The Duffy trial matters enormously to Harper when it comes to Conservative supporters.
If you’re a core Conservative supporter, however, you are in one of three camps. In the first camp, you believe in the party. You will get out and vote blue no matter what “scandal” swirls around the prime minister, because the Conservatives are always better than the alternatives. You probably think the press makes this scandal stuff up: journalists are all bleeding hearts, or worse, based on some recent grassroots comments. And what politician doesn’t lie, anyway?
In the second camp, you believe in Harper. You like his agenda, his bearing; more than this, you think he is a man of his word. He delivered on his promises, and then some: the budget is balanced, you’ve cashed your extra family allowance cheques, and you’re topping up your TFSA. He looks like he belongs on the stage with other world leaders, and you can trust him for four more years of good government.
In the third camp, you believe in conservative principles. You’re a “small-c conservative” someone who has read Edmund Burke, or at least heard of him; you like your government minimal, your freedoms respected and your politicians honest. You have a hard time voting for a socialist and you can’t respect anyone who admires a communist dictatorship. You might not agree with everything the Tories stand for, but you still have faith that a small-c conservative light will shine through, however dimly.
It is the latter two camps that are proving problematic for the Conservatives in the wake of the Duffy trial. Small-c conservatives such as writer John Robson had already publicly declared that they cannot vote Tory this time around, based on the party’s lack of principle. Former Conservative representatives such as Randy White are questioning their loyalty as well. And now, Western conservatives are grappling with the Duffy testimony and what it means for the reputation of the prime minister and the values of honesty, integrity and transparency that they thought he represented.
If the Conservative base loses faith, it does not necessarily mean losing votes to the competition, but it could mean a third option: not voting at all. And in a three-way race, apathy is something the party cannot afford. Every vote matters, and while the prime minister can shore up the base with pronouncements like “life means life,” he cannot risk losing supporters based on his person and his principles. For the Conservatives, the only good news is that they have a long campaign to make amends. The bad news is that they have yet to seem interested in doing so.
Every sentient Canadian who has read any of the documents any of the evidence from the trial knows that every time Stephen Harper opens his mouth, declares he knew nothing about Wright-Duffy until he read it in the funny papers, and makes the preposterous claim that it was all a scandal involving just two miscreants - Nigel Wright and Mike Duffy - every time he repeats these things they know he's either lying through his teeth or he's become so unhinged that he can no longer discern reality from fantasy.
For the good cross-section of the Conservative base, the second and third camp, everytime he opens his mouth and repeats this idiotic mantra, it's like rubbing ever more salt in their wounds. For the non-aligned voter, the group that holds no fealty for any party, the smell of this must be nauseating.
Then there's the core of Tories still pining for the good old days of Progressive Conservatism. Sinclair Stevens of the Progressive Canadian Party says these old schoolers are on the warpath seeking to bleed away support from the Harper Cons to tip the scales in favour of the Liberals or New Democrats.
"Our feeling is that if we have a credible candidate, they may take enough votes so that the Conservative won't make it," Stevens said. "That may sound like we're supporting the Liberals, but our feeling is -- in this case -- the Liberals are better than Stephen Harper."