Once-taboo talk of Tory majority now part of Conservative campaign: experts

OTTAWA - One party's hand grenade may be another party's rocket booster.

OTTAWA - One party's hand grenade may be another party's rocket booster.

Government opponents worked themselves into a lather Thursday over Stephen Harper's closed-door pitch for a majority mandate, but others suggest his recent appeal to partisans was no gaffe, but rather a sneak preview of Conservative campaign messaging.

"Do not be fooled for a moment," Harper told supporters at a private meeting last week ago in Sault Ste. Marie, Ont.

"If we do not get a majority, the Liberals, the NDP and the Bloc Quebecois will combine and they will form a government. They will deny this 'till they are blue in the face in an election campaign. But I guarantee it, if we do not win a majority, this country will have a Liberal government propped up by the socialists and the separatists."

The coalition threat has been standard fare in Tory talking points ever since the unloved and unrequited Liberal-NDP deal, propped up by the Bloc, threatened to unseat Harper's government last November over a misguided economic update.

That makes the new talk of a Conservative majority "a natural extension" of the party line, says author and consultant Bob Plamondon, who chronicled Conservative governments in his recent book "Blue Thunder."

"They've always resisted talking about a majority in the past because of the fear factor of the so-called hidden agenda and what a Conservative government might do," Plamondon said in an interview.

But Plamondon argues that after winning two elections and spending more than three years in office, Harper is a known commodity. Polls suggest he's still considered the most trusted leader to handle the economic downturn.

So the coming Tory pitch is clear, said Plamondon:

"If the opposition parties can gang up and force a coalition government, the only way that voters can absolutely prevent that from happening is electing a majority Conservative government. I see it as entirely logical (strategy)."

Tom Flanagan, Harper's former campaign manager and chief of staff, says the majority message has probably emerged prematurely, but agrees it's an "inevitable" part of the next Tory election pitch.

The word "majority" was expunged from Conservative campaign messaging in the 2006 and 2008 campaigns after it appeared to scare off voters in 2004.

But Flanagan says it's a "more powerful pitch" this time around when attached to the coalition scenario.

"It's really two somewhat different lines of argument working together: the need for stability and a majority to get things done; and then the need to prevent the coalition from coming to power," said Flanagan, who teaches political science at the University of Calgary.

"There is certainly risk" to adopting this strategy, he added.

Liberal Leader Michael Ignatieff treated the new Harper video like a bombshell, saying it unveils the prime minister's Machiavellian mind.

Harper's address included a few sharp partisan attacks on "left-wing ideologues" in the judiciary, bureaucracy, Senate and other federal institutions - standard fare on conservative blogs, but seldom voiced in public by the prime minister.

"The real Harper always comes out when he thinks he can't be heard," Ignatieff said in Montreal.

Thomas Mulcair of the NDP said the video shows the prime minister is "more interested in playing games and holding on to power than making Parliament work for Canadians."

And the Bloc's Gilles Duceppe said Harper comes off like a radical fringe member of the U.S. Republican party.

Harper's speech was videotaped from close range by a student in the Sault audience, who then fed the tape to the Liberal party, which gave it to the CBC.

Conspiracy theorists in Ottawa on Thursday were already whispering that the tape could be a deliberate Conservative leak.

Flanagan dismissed that notion, as did Plamondon. But neither saw a great deal of damage in the video release.

"He's not off-message," Plamondon said of Harper.

"Most often the leaks that harm are those that take away from the message. This seems to reinforce it."

 
 
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