Stephen Harper and his Conservatives are riding high with a 10-point lead over the NDP as concern over jobs and the economy replaces health care as the No. 1 issue for Canadians for the first time in almost a year, according to new Nanos Research numbers.
"For a government that likes to the talk about the economy this is actually good news for them," pollster Nik Nanos told The Globe. "This is an issue the Prime Minister likes to engage on and it's good for his personal brand."
Mr. Harper's focus has shifted from wrestling down the deficit to job creation as a way to deal with the economic recovery.
The Nanos poll shows that 31.9 per cent of Canadians list jobs and the economy as their more important national issue of concern compared to 26.3 per cent, who gave the same answer last month. Health care dropped to 28.2 per cent from 30.8 per cent last month. The third most important issue to Canadians is education – but it is way down at 8 per cent.
Medicare has not been a Conservative government strong suit. In the May federal election, the Tories pledged to continue the 6-per-cent increase in health-care transfers to the provinces past 2014 – a pledge that hadn't been in their budget.
In addition, Mr. Harper is under fire from Ontario Premier Dalton McGuinty to negotiate another long-term health accord with the provinces. The 10-year deal, which Mr. McGuinty helped to fashion with former Liberal prime minister Paul Martin, expires in 2014.
As for the horserace numbers, Mr. Nanos notes that "on the leadership front it's a default advantage for Stephen Harper." The Conservatives are at 39 per cent compared to 29 per cent for the opposition New Democrats and 24.5 per cent for the third-party Liberals.
Mr. Nanos attributes the Tory strength, in part, to the fact that their two rivals are being led by interim leaders – Nycole Turmel for the NDP and Bob Rae for the Liberals.
In Quebec, however, the fact New Democrats do not have a permanent leader does not seem to be affecting their fortunes. The NDP is at 43.7 per cent compared in the province to 20.2 per cent for the Conservatives and 17.9 per cent for the Liberals.
The poll of 1,209 Canadians was conducted between Sept. 25 and Oct. 2. It has a margin of error of 2.8 percentage points, 19 times out of 20.
A national history lesson – and branding exercise
Planned with military precision, Conservative cabinet ministers and MPs are fanning out across the country Wednesday to sell Canadians on their $30-million plan to commemorate the 200th anniversary of the War of 1812.
Heritage Minister James Moore outlined the initial government plan, which includes a national monument to the war, on Tuesday.
This is patriotism Tory style – and the Harper government is pulling out all stops. It is characterizing the war as a defining moment for Canada, making Confederation possible.
Against this backdrop ministers and MPs, who are on a break week from Parliament, "will participate in a national roll-out, in various regions to announce the Harper Government's commemoration plans for the War of 1812," according to a government release issued Tuesday night.
"Tomorrow's announcement will articulate the national and regional benefits and commemoration plan to Canadians," PMO spokesman Stephen Lecce says in the release.
He listed the ministers and MPs involved, including Defence Minister Peter MacKay in Halifax; John Williamson in St. Andrew's, N.B.; Veterans Affairs Minister Steven Blaney in Levis, Que.; Minister of State for Transport Steven Fletcher in Winnipeg; Environment Minister Peter Kent in Vancouver; Indian Affairs Minister John Duncan in Victoria and MP Pierre Poilievre in Ottawa.
And for those wondering why announcements are being made in British Columbia regarding the War of 1812, Mr. Moore took to Twitter Tuesday night to educate his constituents: "1812 Occupation of Fort Astonia in Oregon allowed Cdns to start populating the Fraser Valley in BC. #warof1812."
Liberal MP Marc Garneau, meanwhile, countered Wednesday morning with warnings about the Tory history lesson. " Beware Canada: as Conservatives continue their branding efforts and decide that we need to be more proud of ourselves," he said, "let's make sure we don't revise history (the war of 1812) for the sake of a branding exercise."