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Prime Minister Stephen Harper, British Columbia Premier Gordon Campbell, Minister of International Trade Stockwell Day and minister of state for sport Gary Lunn display the medals of the 2010 Vancouver Olympic Games. (PMO photo by Jason Ransom)
Prime Minister Stephen Harper, British Columbia Premier Gordon Campbell, Minister of International Trade Stockwell Day and minister of state for sport Gary Lunn display the medals of the 2010 Vancouver Olympic Games. (PMO photo by Jason Ransom)

Polls put Harper on the podium Add to ...

In the photo staged and released by the government Thursday, a grinning Stephen Harper clasps an Olympic gold medal. That medal is gold politically, as well. It ensures that, barring mishap, the Prime Minister will be able to govern until the snow melts, at the least.

Two months after an election seemed inevitable, Stephen Harper is securely in charge.

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Three recent polls have shown the Conservatives at or near 40 per cent in popularity, and the Liberals down in the mid-20s in support. A fourth, released Thursday by Harris-Decima for the Canadian Press, is closer, with the Tories at 35 per cent and the Liberals at 28 per cent. What matters is that the Liberals are below 30, and staying there. Public disaffection with leader Michael Ignatieff appears to be entrenching, and both the Official Opposition and the NDP, which has also seen some support ebb away, face a drubbing if they try to force an election.

One way or another, the opposition parties will have to find some way to keep this government alive through the rest of this year or face the consequences at the polls. Parliament will then recess until the end of January. And with February comes the Olympics, and who wants an election during the Olympics?

For 17 days, Canadians will become Americans - fiercely patriotic, waving the flag with abandon, cheering on our athletes and celebrating what everyone hopes will be a magnificent games that will make all Canadians proud to be Canadian.

This is not a time to bring down a government.

And some time either shortly before or after - and even possibly during - the games, the government will unveil a budget that, for sound economic reasons, will continue to prime an economy still recovering from recession. That means some combination of increased spending or tax cuts, leaving the opposition parties with some difficult decisions to make.

These days, the government itself is its own worst enemy. This week's kerfuffle over Tory MPs dressing up mock government cheques with their signatures, or even the party logo in place of the Government of Canada logo, highlights the Conservatives' vulnerability to charges of excessive partisanship.

Opposition parties and the media have released reports suggesting that stimulus funds are being disproportionately spent on ridings the Conservatives hold or hope to win.

The government angrily denies the allegation, saying the figures are distorted, but is unable or unwilling to provide a comprehensive picture of how the stimulus money is being spent.

And the Olympics themselves could trip the Tories up. One example: the government has snapped up $447,000-worth of Olympic tickets, for use by MPs and senators. The policy is that Parliamentarians must pay for any tickets they use with their own money, but any reports of freebies or favouritism will not go down well.

If the feeling grows in the public mind that the government is playing politics with the people's money, then the gap between the Conservatives and the other parties could start to narrow.

But for now, Mr. Harper can grasp the gold with confidence. Barring the unforeseeable, this government is secure at least until things start to thaw.

Follow on Twitter: @JohnIbbitson

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