by Tim Harper Toronto Star
Ten weeks in, one week to go, and despite predictions of his demise, Stephen Harper is still standing.
A minority Conservative government is within reach. How long that minority might survive will depend on the election night numbers.
That, however, is still Harper’s biggest problem. He is standing, but he’s not moving.
Over the longest election campaign in modern Canadian history, the Conservative leader has not been able to change the ballot question in this campaign – the hunger for change.
After 70 days, the hunger is still there and that means the final week of this marathon looks more and more like Justin Trudeau’s to lose. One unintended consequence of this long campaign is that Harper gave his Liberal challenger time to grow as a leader and prove that he was up to the job. It’s an open question as to whether he could have done that in a more traditional 37-day campaign.
Recent Canadian electoral history has shown what can happen in the final days of a campaign. Waves can materialize, momentum can become unstoppable, a national or provincial mindset collectively takes hold in the waning days.
The NDP surprise came late in 2011 and Harper’s majority was not apparent until voting day. British Columbia Liberals and Alberta Progressive Conservatives confounded pollsters and prevailed at the final moment. Kathleen Wynne surged to a majority in Ontario in the final days.
While it is true Conservatives under Harper have traditionally performed better on election day than their final poll standing would indicate, if there is major movement in the final week of this race, it could be dominoes falling Trudeau’s way.
Virtually every riding in the 905 belt is up for grabs and if there is a sense that change is represented by Trudeau alone, they will start falling into the Liberal column.
That will continue into the city of Toronto where Liberals will hold off strong NDP challenges in Toronto Centre, University-Rosedale and Spadina-Fort York. They will take back Beaches-East York and potentially Parkdale-High Park.
It will win them a handful of seats in Alberta and the splits will start falling their way in British Columbia.
The danger for Tom Mulcair and New Democrats is that much of their support is relatively rootless and can be swept away by a Liberal surge. New Democrats may have halted the bleeding in Quebec, but they have been reduced to also-rans in Ontario.
Here are three other things to watch in the final week:
Everyone is bracing for a final week of carpet bombing from their much-vaunted spending advantage.
This late in the race, however, that could backfire and be perceived as more an act of desperation than aggressiveness. The Trudeau attack ads have not worked.
More fascinating is the recent Harper ad in which, mindful of the referendum on his leadership at play, has him telling voters the election isn’t about him. He’s been making the same point in media interviews, building on the “he’s not perfect” ads. They have reminded voters this isn’t a “popularity contest.”
It is a tacit admission by Conservatives that Canadians don’t like Harper, but should vote for him again to protect jobs and the economy.
Who will vote?
Frank Graves of Ekos notes the healthy support Harper holds with voters over 65.
“If voting were limited to those under the age of 65, the Conservative Party would stand virtually no chance of forming government,’ Graves wrote in his most recent analysis.
They will vote. In 2011, 75.1 per cent of voters aged 65-74 cast ballots.
Trudeau has a healthy lead in the 18-34 age category.
Will they vote? In 2011, 38.8 per cent of voters in the 18-24 age group voted.
It rose to only 45.1 per cent in the 25-34 age category.
Liberals believe that cohort is engaged in 2015, but one need look back only to 2011 when that age group massively supported Jack Layton, but did not translate that support into actual votes.
What does the heavy early turnout mean?
In the first day of advanced polling, turnout was up 26 per cent over 2011 and 90 per cent over 2008.
One would look at a high advance turnout as a sign of a motivated electorate seeking change in leadership. However, given the length of this campaign, this could also be a matter of people who have heard enough, made up their minds and just want the campaign to end. Or, it could have been the weather. There is a danger in overestimating the impact. Harper has protected his base. If he is to win a fourth mandate, he has a week to show growth that has so far not been apparent.
Tim Harper is a national affairs writer. His column appears Monday, Wednesday and Friday.
Copyright: 2015 – Torstar Syndication Services