Tom who? Harper sets his sights on Trudeau.

What was missing from Stephen Harper’s latest Quebec rally—and why it meant so much

Justin Trudeau, Stephen Harper, Tom Mulcair. (CP;CP;REUTERS)

Justin Trudeau, Stephen Harper, Tom Mulcair. (CP;CP;REUTERS)

What was interesting at Stephen Harper’s press conference in Trois-Rivières wasn’t Conservative minister Denis Lebel’s introduction of the Prime Minister, which was a piece of well-polished ham. As a camera prop, the mostly grey-haired audience wasn’t particularly interesting, nor was Harper’s trotting out of Paul and Myriam and their many children. Having Paul, a small-business owner, count out stacks of money in front of Harper—ostensibly, the money Paul would lose under a Liberal government—to the tune of a “Ka-ching!” cash-register sound is an amazingly effective campaign trick. But seeing it twice isn’t necessary or advised.

No, what was interesting was what was hardly there. In 2011, NDP candidate Robert Aubin won this largely blue-collar riding with nearly 50 per cent of the vote. He is well-known and popular in the riding and, according to polls, is well ahead of his nearest challenger, Liberal Yvon Boivin. If local Conservative candidate (and former professional baseball player) Dominic Therrien has an adversary, it’s Aubin. Trois-Rivières, in other words, is one of those Quebec ridings where the NDP has performed a rare political feat: It became part of the furniture in just four years.

Yet Harper barely mentioned the NDP or its leader, Tom Mulcair, in his 15-minute speech. In this speech, as it has been throughout his stops in Quebec, Harper’s designated boogeyman hasn’t been the NDP, which stands the best chance of winning not just Trois-Rivières, but the majority of Quebec’s 78 seats. Harper’s sights are set almost entirely on Justin Trudeau and the Liberals.

It’s not just the mentions of the Liberal Party—10 in those 15 minutes, by my count, compared to just four of the NDP. The whole rolling circus at the end of this campaign is geared toward popping the Liberal balloon. The “Ka-ching!” schtick, which emerged this week, is set against a threat of Liberal tax hikes. “Quite frankly, it is your future that is at play,” Harper said. “Your future, that of your family, your community, for the years to come. Watch in concrete terms how a middle-class family would fare under what the Liberals are proposing.”

    Both the Liberal and the NDP parties have been vociferous in their attacks on Harper’s economic performance, environmental record, military strategy, health care policy and the Conservatives’ myriad boutique tax cuts. Along these lines, both parties have proposed scrapping Harper’s income-splitting. And the Liberals and NDP have a similar position on the Conservatives’ proposed niqab ban at citizenship ceremonies, and were equally incredulous at Harper’s musing of banning those few square centimetres of cloth from the faces of Canada’s public servants.

    But to hear our Prime Minister these days, you’d think he only has an opponent in Justin Trudeau. Tom Mulcair seems a pesky afterthought hardly worthy of an attack ad. It’s a telling omission—particularly in the province the NDP calls home.