OTTAWA – Federal Conservatives say the prospects of an election seem to be just about as damp as eastern Canada’s soggy summer.
Cabinet ministers, MPs and candidates from across the country are attending two days’ of election training at a downtown hotel, overlapping a couple days of caucus meetings.
But many said they aren’t convinced they’ll be out campaigning this fall, given the brighter prospects for the economy.
Bank of Canada Governor Mark Carney said last week that Canada is probably already out of a recession and is on a slow road to recovery. Canada’s books are also looking better when compared with other G8 nations.
At the same time, Harper seems to have weathered the worst of the recession without losing much ground in the polls.
“By and large, I would say things are pretty positive compared to what we might have been expected. We’re not out of it yet, but positive signs for sure,” said Gary Lunn, minister of state for sport.
“There’s an expectation that if we could be into an election, the earliest it could be is a year from now, in the fall of 2010. There’s lots of people saying that.”
British Columbia colleague John Cummins calls it “muted optimism.” He said there are still concerns in his province that the recession might linger because of difficulties in the forestry sector and other areas.
Still, he said Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s economic record will make it difficult for the opposition to pull the trigger.
“Canadians realize that Mr. Harper did handle these issues very well, and his handling of it is really beyond criticism,” said Cummins.
“From a Liberal point of view, I think they’re going to have to find an issue and I don’t know what it is. I’m sure they don’t either.”
An election would do nothing to help keep the economy moving in the right direction, said Defence Minister Peter MacKay.
“People want to see the government and the opposition engaged in positive efforts to see this positive momentum doesn’t cease, that the economy continues to recover … and they want to see that everyone is again rolling in the same direction,” MacKay said while attending a conference.
MPs also say they’re seeing the signs of recovery while on the banquet and BBQ circuit in their ridings.
Natural Resources Minister Lisa Raitt said she sees people buying houses and cars in her Ontario riding, and local businesses doing well. She said things are looking up for the economy and the party.
“I always felt that the reason why we were elected was not in spite of the economy, but rather because of it. We’re the right people in the right place to manage the situation,” she said.
Caucus is generally the place to relay grievances from the constituencies, but junior minister Lynne Yelich says she doesn’t have anything to complain about.
“Actually, I have nothing but compliments this time because our economic action plan and the really positive report from the Bank of Canada. It’s been good,” said Yelich, who has the Western Economic Diversification portfolio.
The Conservative “campaign college” this week is also a bit of morale-building for the troops, who go through interminable cycles of cooling their heels and then whipping into election high alert.
Various speakers and trainers go over the fundamentals of campaigning, from the nitty gritty of proper accounting and election filing, to how to deal with pesky reporters. There’s also the chance to rub shoulders with some of the party’s most recognizable figures.
British Columbia candidate Robert Zandee said the training is useful.
“It’s always really good to meet up with current members and guys that you’ve seen before,” said Zandee, who is running in British Colombia Southern Interior.
“A lot of valuable information that you get, how to do things more efficiently during a campaign, because there’s a lot of work to be done in 36 days.”
Raitt said she still gets something out of the exercise.
“It’s nice and it’s going back to the basics, which is what matters. The voter’s what matters, communicating with the voter, and making sure our constituents are served,” said Raitt, who brought her two children to Ottawa with her this week.
“It’s good to go back to the school, I think you can always learn, always learn, always learn.”