Stephen Harper moved yesterday to revive his political fortunes in the electoral heartland of Ontario even as a new poll shows that 59 per cent of Canadians want him replaced, including more than one-third of his own supporters.
The poll also found that the difficulties of the just-completed sitting of the House of Commons have left Canadians with an increasingly negative image of Mr. Harper, with 41 per cent saying their opinion of the Conservative Leader has worsened. But the survey, conducted for The Globe and Mail/CTV by the Strategic Counsel, also finds that popularity difficulties plague Prime Minister Paul Martin, with 52 per cent of voters saying he should be replaced.
"Clearly, Harper's numbers have moved starkly to the negative," said Tim Woolstencroft, managing partner with the company. "And Martin's looking like his negatives are starting to soften, although it's important to note that they're no different than Harper's."
As always, the Globe leads with the bad news about Stephen Harper and puts the most negative spin they can on it, while burying the bad news about Paul Martin and softening it as much as possible.
Stephen Harper has been subjected to the most concentrated media onslaught against any Tory leader since Brian Mulroney, a campaign informally orchestrated by the PMO. The press faithfully drove home the Liberal message that Canadians did not want an election this spring, and made sure that Canadians believed that they didn't want one.
Not that most people had given the matter much thought, but don't underestimate the power of suggestion--if they think that's what the majority believes, they'll believe it.
On every conceivable issue--the unconstitutional refusal to resign over a non-confidence vote, the unconscionable budget deal with the NDP, the Gomery Commission revelations of systemic corruption, the unseemly haste to legalize homosexual marriage--the Liberals were clearly on the side of the devils.
But they have the media on side, and whoever wins the propaganda wars, wins the public mind.
Despite this, however, Paul Martin still has not risen in public esteem. He has only been able to prolong his political death long enough to give the Liberals time to rally around a saviour.
But who that saviour would be, no one knows.
The Liberal Party has no clear successor to Martin, just as the Conservative Party has no one single heir apparent to Harper.
Which makes these numbers especially worrisome:
Although Mr. Harper's leadership has not been widely questioned internally, the poll found unease among Canadians generally. It also found that 37 per cent of those who consider themselves Conservative voters believe there should be a change at the top.
For Mr. Martin's part, only 20 per cent of Liberals said their leader should be replaced, compared with 52 per cent across the political spectrum.
Are we succumbing to the old Tory habit of cannibalizing our leaders when they fail to be supermen? I hope not.
One of the tests of our party's ability to govern will be how we weather the storms of political crisis. Throwing Stephen Harper overboard whenever the seas get a little rough will only confirm in people's minds that the Conservative Party is unfit to govern. If we can't stand behind our leader in opposition, we sure as hell won't when he's Prime Minister and the media attacks are infinitely worse.
The Liberals are standing behind Paul Martin for now, not out of loyalty, but because they don't know who they'd replace him with. The current crop of Cabinet ministers is especially weak, John Manley is uninspiring, Frank McKenna's and Brian Tobin's times are passing, and the collapse of the Liberal Party in Quebec leaves no strong Francophone successor with a national profile.
We do have several potential leaders-in-waiting, but the media would savage them as quickly and brutally as they have been Mr. Harper.
In any event, he has done far more than had been thought possible even two years ago. He has, unlike Mr. Martin, shown himself able to respond to well-considered criticism and suggestions from the grassroots, as demonstrated by his recent summer tour, gradual release of the party platform, and firing of his communications team.
Without Stephen Harper, there would still be two weak regional parties, stubbornly refusing to join forces against the Liberals even as they continued to collapse.
Without Stephen Harper, Liberal arrogance would be unchecked by a massive majority government facing a regionally fragmented opposition.
Without Stephen Harper, we would be despairing of ever forming government again.
I stand behind Stephen Harper.
Source: The Globe & Mail