Friday, June 18, 2004
Have the Conservatives won half the battle?
In assessing the political landscape now more than halfway through the campaign, I can't help but be surprised at just how accepting almost everyone is with just the possibility of a Conservative government.
Yes, there is the usual scare-mongering generated from the left when someone other than them is poised for victory.
Yet even from these sources there is the admission that voters are taking more than a serious look at the Conservative Party. Indeed, they are thinking seriously about electing them to government.
Voter comfort with the party is still volatile. The Tories have stalled somewhat in the polls and we are far from any kind of declaration of a Conservative landslide.
However, there is now no denying the fact that everyone believes the Conservatives can win this thing. Even Craig Oliver has jumped on this bandwagon.
This is a far cry from what people were saying only a few weeks ago. It is also a remarkable achievement for a new party which had the challenge of convincing Canadians it was a mainstream and viable alternative to the governing Liberals.
They are now talking about Tory seats in Quebec. A far cry indeed.
UPDATE: Chantal Hebert, who knows a thing or two about Quebec politics, believes even a one seat breakthrough for Harper in the province would be a reasonable start for his party. Even so, people are contemplating possibilities for the Tories which were considered anything but only days ago.
UPDATE 2: The most recent Liberal campaign strategy is intended to cast some doubt about the Conservatives on this very topic. They want to create the impression that despite the mood for change out there the kind of change presented by the Tories is simply not acceptable or mainstream.
This may end up being the battle of the rest of the election, which does not bode well for the Conservatives. They want to make this about Liberal corruption and accountability. If the topic of the campaign shifts towards them, it threatens to violate one of the basic rules of campaigns from their perspective: making it a referendum about the other guy.
But I don't think Liberal corruption will leave the minds of voters on election day. What the Liberals seems to be hoping for is that it is accompanied by doubts about the other party's legitimacy as a viable alternative.
It should be a very interesting stretch drive indeed.
UPDATE 3: Much of the legitimacy of the new Conservative Party has come from the re-branding of the conservative (small-c) movement in this country. What Stephen Harper has essentially done is position his party as the old Conservative governing option Canadians always had before the split in 1993. Obviously, it's not the exact same party. However, it has become the re-established Conservative brand Canadians are familiar with across the country - including the provincial scene. Now, when someone doesn't want to vote for the Liberals, the option to the right looks a whole lot like the option Canadians usually had before things became all confused during the last decade.
Some on the left want to change that perception, or prevent it from materializing in the minds of many. This is part of the battle in the current election. But I think we have passed the point where this party is seen strictly as some kind of alien entity. In many ways, it is the re-established Conservative Party people have known all along. The Tory lawn signs look like they always did. Even the use of the name Tory verifies the re-established component of the new party.
People may still be somewhat skeptical of what the party is all about. But it's draping of itself in the old Conservative brand has at least sent the message to voters that this is what the face of the old party now looks like. Just how accepting of that face the electorate becomes yet remains to be seen. So far, looks pretty good for the new party.