Liberals quietly consider the possibility of defeat

Élections 2006


Ottawa ONT - Some Liberal staffers are beginning to put out feelers for new jobs amid slumping public opinion polls, while other Liberals have resigned themselves to the fact that they need to lose this election to rebuild the party.
And then there is the Liberal candidate who said yesterday that it's every man for himself, concerned that the national campaign is dragging him down.
"We've got to look after ourselves," the candidate said. "The national campaign is not doing anything for us. If anything it's an anchor."
One other Ontario Liberal candidate said he's in the fight of his life and has little contact with the centre.
And still another, who believes he is in good shape, has told some concerned colleagues that "it's not time to be depressed."
"You don't have the luxury to be depressed," he has told them. "When your back is against the wall you have to fight back."
And there are some who just don't give a damn if they lose.
"They can do rebuilding better than they can standing there saying, 'no, I'm not a crook,' " one veteran Liberal said about the way some candidates feel now. "They've got too much baggage. They are crumbling under the weight of their own baggage."
A poll conducted for The Globe and Mail and CTV News by the Strategic Counsel showed Stephen Harper's Conservatives have opened up an eight-percentage-point advantage over the Liberals.
The survey showed voters believe the Conservatives hold values that are closest to theirs, a turnaround from the first week of the campaign when Canadians identified more closely with Liberal values.
But despite the grim reports from the field, strategists for Liberal Leader Paul Martin were refusing to concede anything yesterday, putting a brave face on the most recent poll numbers.
One strategist said that now it's about keeping "your eye on the task at hand -- steady on."
"It's all about compare and contrast. Voters need to ask themselves how dramatically different Canada will look on Jan. 24, 2005," the Martinite said about the strategy the Liberals will use during the next two weeks until the Jan. 23 election.
The most recent Liberal ads reflect this new strategy.
One of the ads, called "One leader," features a female narrator, saying, as a picture of Mr. Martin flashes onto the screen, that one leader has reduced the deficit. The other leader, she says, while a not-so-flattering picture of Mr. Harper flashes onto the screen, has made promises that will plunge the country back into deficit. One leader has created a national child-care program, she says. The other leader wants to cancel it. The ad continues to compare and contrast.
While the strategists appear calm, some Liberal staffers are not. One well-connected Liberal said yesterday that he had some queries from staffers wanting to talk about "career planning."
Still, some other Liberal staff insist they have not heard of any colleagues who are polishing up their résumés, emphasizing that two weeks is plenty of time for the momentum to change.
At the door, some Ontario candidates are hearing everything from annoyance with Liberal scandals, such as the income trust investigation and the Gomery inquiry, to anger over supporting the same-sex marriage legislation.
"People want to vote Liberal, but they're a little annoyed," said a senior Liberal, who spent the day canvassing in a Toronto-area riding. "They don't want to vote Conservative."
He believes the Liberals will triumph. "In the end, I think we'll pull it off."
And Heritage Minister Liza Frulla, who is in a fight with the Bloc Québécois in her Montreal riding, remains fairly optimistic. She said no one expected it would be easy for the Liberals in Quebec but no one also expected the Conservatives to be gaining strength. The Liberals, she said, were concentrating on the Bloc.
"We didn't really take notice of the Conservatives," she said. "Now if this is the case . . . [that the Tories are gaining ground in Quebec] then we are going to say what the Conservatives really are, really rightist."
Meanwhile, Liberals who once played senior roles in the party say the refusal of Mr. Martin's inner circle to reach out to those linked to Jean Chrétien continues to hurt the party. "I think people have always had question marks about the guys around Martin and this one hasn't been a good campaign for them at all," one Ontario Liberal MP said.
And though there is certainly concern among Liberals, several contacted yesterday listed multiple reasons for optimism.
Liberals say that the Tories may have peaked too early and that their support could decline as people focus more on what a Tory cabinet would look like and on what policies the Conservatives may cut.
They also say that Mr. Martin has a reputation for being able to raise his campaign a notch when his back is against the wall.
Mark Holland, the Liberal MP for Ajax-Pickering, said he's pleased with the message so far from the Liberal campaign.
"At the end of the day, I only focus on things I can control. The part I can control is making sure I get out and knock on doors eight or nine hours a day," he said.


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