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That majority question

Posted by cwaddell under Election 2008, Election 2008 Campaign strategy, Election 2008 Faculty links

Andrew Cohen

Among the blizzard of polls appearing every day of this campaign, the most intriguing may be this one: 52 percent of Canadians worry about giving the Conservatives a majority.

They appear to be concerned about handing the government carte blanche, or four or five more years of unfettered, unchecked government.

In other words, the Conservatives unbound. Stephen Harper unplugged. Any leader’s fantasy.

If this kind of anxiety exists in Canada, it’s because that 52 per cent of Canadians think that the Conservatives would surprise or disappoint them with what they would do with a majority. That might mean cutting funding to the CBC or re-visiting abortion or capital punishment, which social conservatives oppose.

But if the second part of this poll is right, the anxiety of Canadians doesn’t mean much. Asked whether they would change their vote to stop a Conservative majority, 81 per cent said no.

The prospect of a Conservative majority apparently doesn’t unnerve Canadians as deeply as it did in 2006, when the Conservatives were held to a minority, or in 2004, when they lost. Both times the Liberals argued that the Conservatives had “a secret agenda” and couldn’t be trusted with a majority.

Now, if it it is true that half of Canadians “worry” about a majority but four-fifths will do nothing to prevent it — such as strategic voting — the dynamic of this campaign may have decisively shifted.

It may explain why the Conservatives began the campaign predicting that they would win only a minority, afraid to raise the prospect of a majority. Worried about driving frightened voters to the Liberals, they sought to lower expectations and hope that a polarized electorate would deliver their majority on October 14.

But they’re less shy now. Harper may still be wary of using the “M” word too much, but he is asking for a stronger “mandate” to free his government from the scrutiny of those left-of-centre parties in Parliament.

He has reason to be confident. While no polls shows him winning more than 40 percent of the vote, the level of support necessary for a majority in Parliament, he still remains at least 10 points ahead of the Liberals.

Deep down, Canadians may not like Stephen Harper very much and even may not trust him with a majority, which is why he can’t crack 40 per cent. But because they like other parties more than they fear his, they may give him his wish anyway.


This column originally appeared in the Metro newspapers.

Andrew Cohen, a professor of journalism and international affairs at Carleton University, is the author of Extraordinary Canadians: Lester B. Pearson.