Canada PM Harper ahead in polls but sands shifting

Mon May 2, 2011 3:59pm EDT
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By Allan Dowd

STRATFORD, Prince Edward Island (Reuters) - Prime Minister Stephen Harper has cruised through most of the Canadian election campaign as the front-runner, only to find himself in uncharted political territory on voting day.

Few doubt Harper's Conservatives will win the most seats in Parliament Monday, but his goal of securing a majority government appears just as elusive this time as it was in the 2006 and 2008 elections that gave him minority governments.

Harper, who turned 52 during the campaign and is an economist by training, is now the third-longest serving Conservative prime minister since World War Two.

He maintains strict control over his government to try to avoid negative press, and he is known to have an aloof public personality. His five-week campaign tour around Canada seemed a reflection of this. The Conservative campaign allowed only limited media access and audience members had to register in advance to attend rallies.

A Reuters reporter who wandered into a crowd to hear what people were saying at one rally was told by Conservative staffer that that was not permitted. One university student was barred from a rally because her Facebook page showed a picture of her posing with Liberal Party leader Michael Ignatieff.

The question for Conservatives at the end of the campaign is whether the strategy of protecting Harper's front-runner status and bashing the party's traditional foes, the Liberals, can survive the surprise rise in the polls of the usually also-ran New Democratic Party as a serious election foe. The left-of-center NDP looks set to replace the Liberals in second place and may even surge enough to try to form a government with Liberal support.


Harper has an instinctive distrust of big government and red ink, and during the 2008 election campaign he scoffed at the idea of a big crash or recession.   Continued...

<p>Prime Minister Stephen Harper visits the students of St. Augustine Elementary School after he voted in his riding in Calgary, Alberta, May 2, 2011. REUTERS/Todd Korol</p>