The Prime Minister's chief spokesman went into high dudgeon when reporters asked why opposition leaders and MPs were excluded from a reception for Aga Khan at Massey Hall in Toronto last week -- an event hosted by Stephen Harper and paid for by the taxpayers of Canada.
"Those trying to cheapen the event by flinging baseless partisan accusations should be ashamed of themselves," Jason MacDonald wrote in an e-mail. "We won't dignify these partisan attacks with a response."
Come, come, Mr. MacDonald. It's your boss who has mastered the mechanics of petty partisanship and raised it to an art, at least in the eyes of the Conservative faithful. It's your government that barred opposition representatives from Foreign Minister John Baird’s mission to Ukraine. It was one of your MPs who refused to allow Liberal MP Irwin Cottler, a former justice minister, to attend an Israeli charity event during Harper's visit to that country.
It's your government that is using the cynically misnamed "Fair Elections Act" to strip Canada's chief electoral officer of the power to investigate election cheating -- because whenever he has found cheaters they have happened to be Conservatives. And it's your party that is trying to squeeze the last drop of electoral advantage by exploiting divisions among minority-group Canadians.
Perhaps instead of accusing others of "flinging baseless partisan accusations," Mr. MacDonald, you might come clean with the public. Try being candid. Why don't try saying something along the following lines:
"The Harper government is sorry if we seem sleazy, petty or vindictive. But the truth is, we are worried, very worried. Our Tory universe is not unfolding the way we want. We’re starting to get frightened.
"We thought we could bury the Senate expenses scandal in a black hole somewhere, but Thomas Mulcair and his media lickspittles wouldn't let us. We thought we could demolish Justin Trudeau with attack ads exposing him as all hair and no substance, but that didn't work either.
"Not only are the Liberals outgunning us in the polls, Canadians tell us they like this Trudeau kid better than our great leader, the Rt. Hon. Stephen Harper. Increasing numbers of you are telling pollsters that you even think the Liberals could do a better job than we do when it comes to running the economy. Can you believe that?
"We are not asking for pity, but did you see the poll that the Manning Centre in Ottawa put out the other day? That's "Manning" as in Preston, the founder of the Reform party, from which we Harperites sprang. So these Manning Centre people are our people and every year they have Carleton University's André Turcotte measure the state of conservatism in Canada.
"The numbers this year are not pretty. They are gruesome. As Prof. Turcotte put it in his presentation, they are heading in the wrong direction.
"The number of Canadians who call themselves Conservative is shrinking. In British Columbia, 33 per cent of respondents identified themselves as Conservatives in 2012; today, that number is down to 20 per cent. In Ontario, the decline in the same period is from 35 per cent to 25.
"What's worse, the people are not embracing our toolkit of enlightened policies. Prof. Turcotte found the Liberals are tied with us on the question of ability to deal with the economy; both the Liberals and NDP are ahead of us on questions of managing health care and unemployment; and even the Green party leads us on ability to deal with poverty and the environment.
"What's more, 93 per cent favour increasing (not reducing) the investigative powers of Elections Canada while 92 per cent think party leaders should be made more accountable to their caucuses. Our prime minister may not be amused by that.
"As the professor says, the numbers are heading in the wrong direction. If it continues, we could all find ourselves unemployed in October 2015. Is it any wonder we Conservatives seem frazzled these days?"
Cambridge resident Geoffrey Stevens, an author and former Ottawa columnist and managing editor of the Globe and Mail, teaches political science at Wilfrid Laurier University and the University of Guelph. His column appears every Monday in the Kitchener Regional Record and Guelph Mercury. He welcomes comments at [email protected]
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