Stephen Harper's Conservative government will go down to defeat in the election that is almost certain to take place this fall for one very solid reason, his party is going to lose too many seats in Ontario and Quebec for it to hang on to power.
Whatever pretty pictures the prime minister and his ministers are trying to paint about the economy, Ontario is deeply in the grip of the recession, with an enormous number of people without jobs, families facing uncertainty and mounting debts, and communities watching key productive facilities shut down. Although the mainstream media doesn't get it, there is a great deal of pain and anxiety out there as Ontario's manufacturing sector is being brutally downsized. Ontario's misery has spread far beyond the communities that have housed the major manufacturing plants and is felt right across the GTA.
Ontario is no mood to vote for a government that has never understood the basics of the province's economy, a government that has repeatedly turned up its nose at the very idea of doing anything to help out. As soon as the writs are dropped, the sentiments of Ontarians will become clear even to those covering the campaign for the networks and the newspapers.
In Quebec, the prospects for the Conservatives are equally bleak. Last fall, faced with the prospect of a Liberal-NDP coalition government that would be supported on confidence votes by the Bloc, Stephen Harper mounted a hysterical attack on the very idea of a government being propped up by separatists, something he has done many times himself since taking office in 2006. Harper's vitriol called into question the very legitimacy of the MPs Quebeckers have elected, treating these representatives as second-class beings who should have no say in the governing of the country.
Harper's assault on Quebeckers re-opened the deepest wounds in Confederation. What he did has not been lost on the voters of Quebec who now see him as a political leader who has nothing but contempt for them. His party is doomed in Quebec this time.
In the 2008 election, the Conservatives won 51 seats in Ontario and 10 in Quebec. This time, Conservative seats will fall like bowling pins in Central Canada. Expect Conservative losses as well in British Columbia and New Brunswick.
Once the campaign gets underway, the colossal bone headedness of the Harper government is going to do it in. Consider for instance the record of Finance Minister Jim Flaherty who once said he couldn't understand why businesses would want to locate in Ontario, his home province. This is the finance minister who nine days after last year's federal election, on October 23, said this in a speech on the economy: "Our economic fundamentals are the envy of the G7. We run balanced budgets here.....As I say, other nations are envious of our situation."
Here is how Flaherty concluded his speech: "Let me conclude by repeating that our economy has solid economic fundamentals, and Canadians can take some pride in that. I can assure you that our budget will remain balanced. We do have the strongest economic fundamentals in the G7. I can also assure you that our spending will be controlled."
Today, the man who could not foresee a deficit, even after the stock market had crashed and the global economy was grinding to a halt, was forecasting a deficit for this year of just under $56 billion with large deficits ahead until the middle of the next decade.
Were it not for the utter weakness of his caucus, it is inexplicable that Stephen Harper would keep a proven incompetent like Flaherty at the helm of the Finance Department.
The Conservatives will do everything they can during the campaign to turn the spotlight away from their own appalling record. In the meantime, I wouldn't be surprised to learn that they are trying to fashion a deal with the "separatists" to stave off their moment of reckoning.
(In future posts, I'll look at the prospects of the other parties.)
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