THUNDER BAY – Staying in touch with the grassroots is something that is difficult for a sitting Prime Minister. Bluntly put that doesn’t matter which party is in office. Once inside the security ring, and inside the PMO, the ability of the Prime Minister to maintain a solid stream of grassroots communication can be very hard.
What happens historically is that after a long time in office, the wear and tear and stress gets to the people in charge. If you want a stark example of that take a look at how the strain of office takes a toll on the Presidents of the United States. After eight years in office the grey hair, worry lines and stress are obvious.
To a degree what happens is that a government, after a long period in power, without refreshing and revitalizing itself simply wears out. Voters eventually reward them with a long spell in opposition – it is a message to rest.
Having a government looking tired can be changed by shuffling the cabinet. That is something that in the current government seems to not be one of the Prime Minister’s priorities.
So in the case of the Harper Government, where control over the message is very tight, increasingly there are going to be times when getting information out is going to suffer. There will be times when the decisions made will come across poorly in the public’s view. That is the trouble with message control. The tighter that a government tries to control the message, the easier it is for the opposition and for critics of the government to get their message out.
Nik Nanos states, “The strengthening of Canada’s economic union appears to be important for more Canadians compared to 2011. This policy priority witnessed a 14 point increase from the 2011 wave of tracking in the number of people who said it was their most important long-term priority. Conversely, cracking down on gun, gang and drug crime (23.4%) witnessed a 10 point decline in terms of the number of people who cited it as their most important long-term priority (33.4%).
“Asserting Canada’s sovereignty in the Arctic (4.1%) and rebuilding the Canadian Armed Forces (3.7%) continue to be lower when presented as choices from among the five long-term priorities”.
While the Conservatives appear to be stumbling with the military file, as critics attack Defence Minister McKay, the importance of that Conservative goal is falling.
Nanos adds, “Testing the importance of the individual elements of Stephen Harper’s long term priorities suggests they all do reasonably well. However, stacked-up against each other in a forced choice model, focus on the economic union clearly is the most important while longer term priorities such as asserting Arctic sovereignty and investing in defence do not do as well”.
Right now, it is looking on several fronts like the Harper Government’s goals are not as in touch with the goals of the Canadian people as it could be.
Note the term “looking”. It is a term that it is very likely that most Conservatives would not agree to. The Conservative campaign promises to get tough on crime, and to bolster Canada’s military are bedrock red meat for the solid conservative base.
The Nanos Survey on what Canadians are seeing as priorities offers some insight into the current issues.
Take the issue of rebuilding the Armed Forces. According the the Nanos Survey, that goal is a priority for only three in ten Canadians. Support remains strong for this goal in the prairies and in Ontario.
The economy is the top priority for Canadians according to the Nanos Survey.
For the Harper Conservatives who are facing tighter economic times, and making cuts to spending, a place where those cuts could likely be painlessly made would be in military spending. If, as promised, Canada is ending the mission in Afghanistan, and there are no further major missions on the menu, those cuts would make both political and economic sense.
Will it happen? Does not appear so. That means the cuts will come across the country and impact the ridings of Conservative MPs where voters will be less pleased. For a government where political decisions are key, the moves seem out of touch with their usual political style.