Coalition gives Harper new life

We now know that there was nothing spontaneous about the coalition gambit initiated by Jack Layton and the NDP in the dying weeks of 2008. Far from the “grass-roots” affair as it was painted by the NDP press room, the coalition idea was nurtured “on secret NDP ‘scenario committees’ during the past three federal campaigns.”[1] The fact that it was a backroom deal has now exploded in Layton’s face.

Had it been driven from the grass-roots, the NDP would have been looking down, responding to its base. But the NDP was doing the opposite. Layton was looking up, to a deal with the Liberals – indistinguishable from the Tories as a corporate-backed party. Part of the deal he had to strike was to put on the shelf both the war on Afghanistan and increasing corporate taxes. This made it impossible for the NDP to appeal to its base – because the base of the party is anti-war and anti-corporate.

But while Layton was looking up and disorganizing his base, Harper was doing the opposite. He knows his base precisely, and in unleashing a vicious Quebec-bashing campaign, he suddenly had an army of reactionaries ready to do battle.

And then Harper found out he didn’t need these bigots. A much bigger wave was coming his way, a wave of revulsion. Ordinary people instinctively dislike secretive backroom deals. The smell of opportunism was all over the coalition, and suddenly, this translated into an evaporation of support for the NDP and the Liberals in English Canada, and a sudden surge in support for the Tories.

Three polls done in the immediate aftermath of the coalition announcement had Harper sitting in majority territory. The Strategic Counsel had the Tories at 45 percent nationally, Ipsos Reid had them at 46 percent, and an Ekos poll gave the Tories a crushing 20 point lead over the Liberals. Just weeks before the Tories had managed to win only 37.6 percent of the vote.[2]

The scary thing is – this surge in the polls was in spite of a collapse for Tory support in Quebec. The Quebec bashing in the first Tory counter-attack had the effect of destroying the Quebec base Harper had been trying to build. According to the Strategic Counsel, while Tory support was down to 18 percent in Quebec, it had soared to 53 percent in the rest of Canada, including 61 percent support in the West, and 50 percent support in the previously Liberal stronghold of Ontario.[3]

These numbers won’t last. Stephen Harper is unlikely to stay at these levels of support for very long. But what this Tory surge exposes very clearly is the folly of the Coalition strategy. A backroom deal with one of Canada’s corporate parties did not build the NDP – it built support for Harper and his Tories.

© 2009 Paul Kellogg

References

[1] “Inside a crisis that shook the nation,” Macleans.ca, December 12, 2008
[2] “Canada’s Harper has crushing poll lead on crisis,” December 5, 2008
[3] Strategic Counsel, “Harper’s Conservatives versus Liberal-NDP Coalition: What is the State of Canadian Public Opinion?”, December 4, 2008

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