OTTAWA — One party’s hand grenade may be another party’s rocket booster.
Government opponents worked themselves into a lather Thursday over Stephen Harper’s closed-door pitch for a majority mandate, but others suggest his recent appeal to partisans was no gaffe, but rather a sneak preview of Conservative campaign messaging.
“Do not be fooled for a moment,” Harper told supporters at a private meeting last week ago in Sault Ste. Marie, Ont.
“If we do not get a majority, the Liberals, the NDP and the Bloc Quebecois will combine and they will form a government. They will deny this ’till they are blue in the face in an election campaign. But I guarantee it, if we do not win a majority, this country will have a Liberal government propped up by the socialists and the separatists.”
The coalition threat has been standard fare in Tory talking points ever since the unloved and unrequited Liberal-NDP deal, propped up by the Bloc, threatened to unseat Harper’s government last November over a misguided economic update.
That makes the new talk of a Conservative majority “a natural extension” of the party line, says author and consultant Bob Plamondon, who chronicled Conservative governments in his recent book “Blue Thunder.”
“They’ve always resisted talking about a majority in the past because of the fear factor of the so-called hidden agenda and what a Conservative government might do,” Plamondon said in an interview.
But Plamondon argues that after winning two elections and spending more than three years in office, Harper is a known commodity. Polls suggest he’s still considered the most trusted leader to handle the economic downturn.
So the coming Tory pitch is clear, said Plamondon:
“If the opposition parties can gang up and force a coalition government, the only way that voters can absolutely prevent that from happening is electing a majority Conservative government. I see it as entirely logical (strategy).”
Tom Flanagan, Harper’s former campaign manager and chief of staff, says the majority message has probably emerged prematurely, but agrees it’s an “inevitable” part of the next Tory election pitch.
The word “majority” was expunged from Conservative campaign messaging in the 2006 and 2008 campaigns after it appeared to scare off voters in 2004.
But Flanagan says it’s a “more powerful pitch” when attached to the coalition scenario.
Liberal Leader Michael Ignatieff treated the new Harper video like a bombshell, saying it unveils the prime minister’s Machiavellian mind.
Harper’s address included a few sharp partisan attacks on “left-wing ideologues” in the judiciary, bureaucracy, Senate and other federal institutions — standard fare on conservative blogs, but seldom voiced in public by the prime minister.