Murray Dobbin is a member of the Catch 22 team providing research and strategic advice. We're reprinting his blog post from March 31.
The election campaign is less than week old and Stephen Harper seems to be demonstrating that he is even more of a mad hatter than people thought. Despite his superman view of himself – the smartest man in the universe not just in the room – he has looked very shaky and is proving that he simply can’t handle actually speaking to the media without getting into trouble.
Even after the media has beaten him up on the question of the coalition, Harper continues to rant on the issue. Even after the CBC did a five minute feature which repeatedly implied that Harper was lying, he still won’t drop it. The CBC’s piece by ex-reporter Brian Stewart, examined in minute detail the coalition proposal put forward by the Liberals and the NDP in 2008 – underlining that the Bloc was never a part of the agreement, that it was signed by just the two federal parties and that the Bloc would have no direct role. The piece also dealt with Harper’s efforts to form a coalition in 2006.
Harper ‘s insistence on saying that Ignatieff is planning a coalition – even stating that he “is still saying he will” – just underlines the importance of the ethics issue in the election. In fact, to his great shame, Ignatieff really is opposed to a coalition and has been since 2008. He was the last of the Liberal caucus to sign on to the agreement and upon becoming leader immediately ruled it out.
The ethics front is proving to be a rich vein. In a three day period two severely tainted Harper operatives have been exposed as key players in local campaigns and have had to step down – just reminding people that this is a government for whom the only crime worthy of punishment is actually being stupid enough to get caught.
In Saskatoon there is another ethical breach though it hasn’t reached the national media yet. The Conservative candidate for the riding of Saskatoon-Humboldt Brad Trost has been accused by the NDP candidate, Denise Kouri of sending out material using his parliamentary mailing budget – thus being able to skirt the election spending rules. Trost has otherwise distinguished himself by working against Planned Parenthood International as well as going after funding for the Gay Pride celebrations in Toronto.
Are the polls beginning to reflect Canadians finally getting sick of this stuff and actually paying attention? There seems to be an endless supply of material for the opposition parties to feed into their election machines. The latest Nanos rolling poll (a smaller sample size but done everyday) shows today that Harper’s lead has been dramatically cut from a high in some recent surveys of 16% to just 6%. The Liberals have gained at the expense of the NDP with the Conservatives still at around 39% and the Liberals pushing 33% (the NDP was under 16%). The days ahead will show if it’s really a trend.
Today, the Toronto Star reported that Harper has a super-secret plan to set up his own media centre where government operatives would have control over camera shots, which reporters got let in and which are allowed to ask questions. The centre is designed to replace the National Press Theatre where executive members of the National Press Gallery – not the PM’s political staff – moderate on-the-record news conferences, The secret plan – ferreted out by a Star FOI request – is code named the Shoe Store Project because the building they are planning to convert to this propaganda agency was formerly a shoe store. The plan is being executed by the Privy Council Office and the PMO. These are government institutions, not party agencies, but are clearly being assigned political tasks intended to further restrict the media’s efforts to inform the country. The new media control centre is slated to cost $2 million. Just one more assault on democracy.
Citizens scared silly at the thought of this man having a majority can put their fear to good use. A number of web sites/campaigns are in action to stop Harper. One is called Catch-22and grew out of the anti-prorogation movement last year. Another new and potentially powerful group, called LeadNow and modeled on the hugely successful MoveOn.org (which helped Obama get elected) is launching this week. The voteforenvironment group that played a positive role in the last election, is rebranding itself as ProjectDemocracy and will launch next week. Other individuals and groups are producing videos and Facebook pages to assist in the election campaign. Send them to me at – mdobbin(at)telus.net – and I will post them.
If you think you don’t have time to get involved in this election, that it’s too painful or irritating – try to imagine what it will be like every morning for four years waking up to the fact that Harper has a majority.