- The Washington Times - Tuesday, September 16, 2008

TORONTO | Canada’s Conservative Party is adopting a tactic familiar to U.S. voters in its bid to win a majority in snap parliamentary elections slated for Oct. 14 - attack ads against its Liberal Party rivals.

Prime Minister Stephen Harper´s Conservative campaign theme is stability, while Liberal leader Stephane Dion is painted as a risky bet whose plans for a polluter-punishing carbon tax would ruin the economy.

“Canadians want prudence, not risk,” Mr. Harper said recently in summing up his party’s dominant campaign theme. “They want practical actions for the many, not theoretical ideas for the very few.”

In past elections, Liberals have been more inclined to use attack ads, accusing the Conservatives of a fearful “hidden agenda.”

This time, the Conservatives have launched ads accusing Mr. Dion of hiding financial recklessness.

One features Mr. Dion on a “Scratch ‘N’ Lose” lottery ticket and warns Canadians not to “gamble” on Mr. Dion because his tax plans “will drive up the cost of everything.”

The Conservative strategy has not been without its missteps. One ad featuring a bird defecating on Mr. Dion’s head went too far by Canadian standards of civility. Mr. Harper ordered the ad pulled and apologized to Mr. Dion, National Public Radio reported.

The election comes not only against the backdrop of the U.S. presidential campaign, but also amid a weakening Canadian economy.

Analysts also say Mr. Dion´s campaign suffers from disorganization. When the election was called, his party had nominated fewer than half the candidates it needs for the 308 districts represented in Parliament’s House of Commons.

Mr. Dion is attempting to convince Canadians that tax cuts for families and new environmental initiatives to combat global warming can rescue Canada’s economy.

“Canada´s economy is the worst in the G-7,” he said, referring to the Group of Seven industrial nations, yet Mr. Harper “insults and abandons” Canadians with his “I don´t care policies,” the Liberal leader said recently.

“Conservatives do not understand the 21st-century economy. The cost of fossil fuels is only going to go up. The only long-term solution is to invest in the green economy and renewable alternatives. The Conservative shortsighted approach will only delay the inevitable,” he said.

With less than a month to go before the election, polls show Mr. Harper with a lead that reflects concerns about the economy and a desire to elect a strong, majority government, said Michael Adams, president of Environics Research, a Toronto polling firm.

Mr. Harper, prime minister since February 2006, has led the frailest of 11 minority governments in Canadian history - with the Conservatives at least 28 seats short of a majority.

Without a majority, the Conservatives have had to lobby other parties to pass their legislation.

Polls show Conservatives with a solid majority in the West and a lead in Ontario, the most populous province. They are second in Quebec and in last place in the Atlantic provinces.

Though Canada has lost 97 soldiers in Afghanistan, Conservatives and Liberals have both voted to keep Canadian troops there until 2011.

And although the Canadian economy has taken some bruising, Mr. Harper´s government has cut taxes and enjoyed a surplus. In addition, house prices have dropped less than 1 percent.

“In Canada, things on the surface seem weaker than they are underneath,” said Michael Gregory, senior economist at BMO Capital Markets in Toronto. Though some Ontario and Quebec manufacturers have been “decimated” by job losses, abundant natural resources in Alberta, Saskatchewan, British Columbia and Newfoundland offset that, he said.

Canada´s gross domestic product grew an anemic 0.7 percent in the second quarter of 2008, compared with the year-ago period. The GDP pulled down by record low exports to the U.S., while domestic spending by consumers, government and business was up by 3.9 percent, Mr. Gregory said.

Unlike the American election, which is about “newcomers” offering voters what they call different ideas, the Canadian vote is about “Who do you trust, versus who do you risk?” said John Wright, vice president of Toronto´s Ipsos-Reid polling firm.

But just as in the U.S., pollsters are divided on who is likely to come out on top.

Mr. Wright doesn´t think the Conservatives can pick up the extra seats for a majority. However, Mr. Adams of Environics predicts they will.

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