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September 15, 2015

Special Issue: Defeat Harper as we defeated Campbell

The Canadian Charger

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After leading Liberal leader Jean Chretien in the polls prior to the October 25, 1993 election, the Progressive Conservatives and newly elected leader Kim Campbell were swept from power in a Liberal landslide.

The Tories still finished with over two million votes, taking third place in the popular vote. As a result, the Tories won only two seats, compared to Reform's 52 and the Bloc's 54. It was the worst defeat in party history, and the worst defeat ever suffered by a Canadian governing party at the federal level.

Could history repeat itself in the 2015 election campaign whereby Conservative Party Prime Minister Stephen Harper loses in a landslide?

When she was running for the party leadership, Prime Minister Campbell's frank honesty was seen as an important asset and a sharp contrast from Mr. Mulroney's highly polished style.

However, this backfired when she told reporters at a Rideau Hall event that it was unlikely that the deficit or unemployment would be much reduced before the "end of the century".

A far more experienced and polished politician, Mr. Harper is unlikely to get in political hot water due to his frank honesty.

On the contrary, recent polls concerning the trial of Senator Duffy indicate that the overwhelming majority – as high as 80 per cent in some polls – don't believe Mr. Harper is telling the truth in the Duffy-Wright fiasco.

Prime Minister Campbell faced hurdles that she blamed as being insurmountable. Mr. Mulroney left office as one of the most (and according to Campbell, the most) unpopular prime ministers since opinion polling began in the 1940s.

While running on his own record of nine years as prime minister, Mr. Harper’s approval rating is dead last among federal leaders.

In a recent EKOS survey, 62 per cent of those surveyed do not approve of the job he’s been doing, almost double the percentage reporting they approve of him (32 per cent).

NDP Leader Tom Mulcair has the highest approval rating of the major party leaders; he’s sitting comfortably at 60 per cent, with only 30 per cent of respondents disapproving.

Mr. Trudeau’s numbers are split up the middle, with 47 per cent of those polled disapproving of his performance and 46 per cent approving.

Meanwhile, the prime minister's numbers are dismal and near historic lows, according to EKOS pollster Frank Graves.

Mr. Graves said that Mr. Harper’s approval rating rose months back along with Canadians’ worries about terrorism, security and culture - which included the brief controversy about new Canadians wearing the niqab at citizenship ceremonies. But Mr. Graves said that as those issues faded from voters’ radar, Mr. Harper’s approval rating faded with them.

“People are tired of his management style and regime fatigue is high. Manipulative antics like the debate hijinks aren’t helping. And his whole ‘strong steady hands’ theme is losing credibility as the economy falters and no jihadist  swarms have emerged to behead us,” said Mr. Graves.

Several dynamics contributed to the Conservative Party loss in 1993.

The loss of French Canadian nationalist support in Quebec to the Bloc hurt Prime Minister Campell's chances. The weakness of the NDP also helped boost the Liberal numbers as they consolidated the centre and left vote. The resurgence of the Reform Party during the election also hurt the Conservatives in the west.

In 2015, the political landscape has changed dramatically. Ontario (121 seats) and Quebec (78 seats), account for 199 of the 338 seats being contested in the current election. NDP support is rising in Quebec and falling in Ontario, according to recent polls.

According to a recent Nano Research weekly ballot tracking the NDP has taken a strong lead in Quebec at 37 per cent, with the Liberals at 28 per cent and the Bloc at 19 per cent. The Conservatives trail behind in the province with 12 per cent support.

McGill political science professor Antonia Maioni told CTV’s Power Play that if the New Democrats continue to dominate polls in Quebec, the party may see a result that tops its stunning performance in 2011.

All three party leaders have been spending a significant amount of time in Quebec, trying to ramp up support ahead of the Oct. 19 vote. But at this point, Dr. Maioni doubts whether those efforts are working for Conservative Leader Stephen Harper.

“Seat gains are probably a little less certain than Mr. Harper and the Conservatives would have hoped for going into this election campaign,” said Dr. Maioni. “However, Mr. Harper hasn’t given up on Quebec.”

Dr. Maioni said Mr. Harper is still banking on at least maintaining seats in the Quebec City area, where many “blue voters” reside.

And she doubts that the Liberals will gain any new seats.

“The Liberals have been on the road to nowhere in Quebec for quite a while now. Not sure that they are going to do much better than that rump of Montreal seats.”

A recent Forum Research poll suggested the NDP were possibly in line to form a majority government, but the Abacus numbers show the party falling in Ontario.

Maclean’s magazine said the NDP is losing support in the key battleground of Ontario.

At the beginning of September, Abacus has the NDP down six percentage points in Ontario, from a poll taken two weeks previously, which is cause for concern. The NDP stood at 26 per cent in Ontario - where Mr. Mulcair campaigned prominently the last week of August - trailing the Liberals at 34 per cent and the Conservatives at 33 per cent.

Although the NDP continues to enjoy a big lead in Mr. Mulcair’s home turf of Quebec, and is pretty much tied with the Tories for first in B.C., its support has softened in both those key provinces.  The combined declines though slight, along with the significant drop in support in Ontario, has resulted in the first national slippage for the NDP after seven straight months of steady climbing in the polls.

An Ipsos poll conducted on behalf of Global News found that the majority of Canadian voters prefer an NDP or Liberal government regardless of which one is taking the lead.

“What this shows, it’s more about change than it is about the specific agenda of either opposition party,” Darrell Bricker, CEO of Ipsos said. “As a result they don’t care if the NDP is in the lead, or the Liberals are in the lead as long as it’s not [Conservative leader Stephen] Harper in the lead.”

Part of the reason Mr. Harper can’t afford to lose the potential support of any Canadians still theoretically open to him is that the pool of potential Conservative voters is relatively small: just 42 per cent of voters say they would consider casting a ballot for the Conservatives, far behind the NDP’s leading 62 per cent, and well back, too, of the Liberals’ 55 per cent.

While Mr. Harper appears to be on the ropes, with little upside potential, his Conservative Party remains almost dead even with the NDP, with the Liberals slightly behind in national polls taken at the end of August.

In order to gain a majority, most political parties in Canada need to get at least 39 per cent of the vote. While a majority seems out of reach and a minority unlikely, he is also unlikely to lose in a landslide, the way rookie Prime Minister Campbell did in 1993.

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M. Elmasry

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