Sunday, July 02, 2006

Harper's Six Month Honeymoon

This Environics poll released on Friday, June 30 delivers generally good news for Stephen Harper with one exception. Compared to the January 23rd election, the Conservatives are up, the Liberals down. The overall standings: C - 39, L - 25, NDP - 21, BQ - 9 & Green - 4.

Translated into seats using my forecaster, it produces a Conservative minority government: C - 147, L- 67, NDP - 39, BQ -53, Ind. - 1. Much of the Liberal seat loss is in Ontario and Atlantic Canada to the Conservatives and the NDP. This might appear to be great news for the Conservatives; six months into their mandate they have a solid lead, Harper’s popularity remains intact and the Liberals, the one party that could realistically displace them, is in a leadership race where question marks hang over the leading contenders.

However, the forecaster predicts a small seat gain for the Bloc - at the expense of the Liberals in Montreal - with the Conservatives picking up just two seats in Quebec. There has been a great deal of media and other attention paid to the idea that a Conservative majority is there for the taking in Quebec (see here and here to get a sense of this notion). So far, the Conservatives have trailed the Bloc in every post-election poll in Quebec and my sense is that the Bloc are finding issues, the climate crisis for example, they can use effectively against the Conservatives in Quebec. This poll continues the frustration for Conservative ambitions in Quebec.

My impression is that the Liberals are going through a negative sort of honeymoon. Having survived in 2004 strictly by being the anti-Conservatives, they are now suffering a hangover from the 12 years in office. Like a real hangover, it will inevitably take time for the party to recover. Meanwhile, the best they seem able to do is try to blame the NDP for their defeat - an inside the Queensway effort that will be of no consequence in the long run. This post by an NDP blogger deconstructs the logic of the attacks quite brilliantly (see also the first comment in the comments section). However, the whole NDP/Liberal feud is of little interest to most Canadians I suspect.

In the end my guess is the fate of this government will rest heavily on the state of the economy, given the Conservatives ambitious spending and tax-cutting programs. It is still fairly strong right now, and was strong when they entered office but one is far better off to enter office when the economy is emerging from recession as the Liberals did at the end of 1993, than just before it heads downhill. I don’t know where the economy is headed; there are mixed signals about the future. The economy may well remain vibrant enough that the Conservatives would not be hampered by slowing growth when faced with re-election, probably some time next year, but they are perilously dependent on it.

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