Harper’s recovery? - Macleans.ca
 

Harper’s recovery?

The economy’s looking up, and so is the PM’s approval rating


 

Harper’s recovery?“Ladies and gentlemen,” he said, summoning all the passion this was due, “I am pleased to formally announce today the creation of the Federal Economic Development Agency for southern Ontario.” He held for applause. “Or,” Stephen Harper continued, “as it will be known by its short title, FedDev Ontario.”

After a few more sentences on this bureaucratic achievement—of the sort that must feel unnatural to a man once so suspicious of government intervention—he reached for meaning with the aplomb of an inspirational office poster. “As Winston Churchill once noted,” the Prime Minister said, “ ‘Difficulties mastered are opportunities won.’ ”

This—on the occasion of an announcement in Kitchener, Ont., last week—was what may come to be recognized as vintage Harper. Simple and unexciting. A small, but relatively unimpeachable, response to a large problem. A blue back-drop behind him, a small white maple leaf and the words “Action Plan” in a large font on either side of his head.

With such stuff has Stephen Harper attempted, somewhat tardily, to master the primary difficulty of the past eight months. Indeed, with the worst economic calamity in a generation looking to be near an end, and after several notable missteps, the Prime Minister seems very nearly to have steadied himself again, no small accomplishment for a politician for whom steadiness is supposed to be a primary point of appeal.

“There isn’t this burning desire, at this point in time, to bring back the Liberals. Harper has the opportunity to win again,” says Tim Powers, the Ottawa political consultant who has worked with the Conservative side. “People were writing, prematurely, in the spring, his obituary. Well, now it’s a new game.”

Where once he seemed hopeless, Stephen Harper now appears steadfast. Or at least resilient, if not exactly ascendent. “He’s certainly in a far more attractive position today than he was in spring,” concurs Frank Graves, the veteran pollster of EKOS Research. “Looking at things today, it’s not like the Tories and Harper have improved that much. They’re, frankly, still sort of stuck in the same place, but the lustre appears to be off Mr. Ignatieff.”

And that too is no small feat. Especially for a Prime Minister who should, by various measures, be struggling to maintain any hold on power.

In victory, a mere 10 months ago, his government was emboldened and his primary opponent demoralized. But within weeks his government was struggling for survival after a nakedly partisan attempt to financially wound the competition inspired talk of a coalition. That turmoil expedited a change in the Liberal leadership, and soon enough Michael Ignatieff was boosting both Liberal poll numbers and fundraising totals. Meanwhile, a recession Harper promised would not come had arrived, necessitating a federal deficit he told voters he would never run.

Then it all changed again. In late June it was Ignatieff, faced with the choice of forcing an election or letting Harper’s government survive, who seemed at a loss. The Liberal leader made a number of public demands, most of which he then ignored. Ignatieff and Harper met privately and a bipartisan working group was struck to investigate improvements to Employment Insurance. Ignatieff claimed a kind of victory, but Harper seemed hardly bothered by the outcome.

The weeks since have been hot and humid and quiet. But in the absence of activity around Ottawa, the economy has seemed to stabilize. Though 45,000 more jobs were lost in July, the unemployment rate remains at 8.6 per cent, never having reached the double-digit peaks of the last recession in the early 1990s. Indeed, though Harper and Finance Minister Jim Flaherty were quick to counsel caution, the Bank of Canada went so far last month as to predict that an escape from recession was imminent.

Meanwhile, slowly but surely, Conservative party poll numbers have crept back, Harper’s side now more or less equal with Ignatieff’s Liberals. “The fact that the Conservative numbers have generally held up through this downturn is actually quite impressive,” says pollster Nik Nanos.

There is at least one important caveat. “The thing is,” adds Nanos, “the general wisdom is that it doesn’t matter what you do—if you happen to be an incumbent in a downturn you will get punished.” That general wisdom is supported by available evidence. Since 1926, when reliable monthly data began being kept, Statistics Canada numbers show 13 recessions. Of the 12 elections that occurred during or after those downturns, the incumbent party won—and avoided having its majority reduced to a minority—only three times. (The other nine times, the incumbent lost outright, or was reduced to a minority.)

Precedent may be tempered by present circumstance. Graves argues the current downturn is unique in its perception—that where the rate of unemployment used to be the primary driver of confidence or insecurity in a recession, wealthy boomers have made the stock market the greater force this time. “The mild recovery that the Conservatives have experienced has been largely affluent Conservative voters from the last election, who defected are now going back,” Graves says. “And they’re coming right out of the Liberals.”

According to Nanos, whatever credit Jean Chrétien and Paul Martin are due for balancing the budget in the ’90s, voters still associate the Conservatives with fiscal management. Owing to strong banks, natural resources and good luck, Canada may be uniquely situated to thrive in the recession’s aftermath (see “Our Big Chance,” on page 31) and having loudly put billions toward infrastructure spending and bailing out the auto industry, Harper may eventually be in position to assign himself all sorts of credit for whatever good may come.

Whatever Harper’s success this particular summer, it is understandably tied to Ignatieff’s lack thereof. Though perhaps not quite a political sensation when the House of Commons recessed for the summer, two months of relative quiet have slowed whatever momentum the Liberal leader had before his awkward truce with the Prime Minister. From a peak of 50 per cent approval in April, just 29 per cent of respondents approved of Ignatieff’s performance in an EKOS poll released last week. His disapproval numbers, meanwhile, have climbed to 38 per cent.

Well-publicized activity may assuage critics who lament Ignatieff has not been visible enough this summer—a complaint Harper himself faced when he was leader of the opposition. Ignatieff spent last week touring Atlantic Canada, charming the locals and rousing the faithful. At the end of the month, he will gather Liberal MPs for a summer caucus meeting in Sudbury, Ont. And after that will come what is likely to be a closely watched visit to China. In the meantime, the party has been busy readying itself and fundraising—nearly matching the Conservatives dollar-for-dollar in the year’s second quarter—and Ignatieff has settled on a chief of staff, close ally Ian Davey replacing former MP Paul Zed, who had held the title on a temporary basis.

David Smith, the Liberal senator and national campaign co-chair, argues Harper has enjoyed something of a vacation this summer—“You have to bear in mind that he’s had a free ride for a couple of months now because when the House isn’t sitting, he’s not facing question period”—and he is not among those who see the Prime Minister in the clear if the economy is indeed on the rebound. “Well, sure, you can argue that,” Smith says. “But, on the other hand, Stephen is not the warmest guy in the world. He’s not somebody that various sectors of Canadian society gravitate toward.”

This is slightly more than partisan conjecture. According to EKOS, while Harper’s standing has improved over the summer and 36 per cent now approve of his performance, 47 per cent of Canadians still disapprove. And while a third of Canadians still aren’t sure about Ignatieff, only 18 per cent are similarly non-committal about the Prime Minister. But what Canadians might find most lacking is a credible alternative of greater pull—the last image of Ignatieff not being a particularly magnetic one. “I think that the Liberals have probably realized as much of a gain in the ballot box and on the leadership front as possible without putting vision and policy and more Michael Ignatieff in the window,” Nanos says. “A lot of voters are thinking, ‘Okay, so the Liberals have a new leader. Now what?’ ”

Smith says answers are forthcoming. Until then, at least, Harper has hope and opportunity.

Though the EI working group has inspired public sniping from both sides, it may yet yield some kind of compromise. Either way, the Prime Minister had already indicated an intent to make reforms in the fall. The Conservatives will be due to deliver another report card on their economic stimulus efforts when the House returns in September. If they survive that, they will also have a chance to table the traditional fall economic update. And while Steven Fletcher, the minister of state for democratic reform, has renewed talk of eliminating the vote subsidy, the Prime Minister’s Office says the focus will be on the economy and the government’s crime agenda.

“Minority government eschews the big idea,” Power says. “I think what you will have is practical approaches from the Prime Minister. The big idea guys of recent memory—Stéphane Dion and Paul Martin—went up in flames. I don’t think the Prime Minister has a desire to self-immolate. I think his strength is not being the advocate of the big idea, but being the steady hand, with some practical approaches, on the rudder of Canada.”

On this, the book may already have been written. This spring, Tom Flanagan, the University of Calgary political scientist and once one of Stephen Harper’s closest allies, released an expanded edition of Harper’s Team, his insider’s account of the “Conservative rise to power.” In an added final chapter—“The Politics of Survival”—he reflects on the crisis of last winter, the damage done to the Prime Minister’s reputation and the danger presented by a recession. He publicly counsels Harper to focus on the business of government, comfort the party faithful and avoid unnecessary nastiness. But his most trenchant analysis is less a prescription for the future than an observation of the past.

“To end on a personal note, I went through many ups and downs with Stephen. He has never made it easy for himself,” Flanagan writes. “But he has powers of recuperation, and those who now predict his demise because the economy is down and because he made some tactical errors shouldn’t start writing his epitaph. Just as Stephen found a way to survive against the threat of the coalition, he will find a way to lead Harper’s team into the field again.”

With John Geddes


 

Harper’s recovery?

  1. Is it me or does Macleans seem to love them some conservatives? Harpers recovery? C'mon, we have the most mediocre panel of clowns representing all parties. The polls change every day so stop wasting time writing these momentary tiresome stories.

    • HA! Do you even read most of the articles in Macleans?

  2. The latest poll by Ipsos Reid, August 24, 2009

    http://www.ipsos-na.com/news/pressrelease.cfm?id=

    Conservatives – 39
    Liberals – 28
    NDP – 14
    Bloq – 8
    Green – 10

    I think I remember these kinds of numbers under Dion. What excuses will the lib-lefties come up with now?

    • Oh please! This is Ipsos. As a rule, the Tories always have at least a 5 point lead in their polls. What a joke!

    • the poll is now lining a birdcage someplace… Here today, gone later today…

  3. Since this "CanWest/Global" (media financial woes and suck-up to Cons) poll is totally different, I think I'll wait until some other polls come out to see if it's a trend.

    I prefer to wait until summer is over no matter what party is ahead.

    The timing is a little suspect – CanWest need funding? Macleans get their funding yet?

    • Indeed – according to the National Post (http://www.nationalpost.com/news/story.html?id=19… on Nanos polling there is no strong move to the Conservatives.
      "With Conservative MPs beginning to ramp up rhetoric about the need for a majority in the next election, the poll suggests they may not have a high degree of support for that view, said Nanos president and CEO Nik Nanos.

      "The Conservatives have said that they want a majority government for stability, but the polling suggests that only about 31.5% of Canadians would even like them to see them get re-elected," Mr. Nanos said.

      In the poll, 58.5% of respondents said the statement "Stephen Harper has had his chance and it's time for a change" matched their beliefs."

      • Your link is outdated and dead, try this new link.

        http://www.nationalpost.com/news/canada/politics/

        But then, this one is current and shows a huge Conservative lead, so you probably won't like it as much.

        • wow Dakota…..I'm usually left-thinking but I at least have the objectivity to understand that what's best for this country is best for all of us in the end. I was hoping that Iggy would come in and clean up our government's mess but now am frustrated with a lacklustre performance he and his team have put up. You, on the other hand, are running around with your conservative pom-poms without even a clue as to how this minority government has done no good for this country. Grow a spine…you think Harper gives a sh*t about you?

          • Really? So what is best for Canada is an ex-pat PM that doesn't have a platform?

            That tin foil hat must be glued to your head.

            Grow a brain….do you think Ignatieff is going to stay in Canada once he loses the next election?

          • Read….you clown, read. I'm not with Ignatieff. Not with Harper either. Man, it's Canadians like yourself that are setting us back. Who can't agree that politics in this country have become a contest of flinging mash potatoes. K…..now breathe, and before you respond with a dim-witted comment, think about what i am saying.

          • Ryan Sparrow? Is that you?

          • "Grow a brain….do you think Ignatieff is going to stay in Canada once he loses the next election? "

            Ryan Sparrow? Is that you?

          • My goodness you're an offensive bully.

          • 'what's best for this country'
            is not having the 3 losers of the last election collectively seize power without the express 'prior' approval of Canadians.

            If Liberals want to admit that they can not win a minority government,
            and therefore will solicit the MPs from the NDP to form a coalition majority government,
            say so going into the next election.

  4. Well, this ought to make you sick to your stomach:

    Monday, August 24, 2009 10:56 AM

    Attack Ignatieff's Office Day
    Robert Silver

    As a Globe columnist (first appointed as such last week by the "World Socialist Web Site" – and as we all know, what they write is nothing but the truth, hence others have taken to calling me same), I am really angry this morning.

    You see, if I am going to take on the title of columnist (rather than hack political blogger), surely I should also be entitled to all of the benefits that come along with such a prestigious position.

    Yet for some reason when the memo went around to the Ottawa political media posse on Friday that they all had to write negative stories about Michael Ignatieff's office in the next 48 hours, I was totally shut out.

    (the articles continues, but you get the jest of it)

    How in hell can any Canadian trust the media after this.

    This is truly awful.

    • You're taking national politics more personally than anyone whose name isn't Harper or Ignatieff ought to. Lighten up.

    • "Truly awful?" Yeah, welcome to the average state of how conservatives have been covered in national media for years.

      (Also, you're taking politics more personally than anyone whose name isn't Harper or Ignatieff ought to. Lighten up.)

    • Oh, I dunno……. hack political blogger kinda fits.

    • I'm actually on a (one-day) vacation, so don't tell my bosses I'm posting to the comment threads, but … just to make absolutely sure … you *did* realize he was kidding, right? I mean, about the memo?

      • Sorry, Kady, but absolutely do not trust media anymore. Even if he was kidding, as you seem to think, I believe it's true.

        May not have been an actual memo, but pressure from the CanWest/CTV/Global/Sun media would surprise me at all.

        • Yyyyyyeah. I apologize for misreading the earlier post as plain old bias-complaining; you're just a loon.

          So…since he spilled the beans on the Secret Liberal-Hating Media Cabal's conspiracy plans, what repercussions can Silver expect, in your world?

        • Yyyyyyeah. I apologize for misreading the earlier post as plain old bias-complaining. Turns out, you're just a loon; who knew?

          So…since he spilled the beans on the Secret Liberal-Hating Media Cabal's conspiracy plans, what repercussions can Silver expect, in your world?

        • Yyyyyyeah. I apologize for misreading the earlier post as plain old bias-complaining. Turns out, you're just a Chomskyite loon; who knew?

          So…since he spilled the beans on the Secret Liberal-Hating Media Cabal's conspiracy plans, what repercussions can Silver expect, in your world?

          • My world – conspiracy? Please. It's not a secret that a huge majority of media in Canada is conservative leaning. That's not conspiracy nonsense, it's a fact.

            Hey, I won't even buy the Star either. I want real, honest, unbiased, non-partisan journalism. Too much to ask?

            Voice of the people has long gone.

        • No, he was absolutely, positively, 100 percent kidding. I don't think it occured to him for a second that someone would take it seriously. Really, think about what you're suggesting here — it's just *beyond* ludicrous.

          • Kay – ludicrous? Have you paid attention to the opinions/stories this summer? Pathetic. Sun Media has taken over our small town papers (combined all the small towns) and the difference in what is reported, etc. is astounding. In fact, Sun journalist (Goldstein, etc.) are in in HUGE lettering – letters to the editors in tiny, tiny print and not much about local stuff (well, token stuff).

            I'm cancelling my subscription which I only took to help support our local journalists, photographers, etc.

            I will not buy partisan newspaper – left or right.

            I respect you as a journalist, but you are one of the few.

            I can't help it, I do not trust journalists when huge corporations are controlling the message.

      • Apparently not.

    • "Truly awful?" Yeah, welcome to the average state of how conservatives have been covered in national media for years. Trends arise, everyone has a say, the conversation moves on.

      (Also, you're taking politics more emotionally and personally than anyone whose name isn't Harper or Ignatieff ought to. Lighten up.)

  5. Excuse number 1!

    Next

  6. Is this how the unelected leader of the official opposition is going to gain the confidence of Canadians, barefaced lies?

    Hands up anyone who does NOT remember:
    MI signed the coalition agreement.
    MI was 100% behind Dion becoming the leader of the coaltion, and seizing the government.
    MI, after throwing Dion under the bus, was quoted numerous times
    ''coalitiion if necessary, but not necessarily coalition''

    Now read this recent quote:

    “…But, let's be clear, I've always spoken of arrangements, not of a coalition.”

    http://www.theglobeandmail.com/blogs/spector-visi

  7. He is trying to distance himself from Dion, although as of right now I can't really see much of a differance.

    • He appears to want to distance himself from himself.

      'Many good reasons for a coalition': Ignatieff
      By Hubert Bauch,
      Montreal GazetteJanuary 21, 2009
      ….
      "The choice is up to Mr. Harper," Ignatieff said after the meeting.
      "It's up to him to make the right decision and up to me to decide if he made it.
      A coalition is still a possibility . . . a coalition of necessary, but not necessarily, a coalition."

      http://www.montrealgazette.com/news/Many+good+rea

      • "I told the caucus this morning very clearly I am prepared to vote non confidence in this government and I am prepared to enter into a coalition government with our partners if that is what the Governor General asks me to do," Ignatieff said.

        http://www.canada.com/windsorstar/news/story.html

        'Michael Ignatieff says he is ready to lead a new coalition government unless Stephen Harper's Conservatives scrap their attack ads, drop their partisan edge and present a budget that addresses the needs of Canada's struggling economy'.

        http://www.theglobeandmail.com/news/politics/igna

  8. Aaron – I'm going to give you a Mulligan here – because clearly you wrote this before Nik Nanos issued his latest poll Saturday…which made it very clear that Canadians don't want to give Stephen Harper another chance – and they do want someone to get rid of him.
    Is for Tim Power – takes a lot to knock that Cheshire Cat grin off Tim's face – but if you asked him about the implications on Harper's future as leader of the CPC of that poll – with very simple questions – you'd hear a lot of foot shuffling under the table!

    • Are talking about the poll taken July30-Aug2? The 3 week old poll?

      • The very same.
        You have a valid point there Wilson…maybe they ALL learnt to love our Stephen in the last three weeks…what do you think?
        Now pop back behind your fence like a good boy until Tim the Tool Man calls you again…

  9. Harper tried the exact same coalition in 2004 in an attempt to overthrow Paul Martin. It amazes me how conservatives ignore this. No matter how bad Ignatieff may be, anything would be an upgrade over a PM who only knows how to oppose. All he has done well is oppose the oppostion and throw cheap shots. I know this because Harper sends me proof in the mail. What has he actually done? I'd like to hear it from him instead of some miserable right wing bloggers. I only hear about how bad Ignatieff is from Harper. I never har what Harper's actually doing besides what he said he'd never do

    • You are suggesting you knew the details of how the opposition parties would govern in 2004. That is not true. They simply wrote a letter to the GG and thats it. You have no idea how it would be organized because the GG never responded. Harper would never give the Bloc control over the federal government under any scenario.

    • You are suggesting you knew the details of how the opposition parties would govern in 2004. That is not true. They simply wrote a letter to the GG and thats it. You have no idea how it would be organized because the GG never responded. Harper would never give the Bloc control over the federal government under any scenario.

      Having an aggreement televised with the Libs, NDP and Bloc signing was a sight for all Canadians to ponder. It did not go over well. So you can accuse Harper of wanting to do the same thing but the proof was in the televised appearance for every Canadian to see.

      • I love to see you folks dancing…pity you wear platform shoes!

      • Huh. The Liberals and NDP had managed to get a signed document from the Bloc that they would not vote it down in any confidence vote for 2 years.. that strikes me as a lot more definitive way of ensuring that the Bloc would not get control over the federal gov't than trusting Mr. Softwood Harper.

        • Thwim you are being naive….the Bloc would sit on the opposition benches and while there would be negotiating with the main coalition partners as to what they will and will not support legislation wise. There are more than confidence votes i.e. like normal legislation. If the Bloc didn't agree the legislation would never hit the floor of the House of Commons. That is what I mean that the Bloc would have control of the federal government in the coalition. Quebec doesn't get their way or Duceppe does not believe it is good for Quebec it never sees the light of day no matter whether it is in the best interest of the country.

          • Here, hollinm, chew on this: You are suggesting you know the details of how the opposition parties would govern in 2008. That is not true. They simply wrote a letter to the GG and thats it. You have no idea how it would be organized because the GG never responded. Sound familiar?

          • Ah.. because if the Liberals and NDP didn't toe the line the Bloc would… uh… what, exactly? Threaten to hold a confidence vote that they'd vote in favor of the government on? Hmm.. dire. I can see why the other political parties would be scared of that.

            The thing you're not getting is the suggested grouping from Harper didn't even have THAT much protection from the Bloc.

      • I know you believe this to the bottom of your toes. But do you have some calculation that will show the rest of us that when Harper "would never do this" in this case, it is different from when Harper "would never do this" in relation to running a deficit?

  10. With Harper sending female soldiers to die for a regime that would starve her if she withheld sex from her husband, he should be tarred and feathered and run out of Ottawa. All this other stuff is just bumpf

    • Canadian women have fought for equal rights and you now want to start taking that away again? Maybe you should go join the Taliban and try fighting some of our Canadian women.

      • Good response to an idiotic post. I think the LPC has recruited a bunch of 14 year olds to run around and put out these nonsensical posts about "running Harper out of office". Shows a fair amount of desparation in that they can't use logic or common sense.

  11. Liberals, Tories in dead heat: poll — The Canadian Press

    OTTAWA A new poll suggests the Conservatives and Liberals remain locked in a dead heat amid rumblings of a possible fall election.

    The Canadian Press Harris-Decima survey put the parties in a statistical tie, with 32 per cent support for the Liberals and 31 per cent for the Tories.

    The NDP were at 16 per cent, the Greens at 11, and the Bloc Quebecois at nine.

    The numbers have barely budged throughout the summer, a period in which voters are typically disengaged.

    Some Liberals have been pushing for an autumn election while the Tories have been trashing the idea, saying it would hurt the economic recovery.

    The survey of just over 2,000 respondents was conducted Aug. 13-23 and is considered accurate to within 2.2 percentage points 19 times in 20.

    so much for the Ipsos poll kids.

    • Imagine that! Canadians were so scared of a Harper majority that they changed their minds en masse overnight :-) What will wilson, jarrid and other LSOT gnomes do now?

  12. This is today as well. I guess Harper's happy-go-lucky charismatic charm isn't getting him his majority after all. Besides, if you can't beat Dion to get a majority, you will never get one.
    OTTAWA – A new poll suggests the Conservatives and Liberals remain locked in a dead heat amid rumblings of a possible fall election.

    The Canadian Press Harris-Decima survey put the parties in a statistical tie, with 32 per cent support for the Liberals and 31 per cent for the Tories.

    The NDP were at 16 per cent, the Greens at 11, and the Bloc Quebecois at nine.

    The numbers have barely budged throughout the summer, a period in which voters are typically disengaged.

    Some Liberals have been pushing for an autumn election while the Tories have been trashing the idea, saying it would hurt the economic recovery.

    The survey of just over 2,000 respondents was conducted Aug. 13-23 and is considered accurate to within 2.2 percentage points 19 times in 20.

  13. Damn, Aaron. Why can't your blog be more like your magazine writing?

    • Probably because Wherry spends about two minutes on each blog post and many hours on each magazine piece.

  14. Harper true leader – conservatives forever. I always vote for you.

    • Nice try. Just because the GG never responsed doesn't mean Harper never tried the same thing. Do you have to be a hypocrite to be a conservative? I'm starting to think so. What's clear is that Hypocrite Harper did sign a letter and attempted to unite with the NDP and the bloc in a coaltion. There was intent. That doesn't excuse him. He deserves to go down. Even his own party thinks so. When he loses, he will be forced to step down. You can bet money that they won't rally behind him after 4 attempts at a majority. __

  15. Canadians are their most poltically apathetic during the summer months. Yet somehow there is this huge difference in polling numbers. Yeah right! Use something called critical thinking skills. This was a blindly partisan poll. Harper will never see 39%. If he couldn't get that against Dion, he will never get that

    • You probably bought a "Vote for Dion" shirt in 2008.

  16. Isn't it just about time for the Conservative-biased Ekos poll to come out and tell us how the crappers have taken a LEAP ahead…..wait for it…..its coming and that of Strategic hateful biased reporting.