A question of party unity

Julian Wolfe
February 14th, 2014

A party that is divided and in turmoil is perceived as unfit to run a government. Hence why the Conservative Party wanted to try to reignite old divisions in a strengthening foe next week – only to find out they were throwing rocks in a glass house.

Conservative leaked memos show 2015 will be a full-fledged assault on the Liberal Party – just as the past 3 elections were. The Conservative strategy is to use Harper’s wife and undermine Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau by reigniting old divisions in the party and giving a microphone to internal critics to policy stances the party has taken. The assault would begin at the Liberal Party’s Montreal Convention set to begin next Thursday while Liberal members choose the policies they want to see in the 2015 platform and the executive team they want to guide their electoral readiness.

The leaked 6-page memo obtained by the Toronto Star outlines three key tasks: “drive, disrupt, disunity.”

The idea is to “drive our narrative[:] Trudeau in over his head, has poor judgment, only interested in legalizing marijuana VS. PM’s strong, stable leadership, focused on what matters most to Canadians.” The memo also wants the Liberals to be “on their heels and forced to defend themselves. If they’re explaining, they’re losing.” In addition, the note claims that an “opportunity exists to fan the flames of Liberal infighting,” and they can “use the opportunity to build an ‘anti-Trudeau’ supporters’ list. Encourage people to sign up to hear the real truths behind Trudeau and why he’s in over his head.”

“Canadians will face a clear choice in the next election between Justin Trudeau’s poor judgement, lack of experience and bad plan on the economy and Prime Minister Harper’s strong, stable leadership and low tax plan for jobs and economic growth for Canadian families,” Conservative executive director Dimitri Soudas said.

It turns out that the strong, stable Conservative Party has lost a considerable amount of its steam. From policy differences among social conservatives to a year-long spotlight on a massive PMO scandal to a major contradiction on what was supposed to be a 2011/2015 election promise. The united coalition of the former Progressive Conservative and Canadian Alliance parties is showing its expanding fault lines as moderates within the party track to Trudeau’s Liberals and Reformers in the party’s establishment mull the censorship they had to endure to remain electable.

In 2011, the Conservatives promised that if they got a surplus they would implement an income splitting program to equalize salaries between spouses with children below the age of 18 in an effort to lower their family’s tax burden. Next year’s budget is expected to be balanced, but don’t expect the Conservatives to keep their promise. Prime Minister Stephen Harper may have toured the country in the last election on that promise, but blatant contradictions and counter-arguments from Finance Minister Jim Flaherty has shown yet another fault line expanding in the Conservative Party. The tear has left other Conservative MPs in caucus confused and refusing to answer. Damned if they do and damned if they don’t, income splitting will either be the issue that demonstrates they’ve broken their promise or it will be the issue that shows how reckless the Conservative Party can be. How good can a policy really be when their own finance minister has shot it down publicly? So much for steady the course – the likely Conservative election theme.

Harper’s message remains clear: income splitting is happening.

“Once we get a balanced budget and once we get a surplus we can have obviously the discussion about what we do next,” Harper told reporters Thursday.

“But we’re very clear, we’ve made some commitments and reducing taxes for Canadian families will be among our highest priorities as we move forward.”

Contrast this to Flaherty’s announcement on Wednesday and the opposition gets thrown a bone.

“It benefits some parts of the Canadian population a lot. And other parts of the Canadian population virtually not at all,” Flaherty said.

“And I like to think I’m analytical as finance minister, so I will, when we discuss it eventually in cabinet, in caucus, I will present my analysis to my colleagues.” Earlier, Flaherty said “I’m not sure that overall it benefits our society.”

Liberal leader Justin Trudeau used this ounce of division to drive a wedge into the Conservatives’ ability to govern.

“The way that I’m building the platform for the Liberal party over the coming year-and-a-half, we’re very much thinking about how we implement (policies) and not just whether or not they’re saleable politically,” Trudeau said, adding that the Conservatives may want to focus on their own internal disarray and division.

The income splitting promise may be the least of Harper’s worries in 2015. With a party showing deepening division and a resonating Liberal leader and a united Liberal Party, the Conservatives face the fate they exploited to get into power: division. A divided Liberal Party in disarray was easy for Harper to fight against, however, in 2015, he will now be facing a united Liberal front with a very influential leader while standing on a shaky (at best) foundation.

The Conservatives can try to place a public magnifying glass on Liberal policy disagreements, but you don’t need to look further than the abortion debate to see a Conservative Party branded as moderates be torn apart by radically different conservative segments whom resolved these very internal conflicts just to have a united Conservative Party in power in the first place. In the meantime, the Conservatives are trying to “ensure we don’t wake up on October 20, 2015 with Justin Trudeau as Prime Minister.”

What do you think of the recent turn of events in Conservative unity and election strategy?

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On Monday, the longest campaign in modern history will come to a close and if current polls are any indication, Canada may be seeing a change in government after 9 years of Conservative rule under the leadership of Stephen Harper. Accountability was his calling card in 2006 and today, accountability may very well be one of the defining reasons for his departure.

In its length, in its cost and in its debate schedule, this election is unusual. The first and possibly only real debate of the campaign ended and here are the highlights of what happened.

Prime Minister Stephen Harper left Rideau Hall this morning with Governor General David Johnston’s approval to drop the writ and Canadians are now officially headed to the polls on October 19. For the first time since fixed election date legislation was brought in by the Conservative government, a fixed election date has been followed.

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