It all looked so easy at first - the new Liberal leader Stephane Dion struggling to get his message across in English, a youthful (if portly) Prime Minister that seemed to stick to his promises and deliver well crafted speeches, a Government party unburdened by scandal, party coffers bursting at the seams, the Premier of Quebec making nice, an economy going gangbusters - shurely, it was only a matter of time and the Conservatives would form a majority Government.
The chattering class by a wide margin interpreted the Quebec election results as boding well for Steve. The public seemed to show strong initial support for the budget - initial polls showed the Conservatives' support spiked to 40%. It all looked so rosy for Bush's pal Steve Harper. It was going to be a waltz. A breeze. A romp. He had the bucks, the brand new hi-tech 17500 square foot, shiny headquarters. And the polls that showed him to be a 2 to 1 favorite as the leader who would make the best Prime Minister.
Well, if I may be permitted to indulge in some trite and hackneyed political truisms, that was then and this is now. Or, dare I say, if two weeks is a long time in politics, one month may seem like an eternity.
Since the Budget was tabled on April 19, its been all downhill for Stevie. It took a few days to settle in, but once Canadians had time to think about the great Quebec giveaway - the billions given to rectify a mythical fiscal imbalance - they were . . . well, they were underwhelmed. Particularly when they thought about Premier Charest - toute de suite, as they would say in La Belle Province -bribing Quebecers with a 700 million tax break upon hearing of of Harper's beneficence on the eve of the Quebec election. Premier Danny Williams, the colourful and fearless newfy and the normally sober and sedate man-of-the-cloth Premier Calvert of Saskatchewan, began leading an attack on the Budget that continues unabated.
Even Bay Streeters, who one would think regarded Stevie as their fair-haired boy, became angry. They were irate over the Budgetary tax change that disallowed Canadian companies deducting loan interest for foreign investments.
The El Stinko Budget seemed to revive that damnable Income Trust issue still festering in the minds of millions of middle class Canadians and income trust business leaders. Harper's shameless broken election promise saw net worths of ordinary Canadians slashed. Cash flows that older families had relied on for their twilight years, thanks to Harper, were now out the window. Furthermore, piranha-like foreign companies were now picking up business assets of the trusts for a song. Ontario MP and Grit finance critic John McCallum was greeted by cheers - in Calgary of all places - as he assailed Harper and his Government for being idiots and morons for trashing income trusts.
But that's not all. Soon to replace Stockwell Day as the gift to the Liberals that keeps on giving, Defence Minister Gordon O'Connor has been front and center in the Conservative drive to snatch defeat out of the jaws of victory. Former General O'Connor was already in trouble. He had to do an embarassing about face by admitting in the Commons that the Red Cross did not inform Canadian authorities if Taliban prisoners turned over by Canadians to Afghani authorities were mistreated. He had earlier informed the House otherwise. O'Connor was also
under heavy criticism regarding Federal untendered purchasing contracts made between his Department and a company for which he had formerly lobbied.
In recent days O'Connor blithely commented that the Afghanistan war would probably last 15 years. Underlining that statement and in a move indicating Canada would be in the Kandahar debacle far beyond the Commons approved 2009 date, his Department acquired tanks from Holland which will only be delivered in 2009. This comes at a time when plenty of Canadians have become concerned with body bags of our brave young troops, and informed that the good news of our heavy lifting participation in the NATO initiative in Afghanistan is not shared by knowledgeable observers on the ground. The feel-good rhetoric from O'Connor, Day, Toews, and Hillier about success in Afghanistan seems to be shared only among themselves.
And there remains the disquiet felt by many Canadians about the meanness of the Prime Minister, reflected by his partisan and personal attacks which can only be described as extreme - accusations that Liberals support the Taliban instead of our troops, that a Liberal Sikh MP did not support the continuation of measures under the anti-terror legislation so as to keep his father in law from testifying at the Air India Inquiry, and that Liberals are not a friend of Israel, etc. etc.
There's more. Now we have the attack on Kyoto. Harper's Environment Minister Pit bull, John Baird's over the top doomsday scenario unveiled this week in the Senate hearings has met with derision from all quarters - even including traditional Conservative cheerleader Canwest columnist Don Martin. Senator Denis Dawson referring to Al Gore's 'An Inconvenient Truth,' called Baird's show 'a convenient lie.'
And if all of that wasn't bad enough, now Stephane Dion has begun to find his voice. His environment policy is widely seen by experts to be the most responsible. He and John McCallum have offered up a credible alternative to the Conservative axing of Income Trusts, so as to protect the investments of ordinary Canadians. He has boldly agreed with Elizabeth May not to run a Liberal candidate in the Central Nova Riding that she hopes to win from Peter McKay, and she has agreed to reciprocate in his Montreal Riding. This clears the way for unprecedented cooperation between the Liberals and the Greens (and probably some Green NDP) in the next Federal Election.
The result: a poll released by Decima Research on April 17 shows the Tories at 34% - 2 points below election day in January 2006. The Grits have 31%, the NDP have 15%, the Greens have 11% and the Bloc 7%. And in Quebec, the Budget honeymoon has really gone south: the Bloc has 29% and the Grits lead the Conservatives 23% to 20%. Apparently Quebecers do not liked being bribed. The ND's trail with 10%.
The future is bleak for Bush's pal Steve Harper. With numbers like that he will not win a majority. With a trend like that he is likely to lose if the election is called soon. With gaffes like he and his Government have committed in recent weeks, the result could be a Liberal majority Government. Which of course, I have predicted. Once again, you can say you heard it here first.