Stephen Harper gets ready for next year's election

The last time I heard Stephen Harper speak, he was leader of the Canadian Alliance Party. In that speech at Newlands, he spent quite a bit of time talking about why it would be in Canada’s interest to join the U.S. in the invasion of Iraq, something Prime Minister Jean Chretien was dead against.

What a difference a decade makes. Harper has been prime minister for eight and one-half years and certainly is master of the Conservative Party. His popularity in the country has diminished somewhat in recent years, in part because he’s been PM so long, as the public tire of political leaders who stay in power for lengthy periods.

The ongoing Senate scandal is also hurting him. He has also suffered in comparison to Liberal leader Justin Trudeau, who is seen by many as being from a new generation.

However, as Harper pointed out in his speech to the Conservative faithful on Wednesday at Krause Berry Farms, the party can take credit for some significant steps on economic, taxation and criminal justice issues. It seems fairly obvious that those will be key election themes, as the next election is planned for October, 2015.

As is always the case, the next election will be very different from province to province. Harper is well aware of that, and appealed to his audience to work hard to elect Conservatives in the 21 ridings they won in B.C. in 2011, as well as in the six new B.C. ridings. One of those is  Cloverdale-Langley City, where five candidates are seeking the nomination.

B.C. will be a significant battleground in the 2015 election. The Conservatives will lose some ground in ridings closest to Vancouver,  partly because of their law and order stance on marijuana. Trudeau is getting a lot of positive response in B.C., the most pot-friendly of provinces, with his call to legalize pot.

The ridings south of the Fraser, from Delta to Chilliwack, are likely to stay Conservative for the most part. At present, all but two are held by Conservative MPs.

The NDP will likely do well in some of the new ridings and will probably pick up some seats. They won 12 in B.C. in 2011. The Liberals will have a chance to gain ground, but their big challenge is that the so-called progressive vote splits between the NDP, Greens and Liberals, and their candidates rarely get the majority of that vote.

The two Vancouver seats they do hold are due to well-known incumbents managing to hold off the surging Conservatives and NDP in the last election. However, they do have a chance to make some gains — if Trudeau’s popularity can hold through an election campaign and if he attracts new voters who have not voted in the past.

Harper will be a formidable opponent. He is a good campaigner and he has many achievements he can point to. The reduction in the GST from seven to five per cent  remains popular, and federal infrastructure spending has been appreciated in many parts of B.C.

It is fair to say that the Conservative government has directed more federal money to B.C. for various projects than any previous government — Liberal or Conservative.

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