As published this morning on the Speak Your Mind section of the Toronto Star website and reprinted by their kind permission.
There’s an old saying that a week is a lifetime in politics. Seven days in a campaign can change everything.
At the start of this campaign a week ago, fortune was smiling on Tim Hudak and the Conservatives. Rob Ford was in charge in Toronto; Stephen Harper had his majority in Ottawa. Bad press, an unpopular tax and general voter ennui were threatening to end Dalton McGuinty’s tenure as Premier of Ontario and propel the recession-weary province into the willing arms of a receptive Team Blue. All Hudak had to do was keep his head down, carry out a tight campaign and stroll into his accolades.
But then a week went by.
To be fair, there have been cracks in the Hudak machine for some time now. The extreme right flank of his party, emboldened by the blue tide washing over the GTA in recent elections, have begun airing, quite boldly, some of their less palatable points of view. Old standard-bearers like longtime MPP Norm Sterling have been brushed aside for being not conservative enough. It’s been too much for the Red Tory faction of the provincial party, with former leaders Ernie Eves and John Tory slamming the shenanigans publicly and loudly. This week, Hudak himself walked into a big brick wall by denouncing the Liberals’ plan to offer tax credits for businesses who hire skilled new Canadians as a scheme to give jobs to “foreign workers.” Wouldn’t you know it, little old Burlington got our name into the game when PC candidate Jane McKenna uttered this gem while trying to articulate her opposition as well: “When did we become for immigrants?”
That sound you heard was a lot of jaws crashing to the floor.
I’ll give McKenna the benefit of the doubt here and assume that this was just a case of an inexperienced campaigner going up on her talking points. She has since issued an apology, emphasizing that her statement did not reflect the official position of her party. But it’s certainly not the kind of momentum Hudak needs at this point.
Campaigns are won and lost based on narratives. After the first week, the narrative for the Ontario Progressive Conservatives is coalescing into that of the angry grandpa yelling at the kids to get off his lawn. Which is great if you want to sew up the angry grandpa vote, and there are certainly a lot of those – but not enough to win government, particularly if you end up unwittingly motivating the “gentle grandma” vote to come out in droves instead. Additionally, the Tories’ campaign plan to emphasize Dalton McGuinty’s record on taxes – usually a winning issue for any conservative campaign – has hit a bump in the shape of Randy Hillier’s outstanding debt to the Canada Revenue Agency. While this will probably endear Hillier further to his supporters, it doesn’t help sway moderate voters who do pay their taxes on time and don’t enjoy the idea of a tax dodger winding up as Minister of Finance.
For McGuinty’s part, he must certainly be happy with the Harris-Decima poll published mid-week that had the Liberals at 41% support and comfortably in the lead over the Tories for the first time in many months. While it was only one poll, and should be viewed critically given the small sample of only 650 voters, it was good for a few days of positive coverage. McGuinty’s visit to Burlington this past Thursday afternoon to support Karmel Sakran, so early in the campaign, suggests that he believes this riding is poachable. After this past week, it does feel like the momentum is back on the Liberal side.
But let’s talk again in seven days and see where we’re at then. Because a week can be a lifetime in… well, you know the drill.