01.15.2015 06:02 PM

In Friday’s Sun: it’s (still) the economy, stupid

It’s the economy, stupid.

That’s what Bill Clinton’s top strategist, James Carville, famously wrote on a piece of paper, a generation ago. He then put it up on the wall of the Clinton campaign war room in Little Rock, Arkansas. (He also posted two other important messages that have achieved less recognition: “Change vs. More of the same” and “Don’t forget healthcare.”)

Clinton, aided and abetted by Carville, would go on to win the 1992 presidential election campaign, of course. Most folks attribute that victory to Clinton and Carville’s laser-like focus on the economy.

It’s become conventional political wisdom in the intervening years. Incumbents win when the economy is good; challengers win when the economy is bad. Everything else – health care, national security, whatever – is important, but not nearly as important as the economy.

But is that axiom still true? Justin Trudeau doesn’t talk about the economy all that much, but he is doing rather well with just the above-noted “change” formulation, thank you very much. He could win simply by being unlike the other two guys, and by maintaining a pulse.

Stephen Harper, meanwhile, is defying the conventional political wisdom with a singular focus on foreign affairs. In recent months, the Conservative Prime Minister has been much more preoccupied with international files: brokering détente with Cuba and the U.S., staring down Russia’s despot Vladimir Putin, an increasing focus on the Arctic Circle geopolitics, and of course military action against ISIS/ISIL. It is harder to recall anything noteworthy that he has had to say about the economy.

Despite that, Harper’s party is competitive again – and he has started to emerge in polling as Canadians’ preferred choice as Prime Minister.

So what, then, of the economy? With both Trudeau and Harper remaining popular, and with both saying precious little of note about it, is the Clinton/Carville formulation no longer true?

One senior analyst with a major bank (one who, unlike most bankers, knows a great deal about politics, and has even helped run a few winning campaigns) knows why Harper has not yet been hurt by his pirouettes on the international stage. The bad news – plummeting oil prices, a declining dollar, and a December drop in jobs and building permits – hasn’t really registered on the public consciousness, he says.

“The next fiscal year, 2015-2016, is when we will see the big impact from oil prices,” says the analyst. “[But Harper] will still balance the budget this year – the $3 billion contingency fund allows him to do that. Next year may show a slight deficit, which is bad for political purposes. But it’s virtually meaningless for financial markets.”

The analyst concedes that this week’s much-publicized TD Bank report likely caused some consternation at the Department of Finance and the Prime Minister’s Office. In the report, TD predicted that the Conservative government’s balanced budget would now only happen “with the thinnest of margins.”

Our anonymous political-financial analyst, who works for a rival bank, is undeterred. “The trend in debt-to-GDP continues down, and positively,” he says. “Canada’s AAA credit rating is intact. Even TD projects surpluses to return. And refinancing of the debt is resulting in big time savings for federal government.”

But does that mean, then, that the Prime Minister has many more months of wiggle room – and that he can put off Election 2015 to the Fall?

The smart banker doesn’t hesitate. “If was his advisor, I would say: let’s go sooner. Let’s not give any more time to the Opposition on the Summer BBQ circuit!”

In other words: it’s still about the economy, stupid. And Stephen Harper is well-advised to go before the economy gets worse, and the electorate start to notice.


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    MoeL says:

    “Harper’s party is competitive again – and he has started to emerge in polling as Canadians’ preferred choice as Prime Minister”

    Not according to the latest Nanos poll
    Trudeau 31.0%
    Harper 30.2%


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      MississaugaPeter says:


      As a faithful Nanos follower myself, I was confused as heck by that sudden drop of almost 3% (from 33% to 30.2%) for Harper from last week to this week. Since I am led to believe that this is a roiling average and considers the last 4 weeks results, it would have required Harper’s numbers last week alone to have tanked to less than 25% to precipitate such a sudden 4 week, rolling average drop. I thought to myself that a lot of Conservative folks must have got a tongue-lashing over the holidays and that was the reason for the drop.

      Then the Ipsos poll came out. Confused. With everything going on right now, and how much I wish it was the case, I find it hard to believe that Harper’s numbers are actually going down as the Nanos poll suggests. Will have to see what Nanos reveals next Wednesday.

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        MoeL says:

        Or the week that was dropped was abnormally high or both. One thing to consider though is that Nanos, like a few others, is a REAL poll where people are actually called at random. They also have a very good track record. I personally don’t understand how the internet based polls(?) select their sampling base. I wish they, like Nanos, were a bit more up front with their methodology.

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    Brachina says:

    Oh Trudeau is talking about the economy, he’s putting out an ad attacking the NDP for wanting to raise corporate taxes, he seems to think it will hurt the middle class (clearly he still doesn’t even know what that is).

    The Tories attack Trudeau endlessly and not a single attack ad against them, but this is the second ad from Trudeau against the NDP, whereas the NDP has focused its attacks on Harper.

    I don’t get it, if its all certain that the NDP is done for and going back to third place as many seem to think why do this? Perhaps the NDP is more of a threat to Trudeau then pundits will acknoweldge.

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      Domenico says:

      My best guess is that Trudeau is, by way of attacking the NDP, appealing to financial conservatives who may have voted for Harper in the past. This ad is not really about the NDP, but is an appeal to centre right voters.

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    JH says:

    Interesting column WK especially in light of the Ipsos Reid poll for Global that says Harper is on the cusp of a majority after all those months of a Liberal lead, which has apparently disappeared. It only reinforce a point I’ve been trying to make on here at different times. As someone who belongs to no political party, but loves watching the action, I keep wondering when the hardcore Liberals who flood this website are going to catch on? They come on here day after day braying their hatred of Stephen Harper and reinforcing each other’s partisan navel gazing. When are they going to actually wake up and realize nothing is accomplished by feeding off each other on here – they need to actually get out and do something if they want their choice to prevail? I realize it’s the same for all partisans, but this site seems to attract more than it’s share of those willing to offer insults to all who disagree with them, but seem unprepared to do any actual work in terms of electoral success. It’s unimportant to me what they do of course, but interesting.
    Just sayin’.

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    Ridiculosity says:

    Unless things rapidly spiral downward into a recession, the economy won’t be the main election issue. The fact that Canadians have had enough of Harper will be.

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    Al in Cranbrook says:

    Just released Ipsos poll…



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      Al in Cranbrook says:

      Of course everyone saw what happened in Belgium today. An arrest in Ohio of lone wolf jihadi wannabe. Paris last week. Australia. And of course here at home, events which lifted terrorism out of the sphere of international stuff and made it personal to Canadians.

      And there’s Putin, whom many now consider…rightfully so…to be the singularly most dangerous man on the planet. Putin, who is watching his economy and his Russian ruble get sacked by tumbling oil prices. Talk about a bear being backed into a corner, eh?

      This is damn serious shit happening, and I suspect that, if and when push comes to shove, the majority of Canadians want damn serious leadership.

      …as opposed to someone who thinks opposing terrorism amounts to handing out long underwear and gloves to the victims thereof.

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        Domenico says:

        The whole Putin thing will have more of an impact in the US Presidential election. Their economy is going really well, while ours is not. In good economic times, you can get mileage out of foreign policy. In bad economic times, well just ask George H. Bush.

        Regardless, I think the whole Putin thing makes Mitt Romney look ahead of his time. I seem to recall he was ridiculed for warning about Russia in 2012.

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    ron says:

    The Ipsos poll must be disturbing for the Trudeau camp: big drop in Quebec and the Maritimes
    The austerity budgets of the BC, Ontario, Quebec, NS and NB Liberals will not help the Liberal brand in those provinces.
    The Liberal attack ad on the NDP’s corporate tax policy is interesting. Could it not backfire big time if some of the Liberal “progressives” begin to remember that their leader supports Harper absurd 15% rate – the lowest in the G20! Trudeau’s lack of support for a national childcare program is also a wedge to the advantage of Tom Mulcair – whose interviews on TV and the CBC today were brilliant.

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      MississaugaPeter says:

      You just brought up a very valid point that I and many others here have forgotten. That being, that the party running the Federal Government is almost always the opposite to the party running the Ontario Government. Obviously there are periods they are the same, but I believe the number of years in the past 60 are very few.

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    bluegreenblogger says:

    Hmm. Well a lot has changed since 1992. Back then, there was no means to micro-target the electorate. You pretty well had to pick the two or three things that could sway a plurality of the electorate. So ‘The Economy’ was the target. Today, with so much information available on individual voters, and the means to target communications directly at them, you need to have a basket of tailored messages.

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      Mervyn Norton says:

      Based on historical trends, President Obama’s re-election hopes in 2012 were supposed to be dead in the water because of a slow economic recovery, including sluggish job growth and delayed housing market rebound. But Democrats got their vote out by focusing on “equality of opportunity” issues, including immigration and other “middle-class” aspiration issues.

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    Ronald O'Dowd says:


    Why has the mushy middle TH crowd consistently supported Harper? Certainly not because they like him — rather because up until now he inspires confidence with much of the electorate. If the economic tanks, it will be another story for Harper.

    Liberals and NDP will push the change dynamic but unless they can inspire voter confidence as it relates to the economy then they are in for a whole lot of trouble.

    This will most likely not be a polarizing election. Therefore, are you really sick of him along with is he an idiot won’t be the primary drivers of the next campaign.

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    davie says:

    Sometimes it seems to me that polls and surveys are the ways that the pollster tells people what those people should regard as the main issues. If you want people to make the economy an issue, then just keep polling about economic matters; if you you don’t want climate change to be an issue, then never mention it in polls and surveys.

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    Ronald O'Dowd says:


    I hope you do a contest! Just in case you do, here’s my bet: Budget on Tuesday, April 7, 2015 with an election on Thursday, May 14, 2015.

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      Mervyn Norton says:

      Good guess. Politicians can be a superstitious lot. So the CPC’s campaign planners are undoubtedly asking themselves: how did we do the last time we called the election for May? That and the timeliness of spinning the need for a renewed “economic” and “security” mandate.

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      Liberal No More says:

      But Mother’s Day is on May 10th, Victoria Day on May 18th… and to sandwich the election between those two commemorative days may not be good timing. Some are suggesting the election will be much longer than the 37 days, and even going 3 months, which would drain the opposition party as well as most Canadians.

      How about June 22, right after Father’s Day and the First Day of Summer…. about 75 days of campaigning with most Canadians forgetting what the issues are and just re-electing the devils they know? O’ Canada……..

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        Ronald O'Dowd says:

        Liberal No More,

        You will recall that the 2006 election campaign was 55 days in length. Martin suspended the campaign over the holidays.

        And the end result was…

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    Liberal No More says:

    What should concern Liberals is the coming attacks from the Mulcair NDP. Yesterday, Mulcair attacked Justin saying that being PM of Canada is not an “entry level job” referring to Trudeau.

    If the NDP keep on beating that drum it will eventually sink Justin. The Mulcair NPD chapter of the NDP must fight to keep their Quebec MPs first and foremost because that is what will keep them as the OOP in the HoCs, or better.

    Justin is politically vulnerable particularly outside of Quebec, and the CPC will run attack ads in English reminding Canadians that Justin is no Pierre by a long shot.

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      smelter rat says:

      Maybe. But no one thought he could beat Brazeau either. He won’t go down without a fight.

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        Liberal No More says:

        Maybe, but didn’t Justin vow to run a campaign based on “positive politics,” free of the negative attacks.

        Not going “down without a fight” sounds a tad negative and attackish to me, unless Justin believes he can fight positively and leave the negativity to Mulcair and Harper and thus rise above the viciousness like a confident leader.

        So, do you think the Justin Liberals will “fight” negative attack ads with their own negative attack ads, or will they just quietly push the positive politics in a dignified manner… while being slapchopped to death by the Cons and Dips?

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          Ronald O'Dowd says:

          Liberal No More,

          Nice try. Our war room are not idiots. We will run a positive campaign by not attacking first — but each dive into the sewer will be met by a rapid response that will squarely take on and refute the bogus arguments made by our adversaries.

          Lesson learned from the Ignatieff campaign. Michael remained positive for too long while many voters concluded that they either didn’t like him personally or disapprouved of his Blue Liberal positions or his relatively right-wing foreign policy positions. He didn’t get the same break that Harper got as Alliance leader, when he pushed for Canadian troops in Iraq.

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      Ronald O'Dowd says:

      Liberal No More,

      Do we agree that Ontario voters will decide who wins the election? Mulcair knows that better than any of us. He also knows that despite his verbal posturing that the NDP has absolutely no chance of winning a plurality of seats in Ontario. Ontarians do not by and large regard themselves as actual or potential Social Democrats. That the writing that continues to be on the wall.

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        MississaugaPeter says:

        You seem to believe that Muclair has given up Ontario.

        That’s what you hope. No way the case.

        Absolutely no one predicted that the NDP would win a far majority of seats in Quebec. Even Bob Rae was shocked to become NDP premier of Ontario election night.

        Trudeau is a rookie leader. The young folks behind him are also mostly rookies or their national experiences were with losing campaigns. Muclair and Harper are expecting that Trudeau will falter when a campaign occurs. There is no way of knowing if he will or not. Muclair is hedging his bets that Trudeau stumbles and he becomes the voice of the left. Plausible. I will not say if it is likely or not because Trudeau has shown himself to be able to overcome when he is an underdog. Unfortunately, he really isn’t seen as the underdog right now.

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          Ronald O'Dowd says:


          I don’t believe that Mulcair has given up on Ontario. Far from it. However, what I do believe is that the NDP miracle cannot be transposed on a center-right province such as Ontario. Quite obviouly, you know the political dynamic better than yours truly. I would put it to you that the Orange Crush wave was only possible because Quebec is a left of center province.

          I prefer the Kathleen Wynne template where she won largely due to Liberal support and moderate Progressive Conservatives while the NDP vote remained largely with Andrea Horwath.

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          Nicole says:

          Mulcair will get what the NDP normally gets federally, some seats in Toronto, Hamilton, Windsor and some up north. He will not be able to get seats beyond that in Ontario. Bob Rae was an anomaly and the anti-NDP sentiment that still exists, in particular in the boomers who have not gotten over Rae days from the 90s, still reigns. Horvath wasn’t able to pull it off with a provincial Liberal government that was not well liked and Mulcair isn’t going to be able to do it either, especially since he isn’t half as charismatic as Jack Layton was.

          Ontario is going to be a race between the Conservatives and the Liberals.

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    Mervyn Norton says:

    Harper’s nine-year track record of being anti-environment, anti-science, anti-court, anti-consultation, anti-veterans, anti-parliament and anti-democratic (all of which make his “defense of western values” rhetoric rather hypocritical) suggests that he should borrow a slogan for the 2015 campaign from Alice Cooper’s U.S. presidential bid in 1988: “A troubled man for troubled times.”

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    Peter says:

    If I were advising any of the parties, my sign would say “It’s the suburbs, stupid.”

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      Shocked too! says:

      How about ….. “It’s the terrorists, stupid!”

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    JH says:

    Scot and Rat – obviously the non-negative campaign promise by Trudeau does not apply to you two. In answer to what did I hope to add to the conversation? I was hoping to indicate that there are a number of us (maybe the majority?) sitting on the sidelines, not buying memberships, but open to being convinced. Obviously that’s not of interest to you and perhaps you do represent what the Liberal Party really is – since I see none of them calling you to account.

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    Kev says:

    Who outside Ontario cares about a provincial by-election?

    For that matter, who outside Sudbury does?

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      Darwin O'Connor says:

      If people start facing charges over it, they will start caring.

      It also begs the question, why didn’t the OPP get a warrant so they could do a proper investigation in the first place?

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