PM's party is mired in Minorityland

But Stephen Harper keeps trying the same old unpalatable recipe

Climat politique au Québec

Try as he might - and he does try - Stephen Harper just can't extricate his Conservative government from minority-government territory in the polls.
Still far from the 40 per cent he needs for a majority win but blessed with the near certainty that there's no election in sight, the prime minister seems intent on doing more of what's obviously not working.
With his hyperactivity, his almost constant visibility - even during this summer - Harper is starting to look like the proverbial husband who tries everything to get the attention of his increasingly indifferent wife, but to no avail.

It's as if he hasn't noticed yet that the recipe he follows almost religiously remains unpalatable to a majority of Canadians. This week's summer retreat with his caucus in Charlottetown confirmed that he still doesn't get it.
There, in all its glory, he displayed again his obsessive control of his caucus and of short, simple and sometimes simplistic messages - something that helped him get elected, but that has started to put off more and more voters.
When reporters were "escorted" by RCMP officers from the hotel where the Tory caucus was meeting, allegedly because the families felt intimidated, it was just another embarrassing episode of Harper's continued paranoia about the media.
Still keeping his MPs and his ministers on a painfully short leash, Harper seems to feel that even after 18 months in office, most members of his government can't be trusted, or aren't smart enough, to have a conversation with a reporter without risking derailing his tightly controlled messages.
Whether that reflects worse on the PM or the members of his government is hard to tell.
In Charlottetown, national caucus chairman Rahim Jaffer was among the sacred chosen who could actually talk to journalists without being instantly struck by lightning.
Asked about the decision to keep reporters at bay by putting them in a different building than the hotel where the caucus was meeting, Jaffer said the cutest thing:
"I think we have a civil relationship with the media and we're asking to at least have that respect." If that's what Tories call a "civil relationship," I sure wouldn't want to see what them at work when they have a nasty one.
Besides the obsessive control issue, it's a safe bet that with the unpopular mission in Afghanistan, many voters are also put off by Harper's foreign policy and the increasing visibility and cost of the Canadian army that come with it.
As the government keeps pumping billions of tax dollars into the army and now the navy, it's no wonder that chief of defence staff Rick Hillier feels warranted to weigh in more and more publicly on Afghanistan, to the point where the minister of defence will surely be axed if there's a cabinet shuffle this fall.
The increased role of the army in Canada's foreign policy and its growing cost are all Harper's doing. But it's a choice that he'll keep making at his own electoral risk.
In typical conservative fashion, Harper also seems intent on cutting taxes instead of negotiating tax point transfers with the provinces. Industry Minister Maxime Bernier stated that cutting taxes is a "very popular idea, especially in Quebec."
Really? Where was he at the last provincial election when Jean Charest's similar promise was rejected by a majority of Quebecers and in every poll done since? With advice like that, no wonder Harper's support is stalling in Quebec, too.
Another bad omen for Harper is that although Tories do stand a good chance of winning the soon-to-be called by-election in Roberval-Lac-St. Jean, polls show that in most regions, they haven't much benefited from the popularity of their ideological twin, Mario Dumont's Action dmocratique.
Voters might not be impressed, either, if the Tories continue to push a law-and-order agenda during the fall session.

But even if the PM keeps repeating his tired recipe, he could still pull off another minority if Liberal leader Stphane Dion doesn't get his own act together in a more serious fashion.

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