Thursday, December 17, 2009

Conservatives Down Two More Points in Polls Narrowing Lead to Six Points

The Canadian Press Harris-Decima, indicates support for the Conservatives stands at 34 per cent nationally, compared to 28 per cent for the Liberals, 14 for the NDP and 13 for the Greens.

Will we see a new round of attack ads this Christmas? Parliament prorogued? Anything is possible with the Reformers.

There is also another interesting set of numbers, Tracking Harper's self-promotion on the taxpayers' dime: Harper's self-obsession with referencing government as being all about him has escalated! In the time that I've been monitoring the use of the phrase "The Harper Government" on the non-partisan domain, the count has moved from 8990 in early October to 11300 today.

Chantel Hebert sums it up nicely, indicating that Stephen Harper is his own worst enemy.

Hébert: Harper Tories are own worst enemies
By Chantal Hébert National Columnist
December 16, 2009

Only a few weeks ago, Stephen Harper was headed for a triumphant year end.

His minority government had never looked further removed from the brink in the House of Commons. As the Conservatives built a solid lead in voting intentions over the fall months, the election clouds on their horizon dissipated.

A by-election victory at the expense of the Bloc Québécois last month showed that there might just be a second life for the Prime Minister in Quebec.

Through it all, Harper's ratings soared over those of his main challenger in the polls.

Then the Afghan detainee issue and the climate-change debate came back to the fore, bringing the Conservative party's fall excursion into majority territory to an end.

There are temporary setbacks in the life of every government. Those go with the territory.

But both end-of-year controversies involve defining policies that have spelled trouble for Harper in the past.

Since the Conservatives first came to power, they have mostly been preoccupied by three major files: climate change, the Afghan deployment and, more recently, the recession.

Taken together, they make up a pattern that shows the Conservatives doing best politically when they govern with (and like) the Liberals and worst when they follow their own counsel.

Take the handling of the recession: It could be argued that it is hard to make enemies by doling out billions of public dollars. But producing an economic plan to which the Liberals could not come up with a comprehensive alternative really made a political difference this year.

Despite the recession, the economy never really emerged as a wedge issue this past year, even after the Liberals tired of supporting the government.

In the case of the Afghan deployment, no amount of Liberal support could have turned an unpopular war into an asset for the Conservatives. But it did neutralize the issue, buying Harper enough cover to avoid being penalized for it in the ballot box in the last election.

Over the past few weeks, the government has broken out of that cover, isolating itself from its official opposition ally in the Afghan endeavour, the media and the diplomatic community with a short-sighted shoot-the-messenger approach to the detainee issue. In so doing, the Conservatives only ran up a credibility deficit in the polls.

The growing gap between Canadian public opinion and the Conservatives on Afghanistan is barely a hairline crack compared with the gulf between the government and voters on climate change, an issue on which Harper's course can truly be called his very own.

It emerged early on as the Achilles heel of the Conservative government and it remains so to this day.

In Copenhagen this week, Canada is incurring one of its worst international beatings ever. The federal-provincial divisions that the government declined to address at home are also on full display, raising questions as to Harper's management of the federation.

At year's end, environment and defence ministers Jim Prentice and Peter MacKay are the walking wounded of the cabinet. As the two leading voices of the former Progressive Conservative party within the government, they are anything but disposable.

For the first time, serious ministerial damage extends deep inside the first tier of Harper's cabinet. At the same time, the bills the government ran up to deal with the recession are about to come in.

The latest Liberal thinking on election timing involves allowing more time for Conservative chickens to come home to roost. Making a virtue of the necessity of patience may yet pay off for the opposition.

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