Andre Turcotte

OTTAWA — While the Forum Research polling company was proclaiming that if an election were held today, Justin Trudeau would be prime minister, conservatives of an assortment of exotic and garden varieties huddled under their “big tent” in the Ottawa convention centre to worry about … the Liberals.

 Never mind Trudeau’s numbers right now, it’s the Liberals’ consistent popularity all the time that apparently troubled some of the conservatives at Preston Manning’s mutual admiration society for would-be young Republicans and aged adherents of various loony right economic cults. (A few actual Tory operatives were at the two-day meeting too, identifiable by their lean and hungry looks.)

After listening Friday to sometime American presidential candidate Ron Paul scare them about what happens when you don’t back your currency with something tangible like gold, or at least Kool cigarettes, the thousand or so conservatives, “libertarians” and Maple Tea Partiers at the “Big Ideas” event organized by the Manning Centre for Building Democracy (sic) broke into smaller sessions to consider some of those deep thoughts.

Of Dr. Paul, who is the far right’s answer to Ralph Nader — only unlike Nader, possibly actually crazy — much more must be said later. 

Likewise, we will need to make some observations about former Australian prime minister John Howard, who this afternoon hailed the democratic value of coalition governments made up of political parties with similar values and platforms, and assailed politicians with no real life experience — you know, like Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper. 

In the meantime, though, we really need to talk about this Trudeau thing.

According to this morning’s news columns, the Forum Research poll of 1,755 Canadians surveyed by telephone “showed the Liberals with Justin Trudeau as leader would be able to replace the Conservatives in power, albeit with a minority government, if an election were held today.”

The robo-call Forum poll gave the Liberals under Trudeau (theoretically speaking, since he’s not scheduled to undergo the Liberal Party’s official coronation ceremony until April) 39 per cent of the vote across the country, with Harper’s governing Conservatives trailing badly at 32 per cent and the NDP at 20 per cent easing back toward its traditional territory.

If Trudeau’s name is omitted from the survey, Forum said, Conservatives and Liberals for all practical purposes tied at 31 and 30 per cent, well within the margin of error of 2 per cent the pollster claims, and the New Democrats at posted support of 27 per cent. This is similar to another recent poll.

But let’s not fuss today about the likelihood of any of this actually happening. After all, the real political professionals in the very serious machine run by Harper’s Conservative Party of Canada — the “conservatives” who actually matter in this country — haven’t rolled their advertising slime machine over Trudeau yet, so we still have to see how he will stand up to that unsavoury onslaught.

And there’s also a possibility at an event like one put on by the Manning Centre that the organizers are just firing up the troops and dupes, who aren’t necessarily Conservatives who are in the know — like the yarn that circulated this morning about how labour unions and “the Left” do more and better data mining than conservative political parties. If only it were true!

But let’s go back to those Manning Centre break-out rooms and consider what the top minds of Canada’s conservative “movement” are worrying about — which, in the case of the session yesterday on polling results and how to use them is almost certainly the same thing as they’re worrying about in the Prime Minister’s Office.

“How conservative are Canadians?” asked pollster Andre Turcotte and “electoral data expert” Mitch Wexler, who crunched polling data from a recent survey of Canadians’ attitudes by the Calgary-based Manning Centre for their conference audience.

Not very, it would seem, at least when it comes to Harper’s Conservative Party of Canada.

Worse, from the CPC perspective in light of the Forum findings, it would appear the Manning poll shows a hell of a lot of them have been stubbornly Liberal through that party’s recent time in the wilderness.

When it comes to party identification, said Turcotte, who teaches in the communications department at Ottawa’s Carleton University, “people continue to be quite loyal to the Liberal Party.”

He said Canadians who identify themselves as Liberals outpoll those who think of themselves as Conservatives by 26 per cent to 25 per cent, with self-identifying New Democrats trailing at about 17 per cent — which, surely, is close to traditional levels despite the bad times the Liberals have suffered through since the last federal election.

What’s more, he advised his conservative listeners, not only has that base of people who see themselves as Liberals remained, but last year it showed signs of growing, a pattern he characterized as “creep-up.”

Meanwhile, Turcotte said, outside the Prairies, there’s no sign support for Harper’s Conservatives creeping up anywhere in Canada.

More bad news for Conservatives, Turcotte told his listeners, is that while respondents to the poll give the prime minister’s party passing marks for economic performance, they don’t think it’s doing nearly as well on health care, which is also creeping up the charts again as a front-of-mind issue for voters, or on the environment.

With good reason, one might say from the perspective of this blog. But count on it, Conservatives are going to try to change their public image on the latter issue — with no less an authority than Manning himself lecturing his acolytes today on the need to appear to voters as “Green Conservatives.”

So watch out, people — this is your Astroturf alert! — for Ethical Oil on steroids … and sold this time with a little more finesse!


This post also appears on David Climenhaga’s blog, Alberta Diary.

David J. Climenhaga

David J. Climenhaga

David Climenhaga is a journalist and trade union communicator who has worked in senior writing and editing positions with the Globe and Mail and the Calgary Herald. He left journalism after the strike...