Friday, November 16, 2007

Why can't the Conservatives put some space between them and the Liberals?

That must be a question being asked by a great number of Conservative supporters. I would say the same about the punditocracy as well, since they have been proven wrong over and over again, but doing so would mean I have to assume they have some scruples.

This question is also becoming more relevant as a result of Mr. Mulroney and the impending public inquiry into his actions. Although much of that same punditocracy is arguing that there is no link between Mr. Mulroney's actions and the Conservative Party I argued in my previous post that ordinary Canadians will not necessarily buy that line. So, the problems that Conservatives have been having in gaining consistent breathing room on the Liberals may just become more difficult.

So, that does beg the question as to why, even before The Mulroney Affair, the Conservatives have not been able to grow their support beyond what they achieved in the 2006 election.

Here are some ideas.

Stephen Harper: Mr. Harper is about as cuddley as a porcupine and as charismatic as a turnip. This in itself would not be that bad but he combines those features with a petty, vindictive and mean-spirited style of running the government. I do not say governance because he is not governing. The two together makes him very unappealing to large swaths of Canadians.
Make no mistake, Jean Chretien had the very same petty and vindictive streak but he also had the political instincts to know when to suppress those urges. Mr. Harper either does not have those instincts or he just chooses to ignore them.

The Conservative Party: Since the creation of the new Conservative Party they have lacked any real sense of identity. They have certainly tried to cultivate a brand, as I stated in my previous post and as has been pointed out by knb at
Liberal Arts and Minds. However, I think if you ask anybody what is the identity of the Conservative Party you would receive different answers or blank stares.

The Conservatives have now found themselves in the unhappy situation of having a large number of Canadians who do not trust them because they still do not really know what they stand for. As well, they now have the potential problem of Mr. Mulroney reminding a great deal of folks of just why the "Tory" brand has been tainted over the years. A Party with a tainted brand and no sense of its own identity is rarely successful in the medium to long-term.

The healthy Canadian economy: This one would seem to be counter-intuitive. After all it is convention wisdom that a healthy economy is good news for the government. However, we need to understand that we have now witnessed over a decade of uninterrupted economic good times. Therefore, I believe the Law of Diminishing Returns is rearing its head.

In the period between the late 1960s and the early 1990s the North American economy rarely had economic "booms" that lasted more than 5 years. That meant that just as people were getting comfortable and confident in the economy something would come along and muck it up. That has not been the case in the last 10-12 years. As the economic good times continue so does the sense that they will never end so the electorate is not looking to the government to "fix" the economy. Of course, when the economy does finally hit a bump in the road the party in power at that time will find themselves in some trouble.

As well, despite the Conservatives efforts to convince them otherwise, I believe Canadians do realize that the Liberals had a hand in these good times so they are not necessarily going to give the Conservatives all of the credit for them.

I believe that these three factors are the key factors that explain why the Conservatives are still in the duldrums despite a struggling Liberal Party and a rather satisfied electorate. Unfortunately for them there is not much they will be able to do about any of them in the short-term so they have a cause to be concerned. This is particularly true if The Mulroney Affair takes enough attention off of the Liberals to allow them to get their act together without the distraction of constantly being under the media microscope.


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