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      Stephen Harper Still the Man to Beat

      While his minority government fell due to the rejection of his budget,prompting new elections, Prime Minister Stephen Harper remains the favorite.
      By Amiel Ungar
      First Publish: 3/27/2011, 7:13 PM / Last Update: 3/27/2011, 11:11 PM

       

      A minority government, by definition, does not command a majority in parliament and rules as long as the opposition does not decide to jettison it. Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper has managed since 2006 to rule at the head of a minority government, but the inevitable has come and Canada will now go to elections. The other 3 major parties the Liberals, the New Democratic Party and the Parti Quebecois have decided to reject Harper's budget.

      Harper appears to be the odds-on favorite to retain the prime ministership.  49% of Canadians polled see him as the best man for the job. He has been in the job for the equivalent of what in most other countries would be a single term, the optimal period for most incumbents. He has not worn out his welcome from the electorate. Moreover, when compared to the economic situation in the United States and in the European Union, Canada appears to be relatively well off. This is a point that Harper made in a stump speech in Brampton, Ontario in the battleground of the Greater Toronto Area. Harper drove home the point that not only was Canada better off, but that it would be reckless during this turbulent time to change horses in midstream:

      Friends, we are living in a fragile global recovery. Yes, Canada is doing relatively well, but a sea of troubles is lapping at our shores.

      Disaster in the Pacific, chaos in the Middle East, debt problems in Europe, and, of course, some very serious challenges just south of our border.

      Canada is the closest thing the world has to an island of security and stability

      Harper's other main selling point is that his Conservatives are the only party who can form a stable government. The 3 other parties might bring him down, but there is no way that they could govern together. The Quebec nationalists who still proclaim their ambition of an independent Quebec are not a viable coalition partner, he says: "Imagine giving a role of government to a party committed to the breakup of Canada."

      The NDP would pull the Liberals even further left than their leader Michael Ignatieff wants "The NDP, and most of Mr. Ignatieff's Liberals, have never in their lives been in a position where they had to say no to new spending." They would pay for their spending by taxing everything, including Ipods.

      The Conservatives are essentially asking the electorate to give them a workable majority. As usual in Canadian elections, the major battleground will be the province of Ontario, where in the last 2 elections, the Conservatives have done progressively better. If the trend continues, they could finally get their majority, particularly as some of the Liberal incumbents won in 2008 by relatively small pluralities. A straw in the wind is the refusal of the Liberal Ontario Premier Dalton McGuinty to campaign for Ignatieff. He is just too busy campaigning for his own reelection in October.

      The Liberal leader Ignatieff is seen as the best Prime Minister by only 17% of those surveyed. Liberals seem to believe that he has no way to go but up. The Conservatives are tagging him as the "just visiting" candidate. A renowned scholar, writer and media personality and the prolific author of 17 books, Ignatieff spent most of his adult career in Britain and the United States, returning to Canada only 5 years ago, where he eventually picked up the reins of the Liberal party.  He has a steep uphill climb to unseat Harper.