Brinksmanship, or, The Winnipeg Very Limited Strike

The Conservatives are on the brink of a majority! But wasn’t the Green Shift supposed to help? No, the Green Shift is really not helping. Here are some thoughts.

First, somebody is always on the brink of a majority when you’re the Globe and there’s an election around the corner. The paper used the same brink-of-a-majority language for its poll coverage in 2004, only then it was the Martin Liberals who were on the brink of a majority. And then they turned out to be on the brink of something else. I intend no prediction here, nor any particular criticism of the Globe; I’m only pointing out the natural tendency to want to ratchet up the drama when you’re about to pummel your readers with a month of campaign coverage. Have I mentioned this is the third Most Important Campaign Ever in four years? We are truly blessed as a nation. Or two.

Second, why do you suppose two news organizations timed their big, expensive national polls to come out on the morning of a Liberal caucus meeting? Because Canada’s top editors know Liberal MPs well, my friends! And they know there is no better way to get them in a panicky, mutinous mood than to suggest their next victory is not about to be handed to them on a silver platter.

What the Globe poll actually says is that the Tories are up a point, the Liberals down a point, from their standings in the 2006 election: not sunshiny news, if you’re a Grit, but survivable. What the CanWest poll shows is that “support” for the Permanent Tax On Everything (a confoundingly nebulous concept, “support,” but passons) is over 40% in every part of the country except Alberta and the Prairies, where the Liberals were not planning on major gains in any event. So if a Grit wanted to be cheerful, he could say the party’s main policy plank continues to be more popular than the party in much of the country, and that history has seen many worse hills to die on. (Well, a little cheerful.)

But isn’t it so much more fun, so much more cathartic, and so much more — what’s the word I’m looking for? Oh yeah — characteristic of Liberals to grab their favourite scribe by the elbow and whisper that The Leader’s Got To Go? Even though the campaign starts in five days and division is the surest route to collapse? I know many in this fine caucus are up to the challenge.