Perusing the papers this morning, I come across a rather bizarre explanation for the improvement in Prime Minister Stephen Harper's fortunes this year:
"[He]began the year facing crater-sized political potholes at home, so he adopted a time-honoured coping mechanism of Canadian prime ministers: he hit the road internationally."
In fact, most of Mr. Harper's discretionary international travel took place after September, when he succeeded in staring down Michael Ignatieff's threat to bring down the government. And the reason he was able to do so - which also explains Mr. Ignatieff's subsequent slide in the polls - is that Canadians were concerned about the worst recession since 1982, and the last thing they wanted was an election.
Normally, bad economic times play to the advantage of the opposition parties; indeed, this is only the third time since 1961 that we've had a full year of economic decline and both previous occasions proved fatal for the governing party.
In this instance, however, Mr. Harper was able to blame the global economy for our woes - as Barack Obama could blame George W Bush. Unlike the U.S. president, however, Mr. Harper fixed virtually his entire attention on the economy. He ably stole large parts of the opposition program for dealing with the situation; press reports of pork barrelling, therefore, served to reinforce the government's message.
And, the situation never got as bad in Canada and has been improving slowly. Which explains why Mr. Harper went up in the polls this year and Mr. Obama went down to unprecedented levels at the end of his first year in office. But, the improving economy also explains why more recent controversies have eroded Conservative support and taken Mr. Harper out of majority territory, which should give heart to supporters of the opposition parties as they gather for Christmas and New Year's events.
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