Conservative Leader Stephen Harper says one of the key reasons his party is doing better in this election than in 2004 is that it has won back working-class voters.
With one week to go before election day and his poll results soaring, Mr. Harper indulged in the luxury this weekend of speculating on his party's popularity boom. In an interview with The Globe and Mail, Mr. Harper said there has been a reconnection with working Canadians since the campaign began seven weeks ago.
"I've told my caucus repeatedly, if you make conservatism relevant to ordinary working people, you make the most powerful political philosophy in Western democratic society," Mr. Harper said, looking relaxed and speaking candidly in his hotel room during a campaign stop in Ontario's cottage country. "Where Conservative parties are successful, and successful on a sustained basis, that's what they do."
Mr. Harper noted that the working class, particularly in provinces like British Columbia, tended to move away from his party in 2004.
"Not that we lost it all last time, but it rolled back. That surprised me a bit because that's obviously the element I'm from and I don't think we'd done anything terribly different," said Mr. Harper, whose father was an accountant.
"This time, we've been able to persuade the party as a whole and I've been able to persuade the party as a whole to understand that kind of conservatism and to actively promote it."
While the NDP has generally been viewed as the repository of working-class votes, Mr. Harper has put forward a number of policies aimed at wooing them. The party's tax package, for example, is targeted at the middle- and lower-income classes through reductions in the GST. Other programs would offer relief for apprentices, fishermen and transit riders. There are also measures to encourage construction of lower-income housing.
Mr. Harper said a big reason for the growth stems from the successes of one of the Conservatives' founding movements, the Reform Party.
"The PC Party had other strengths," he said of the second partner in the union. "Reform's great strength was that it had a working-class support. It had a popular support and it understood how to speak to that."
Mr. Harper, who has said one of his chief political goals is to create a small-c conservative natural governing party, said he feels he has also had some success in building a political home for new Canadians and francophones. And if he wins the election, Mr. Harper vowed not to repeat the mistakes of past Conservative parties by frittering away its growing coalition. "We know the history of Conservative parties in the past," he said. "They often win elections and then not just lose later on, but fragment. I'm aware of that and I'm determined to avoid it."
Mr. Harper also discussed Quebec separation, saying his goal was to lower support for sovereignty to the point where it was before the sponsorship scandal.
"I see every reason to believe we can get it down to the kind of levels we were seeing some years ago" he said. "And then, over time, if we have an ambitious, but at the same time cautious, agenda of change to our system, we can deal with it over a longer period of time."
Mr. Harper noted that some of the purpose behind the separatist movement has dissipated with the years. He said, for example, that René Lévesque's blueprint for separatism is a dated dream that wouldn't fly in an age of open borders and globalization.
"The whole thing is just so pre-Cold-War, pre-globalization, and I do believe that eventually a new vision will overwhelm that," he said.
He said he was astonished at early Liberal campaign efforts in Quebec to demonize the Bloc Québécois, saying it was the Liberal sponsorship scandal that caused a rise in voter support for the BQ.
"I think that's now blown up in their face," he said. "It's not a reason to vote Liberal, it's a reason to vote against the Liberals."
Who are the 40 per cent of Canadians who say they would vote for the Conservatives if an election were held today?
Tory support in the regions
Atlantic: 41 per cent (up from 35 per cent Dec. 20-22, the last poll before Christmas)
Quebec: 26 per cent (8)
Ontario: 40 per cent (33)
Prairies: 59 per cent (52)
British Columbia: 42 per cent (29)
Broken down by ages
34 per cent of 18- to 34-year-olds say they would vote Tory (up from 29 per cent)
38 per cent of 35- to 49-year-olds (27)
44 per cent of those older than 50 (32)
45 per cent of voters with a high-school diploma or less say they would vote Tory (up from 29 per cent)
42 per cent of voters with some post-secondary education (32 per cent)
36 per cent of those who graduated from college or university (29 per cent)
40 per cent of people earning less than $50,000 would vote Tory (up from 25 per cent)
38 per cent of people earning $50,000 to $99,000 a year (33)
38 per cent of people earning $100,000 or more (30)
41 per cent of men would vote Tory (33)
38 per cent of women (26)
44 per cent of English speakers (35)
26 per cent of French speakers (8)