Steve (Mick) Harper's rockin' but Iggy can't get no satisfaction

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The Gazette, Monday, December 13, 2010

Stephen Harper and his garage band played a 20-minute set at the Conservative caucus Christmas party last Wednesday and, of course, the video immediately went viral on YouTube and news-media websites.

While it's hard to imagine Harper channelling Mick Jagger and Jumpin' Jack Flash, the prime minister pulled it off, both vocals and keyboard.

As a tribute to John Lennon on the 30th anniversary of his assassination, he played a few bars of Imagine. For Canadian content he performed the Guess Who's classic Share the Land, after opening with Neil Diamond's Sweet Caroline, dedicated to "sweet, beautiful Laureen," the woman who persuaded him to allow his musical side out in public.

It was a gender-gap closer, reminding women that he must have something going for him if he could have such a smart and vivacious woman as his partner.

But the Liberals weren't impressed. The next morning a senior Ignatieff official emailed the Globe and Mail's Jane Taber. "Not even one song in French," the missive began. "One week after Quebec's artistic elite came to Parliament Hill over C-32 (the copyright bill). It shows that he is clueless about Quebec culture."

It doesn't get any cheesier than that. Even Liberals were cringing with embarrassment. For one thing, who was asking? Answer: nobody. For another, it's Christmas, guys, give it a rest. The right communications response would have been: The PM had a good night, good for him.

Panning Harper's Christmas concert is indicative of something else going on in Iggy's world: Ca va mal.

Usually, any government's popularity goes up during the summer recess, and takes a hit during the fall session of Parliament. It's no mystery the PM's summer tour features photo ops and good-news announcements, while the House is a daily grind in question period, where the opposition body slams the government every day.

Not this year. Iggy had a good summer tour of his own, proving to the Liberals that he could put a bus on the road, speak without a text and kiss babies. While this was going on, the Conservatives went off the air for a month, and got killed over revisions to the long-form census (the ultimate inside-baseball story).

Going into the fall session, the Liberals had narrowed the gap between themselves and the Tories in the polls. The question was whether they could carry their modest momentum into the House. And the answer, in a plethora of bad polls last week, is that they haven't.

Nik Nanos, the most reliable pollster in the country, released a poll early in the week that put the Tories ahead of the Liberals by 38 to 31 per cent. Angus Reid followed with an Internet poll that showed an even bigger spread, 38 to 26 per cent, basically the same score as the 2008 election.

The spreads varied, but all the polls agreed on one thing: The Liberals are going nowhere. In the Liberal caucus, where morale is very low, they blame the leader, and they don't mind letting the media know. Don't take it personally, Michael; the Liberals are notoriously undisciplined in opposition, and when things go badly they always blame the leader. The one good leadership moment for Ignatieff in the fall was holding his caucus together to support the re-profiled training mission in Afghanistan.

But the Liberals and the New Democrats were annoyed at Nanos for his interpretation of his own data -that looking inside his regional breakouts, the Conservatives are on the doorstep of a majority. He posits a theory that the Tories' game of wedge politics, slicing and dicing issues such as gun control and crime, is paying off in suburban "clusters" such as the belt around Toronto.

He's right. Looking at his numbers, the Conservatives are down slightly on the Prairies, but so what? They've got numbers to burn there. What's significant is they're also way up in British Columbia, where they've opened a 2-1 lead, as well as in Ontario, where they've moved out to a seven-point lead. Nanos says a majority might finally be within reach for Harper, even without Quebec.

Far from thinking about proroguing again, Harper should keep the House in session over the holidays.

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