The midway point of the 2004 election campaign, and its to best known for the moment that the Liberals went negative.
Watching their numbers drop in a freefalling downward spiral, The Liberal advertising campaign went thermo nuclear, with the hardest hitting mostly negative advertisements thus far in the campaign. Fearing an aimless drifting of voters towards the Conservative Party, Liberal strategist David Herle launched the ads which paint a very negative image of Stephen Harper. The ads are designed to portray the Conservative leader as an extremist, one who will reshape the Canada we know beyond recognition. The ads also direct the viewer to a web site where the Harper agenda is explored further. Critics have suggested that the negative approach won’t work now, as it only accentuates the desperation of the Liberal approach, rather than presenting their own agenda, Liberals are instead approaching the Harper campaign in tones bordering on shrill. How Canadians react to the Liberal sense of fear is the gamble the Liberals have chosen to risk.
While the Liberals warn the country of the impending doom of a Harper government, the candidate himself is talking more and more confidently of forming that government. Jane Taber of the Globe follows Harper around from event to event, where the declaration of majority government status is now openly being discussed; something which four weeks ago wasn’t even on the radar scope. With all the interest in Harper, The Globe's John Ibbitson takes a look at a riding that could tell a lot about voter inclinations come election day, deep in the heart of Ontario is London West, a riding that has always voted with the governing party. Incumbent Sue Barnes is finding that her Liberal affiliation is costing her votes, as goes London West, perhaps so goes Southern Ontario. The Blue storm is blowing through the area and many of the Liberals fear it’s too late to take cover. Even the supposedly safest of Liberal seats may flee to Blue, a disconcerting moment for the Martin camp.
If this wave of Conservative support should translate into votes and power then Stephen Harper is going to need a cabinet. David Olive’s election blog in the Toronto Star explores the potential cabinet material on the Harper bandwagon. Is the country ready for Belinda Stronach as Labour minister, Stockwell Day at External Affairs and Peter McKay as an ethics commissioner? Pulse contributor Rob Wiebe says that alone could turn the election back in favour of the Liberals, all those attack ads are going in the wrong direction, rather than demonizing Harper perhaps they should be highlighting his “team”.
Not to be left out of the campaign is the Bloc Quebecois’ Gilles Duceppe who is on the verge of taking more votes from the Liberals than even St. Lucien Bouchard did, during his meteoric reign as Bloc leader. If as expected Duceppe should claim the 54 seats that presently seem to be swaying to the Bloc, then his star will be on a high ascension in Quebec. A point which Miro Cernetig of the Star says could bring on even bigger things for Duceppe. In a Star column Cernetig sees a day not too far in the future when Duceppe leaves the Bloc and takes over the Parti Quebecois, smiting his second Liberal government when he takes on the Liberal party of Jean Charest. Not a bad turn around for a guy that many felt was on the verge of disappearing from the political scene taking the separatist cause with him. In a short six months he’s on the verge of becoming the main separatist player, is Canada ready for one more referendum? It could be in our future if the Quebec stars all align in their proper orbit.
And as we wrap up our tour of the Liberal malaise we look back to another Liberal who ran into a storm of controversy and a new Conservative leader. Graham Fraser of the Star tracked down John Turner for his view on the current situation facing Paul Martin. Turner took over from Pierre Trudeau in 1984 and reaped the whirlwind of animosity that too many years of Liberal rule had produced. With the television debates coming up next week, a famous debate moment stands out as a warning for the current Prime Minister. If one line in that debate of 84 undid the Turner campaign it was Brian Mulroney’s attack on the patronage orgy that Turner signed off on as part of the Trudeau departure. Mulroney’s declaration that Turner had the option of saying no, turned the election into a rout for the Conservatives. Will the advertising scandal come back to similarly haunt Martin twenty years later, time will tell? But the Martin people must be hoping that their candidate doesn’t fall into a similar trap of which there will be no escape.
But all is not glum for the Martin Liberals, as Jeffrey Simpson takes a look at the fiscal responsibilities of all of the Conservative promises. He wonders aloud just whether Canadians believe that the Conservatives would possibly follow through on the laundry list of promises, designed to show that they too will have a progressive agenda. As Simpson points out the Conservative promises tally up to be the highest of the three parties, based on the rosiest of financial predictions. For the Martin Liberals perhaps asking a few pointed accountability questions might slow down the tide of voters thinking of giving Harper a chance. It seems hard to believe, but guarding our money may be the Liberals best card to play. After all the attention to government waste, the Conservatives may get tripped up on their own binge of vote buying. Promises made today could come back to haunt them very shortly.