Reading the entrails (April 1, 2007)

Polls are for dogs

“With a provincial election call possibly a week away,” the Montreal Gazette breathlessly reported on Feb. 13, “the Liberals have pulled farther ahead of the Parti Quebecois while the Action democratique du Quebec party’s support may be slipping… The survey, conducted between Feb. 7 and 10 by Leger Marketing and made public today, indicates support for Jean Charest’s Liberals was at 36 per cent, up from 34 per cent in a Leger poll two weeks earlier. Andre Boisclair’s PQ was at 31 per cent, down from 32 per cent. Mario Dumont’s ADQ was at 21 per cent, down from 24 per cent…. Forty per cent are satisfied with the Liberal government, up from 34 per cent a year ago… Leger said Quebecers have warmed to Charest in the past year… ”


While that report was full of all the usual pollster caveats — a margin of error of plus or minus 3.1 percentage points, 19 times out of 20… “We don’t know what the campaign issues will be…” and Leger’s own don’t-hold-me-to-anything-I-say-today-tomorrow cautions — the reality is that that newspaper report represented a kind of consensus among the country’s pundit cognoscenti in the lead-up to the calling of last week’s Quebec election.

On the day the election was called, the race was Charest’s to win. And Stephen Harper could only help grease the wheels of his friend’s victory ride with a late-campaign federal budget that would “fix” the fiscal imbalance — and the electoral outcome — by pouring millions into Quebec’s treasury. With Quebec in friendly federalist hands, the argument went, Harper could then find an excuse — almost any would do — to pull the plug on parliament and win the majority government those same pollsters kept suggesting he was currently flirting with.

April Fool’s came early this year.

It could come late too if Harper listens to the punditi, who still seem to believe the time is as ripe as it will ever be for his Tories to transform themselves into a majority government.

The problem is that somewhere between the pollster’s telephone polls — which, as John Diefenbaker once famously put, “are for dogs” — and the actual this-counts, election-day polls, the voters get to make up their own minds. And voters these days seem notoriously cranky and, worse, unpredictable.

Let’s consider some of the election-triggering scenarios currently being bandied about in Ottawa.

Although the BQ effectively undercut Harper’s prospects for using the budget to engineer his own defeat by voting for it — damn them — some Tories still suggest a campaign based on the budget would be popular enough with middle class voters in Ontario to help the Tories win seats there.

But that same budget, for other reasons, could cost the Conservatives, more of their few seats in Atlantic Canada, especially in Newfoundland. To achieve a majority, the Tories can’t really afford to lose seats, even in unfriendly Atlantic Canada.

And there could still be a backlash, especially in Ontario, if the notion hardens that Ottawa used its budget — and our tax dollars — to buy votes in Quebec.

Some senior Tories have hinted the party might try to turn an upcoming vote on the Opposition’s rewriting of its environmental legislation into a confidence issue, triggering its defeat and a June election campaign.

Really? At a time when the environment appears to trump other issues in voters’ minds, the notion of Harper — who didn’t even acknowledge climate change until his recent Saul-like conversion on the road to re-election, and whose own clean air legislation was roundly and rightly criticized by almost everyone — attempting to campaign as Enviro Boy is… laughable.

A more promising scenario for the Tories might be to run on a tough-on-crime agenda, but that would probably play more to its electoral base than expand it.

Afghanistan? Who knows how that would play out duing an election campaign in the middle of a volatile war season?

The Tories seem to think they have an ace in the hole in Liberal leader Stephane Dion. They’ve already run a series of apparently successful campaign-style ads mocking his leadership, and are planning more. But Harper’s own mean-spirited personal, partisan attacks on his opponents offer fodder for Liberal counter attacks. That could make the race nastier and even more unpredictable.

And Dion himself, it is worth remembering, has made a successful career out of being under-estimated by his opponents.

The election hasn’t begun. But it’s far from over. No matter what the polls say.

Stephen Kimber, the Rogers Communications Chair in Journalism at the University of King’s College, is an award-winning author of five nonfiction books and a novel, Reparations.

  1. Dear Prof. Kimber. Thank you for your article in the Daily Mail March 25th highlighting the sorry state of affairs in the Department of Community Services. That a government department, and the Minister, have to be taken to court (or threatened to be taken there) in order for proper procedures to be carried out is a sorry state of affairs. My personal battle with the Department has been over the policy of closed adoption records in Nova Scotia. I find it rediculous that in this day and age adopted adults are denied access to the name of their natural mother and father unless that parent gives permission for the information to be released. Even more rediculous is the fact that should the natural parent die, the adoptee can only be given their name if 1) they obtain permission from their ADOPTIVE parents or 2) if they can provide the death certificate of the adopted parent. I don\’t know if this area of lack of human rights in Nova Scotia interests you or not – but if it does, you might want to have a look at my blog at the Halifax Herald. The URL for it is

    I would only add that I went to the United Nations Committee on the Rights of the Child in Geneva in September 2003 and lobbied the Commissioners during Canada\’s five year periodic review. As a result of my lobby, the UN made written recommendation to Canada in October 2004 to open adoption records. Ottawa insists that adoption law is a provincial matter; Nova Scotia still maintains that they are \”satisfied\” with the law as it stands – a law which, as you probably know, keeps adoptees and natural parents in the blame and shame that surrounded adoption for the last six decades or more.

    kind regards
    Ron Murdock
    Amsterdam, The Netherlands


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