In the continuing strangeness in my life in Fort Smith I had the opportunity to meet Prime Minister Stephen Harper on Friday. As part of the Prime Minister’s annual “Northern Tour” he visited Fort Smith to make a funding announcement to support an agricultural program. Farming used to be more widespread in the Northwest Territories. I’m sure at one point every household had their own garden, much like they did in Newfoundland. However, I assume, the advent of more efficient transportation and cooling made groceries more accessible.
However, I am not particularly interested in speaking to the government’s announcement on northern agriculture. I cannot speak to anything I did in my capacity at work, the agreement, signed by my employer and I, forbids that, so I must curtail my comments about Mr. Harper’s visit.
In the evening I attended an event put on by the Conservative Party’s local riding association. For the record, not so long ago I was sitting on the riding association for the NDP, and I paid no money to the Conservative Party to attend. I was invited by friends and so I attended.
At the event the Prime Minister began to lay out his 2015 election plan. He trumpeted the work his party has done in government (however dubiously) and castigated the Liberals and NDP as poorer alternatives. In a crowd of people who probably reasonably represent the undecided/neutral voters and Conservative-leaning it suddenly became all the more apparent to me that it is possible that Mr. Harper may return his party to Ottawa with a majority after the next election.
I will not lay out the Prime Minister’s case for him because we will get enough of that in the weeks and months ahead. It is an argument built upon a few key pillars, but these pillars, I believe, will resonate with a significant number of Canadians.
The obvious first plank is the economy. Plenty of economists will say that the Government of Canada and the Conservatives oversell the health of the economy. More importantly than the truth of the matter and whether or not the benefits of the slow growth is reaching everyone, the Conservatives can sell easy to understand policies and a positive message; lower taxes, a balanced budget while providing new programs and funding. While the opposition tells a tale of doom and gloom the Conservatives get to champion the strongest middle class in the world. Justin Ling, a journalist at Loonie Politics, recently commented on this divide. Life for middle-class Canadians is fairly good, so criticism by the opposition could ring hollow.
The second pillar sort of fits under the title “Commonsense”. This one word accomplishes a lot. First, it suggests that the alternative approaches are somehow empty-headed, poorly conceived or theoretical. Second, it moves even the more radical policies of the Conservatives into the centre. Commonsense cannot be radical, it’s where rational people come to their conclusion. During his speech Mr. Harper alluded to several ways this might be employed. The deficit – certain, “commonsense” cuts were needed to get Canadians value for their money. Crime – a “commonsense” approach that puts the victim first. The opposition is marginalized for their “fringe” opinions, and Mr. Trudeau or Mr. Mulcair’s missteps fit this narrative, i.e. the budget will balance itself.
Finally, the Conservatives will offer a stick. “We live in a dangerous world”. We’ll probably hear that phrase a lot and it will encompass both the geopolitical instability that Canadians worry about and the Conservatives blunt foreign policy addresses, along with the continued economic instability. The risk of changing governments, for switching to either an untested party (NDP) or untested leader (Justin Trudeau) will give many Canadians pause, perhaps enough pause to return the Conservatives to power.
The election is about a year away, and there’s no way to predict the outcome. Friends of mine on the left hope that Stephen Harper will be retired from public life... but I am increasingly unsure of that possibility. Between a divided opposition and the arguments I made above enough Canadians may trust the devil they know.