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Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Harper's strategy: Who you gonna trust?

Posted: 08/9/2014 1:00 AM | Comments: 0


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What kind of Canada do you want? Who do trust to manage Canada's economy through uncertain times, and to represent the nation's interests internationally?

It is becoming increasingly apparent those are the questions the Harper Conservatives will want Canadians to ask themselves before they mark their ballots in the coming federal election. The questions would form the sharp tip of a two-pronged attack designed to sow doubt in Liberal leader Justin Trudeau's ability to carry out the duties of a prime minister, and the direction he would take the country.

The Conservative campaign will likely begin with a poll-driven focus on three issues the Tories think the Liberals are vulnerable on -- prostitution, marijuana legalization and abortion.

Earlier this week, Trudeau re-affirmed his position in favour of legalizing and regulating the sale of marijuana -- a stance which a large Ipsos-Reid poll conducted earlier this year showed is supported by just 37.3 per cent of Canadians.

The polling company found that 47.1 per cent favour either leaving the law alone or imposing reduced penalties for those caught with small amounts of marijuana -- a policy the Conservatives have signalled they are willing to consider.

On prostitution, the Harper government has introduced legislation that targets purchasers of sexual services, while funding programs to help sex workers leave the industry. The Liberals' plan to vote against the bill, even though the same Ipsos-Reid poll found 51.2 per cent of Canadians believe buying sex should be illegal.

On abortion, Trudeau has announced that persons wanting to run as Liberal candidates must fully support women's abortion rights. A poll conducted in June by Ipsos-Reid for CTV News found, however, 70 per cent of Canadians believe that "even as party leader, Justin Trudeau has no right to exclude potential candidates from running for the Liberal Party based on whether or not they are pro-choice."

The poll indicated 52 per cent of Canadians oppose reopening the abortion debate and believe the federal government should "leave things the way they are" -- the Conservatives' position.

On the three hot-button social issues, the Tories appear to have the support of an approximate majority of Canadians. Don't be surprised if they invite voters to choose between the Canada that currently exists, or one that would have brothels, marijuana stores and abortion clinics in every city and town in the country.

On the national economy, the Conservatives will likely rely on a familiar script, depicting the PM as a reliable, experienced hand on the economic tiller, who has led the nation through an economic crisis, balanced the budget and reduced tax burdens for Canadian families.

They will argue Trudeau lacks the qualifications and experience required to manage one of the world's most diverse economies, and he would inevitably raise taxes, including imposing a carbon tax, in order to fund his agenda.

On foreign relations, the Conservatives will contrast Harper's experience on international issues with Trudeau's inexperience, suggesting it is too risky to trust Trudeau with the task. An ad asking voters to imagine Trudeau sitting across the negotiating table from a hard-nosed foreign leader such Russian President Vladimir Putin is inevitable.

The Conservatives have been telegraphing their campaign strategy for weeks now. Trudeau's team needs to be ready to deliver a convincing response.

The Liberals' position is clear on marijuana, but they must clarify the party's stance on prostitution and abortion. Would they legalize the purchase and sale of sexual services, as the Tories will suggest? If not, they need to say so, and offer a clear statement of how they would address the issue.

Likewise, what changes would they make to the status quo on abortion? They need to be unambiguous on their intentions, even if it is to change nothing.

On international and economic issues, Trudeau can reassure Canadians concerned about his lack of experience by surrounding himself with candidates and experienced advisers that the nation trusts to provide advice and leadership on those important issues.

The 2015 election isn't that far away. When the Harper Conservatives ask Canadians what kind of country they want, and who they trust to lead it, it's up Justin Trudeau to have the answers.


Deveryn Ross is a political commentator living in Brandon.



Twitter: @deverynross

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition August 9, 2014 A17

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