Anybody-but-Harper movement hopes to catch fire

But while it might take hold in Quebec, it's a different story in the rest of Canada

Élections fédérales du 14 octobre 2008

At mid-campaign, Gilles Duceppe's message that only the Bloc could keep the right-wing Conservatives from getting a majority seems to be having some effect.
While it's still in a close fight with the Conservatives in most regions, polls show the Bloc now more solidly in first position as an informal Anybody-but-Harper movement (ABH) is emerging. What remains to be seen is whether this will resonate in some regions as much as it does in Montreal.
This week, influential artists rallied loudly against Conservative cuts in arts funding with artists in the ROC now joining in. In the Globe and Mail, making Quebec artists sound like pussycats by comparison, Margaret Atwood accused Stephen Harper of promoting his own "cult of the personality" and compared his regime to a "budding dictatorship" looking to muzzle artists "who don't line up and salute very easily."

In Quebec, some organizations are becoming involved in a federal election for the first time. The Fédération des femmes du Québec, the Fédération interprofessionnelle de la santé as well as the CSN and FTQ unions called on voters to stay away from the "ideologically-driven" Conservatives.
The president of Montreal's Police Brotherhood, Yves Francoeur, came out swinging against Harper's promise to extend life sentences to teenagers who commit murder and wrote in La Presse: "On Oct. 14, Prime Minister, you will not get my vote!" Now when the police denounce the prime minister as being too right-wing, that message gains more credibility.
As for Jean Charest, he's flexing his own pre-electoral nationalist muscles by coming out against Harper's cuts in culture and the get-tough policy with teenage crime.
But given the Liberal Party's continuing slippage in the polls in rural Ontario and Quebec, as well as in British Columbia where it's being overtaken by the NDP, Duceppe's hope of blocking a Tory majority is starting to sound overly optimistic.
If the current poll trends solidify after next week's leaders' debates, Harper could have a shot at forming a majority government even if the Bloc manages to keep 40 to 45 seats. Thus Harper's fear that Canadians could vote against the Conservatives to deny them a majority. That's why Harper is warning Canadians against "strategic voting" in which voters who prefer a Tory minority government choose another party to keep Tories from getting a majority. Should that movement take flight, Harper's dream of a majority could vanish.
As for the hope of ABH groups that a Conservative minority would be less able to impose its neo-con agenda, they had better think again. Even if he gets a minority, Harper promises to make his law-and-order bills confidence votes, daring opposition parties to trigger an election. This, by the way, is a return to the brinksmanship politics that Harper employed in the last Parliament - a strategy devised last summer by Harper's mentor, Tom Flanagan.
Over the past year, what some called "bully" politics is precisely what enabled Harper to exerthe power of a majority without having one. So even if the Conservatives remain in a minority, Harper intends to govern as if he had a majority.
There's one silver lining for the ABHs. A Globe editorial pointed out this week that opposition parties still could vote against such confidence votes. This would put the onus on Harper to go calling on the governor-general for an election. After four federal elections in six years, Harper wouldn't dare go to see the G-G so soon because she could turn to the opposition to form the government, instead.
With the Liberals in dire straits, maybe the ABH movement is on to something, after all.

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