Thursday, September 03, 2015

Harper’s ‘New’ Conservatives Slow-Motion Implosion

When the media start musing with friends about the possibility of a collapse in the Harper Conservative Party vote on October 19, you know that the drip-drip-drip of wet deposits from chickens coming home to roost is attracting attention:

Talking to a Liberal friend Wednesday evening, we mused on whether the progressive vote would eventually coalesce around one or other of the opposition parties.

“There is another scenario,” he said. “The complete collapse of the Conservative vote.”

I said I thought this was unlikely, given the party’s apparently rock-solid voting base.

But each passing day brings more bad news for the Conservatives. Every media availability has Stephen Harper on the defensive.


The impact on public opinion of the Mike Duffy trial is only now showing up in polls. No sooner had it taken a break than the country fell into recession.


And with the tragic picture of the drowned Syrian-Kurdish child, Alan Kurdi, the Conservatives are once again on the back foot.
Erosion of the 'hard' Conservative vote:

The handy CBC Polltracker shows the erosion of the Conservatives as on August 28:

Recent polls suggest that the Conservatives may be in the midst of a slide in public support. The party is averaging 28.3 per cent in the CBC Poll Tracker, marking one of their lowest ebbs in the polls since last year. They now stand just 1.4 points above the Liberals, who are pegged at 26.9 per cent support. The New Democrats lead with 35.5 per cent support, a surge largely driven by strong poll numbers in Quebec.

Harper’s ‘new’ Conservatives seem to have lost their edge on the best-to-handle-the-economy ballot box issue, as the Polltracker points out (my underlining):

In the two most recent elections, in 2008 and 2011, economic uncertainty played well for Stephen Harper's Conservatives

But while the issue is still a strong one for Harper, it may not be the powerful advantage it once was. That the economy remains the top issue for Canadians is clear. A recent poll by Ipsos Reid for Global News showed that 76 per cent of Canadians consider it "absolutely crucial" in determining how they will vote that parties "have a clear plan and be committed" to managing the economy in tough economic times.
Three-quarters of Canadians said the same thing about creating jobs. Both Ipsos and Léger, in a poll for Le Devoir and Le Journal de Montréal, found the economy and jobs rank as two of the top three issues on Canadians' minds today.
According to Abacus Data, Canadians' views on the state of the economy have darkened. Only 43 per cent say they evaluate the economy as either very good or good, a steady decline from the 67 per cent who said the same thing just under two years ago.

Harper’s choice of ballot box issues boomerangs:

Harper and his brain trust decided to run the 2015 election on three main planks:

·       Harper is the best man to manage the economy in tough times;
·       Harper is the best man when our security is threatened in a troubled world; and
·       attack ads can diminish the political attractiveness of both Trudeau and Mulcair, if run often enough.

But: Not all that matters is the man, the man must also have a plan:

Trends matter in political perception.


The above poll showed that voters throught that having a plan, and being committed, to managing the economy in bad times,  and having a plan, and being committed, to creating jobs, ranked in their mind as Issues #1 and #2 in this coming election.

Note that the voters not only wanted the politicians to have a plan, but also to be committed to taking action on that plan. So both things matter to voters: the Plan, and the Implementation.  Action, not just words.

Now compare Issues #1 and #2 to the dramatic drop in those who think these two things are being well managed as compared to a year ago (down a whopping 36% from the 67% a year ago); this points to a loss of faith in the Harper Conservatives by hundreds of thousands of voters in the past 12 months.

Both Trudeau and Mulcair have weathered the Conservative onslaught of attack ads, and probably will continue to do so. This is partly because the ads seem to have been set in concrete some time ago, and just did not take into account the response by those attacked, and new events.

Trudeau has turned the just not ready theme against the Conservatives with three things. His counter-ads, picking up the theme just not ready and explaining that he is just not ready to do certain negative things, have pulled the teeth from those ads. And his strong performance in the first debate, when he easily held his own with both Harper and Mulcair, cut the feet out from the Tory just not ready framing.

And his economic plan not only clearly differentiated the Liberal platform from the NDP and CPC one, but more importantly clearly answered the two top questions in voters’ minds, as polls have identified them.

The Trudeau action plan clearly IS a plan, which is what voters want. And Trudeau has clearly said he WILL implement the plan.

The Harper stay the course plan (with tiny little tax giveaways to tiny little niches of voters), smacks not of a plan, but of bribery, on a wide but shallow front. It does not stack up as a serious plan.

And Mulcair’s plan seems to have been a trifle ill-conceived: no deficits. Read my lips, Mulcair in essence said, channeling Bush Senior: no more deficits. That is not a plan; it is the expression of a hope as a substitute for a concrete, step by step plan.

Take the second thing that voters rank as part of the Top Two concerns: a plan and a commitment to create jobs.

Harper has no plan for that. At least, no plan that resonates with voters.

He is so geared to viewing the voter universe as a compilation of tiny niches, that he is not able to see the wood for the trees. This myopia, caused by a decade of analysis of the innards of the whole that ignores the totality of the whole, causes him to shy away from a good, solid plan. So he is missing the boat with not having both a plan and a commitment to carrying out that plan, for Issues #1 and #2 above. And voters have noticed his reluctance to say he thinks his government can do much meaningful to actually create good jobs.

The Harper Tiny Little Action Plan for Jobs
Compare the Little Harper Action Plan to the Trudeau Giant Plan. Stack Harper’s little niche moves up against the $120 billion infrastructure plan of Trudeau, and you see the difference.

Harper’s whole time as prime minister has seemed to be that of a caretaker, pottering around wiping floors, with nary a thought of much economic growth significance. Economies take care of themselves seems to have been Harper’s personal ideology, and that leaves little room for any meaningful governmental initiatives. Like Bush Senior, Harper seems to have a problem with that Vision Thing.

While manufacturing jobs flow south to Mexico and elsewhere, and slowdowns come, including the dangerous 2008 financial meltdown, Harper by inclination and by action has done the least he can do and get away with.

Distributing little tax giveaways or funding grants to mostly Conservative ridings (to be used for mostly what have been panned as one-time investments of short duration), when coupled with the surprising Tory inclination to promise things but to renege on the delivery of the things promised (by either making the promises take place in the future rather than the present, or by slowing down the implementation of the funding), do not stack up against the giant Liberal infrastructure plan.

Much of what was spent under the Harper Action Plans was not designed to create a platform for future growth: there is a lack of real economy-boosting leverage in his plan, unlike the Trudeau Plan, with its new-industry creation leverage in its funding of green projects. Harper's plans seem short sighted by comparison with Trudeau's Plan. 

A real plan or a sound bite plan?

The Liberal infrastructure action plan is a real action plan, because it will take effect from the first day of a Trudeau-led government, with a big dollop of expenditure in the first four years, and because it calls for work to be done in Canada, by Canadians, so creating good paying jobs for tens of thousands of Canadians.

Now, that is a plan. Not just a sound bite masquerading as a plan.

And voters have paid attention, and seen this, as coming polls dealing with the economic and jobs creation plans of the three parties will show.

Loss of bench strength by Harper’s party:

Good plans and good commitments to economic stability and jobs creation requires in-depth experience.

Right now voters are paying attention to the loss of so many front benchers in the Tory party, who have decided not to run this time around, and these voters will be remarking on the loss of depth in the Harper team. Future polls that address the rats-leaving-the-sinking-Tory-ship will also confirm this anecdotal finding.

How can you claim to represent continued stable government in an uncertain economic climate when almost a quarter of your MPs are not running this time? The departure of so many sitting MPs is a bit like insiders in corporation selling their holdings of shares in the corporation.

The chaos in the Prime Minister’s Office:

Harper’s claim to be the best choice in unstable economic times seems laughable when you think of the chaos that the Duffy trial revelations have shown prevailed for almost two years in the PMO. 

And much of it, we are asked to believe by Tory talking points, unknown to Mister Manager himself. If true, it seems to be a case of Absentee Management, in spades!

So toss into the mix that voters are considering:
  • the sudden onrush of reality-TV of the Duffy senate trial, with its intensive three week stint of virtually daily drama in the courtroom, 
  • added to the sad spectacle of tired talking points used by those Conservatives allowed to speak to the media about the trial’s steady succession of bombshells and damaging emails,
  •  and it should not surprise anyone that polls have showed that around one in five of the core Conservative party supporters were being pushed away from the party by the Duffy trial revelations.

Competence in handling tough issues? Not bloody likely: more likely Keystone Cops run amok.

The sudden-collapse theory of political misfortunes:

We find the critical mass theory particularly applicable to political fortunes. Things gather steam (think Hillary Clinton and the email saga), other things seem to gravitate towards the bad news as if attracted by a black hole of some kind, and then suddenly things go haywire.

So, yes, one understands the views expressed in the first paragraph of this post. The collapse of the Harper Conservative vote over the next 6 weeks and on election day is more than feasible: it is already happening.

Ask the rats …

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