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June 8, 2005
Harper: Unhappy Grits Hold Fate Of Gov't

Stephen Harper acknowledged that the Tories had slipped in recent polling back to pre-Gomery levels this afternoon, a development that some predict will take the steam out of the no-confidence movement that had energized the Commons for the past month. However, Harper put the onus on Liberals to hold the government accountable for its transgressions, claiming that he has done all that he can:

The fate of the government lies in the hands of disgruntled Liberals, not opposition parties, when upcoming confidence votes reach Parliament next week, Conservative Leader Stephen Harper said Wednesday.

Speaking with reporters following his party's weekly caucus meeting in Ottawa, Mr. Harper said the Conservatives will do whatever we can to make sure its MPs are in the House of Commons when a pair of key budget bills come forward next week.

He said, however, that the final outcome will lie with members of the Liberal minority government.

The numbers are clear, he said. This government can't be defeated unless people who were elected as Liberals decide to defeat it.

This statement has a measure of fatalism that reflects the newest political reality in Canada. Despite the revelations of massive corruption in the Adscam program and the wholesale giveaway of tax dollars to keep the Martin government from toppling, the Liberals have apparently reclaimed popular support from the Canadian electorate. A new Decima poll shows that the Liberals lead the Tories by 14 points nationwide. Even more surprising, the NDP has gained significantly after its support of Paul Martin last month, pulling to within the margin of error with the Conservatives.

These results may have shocked the Tory leadership into changing directions. After pressing for quick elections during the worst of the Gomery testimony and being thwarted by Jack Layton and a surprise betrayal by his deputy's girlfriend, Harper has appeared somewhat outclassed in political dexterity by the ever-flexible Paul Martin. That performance, along with a steady whispering campaign about Harper's supposed "hidden agenda", probably led to the sudden erosion of support for the party which should rightfully claim to be crusading for clean government -- or could, had it put together a simple and consistent message along those lines from the start.

Harper's message now is probably the only practical strategy left to him. The Liberals have one last issue this session which could still split off enough votes to topple the Martin government, and that is gender-neutral marriage. Harper would much rather contest new elections on the basis of corruption, but this might be enough to at least initiate a successful no-confidence motion.

The only question is this: with numbers like this, why would Harper and the Tories want to undertake an election now?

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Posted by Ed Morrissey at June 8, 2005 12:30 PM

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