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Editorial cartoon by Brian Gable. (The Globe and Mail)
Editorial cartoon by Brian Gable. (The Globe and Mail)

Tory campaign veers into troubled waters Add to ...

Odds are that Stephen Harper will post his third win on May 2 and there's a decent chance he will get a majority to boot. But not if he keeps on campaigning the way he has this week.

The Tory Leader entered this campaign with a lot of great cards in his hand. His party has a bigger, more enthusiastic base than any other. More motivated troops, more money, and better technology than any party in modern history. The Canadian economy is piling up strong GDP growth, the stock market has its best quarter in years, voters are in a forgiving mood about a big deficit, and the economic rebound is shrinking the fiscal problem anyway. Mr. Harper's chief opponent has anemic public opinion ratings. The Conservatives have methodically targeted the ridings they want to add to their tally and put lots of effort into closing the deal with those communities.

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But for all of that, it's hard not to feel that the Conservative campaign is getting in its own way.

For all the aforementioned advantages, Mr. Harper has chosen to run a "be afraid, vote against" campaign, instead of something more aspirational.

He asks us to be frightened of a coalition, but our fear factor is pretty low. His own credibility on the issue is not just bruised, it's bludgeoned. A great piece of journalism the other night by the The National's Keith Boag was the most devastating blow yet, pointing out a myriad of problems with Mr. Harper's version of history.

He wants us to be afraid of the fragility of the economy and how any other government would ruin things. But as the Liberals know to their chagrin, if people aren't worried about the economy, a politician telling them they should be doesn't make it so.

The Tory campaign personality seems more angry outsider than confident winner. The pre-writ Harper evoked a disciplined calm, almost always unruffled, deliberately prime ministerial. The post writ Harper is coming off frustrated, bombastic, stubborn.

Conservative strategists will argue that a challenger style campaign is deliberate, the only sure path to the promised land of majority government. Before the events of the last few months, that may have been so. But when context changes, the best campaigns must be open to change too.

Today, the Tory Leader's avoidance of the media (hardly all that new) comes off like an extension of the accountability issues that have dogged his government lately.

His coalition fear mongering is starting to sound a tad obsessive, and less rational. And by talking about this well past the point when voters have lost interest, he's allowing his opponents' policy ideas, like Michael Ignatieff's education passport, to find some room in the news hole.

The robust economy should be his trampoline upon which to make people imagine a still better future, but by constantly reminding us how fragile things are, he's sapping rather than harnessing public optimism.

Given the low levels of engagement, even if these observations are accurate, they may mean nothing in terms of the outcome. The Conservative advantages are numerous, and the desire for change quite limited. But campaigns are organic and fluid, and if the Conservative game plan was charted for a different set of circumstances, they may need to retool.

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