A political spat that erupted this week between Conservative Leader Stephen Harper and the Alberta and Ontario premiers is being seen by some as a calculated move on Harper’s part to shore up his traditional party base.
“In the Canadian politics playbook, attacking premiers in the middle of a federal election campaign is unusual,” said Cristine de Clercy, ?associate professor of political science at Western University.
“It’s not clear to me what sorts of benefits Mr. Harper expects to secure in taking on two provincial premiers as well as the leaders of the other federal opposition. It’s almost like a multi-front war now, and those tend to not end up very well.”
“The prima facie explanation is that he’s hoping to shore up loose Conservative fish in the two provinces in question,” she said, adding that many who vote Liberal provincially will vote Conservative federally.
Harper and Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne have been battling it out for months over issues such as infrastructure and a pension plan for Ontarians that the Conservatives view as nothing more than a tax hike.
On Tuesday, Harper took a not-so-subtle swipe at Wynne’s performance as premier, saying: “I think I will observe what a senior official told me when I took office. They said, ‘You will have your best relations with the premiers who are doing a good job in their own jurisdiction.'”
“It’s not unusual to see premiers supporting leaders of their party, it’s a little more unusual to see open hostility with leaders who represent a different party,” said Elly Alboim, associate professor in the school of journalism and communication at Carleton University. “I think this is a little louder and more pointed than we’re used to.”
But Harper has also taken aim at Alberta Premier Rachel Notley, referring to her new NDP government’s decision to raise corporate and income taxes as a “disaster.” (Notley responded that her government’s priority is to protect the jobs of “regular working families,” rather than “wealthy Conservative friends and insiders.”)
It’s not the first time Harper has become entangled in an a public spat with a provincial leader. Former Newfoundland and Labrador premier Danny Williams, a Progressive Conservative, waged an “Anything But Conservative” campaign in 2008, accusing Harper of lying to him in a dispute over the federal-provincial equalization formula.
“?The Conservative success has not been in convincing people who do not traditionally vote for them,” said Tim Abray, a teaching fellow who studies political communication and democratic theory at Queens University. “Their success has been mobilizing the people who do support them.”
?”It is a double-edged sword, but it’s a calculated choice that [the Conservatives] make, hoping it turns out well because of their ability to convert support into votes,” Abray said.
As for Notley, so far she has remained quiet, in terms of offering any endorsement for NDP Leader Tom Mulcair.
“I think, in fact, she’s behaving in a more normal mode for provincial premiers and leaders, which is to lend support and help and make kind comments without [endorsing] a candidate as soon as the campaign starts,” de Clercy said.
“I think if she doesn’t [endorse], it’s the smarter move. Notley’s focus has to be her own challenges, and those include bringing on side many, many, many groups of people who are not necessarily familiar with or friendly to her government.
“So I don’t see at this point there’s any large gain for her to endorse Mr. Mulcair.”