gets it, when the bloodletting begins he will claim he has a mandate.

Will it work? So far, no. Harper has limped along at just above or below 40 per cent since the campaign started. With very little movement, he just might have experienced that nightmare of election campaigns… peaking too early with nowhere to go but down. The Liberals are slowly closing the gap, having broken the 30 per cent barrier. The Liberals and Tories are statistically tied in Ontario, where the election will be largely decided. The NDP vote is beginning a slow melt, as many soft NDP voters in Ontario shift to the Liberals to stop Harper. This shift of the soft NDP vote to the Liberals in Ontario, and then in BC, will become a stampede in the last week of the campaign.

The latest post-debate Nanos tracking poll (April 14) gives Harper 38.9 per cent, with the Liberals trailing at 31.1 per cent. This is a comfortable lead. But Harper's national number masks the reality that the support may not translate into the seats he needs for victory. Harper's concentrated core of unassailable support is in rural Canada, particularly in the West. His bunker is Alberta. But when Harper racks up huge victories in seats he already holds in his rural bastion, this inflates his popular support in the polls but will not translate into more seats.

The debate changed nothing, it appears. No knockout blows were landed. Harper stuck to his Clintonesque line, "It's the economy, stupid," ignoring all the attacks about contempt of Parliament and anti-democratic ways. His message is that all this is merely silly bickering. He, the Prime Minister, is too busy managing the economy to worry about such trivia. Jack Layton and Gilles Duceppe got in some good shots, but Harper shrugged them off. Michael Ignatieff held his own, even looked good a few times, but was so focussed on Harper he neglected to spell out his vision for Canada in captivating terms (of course, the sad fact is, he doesn't have one).

So the grind continues as the battle is waged in the trenches, seat by seat.

In the Canada of yesteryear, when between 70 and 80 per cent of eligible voters routinely cast ballots, Harper would be toast. But this is the new Canada, with voter turnout tracking down at every election (just under 60 per cent in the last election), as millions of Canadians, especially the young, become increasingly disengaged from, and cynical about, politics. Harper's base in rural Canada and among those 50 and older will turn out in large numbers at the polls. Younger Canadians, those most likely to be anti-Harper, tend to stay at home.

Analysis suggests Harper should lose, if we had a functioning democracy. But our democracy is deeply dysfunctional and analysis becomes wish fulfillment. Let's hope 80 per cent vote. Let's hope the young turn out in droves. Let's hope that 90 per cent of women vote (Harper tends to lose among women voters). Let's hope Harper loses.

But with a low turnout, and the numbers where they are now, it will likely be another Harper minority government. The last hope is that the three opposition parties have the guts to do the right thing. If they unite to pass a motion of non-confidence in a new Harper government during the first post-election Throne Speech debate, British parliamentary convention is that the Leader of the Opposition will be invited to seek the confidence of the House of Commons.

That's the convention. It is not a law, nor is it a constitutional requirement. Will Harper's very own Governor General, David Johnston, honour that convention, or will he defy it and allow Harper to call another election in an even more desperate gamble for a majority?

Harper has contempt for Parliament and the "bickering" of democratic debate. He probably has even more contempt for parliamentary conventions. Does the incumbent Governor General share that contempt? Will he bend to Harper's will?