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May 17, 2005
Harper Goes To The Mattresses

The Conservatives have taken the gloves off and started their election campaign two days before a confidence vote on the Canadian budget is scheduled. Tories started their ad campaign by asking voters why Prime Minister Paul Martin wants them to wait for a new election, and at the same time tries to negate the budget as an election issue:

The federal Conservatives unleashed a series of radio attack ads yesterday that declare Prime Minister Paul Martin's Liberals "desperate" and mired in corruption -- a tone that could carry through an election campaign anticipated to begin later this week.

The Tories are also preparing to publish their campaign platform which, The Globe and Mail has learned, will include a number of Liberal-oriented social initiatives, including a commitment to increase foreign aid to 0.7 per cent of gross domestic product by 2015. The pledge, along with cash for daycare and infrastructure spending, are an apparent effort by Conservative Leader Stephen Harper to prevent the Liberals from blaming his party for the death of their budget.

The Tory advertisements released yesterday accuse the Prime Minister of being willing to "do anything to hang on to power" and of "trying to avoid you, the voter."

In one ad, a man's voice says: "Paul Martin says 'wait.' For what? More waste? More corruption?"

Harper wants to show that Bill Clinton and Tony Blair aren't the only people who can triangulate, nor (more cynically) is Martin the only Canadian politician who can use the budget to buy votes. He's offering an attractive deal to Canadian liberals and NDP voters -- the Liberal budget without the Liberals who presided over years of corruption. It's a clever strategy, clearly designed only for the short term. However, since the primary issue voters appear to have with the Tories is Stephen Harper, this initiative gives them a chance to watch Harper work with little short-term risk. Harper and the Tories have bet that once Harper gets a chance to govern, he'll earn the trust of Canadian voters, and the Tory program will have a better chance of winning in Parliament.

Martin appears to have been taken by surprise by the attack, although the Globe and Mail could have picked a better picture to run with the story than this from a day-care visit. He called for a return to "civility" in Parliamentary politics, but that call will likely face a cold response for a government which has presided over such bald and partisan corruption. A return to civility sounds like a call to ignore the information gushing from the Gomery Inquiry until some future date months away when Justice Gomery gets around to writing a report about it, instead of dealing with the political implications of the corruption and graft now.

But the main impact of the budget promises Harper has made is to swing the independents to the Tories in the upcoming vote, and the ad campaign is probably designed primarily to assure them that Harper will follow through on his promises. The three independents would normally have more sympathy for Liberal budget priorities, especially Chuck Cadman and David Kilgour. If one of them could be convinced to vote Tory on Thursday, Martin's government will fall -- and Harper's budget offer might convince both to support him instead. Kilgour has already indicated that even absent Tory flexibility on the budget, his inclination is to kick out the Liberals and go back to the voters for a new Parliament.

My prediction for Thursday is that the Tories win by two or three votes.

Sphere It Digg! View blog reactions
Posted by Ed Morrissey at May 17, 2005 7:09 AM

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