BRIAN KIERAN: No special moment goes unpunished

On the national political stage, no special moment goes unpunished.

On the national political stage, no special moment goes unpunished. We were reminded of this when Justin Trudeau was crowned Liberal Party leader and eloquently embraced the challenge of re-building the party that was once a centrist powerhouse.

While Trudeau was basking in the glow of victory, Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s backroom bullies were poisoning the well. The first in a series of seriously nasty attack ads was being pumped into the virtual universe.

Trudeau — looking like a Che Guevara wannabe — “lacks the judgment to be Prime Minister. He’s in way over his head,” proclaim Harper’s harpies on their new website: justinoverhishead.ca.

The Liberal leader is even ridiculed for performing a mock striptease, even though it was conducted at a charity event organized by the Canadian Liver Foundation. Trudeau helped raise $1,800 at the event.

“Trudeaumania is here,” the website cautions. “It’s spreading from journalist to journalist … Breathless reporting. Tired clichés. Overwrought prose. But, since all news passes through their journalistic filter, we need your help to get our message directly to Canadians. No filter. Just the facts. Without their snark and spin.”

Ironically, many Liberals would claim they have been the victims of 24/7 media “snark and spin” since they offered up Stephane Dion as their leader in 2006.

An increasing number of Canadians are offended by these attack ads, but Harper could care less. He believes they work. Exactly two years ago, just ahead of the May 2011 federal election, one of my first columns for Monday Magazine was devoted to attack ads and voter suppression, which I characterized as “disengagement by design.”

The goal then, and now, is to discourage moderate voters from political engagement because they believe Ottawa is at worst corrupt or at best a Mad Hatter’s Tea Party.

Certainly the stakes for Harper have never been higher. He is running scared and there isn’t even an election on the horizon. An April 3-10 EKOS poll of 4,500 voters gives the Liberals 29.1 per cent support (up from 18.9 in the 2011 election), compared to the Conservatives’ 28.8 per cent (down from 39.6 in 2011) and the NDP’s 23.3 per cent (down from 30.6 in 2011).

I am convinced that polling this week in the wake of Trudeau’s victory will put the Liberals more firmly in first place. Most polling firms have reported steady gains for the Liberals since last summer due initially to the rock solid stewardship of interim leader Bob Rae and then to Trudeau’s entry into the leadership race in October.

There is another reason why Harper is so keen to invest millions of party resources to nationally humiliate Trudeau. It diverts attention from a swelling revolt on the wing-ding flank of his caucus. There is a group of more than 20 Conservative MPs — like Edmonton MP Brent Rathgeber — who are sick and tired of having their parliamentary voices muted by their dictatorial PM.

In the coming weeks, Rathgeber and other members of this cabal will be aggressively lobbying the Speaker for new rules that facilitate open debate in the House of Commons.

Rathgeber says: “I have, from time to time, constructively criticized our own government’s policies.” As far as Harper is concerned, that’s bordering on treason. And, he wants us looking the other way while he attempts to crush this dissent. M

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