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This article was published 5/10/2010 (4032 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
Two new solitudes have emerged in Canada and they are political, not linguistic.
Ninety per cent of the Conservatives' 30 per cent base believe both the federal government and the country are moving in the "right direction."
Among the other 70 per cent of Canadians, however, those who agree "number in the teens," says Frank Graves of Ekos Research, one of Canada's leading public opinion firms.
Fortunately for Prime Minister Stephen Harper, that 70 per cent is split four ways: Liberal, New Democrat, Bloc Québécois and Green. A huge bonus for the Conservatives.
Although Canada's progressive majority has fragmented, Harper's political style has polarized Canadians as never before, Graves continued in an interview. So Harper's default impulse to cater to his core constituency defeats him every time he nears majority territory.
"The Conservatives came out of the last election perhaps as little as one point of support short of a majority," he writes in an essay on the Ekos website. "The challenge seemed straightforward. Let us call it the two per cent solution. Find another one or two points to add to your current constituency. Some, such as Preston Manning, have suggested that a stronger green appeal may have been adequate... and I tend to agree."
Harper's default instinct is a paradox, according to Graves. The 2008 election wasn't the only time that Harper came close to majority. His popularity soared in late 2009 after his appealing piano rendition of a Beatles tune with renowned cellist YoYo Ma at the National Arts Centre. Then he prorogued Parliament for the second time in as many years and plummeted.
Early this July, he again opened up a comfortable lead on the Liberals but torpedoed himself a third time by killing the long-form census and investing immense political capital trying to abolish the gun registry.
"I can't for the life of me figure out why a guy who needs two points, or one point, would start shoring up an already tenacious base with this red meat... that doesn't appeal even to the six or seven per cent of new voters he captured in 2008," Graves said in an interview.
"When he gets into a comfortable position and even when he's not, he and some of his closest advisers can't seem to transcend their core values. How could anyone in his camp explain to him how doing the various things from prorogation to eliminating the long-form census, to launching a huge war to get rid of the long-gun registry to removing abortion from maternal and child health (would work). It doesn't make any sense."
There is some speculation Harper doesn't believe he can win a majority and "thinks this is a better strategy for hanging on to a secure minority."
Canada's identity arose from a dialogue between the citizens and the federal state: equalization, medicare, the Canada Pension Plan, Graves continued. In contrast, Harper's vision for the country is greater emphasis on the military and the "security state" -- more police, more border guards, more prisons.
He doesn't see a majority for Conservatives or Liberals and doubts the Conservatives will frighten many voters beyond their core by raising the bogey of coalition government because "everyone knows that a coalition is a possibility."
The prime minister's relentless focus on appeasing his base has driven a whole new set of wedges among Canadians. "Culture wars" between the university educated and the college educated, the professional and the entrepreneur and the liberal downtown and the conservative suburb have been launched, adding to historic tensions between French and English, east and west, rural and urban, Graves says.
Graves has advice for the two major parties. The Conservatives should "do what Manning told you last year and come up with a plausible strategy on the environment. You could seal the deal."
The Liberals should cancel the Conservatives' $9 billion to $11 billion for new prisons and $16 billion for Cold War-era jet fighters and appeal to the economically vulnerable and the under-40s by instead putting those billions into nation-building: high-speed rail, universal home care and creating the new post-carbon economy.
"Our nation is frail," Graves warns. But "as the younger generation of Canadians moves into places of authority, it sees nothing of value or interest coming from Ottawa except a hockey rink here or a snowmobile trail there, if you voted the right way.
"Progressive parties fail to understand, as the right does, that you have to have an emotionally compelling narrative to sell your political messages."
Frances Russell is a Winnipeg author and political commentator.