Harper's government not bullet-proof

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The Conservative strategy for dealing with the opposition is the old one of divide to conquer.

Those expecting the Stephen Harper Conservatives to commit electoral suicide should think again. His government is polling well, his tag line “he keeps his promises” is a good one, and the issues that create problems for his government are tucked away from view.

Harper got lucky in Washington. When George W. called him Steve, it provided the distance from the White House any Prime Minister needs, especially one moving ahead daily with a continentalist agenda.

With the House of Commons adjourned until September, the parties are preparing the ground for the next election, expected in the spring of 2007. All eyes are on the steps to come.

The Conservatives have changed the party financing rules introduced by the Liberals. Party contributions are limited to $1,000 instead of $5,000. Thanks to its Reform Party roots, and the political tax credit (an NDP idea taken up by Parliament) the Conservatives have a larger party base than its adversaries. The new $1,000 limit hurts the Liberals who have relied more on wealthy donors.

Le Devoir reports the Conservatives are out recruiting members in Quebec. The party already has doubled its membership, from about 10, 000 to over 20,000. The goal is to add 500 members to each riding association. A party official explained that it was difficult to sell a commercial product without advertising, and a Conservative government was the advertising needed to build the party in Quebec. Organizers are looking at adding another 15 seats, on both shores of the Saint Lawrence, east of Quebec City, and in the Gaspé peninsula, bringing their total to 25 Conservative MPs, with some saying 30 seats is not out of reach.

The Conservatives are not bullet proof. The policy issues captured by one word — Kyoto, Afghanistan and softwood — are potentially very damaging to Conservative electoral prospects. The party has alienated a key urban constituency with its promise to hold a vote on gay marriage. Pretending a family allowance cheque is the equivalent of a child-care program, promotes an even wider gender gap in party support.

By refusing to honor a federal-provincial agreement signed in Kelowna, the Conservatives have thrown out a promise to Canada's Native People's. This undermines their credibility as promise keepers.

Instead of feasting on Liberal scandals, now the Conservatives have their own party financing scandal underway.

The Conservative strategy for dealing with the opposition is the old one of divide to conquer. The unneeded House of Commons vote to extend the mandate to fight in Afghanistan set the tone by dividing the Liberal leadership candidates. The gay marriage vote will out the social conservatives in the Liberal caucus. The Harper strategists will continue to exploit urban/rural divisions.

The next step for the Conservatives is to test run the platform for the coming election. Last time, the Conservatives called on voters to Stand up for Canada, and got away with it, though they intended to do the opposite. But they also put forward some policy planks on the GST, children, accountability, etc, which allowed them to set the agenda for the campaign.As government they control how to present their ideas to the public.

The question for the NDP is what to do to get more Canadians thinking about voting for them. Exposing the Conservative agenda is one avenue; talking about what matters to Canadians is another.

The way to counter the Conservatives is with ideas and inspiration. Promises to keep, you bet. The promise of Canada: what is it? The election run-up is a good time to debate the future.Building the NDP platform is one task of the September party convention. What Jack Layton and his party take to the public could well determine whether or not the Conservatives win a majority.

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