The signs were ready to go, even before Prime Minister Stephen Harper asked the Governor General to dissolve Parliament on Aug. 2.
He officially began the federal election campaign by telling journalists: “This is an election about leadership . . . It is an election about who will protect our economy . . . It is an election about who is best-equipped to make the tough calls to keep our country safe.”
Leadership. Economy. Safety. The Conservative message was clear. But if Canadians weren’t around to hear the remarks, his first official campaign rally featured a crowd of Tory supporters in Montreal that same day, carrying signs of “Harper 2015,” “Stronger economy,” and “Proven leadership.” For good measure, one person in attendance even had a homemade sign saying: “Justin pas prêt” (“Justin not ready.”)
Canadians don’t need to take the TV off mute to hear what Harper hopes to emphasize at his cross-country campaign stops. A quick glance at the backdrop provides a bombardment of blue signs to emphasize his point.
In Hamilton in late August, it was Canada’s safety: “For a strong Canada.” Much of his speech there revolved around security and anti-terrorism. “I say thank God we have the men and women in uniform willing to fight ISIS,” he told the crowd. “Justin Trudeau and Thomas Mulcair won’t even call jihadist terrorism what it is. If you will not call jihadist terrorism what it is, you cannot be trusted to confront it.”
Now, just before the second federal leaders’ debate—this one hosted on Thursday by the Globe and Mail with questions that will largely focus on the economy—Harper wants Canadians to know our economy is fragile. And the party has a new sign to prove it: “Protect our economy.”
The signs appeared over the weekend at a tour stop in Stittsville, Ont., where the local Conservative candidate, Walter Pamic, read from a prepared text to introduce the Prime Minister: “Now we have a choice to make. In just over a month, Canadians will be deciding which government they trust to manage and protect our fragile economy in the face of global turmoil. Only a Conservative government can protect our fragile economy for the next four years.”
Harper stressed the same points in his speech, saying: “Friends, on Oct. 19, Canadians will choose in whom they have confidence to manage and protect this fragile economy, and your jobs, in a world of economic turmoil. It is a choice with real consequences.”
On Monday, the Conservatives announced a budget surplus for the last fiscal year. The same day, at a tour stop in Kamloops, B.C.— the first time Harper has been to the city since becoming Prime Minister—the background was full of supporters carrying only the new light-blue “Protect our economy” signs.
But if changing the narrative of the campaign is as simple as looking at the signs being waved behind leaders giving stump speeches, Harper opponents aren’t to be outdone. In fact, the NDP introduced a new sign last week. Its message was extremely straightforward: “Defeat Harper.”