One of the world's leading economic journals says the "bullying" ways of Prime Minister Stephen Harper and his Conservatives could tilt popular opinion to the opposition – specifically the New Democrats.
In an editorial published in its July 7 edition, the Economist – which boasts a global circulation of nearly 1.6 million readers – says the actions of the Conservative government have offered the opposition new hope by reminding Canadians of what they dislike about Mr. Harper.
Specifically, the magazine cites the government's omnibus budget bill that amended almost 70 different laws – from fisheries protection, to reducing environmental oversight, to immigration reform – and which the opposition labelled as a subversion of democracy.
"During his six years as Prime Minister – five of them with a parliamentary minority until he won a majority at an election last year – Mr. Harper has acquired a reputation for playing fast and loose with the rules," the editorial says.
It is not the first time that the Economist – an influential and mostly right-wing British magazine that has occasionally embraced socially liberal causes – has taken a swing at Mr. Harper. In January, 2010, it took a dim view of his decision to prorogue Parliament, apparently to avoid questions about the handover by Canadian soldiers of Afghan prisoners to authorities in that country. In that piece, Mr. Harper was labelled "a competent tactician with a ruthless streak."
The new editorial says he leads a government that is intolerant of criticism and dissent. "This strategy of polarising the electorate, playing to core supporters and vilifying opponents has been effective," the Economist says "But there are signs that it may be wearing thin. In recent provincial elections in Alberta and Ontario parties linked to Mr. Harper lost elections they expected to win."
Meanwhile, there are tentative signs that the opposition is becoming more credible, it says, noting NDP Leader Thomas Mulcair's "balanced approach to developing the tar sands" which takes more note of environmental worries.
The magazine credits the Harper government for guiding a Canadian economy that "stands out from its peers" in terms of growth, unemployment and deficit reduction.
And Harper remains his generation's most accomplished political tactician, the editorial says. "Polls show that voters still consider him a more impressive leader than his rivals. But as they hobnob around the barbecues, opposition politicians have some hope that the prime minister's dominance is waning."