Almost all you need to know about Canadian politics in the next two years can be summarized in one simple number â€“ 10 per cent.
Ten per cent is the share of the electorate that has deserted Stephen Harperâ€™s Conservatives since the last election. In that contest, the Conservatives captured a shade less than 40 per cent of the votes. For months now, polls have given the Conservatives about 30 per cent.
At 40 per cent, the Conservatives would win again, likely with another majority; at 30 per cent, they would lose power. Their aim â€“ and it will drive almost everything they do in the next two years â€“ will be to recapture all or most of the difference.
What about the other 60 per cent of the voting public? The Conservatives could care less about them. The overwhelming majority of those people arenâ€™t going to vote Conservative, period.
Nik Nanos, the pollster, asks this interesting question on an ongoing basis: Could you imagine voting for a given party? He consistently finds that 60 per cent of voters reply that they could not imagine voting Conservative. The partyâ€™s ceiling, therefore, is 40 per cent.
No matter what the Conservatives have successfully done in office, no matter how hard they have tried and how much money they have spent, no matter how favourable the economic circumstances, no matter how inept the other parties, the Conservatives have never shattered that 40-per-cent ceiling. But if they donâ€™t crawl back close to it by the time of the next election, they will struggle to be re-elected, let alone to win another majority.
Given this strategic imperative, you might think that midway through a majority governmentâ€™s term, a party mired at 30 per cent would be rethinking its strategy. That would be to misunderstand the Harper government.
Instead of rethinking, the Prime Minister has doubled down on his long-term strategy, which depends on polarizing the electorate and identifying and mobilizing the Conservative vote. He reshuffled his cabinet to add younger ministers of the same type as the more experienced ones: hard-edged communicators and sharp-elbowed partisans. He regrouped people in his office and at party headquarters who are unreserved loyalists. There are no even mildly discordant voices, let alone fresh faces or new views, in Mr. Harperâ€™s inner political circle.