Which came first for Stephen Harper’s Conservative government — the bad polls or the bad press?
The question has been asked lately, particularly after polls missed the call of the election in British Columbia last week.
Those polls set the tone for the campaign and the months that came before it, when it was assumed Adrian Dix’s New Democrats were on a path to victory and Christy Clark was a lame duck premier. If the polls were wrong, was it also wrong to cast the election in that way?
Though some might doubt the numbers, there is no denying that Conservative support in the polls has slumped to its worst levels since Harper won his first election in 2006. With the leadership campaigns for both the NDP and Liberals now over, attention has turned to those numbers and coverage of the Conservative government has soured.
But could the media be making the same mistake that was made in B.C.? Probably not.
Increasingly, there is good reason to believe the bad polling numbers have something to them and the media is covering what has become a very dark period for the Conservatives. In short, the Tories may have no one to blame for the change in tone but themselves.
The list of gaffes, errors, and scandals has grown in only a matter of weeks, and the reaction to them seems stronger than it might have been in previous years.
There was the $3 billion in unaccounted for spending in the government’s anti-terrorism budget that might cast the Conservatives as incompetent bookkeepers.
There were the mean-spirited attacks ads against the new Liberal leader Justin Trudeau that had even some Tory MPs cringing.
There was the defeat in Labrador, marking the first time the Conservatives had failed to retain one of their seats up for grabs in a by-election, and their very adamant defense of Peter Penashue — a defense that the voters of Labrador did not buy.
There are the taxpayer-funded Economic Action Plan ads touting the benefits of a jobs-training plan that has yet to be approved by Parliament, let alone by the provinces that want nothing to do with it.
There have been worse scandals in Canadian political history, but there are few that are as ridiculous and baffling as this one. Rather than wipe their hands clean of Duffy, the Conservatives doubled-down in their defense of him and exposed their government to all sorts of uncomfortable questions that put into doubt the judgment of the PMO and the prime minister himself.
This is the sort of thing that is easy to understand, and for that reason it is the kind of thing that can stick. Already, conservative call-in shows are airing the opinions of some very disappointed and angry Conservative supporters. Backbench government MPs are anonymously saying to the parliamentary press gallery the kinds of things about their leader that have not been heard since the Chrétien-Martin years.
With seemingly worsening headlines in the news every day, the Conservatives may look back fondly on the time they were polling at 29 per cent. The light that has been shone on the government, perhaps in part due to those bad polls, has revealed something that could sink the Conservatives in the long run.
Éric Grenier taps The Pulse of federal and regional politics for Huffington Post Canada readers on most Tuesdays and Fridays. Grenier is the author of ThreeHundredEight.com, covering Canadian politics, polls and electoral projections.