Despite Manatee’s perspicacious analysis of a month ago, I must say I doubted that an economic downturn would have a significant negative impact on the Conservatives. I thought that the view of Harper’s Conservatives among the public as the party to turn to for cold hard cash-handling ability was simply too entrenched for any other party to capitalize on dire financial news. Yet that seems to be just what has happened since the leaders’ debate last week. The Conservatives still have a healthy lead, mind you, but certainly don’t seem to be anywhere near majority territory these days, and are instead poised to make only modest seat gains.
So how did this happen? How did Harper lose his substantial economic credibility so quickly? It seems to have been through a rather shockingly inept turn on the campaign trail. The US election is currently dominating our airwaves, so I can’t imagine what would have possessed Harper to echo McCain and Bush’s line about the fundamentals of the economy being strong. Making that claim, which Obama so successfully used to attack McCain, using those very words, is astonishingly bad strategy. Suggesting at the leader’s debate that Canada would be substantially insulated from the US economic chaos, while the markets were crashing around him, is baffling.
Now, one could argue, as McCain did, that what he meant by fundamentals was our spirited workforce and robust infrastructure, etc. But the line, as was made very clear in the debate, is part of a blithely optimistic economic view. Harper attacked the opposition as banking on economic misfortune for political gain, but seems to have himself been guilty of glossing over the downturn for the same motivation.
All this is not quite enough to shake my faith in our steely Economist-in-Chief, however. His ostensible incompetence I can only attribute it to mangled, cynical political strategy. I think Harper has a much more realistic picture of where the economy is heading than he has conveyed, but was gambling that Canada’s markets would be stable a couple of weeks longer so that his party wouldn’t pay the price for the downturn. I wouldn’t be surprised if it was his main reason for the quick, borderline illegal election call. Instead, he seems to have gambled and lost, and is now paying a double price for appearing out of touch in the very subject that is his forte.
I’m still confidant that those who view purely economic indicators such as GDP as robust measures of our wellbeing can have faith that Harper is the droid they are looking for. I wonder what he thinks of all this? What would a calculating martinet – whose sole focus is the economy – think after suffering such a blow in the polls due to a lack of voter confidence in the economy? My guess: “DOES NOT COMPUTE”.