Con­ser­va­tives in Canada de­pict ri­vals as risky

The Washington Times Weekly - - Politics - BY BARRY BROWN

| 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.

Lib­eral leader Stephane Dion, seen here at a Sept. 13 cam­paign stop in Bri­tish Columbia, has fo­cused on tax cuts and en­vi­ron­men­tal ini­tia­tives. How­ever, he has been ham­pered by party dis­or­ga­ni­za­tion and ac­cu­sa­tions of fis­cal reck­less­ness.

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