A decisive, patriotic Canadian, able to deal with tough economic times

By a hefty margin, that’s how Canadians outside Quebec seem to view Stephen Harper, at least in comparison to Michael Ignatieff. (The numbers are, by and large, reversed in Quebec, where the Conservatives are comically unable to reverse their momentum — but where the Liberals would gain perhaps a dozen of the 60-odd seats they need to form a government, if the recent horse-race polls bore out.)

To say the least, it seems significant that Harper’s greatest margin over Ignatieff (still outside Quebec) is on whether each leader is seen as “a patriotic Canadian.” Harper’s margin there is 34 points, nearly double his next-widest margin. Those ads seem to have succeeded in popping Ignatieff squarely on the snoot. But have no fear, Liberals: I hear the leader and his entourage are preparing to spend another two weeks vigorously threatening to do something about it all.  If you mess with me, I will mess with you until I’m done, just as soon as I start.

Here’s an email I received three days after the Conservatives started airing the Just Visiting ads:

The simple fact that we are debating the “Canadianness” of the Leader of the Liberal Party of Canada is a victory for Conservatives. Iggy is now playing defence on the #1 brand attribute of the Liberal Party.  Even after the sponsorship scandal the Liberals still owned being the “Canada Party”.  The party with the pan-Canadian vision.  The party best able to keep the country together.  The party with the independent foreign policy.  Having a Liberal play defence on his “Canada” credentials is as bad as a Republican having to defend his commitment to the U.S. military or a New Democrat having to defend her commitment the labour movement.  Attacks on Iggy related to  “arrogance and elitism” (e.g. the “arrogance spot”) and/or “tax and spend” (e.g. the “economy” spot) are standard operating procedure – the personalization of negative brand attributes associated with the party itself.  But the attacks on Ignatieff’s long-term commitment to the country are much deeper and much more problematic for a Liberal.

Of course it’s just an email from the side that would, of course, be saying stuff like this. Of course there are all kinds of reasons to take this poll result with a grain of salt. These sorts of “underlying numbers” often lag party preference — one guy looks like the prime minister until you decide he won’t be prime minister, at which point the guy who looked like a zhlub suddenly starts to clean up nicely. But 34 points… well, it suggests there was a reason why the Liberal leader picked True Patriot Love for his book title. The rest of the anthem’s lyrics may come in handy for swiftly-written sequels.

Looking for more?

Get the Best of Maclean's sent straight to your inbox. Sign up for news, commentary and analysis.