BADDECK, N.S. – Within days of each other, Prime Minister Stephen Harper and his main opponent, Liberal Leader Michael Ignatieff, have now sketched out the themes each will likely offer up to Canadians in the next election campaign.
Harper wants a majority. Ignatieff will take any kind of government.
There is one thing both men agree on: Canadians don’t want a general election right now.
But beyond that, they are road-testing very different pitches for their own brands and are trying out new lines of attack they’ll use on each other.
Harper, in a speech at a Conservative party event last Thursday in Whitehorse, said his party stands for a steady hand on the economy, providing more support to the Canadian Forces, senate reform, and more tough-on-crime legislation.
Ignatieff, addressing his MPs at their national caucus meeting here Tuesday, said “truth and transparency” would be the hallmark of the next Liberal election platform, which would focus on guaranteeing universal health care, providing early learning and childcare, regaining Canada’s reputation on the international stage, and improving pension plans and retirement security.
“These are the simple themes,” Ignatieff said. “These are the themes that run through a thousand conversations that I’ve had this summer.”
Harper’s main line of attack on the Liberals will be to continue to link Ignatieff with the failed coalition attempt of early 2009, an initiative that polls at the time found was deeply unpopular with Canadians.
“When an election does come,” Harper said in Whitehorse, “Canadians are going to face a pretty stark choice. The next election will be a choice between a Parliament with a majority made up of a Liberal-NDP-Bloc Quebecois coalition or it will be a stable majority Conservative government.”
Ignatieff will paint Harper as an imperial ideologue who shut down Parliament twice when he didn’t like the way it was working.
“We’re up against the toughest and most ruthless machine in Canadian politics. Never forget that for a second,” Ignatieff said.
Ignatieff, in the current version of his stump speech, is also making an explicit pitch for disaffected supporters of other parties, particularly those who were once Progressive Conservatives, one of the Conservative Party’s predecessors.
Ignatieff said his party is reaching out to those PCs who “wondered where the progressive went in conservativism, who wondered where the accountability went, who wondered where the transparency went, and I said everywhere, come on in to the big red tent.”
Indeed, the “big red tent”, a phrase now on buttons worn on every shirt here, has become the metaphor around which Liberals are building their key pitches.
“We know where we stand,” Ignatieff said. “Who are we fighting for? The answer’s clear: The hard-working, hard-pressed middle-class Canadian family.”