Tories won't win big cities, ex-aide says

From Saturday's Globe and Mail

The Conservatives have only the bare outlines of a campaign urban strategy and have virtually written off Toronto and Montreal as fertile electoral ground, Stephen Harper's former chief of staff told a political science seminar at University of Toronto this week.

Ian Brodie, a political science professor who ran the Prime Minister's Office for Mr. Harper until the end of June, also said he did not think the Conservatives would win a majority government.

Dr. Brodie's seminar comments were confirmed by three political scientists who attended his talk.

He did not respond to e-mail and telephone requests from The Globe and Mail to discuss what he said.

Dr. Brodie said the party had worked out a campaign strategy for the suburbs and exurbs around cities such as Montreal and Toronto.

In the 2006 election campaign, he said the Conservatives appealed successfully to men in Ontario's 905 and 519 telephone area codes – the outer Toronto suburbs and the heavily populated southwestern province – and this time were trying to target their spouses and daughters.

He said one of the party's prime target voters were suburban or exurban men who work in sales or service industries and have large families.

But he acknowledged the party had no core-city strategy in 2006 and only the beginnings of one in this campaign. He indicated the Conservatives would be shut out of Montreal but might win one or two constituencies in Toronto because of Mr. Harper's stand in the 2006 Israeli-Lebanese conflict.

He predicted that a large voter turnout would benefit the Conservatives, which flies in the face of conventional wisdom that a large turnout is an anti-government protest.

University of Toronto political scientist Lawrence LeDuc, one of Canada's leading vote analysts, said experts are predicting a low turnout on voting day, in large part because the election is not seen as competitive. A Conservative victory has been predicted from the outset of the campaign.

The participation rate was 64 per cent in 2006 – up somewhat from the 2004 and 2000 elections – precisely because it was seen as a competitive election.

In any case, Dr. LeDuc said, a substantial rise in the participation rate would likely have to come from more young people voting, and young people as a demographic are not considered nominal Conservative supporters.

One possibility is that Dr. Brodie was referring to the Conservatives' newfound skill at targeting people who are Conservative supporters but don't vote – a phenomenon noted in this campaign by political analysts.

His prediction that the party would fall short of a majority has been echoed by several political scientists and indicated by Strategic Counsel polls of the 45 so-called battleground ridings in British Columbia, Ontario and Quebec.

Support for Conservative candidates in the 15 most contested ridings in Quebec has dropped by 10 percentage points, to 22 per cent from 32 per cent, since the campaign began.

In the 20 tightest races in Ontario, support for Conservative candidates in the 905 ridings has strengthened to 47 per cent from 40 per cent but dropped in 519 ridings to 36 per cent from 46 per cent. And in B.C. battleground ridings, support for Conservative candidates has increased only slightly to 42 per cent from 41 per cent.

The Conservatives were 28 seats short of a majority when Parliament was prorogued for the election campaign

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