Saturday, June 24, 2006

Majority Plan

It's going to be a long hot summer in Ottawa for Stephen Harper's team. With four of the five priorities taken care of and the health care guarantee still in the works, it's time to plan for the next great goal--majority government:

The men and women around Mr. Harper feel they have good reason to be pleased with their first House of Commons legislative session, which ended Thursday. Four of the five priorities — the GST cut, the $100 monthly child-care allowance, the get-tough-on-crime promises and the accountability act — have all either passed or are about to. Only the health-care guarantee remains to be done.

Mr. Harper can also boast about his visit to Afghanistan, the still-to-be-finalized softwood lumber deal and the fact that his political opposition is in disarray across the Commons floor.

But the real trick will be to repeat the successes of the past five months and expand upon them by appealing to other demographic groups needed to transform the Harper minority government into a majority, experts and some Tories say. That's why political advisers such as Patrick Muttart and policy expert Mark Cameron will be holed up in the Langevin Block this summer trying to find a way to give the government a new shape come the fall.

“I think if they can take some of the rough edges off of the Conservative brand as mean-spirited flinty-eyed little accountants, there are enough leaners out there in enough ridings that it could make a difference,” said Allan Gregg, pollster and chairman of The Strategic Counsel. “I really believe if they can actually do something substantive on something like the environment — something that is non-partisan — it lends itself to a softer side and that's what they have to do.”

Tories say they see three ways in which their party can pick up the 30 seats they need for a majority. The first goes through Quebec, where the party has 10 seats but is optimistic it can add dozens more. The second relies on building more support among the so-called aspirational class — those soccer moms and dads who eagerly supported the GST cut and the daycare allowance. And the third would see the Tories make significant inroads into immigrant Canada, tapping into seats just outside the urban centres.

Sources have told The Globe and Mail that while the strategists have yet to find tangible campaign symbols like the GST cut, the Harper government has sketched out a basic agenda for the fall that will take them toward a spring budget.

The Tories will almost certainly unveil a series of environmental changes designed to capture the segment of voters that Mr. Gregg talks about. Voters can also expect to see more robust international relations, a strengthening of the military and increased trade liberalization.

One senior Tory said the government will look for ways to make the environment a touchable issue for Canadians.

The government has built up a fair amount of goodwill with the public just by being seen to carry out its promises. The trick now is not to promise too much or just to pander to what's popular right now, but to lead public opinion without pushing.

That's the tough part.

Source: Globe and Mail

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