Has the Hill become a daycare centre?

Published Dec. 1, 2014, in the Waterloo Region Record

Are there no adults in Ottawa these days?

The question is neither facetious nor entirely rhetorical. There are days when Parliament Hill resembles a giant day care centre more than the seat of serious government.

Where to begin? Well, let’s start with the bizarre episode of Peter Goldring, the Conservative member for Edmonton East, who last week to made his inane “contribution” to the controversy over alleged sexual misdeeds on the Hill by issuing a three-paragraph press release. In it, he referred to the two female MPs (unnamed) from the NDP who have accused two male MPs from the Liberal party (both named, shamed and suspended from caucus) of sexual abuse. Continue reading

The two New Democrats, Goldring suggested, had acted with “shameful indiscretion and complicity,” and he announced he was taking measures to protect his 69-year-old body from unwanted advances from females of socialist or other persuasion. He said he wears “body-worn video recording equipment” (apparently a miniature camera and recorder hidden in a pen in his breast pocket). He advised MPs who “consort with others” to follow his example by wearing similar “risk protection” to “prevent besmirchment when encounters run awry.”

Besmirchment when encounters run awry? I have no idea what idiocy possessed Goldring. He is no newbie; he’s spent the past 17 years buried on the Tory backbench, where he seems destined to remain. Within hours, appalled that one of their sheep had escaped from the flock, the Prime Minister’s Office retracted Goldring’s comments and apologized on his behalf. (Perhaps there was actually an adult on duty in the PMO that day.)

Next, the somewhat related and equally bizarre case of Massimo Pacetti, the Liberal MP from Quebec who stands accused of sexual misconduct by one of the two NDP members who cannot be named. The story is familiar by now. The MP who cannot be named played on a sports team with Pacetti. Afterward, they went for drinks, then she accompanied him back to the hotel room where he lives while in Ottawa. He indicated he wanted to have sex; she says she didn’t really want to, but she handed him a condom anyway.

Afterward, she went to Liberal leader Justin Trudeau to complain about Pacetti’s vile conduct. Trudeau dropped the hammer on Pacetti while carefully not identifying the complainant or even her party. Last week, the woman went public, so to speak. She gave a series of media interviews – all on the condition that she, being a “victim” of sexual abuse, not be named. She gave her account of the encounter, including her provision of the condom. She insisted, however, that she did not give “explicit consent” to the sex that followed. (What the condom implied to her, we may never know. Oh yes – and she wants an apology.)

These people are supposed to be adults. They are not fumbling adolescents. They are the people who make the laws that govern our lives and our country. Why can’t they act that way?

Final example. A week ago, the Harper government, which has been accused of lacking empathy for distressed former military personnel, moved to defuse a scathing report from the Auditor General. A battery of cabinet ministers announced they would spend $200 million in a six-year program to improve mental health services for veterans suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder and other stress-related injuries. Just what the doctor ordered and what veterans groups had been hoping for.

But wait! When opposition MPs got to read the fine print, it turned out that the $200 million is to be paid out over 50 years, not six.

Veterans and opposition MPs were outraged. It wasn’t just the money that won’t be available for today’s veterans. It is also the deception, the attempt to make a great deal out of precious little. The kids would call it putting lipstick on a pig. That’s something they might get away with in day care. In the adult world, in government, it’s called lying.

 

Tories, Liberals unlikely to gain a majority in 2015 vote

Published July 24, 2014, in the Waterloo Region Record.

There has been substantial commentary about the implications of late June’s federal byelections on the next general election scheduled for Oct. 19, 2015.

One of the story lines raised by the media was which opposition party is most likely to challenge Stephen Harper’s Conservatives for the most parliamentary seats, and hence the ability to form a government. However, a fairly consistent pattern in public opinion polls has emerged over the past year putting the Liberals in first place since Justin Trudeau ascended to the party leadership.

Despite the New Democrats’ role as official Opposition, and NDP Leader Thomas Mulcair’s dominant role in question period, it appears as if more Canadians see the Liberals returning to their historic role as the natural alternative to the Conservative party.

The particular set of constituencies contested in the recent byelections is in no way representative of the nation at large. Three of the four are safe party sinecures. While Alberta might be changing somewhat from the solid Conservative fortress it has been, that is most likely occurring in urban areas, not rural seats such as Macleod or boom towns such as Fort McMurray.

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Barry Kay in Hill Times: Tories, Libs trying to knock NDP off their ethical ‘high horse’ over free partisan mailings: pundits

Published June 9, 2014, in the Hill Times.

Dr. Barry Kay was mentioned in a Hill Times article which discusses how the federal Tories and Liberals are trying to knock NDP off their ethical ‘high horse’ over free partisan mailings. Full article can be round here.

Will fear trump loathing on election day?

Published June 9, 2014, in the Waterloo Region Record.

“In a very real sense, a vote for Andrea Horwath is a vote for Tim Hudak” — Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne, writing in the Toronto Star, June 8.

There, in a nutshell, is the issue that will, in my view, determine the outcome as the ugly Ontario election campaign — a wretched excuse for a democratic exercise — lurches to a finish this week. Someone will win on Thursday, although it can be argued that no one deserves to win.

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For the Liberals, who seem to have a bit of wind in their sails in the closing days, the key to success is fear — fear of what would happen to Ontario if Progressive Conservative Leader Hudak (the man with “The Plan”) comes to power. For Wynne, this fear is a tool to make sure her Liberal supporters turn out to vote. And the same fear is a weapon to persuade wavering New Democrats to jump to the Liberals or, failing that, to stay home on Thursday lest they split the anti-Hudak vote.

Wynne did not mince words as she addressed voters in her Toronto Star commentary: “Like you, I am convinced that if Tim Hudak is given the slightest opportunity, he will destroy and dismantle so much of what you and I care about in this province.”

Strong stuff that, but this has been an election scarred by negative emotions — loathing of the Liberal legacy of scandals pitted against fear of the Hudak alternative. From this vantage point, it seems that fear may trump loathing.

I think Hudak made two mistakes. He played the scandal card too hard and too long without managing to convince very many Ontarians that Kathleen Wynne was culpable for the scandals that occurred on Dalton McGuinty’s watch. People wearied of all the scandal talk. Second, Hudak bet his political future on his “million-jobs plan” — an economic plan that experts panned and that Hudak himself was never able to explain to anyone’s satisfaction. All that the average voter could see was that Hudak planned to fire 100,000 public-sector employees, reduce some essential services, cut taxes on corporations and somehow pay off the deficit. It made no economic or political sense.

The NDP’s Andrea Horwath also made two mistakes. Having joined forces with Hudak to defeat the Liberal budget, she did not have an exit strategy to disengage her party from the Tories once the campaign began; she found herself playing second fiddle to Hudak’s attacks on Liberal scandals. Second, and more important, she lost her political bearings. By moving to the right (traditionally barren ground for socialist parties), she allowed Wynne to take over the entire left and centre-left of the spectrum.

The pollsters and pundits remain confused. Most pundits, though not all, declared Hudak the winner of last week’s leaders’ debate. He and Horwath kept Wynne on the defensive throughout the 90-minute encounter. Hudak stayed on message and he performed better than most pundits had expected him to. But he did not come across as being as likable as the besieged Wynne or even the aggressive Horwath, who lived up to her “Steeltown Scrapper” nickname.

It wasn’t much of a debate, and it failed to address such important issues as health care. In the end, I thought Hudak lost. He played well to his base, but he did not broaden it. He failed to dispel the perception that he can hardly wait to start slashing and burning at Queen’s Park. Kathleen Wynne comes across as a more sympathetic political leader, and that’s worth something at the polls.

The opinion polls are still unclear. There seems, however, to be some movement — although not a stampede, to be sure — toward the Liberals. Seat projections suggest another Liberal minority with a majority government, perhaps, being within the realm of possibility. If enough voters agree that a vote for Horwath is the same as a vote for Hudak, Kathleen Wynne will have a very pleasant Thursday evening.

Barry Kay Appears on the Morning Show on Global

Published May 26, 2014, on Global News.

Associate Barry Kay makes an appearance on the Morning Show to talk about the 2014 Ontario election. More specifically, Dr. Kay breaks down the Ontario election numbers and how the debate will affect the election. Podcast can be viewed here.

Barry Kay mentioned on CBC News

Published May 22, 2014, on CBC News.

Associate Barry Kay is interviewed on CBC Kitchener-Waterloo to discuss the importance of the Kitchener Centre riding in the 2014 Ontario Election. The Kitchener Centre riding is almost always on the side of the party that wins Ontario, both federally and provincially. Full article can be accessed here.

Building a Supreme Court with the ‘right’ view

Published May 26, 2014, in The Waterloo Region Record.

When someone comes to write the history of the Harper government, he or she will have to save a chapter for the strange saga of Stephen Harper’s clumsy attempt to pack the Supreme Court of Canada with conservative-minded jurists. Or, you might say, to turn the Supremes into a choir of the right.

I am indebted to Sean Fine, the very good justice reporter at the Globe and Mail, for pulling aside the curtain that normally shields the judicial-selection process from public scrutiny. Working with sources independent of the Supreme Court – no leaks there! – Fine uncovered two crucial lists.

One was the long list, prepared by the Prime Minister’s Office and the Justice Department, of six potential candidates for a Supreme Court vacancy from Quebec. Early last summer, that list went to a five-member selection panel of parliamentarians – three Conservative MPs, one New Democrat and one Liberal. The panel did its due diligence, consulting with Chief Justice Beverley McLachlin, studying judgments written by the six jurists, and traveling to Montreal to seek the advice of leaders of the Quebec bench and bar.
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The panel then trimmed the long list to a second short list of three names to be placed before the prime minister.

It was the second time in less than a year that the panel had been through this routine. The first time was relatively easy because there was a consensus choice, Justice Richard Wagner, a well-regarded, conservative-minded jurist from the Quebec Court of Appeal, and Harper appointed him.

This time, PMO/Justice looking for someone who could be counted on to support their anti-crime agenda, were unable to find a reliable prospect among the judges of the Quebec bench or in the ranks of the province’s senior lawyers. The most impressive candidate from the Court of Appeal was Justice Marie-France Bich, a former law professor, who was valued for her strong judgments and her streak of independent thinking. But was she sufficiently conservative?

The strategists at PMO/Justice could not ignore Judge Bich. They put her on their long list, but made possible for Harper not to appoint her by loading their long list with the names of no fewer than four members of the Ottawa-based, government-friendly Federal Court of Canada. This meant that when the selection panel cut the long list of six to their short list of three, there would have to be at least one candidate from the ranks of Federal Court.

And that’s how it played out. Judge Bich made it to the short list, along with two judges from the Federal Court of Appeal. One of them was Justice Marc Nadon, an expert in maritime law. Although the prime minister is not obligated to choose from the short list, convention dictates that he should. He bypassed Judge Bich to choose the semi-retired Judge Nadon.

The Constitution guarantees Quebec three seats on the nine-member Supreme Court. The Supreme Court Act accommodates the need for expertise in Quebec civil law by setting out special qualifications for these three. It was not at all clear last summer that judges from the Federal Court were even eligible for the Supreme Court; as it turned out, they were not.

When Chief Justice McLachlin saw the long list with its names of four Federal Court judges, she anticipated the problem. Following protocol, she contacted Justice Minister Peter MacKay. She did not, as Conservative MPs have alleged, lobby against Judge Nadon. Rather, she warned MacKay that four of his six candidates might be ineligible.

What MacKay should have done was to halt the process, tell the PM that their devious court-packing scheme hadn’t worked, and advise him either to appoint Marie-France Bich (the only eligible name left on the short list) or start the selection over again, thereby leaving the Supreme Court short-handed for another year or so.

But Harper would not have been amused at being told it was beyond his power to make the Supremes sing right.

Barry Kay appears on Global News

Published May 23, 2014, on Global News.

Barry Kay appears on Global News to discuss the Ontario election and how scattered the polls have been in the first few weeks of the election campaign. Podcast is available here.

LISPOP mentioned in the Waterloo Region Record

Published May 20, 2014, in The Waterloo Region Record.

The Laurier Institute for the Study of Public Opinion and Policy (LISPOP) was mentioned in an article related to the 2014 Ontario Election. Full article can be accessed here.

Public is conflicted, pollsters are bewildered

Published May 12, 2014, in The Waterloo Region Record.

The Ontario election on June 12 is one of the most unpleasant — and unpredictable — contests in recent memory.

There is no excitement in this campaign, no sense that a brighter future lies ahead. The emotions generated by the three principal parties are negative. There is disgust with the Liberals — disgust both with the scandals of the previous Dalton McGuinty regime and with the lack of contrition displayed by the Liberals currently clinging to power under Kathleen Wynne. Why can’t they say they are sorry, tell us how much their malfeasance has actually cost Ontario, and ask forgiveness for treating public funds with such contempt?

Disgust with the Liberals is matched by fear of Tim Hudak and his merry band of Tory slashers who would return Ontario to the days of Mike Harris — the era of cutbacks that produced the Walkerton tainted water tragedy, along with decaying infrastructure, hospital closures, shortages of nurses and doctors and the layoff of teachers at a time when what the province’s schools needed most was more teachers. No one — not even hardcore Progressive Conservatives — believes Hudak can create the 1 million new jobs he promises. But everyone fears he will do his darndest to eliminate 100,000 public servants, regardless of who gets hurt in the process.
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To disgust with the Liberals and fear of Hudak, add nervousness and incomprehension about Andrea Horwath and her New Democrats. We used to think we knew what that party, as social democrats, stood for. Not any longer. In a seeming fit of political insanity, Horwath rejected a Liberal budget that was skewed so far to the left that it could have been dictated by NDP Central. What was Horwath thinking? Did she want to make Tim Hudak premier? Surely, she didn’t think she could win Queen’s Park herself.

We know Hudak has staked out the hard right. Having experienced Mike Harris, we can anticipate what to expect if Hudak wins — a Conservative administration wedded to austerity and minimal government. We have seen Wynne seize the progressive left, offering activist Liberal government more than willing to intervene in the economy. And Horwath and the NDP? They are now somewhere in the murky middle.

If the public is conflicted, the pollsters are bewildered. They are chasing their tails all over the electoral map.

Three major polls were published last week. At midweek, Forum Research reported that the Liberals had jumped ahead of the Tories (38 per cent to 35), apparently a reaction to Hudak’s promise (or threat) the week before to rid the province of those 100,000 civil servants. But a second polling company, Ipsos Reid, must have been talking to different Ontarians, because the next day it reported that the PCs were on the cusp of a majority, with 40 per cent to the Liberals’ 33 per cent.

On Saturday, however, a third pollster, Ekos Research, reported that the Liberals had opened a seven-point lead over the Conservatives — 37 per cent to 30. Ekos found that the Liberals had significant leads among baby boomers and among women voters while the Tories continued to hold an edge among pre-boomers (age 65-plus) and among male voters.

The various pollsters agreed on one thing: the NDP is out of the race. “Horwath’s party has cratered,” says Frank Graves, president of Ekos.

So if the race is down to two parties, how tight is it? Eric Grenier, the analyst who runs a poll aggregator called ThreeHundredEight.com, says when the three new polls and others are merged, they show a dead heat in popular vote with the Tories and Liberals both at 36 per cent, followed by the NDP at 22 per cent. Grenier’s seat projection, based on the regional distribution of this support, gives the Liberals 49 of the Legislature’s 107 seats, to 44 for the Conservatives and 14 for the NDP.

With the electorate so uncertain, the leaders’ debate on June 3 — nine days before the vote — assumes unprecedented importance.

Barry Kay appears on Global News

Published May 14, 2014, in Global News.

In an interview with Global News’ James ArmstrongLISPOP associate Dr. Barry Kay talks about the 2014 Ontario election campaign strategies. The full article is available here

Hudak makes himself the focus

Published May 16, 2014, in The Waterloo Region Record.

There is an adage in elections that governments are defeated, not elected.

This means the focus of most contests is upon the governing rather than the opposition parties. If the latter perform their role appropriately, they will criticize the incumbent administration and hope to gain the support of those who have become disenchanted with the way things are being run.

Ontario Progressive Conservative Leader Tim Hudak seems to have turned this kind of logic on its head, with his promise not only to create one million new jobs, but more controversially to cut public funding for 100,000 pre-existing positions in education and the bureaucracy, well over 10 per cent of the total.

Without getting into the merits or failings of a Mike Harris-like policy of austerity, Hudak has turned himself and his party into the focus, and potentially the target of public attention.

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With Trudeau on the rise, will Harper stick around?

Published Apr. 21, 2014, in The Guelph Mercury and Waterloo Region Record.

Justin Trudeau has been leader of the federal Liberal party for one year.

How is he doing?

Somewhat better, I think, than most people had anticipated. Although he has not taken the country by storm, neither has he wilted in the glare of public and party expectations. Like all politicians, he has made minor mistakes, but he has demonstrated the quickness of foot to acknowledge his errors, to apologize, to correct course and to carry on. The public has been forgiving.

After one year, he has raised his battered party from third place to first in the polls. Pollsters project he would become prime minister at the head of a minority Liberal government, if an election were held today (which, of course, it won’t be). Based on today’s numbers, LISPOP (Laurier Institute for the Study of Public Opinion and Policy) projects a wafer-thin margin: 127 Liberal seats, 120 Conservative and 81 New Democrat.
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Time will tell. What has impressed the political community for many months is the durability of the Liberal revival. It has gone long past the honeymoon phase. Eric Grénier, the poll aggregator and an analyst at ThreeHundredEight.com, puts Liberal popular support at 36 per cent. That’s not terrific, but it’s eight points higher than Stephen Harper’s Conservatives, who remain mired at 28 points.

In an article for the Globe and Mail, Grénier reports that the Liberals have consistently led in the national polls for the past 12 months “The Liberals are up five points on where they stood a year ago, eight points on where they were in the month before naming their new leader, and 14 points compared to the support the Liberals enjoyed in September 2012, just before Mr. Trudeau announced his intentions to run for the leadership,” Grénier writes.

The Liberals have a huge lead in Atlantic Canada, have moved ahead of the NDP in Quebec and stand at 40 per cent in battleground Ontario, up 13 points from their pre-Trudeau level. They have gained ground, but still trail the Tories in the West.

Not all of this improvement is Trudeau’s doing, of course. In Canada, as in other democracies, opposition parties seldom win elections; they become the beneficiaries when governments defeat themselves. That certainly what happened in 2004-2006 when the Liberals defeated themselves over the Sponsorship scandal, bringing Harper’s Conservatives to power.

But Trudeau seems to wear well. He is no longer seen as a kid with a good name and a slender resume. He has established himself as a serious politician. He is also a genuinely likeable politician, and likeability is a significant asset in politics. Bill Davis and Peter Lougheed had it. So did Jean Chrétien in the early years. NDP leader Thomas Mulcair comes across too hard-edged to be truly likeable. And likeability is simply not part of Stephen Harper political wiring.

Ask yourself, if you were inviting a national leader over for a beer and a burger in your backyard, who would you ask? You would choose someone who is interesting and fun. Harper? No way. Mulcair? Probably not. Elizabeth May? Yeah, maybe. Trudeau? For sure. That likeability is reflected in renewed Liberal popularity, especially among young voters and female voters.

Eric Grénier notes that the Liberals’ year-long lead in the polls is the longest stretch that the Harper government has trailed in second since their election in 2006. “The last time a majority government trailed in the polls for as long as the Conservatives have was in the last years of Brian Mulroney’s tenure,” Grénier observes. That was back in 1992-93. Mulroney hung on. Kim Campbell eventually replaced him. And the mighty Tories won just two seats in the 1993 election.

No one is predicting obliteration on that scale for Harper’s Tories. But the question on Ottawa lips (it has passed the sotto voce stage) is: will Harper stay on if he is not pretty darned sure he will retain his majority? The smart money says No.

The elephant in the Conservatives’ closet

Published Mar. 10, 2014, in the Waterloo Region Record. 

The Senate expenses scandal may seem to be in abeyance. It no longer dominates question period in Parliament, leads the TV news or makes newspaper front pages on a daily basis.  But the scandal is far from over; it is destined to bite the Conservative government again before the election in October next year.

This elephant in the Tory closet was on display on the weekend when CBC-TV’s fifth estate program aired a documentary called “The Rise and Fall of Mike Duffy.” It brought back many questions.

Why did the Harper Conservatives decide to turn “Old Duff,” a popular and likeable television news host, into a Tory shill (one who soon developed a taste for $3,000 suits)? Why did the government tell Duffy it was okay to accept a Prince Edward Island Senate seat when he actually lived in Ottawa and had for decades? Why did Duffy claim $90,000 in expenses for living in his own home in Ottawa? Why did the Senate agree to let him claim them?

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Why did the Prime Minister’s Office make such strenuous efforts to cover up the affair instead of letting Duffy dig his own way out of the mess? Why did it (up to the PM himself, allegedly) agree to allow the Conservative party to buy Duffy’s silence by paying his expense debt (then believed to be only $32,000)? Is it credible that Harper was not aware of what a number of others in the PMO clearly did know: that his chief of staff, Nigel Wright, had personally put up $90,000 in hush money in a failed attempt to make the scandal go away?

Why, when this came out and Wright resigned, did Harper initially express much regret and praise for Wright, only to turn around and declare that Wright was a scoundrel who had deceived him? Is  it possible that someone, a lawyer maybe, advised the PM  that if what Wright and Duffy had done was illegal (offering and accepting a bribe, perhaps), then Harper might be seen as an accomplice to the crime – an accusation that could end his political career if he did not quickly distance himself from the pair?

In monetary terms, the Senate scandal is relatively small potatoes. It cannot compete in dollars with the Liberals’ sponsorship scandal of a dozen years ago, or the more recent scandals in Ontario over Ornge ambulance or the costly relocation of hydro plants.

But the Senate affair matters for at least three reasons. First, because the clumsy cover-up has left so many questions unanswered. Second, because the Senate scandal, like the Airbus scandal of the Mulroney era, reaches into the highest office of the land where it raises grave issues of ethics, integrity and accountability. Third, with so many investigators poking around (Senate-appointed auditors, the Auditor General of Canada, and the RCMP), the affair is bound to make news for many months to come. And if Nigel Wright, who has been silent to date, has an opportunity to tell his story, he has the potential to blow the cover off the cover-up.

There’s another issue, a very political one that is beyond the reach of the various investigations. It’s the way the government works these days. Retired Progressive Conservative Senator Lowell Murray, who served in Brian Mulroney’s cabinet and has had more experience inside the corridors of power than just about anyone else, was interviewed by Linden MacIntyre on that fifth estate program the other day. Murray (who is no fan of Stephen Harper) talked about the “instinct to control everything” at the centre, in the Prime Minister’s Office.

No matter how hard he may try, no prime minister can control everything in a modern government. Some things are bound to get away. Harper could have left the Senate expenses mess to the upper house and its members to deal with. But he had to try to control it, and it got away. A lesson learned?

Harper’s Mideast trip promotes ‘strong and decisive’ image

Published Jan. 27, 2014, in the Waterloo Region Record

If you ask people who run political campaigns at the highest levels, they will tell you that one of their essential tools is a plan.

The leader must be able to declare to voters: “Elect me and this is what I will do. Guaranteed.” The plan doesn’t have to be elaborate or detailed — simpler is better — but campaign strategists say electors are more inclined to support a party with a plan, even if they don’t agree with much of it, over a party that grapples with subtleties and complexities and lacks a clear vision. In other words, black and white works; grey doesn’t.

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I’m wending my way to Stephen Harper and Israel. But, first, some other examples. Brian Mulroney won the 1988 federal election by promising free trade with the United States. That policy was not popular, according to polls, and most voters probably had, at best, only a vague idea of what free trade might entail, but they voted for Mulroney and free trade in preference to whatever it was John Turner and the Liberals were offering (who remembers?).

In 1993, Jean Chrétien stumped the country waving his “Red Book” of Liberal commitments. The contents of the book — a mystery to even many Liberals — didn’t matter. The fact of the book and the image of the plan it represented carried Chrétien to a majority government.

To work, a plan needs to seem to be simple and clear. Then Liberal leader Stéphane Dion confused everyone, including his own followers, in the 2008 election with his environmental “green shift.” Earlier, in 1974, Progressive Conservative leader Robert Stanfield promised to combat inflation with a temporary wage and price freeze, but the Tories could never really explain how their controls would work. Pierre Trudeau and the Liberals laughed them off the hustings — “Zap! You’re frozen!” Trudeau cried.

Trudeau himself had come to power six years earlier by stumping the country promising to make Canada a “Just Society.” Whatever that slogan meant, it seemed clear enough to voters, and powerful, and Trudeau won in a walk. A triumph for black and white politics.

This brings us, circuitously, to Prime Minister Harper and the Middle East. When Harper played his Israel card last week, there was no grey area, no qualifications, no discreet reservations as he and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu conferred best-friend status on each other. Middle East politics is incredibly complex and in the years (pre-Harper) when Canada had a measure of influence there, Canadian diplomats did their best to pick their way through the minefield of conflicting Arab-Israeli interests.

No longer. In the Harper era, Israel is good. Israel is a democracy surrounded by enemies. Canada stands four-square with Israel. Let others worry those Israeli settlements. Let someone else come up with a peace plan. Canada has Israel’s back.

Harper’s professions of friendship seem to be sincere. He probably believes most or all what he said in Israel. But his real audience was here not ever there. The Conservatives are in trouble in the polls. They are running 10 to 12 points below their election 2011 level, keeping their heads above the NDP but trailing the Liberals by about six points. Harper’s personal approval has been sliding throughout the Senate expense scandal.

The Jewish vote is one of his party’s better hopes. As in the 2011 election, Conservatives will be targeting a half-dozen ridings in Toronto, Montreal and Winnipeg where the Jewish vote could be decisive. According to exit polls, 53 per cent of the Jewish vote, so long in the Liberal fold, went Tory in 2011. They’d like to make that percentage even higher in 2015.

Last week has to help. Harper had a very good week. His visit will not have any lasting influence in the Middle East. But he shone among friends in Israel. He looked strong and decisive. And his message contained a clear, simple plan everyone could understand: unconditional support for Israel.