electoral froth 2015: sometimes in a hockey game

Forechecker-In-Chief: Prime Minister Stephen Harper takes up a stick during a visit to the Bishop Cotton Boys School in Bangalore, India, in November of 2012. (Photo: PMO/ Jason Ransom)

Forechecker-In-Chief: Prime Minister Stephen Harper takes up an Easton during a visit to the Bishop Cotton Boys School in Bangalore, India, in November of 2012. (Photo: PMO/ Jason Ransom)

The Conservative campaign was faltering last week, which is to say stumbling, drifting, losing ground on the long road to Canada’s federal election on October 19: that’s what everybody was saying, if not the Conservatives themselves. The big problem? Missteps, according to The Globe and Mail. Also? Dogged controversies. Mike Duffy was one of those, along with some candidates who had to be dumped for loutishness. The economy hasn’t been playing well for Stephen Harper’s governing party, of course, not to mention (other than to mention) the Syrian refugee crisis. Dissension in the ranks! Plummets in the polls!

The Toronto Star’s Ottawa bureau chief was on the case, Tonda MacCharles. She said that Stephen Harper was rattled.

No, sir, said the Conservatives.

Still, campaign manager Jenni Byrne did leave Harper’s side to return to Ottawa party headquarters, a sign of … something? And there was (as MacCharles reported) “a report that Australian polling consultant Lynton Crosby was parachuting in to pull the rip-cords on a campaign in free-fall.”

Peter Mansbridge and the “At Issue” panel got into that on Thursday on CBC-TV’s The National. Here’s what Andrew Coyne from The National Post:

“I wonder how much of it is just sort of a morale boost. Sometimes in a hockey game you replace the goalie, not necessarily because that’s going to make a difference, functionally, but it just gives the team a jolt.”

Mansbridge: “Yeah, but it can also work the other way.”

Also from Tonda MacCharles came news of a private Tuesday dinner for the prime minister in Toronto. Stepping beyond his small circle of advisers and strategists, he’d gathered unnamed friends for consultation. MacCharles:

Asked about the performance of campaign manager Jenni Byrne on Thursday Harper refused to comment, saying he won’t discuss “questions of staffing.”

“Obviously I have a good team,” he said, before shifting his answer back to campaign mode: “For me the big question of this campaign remains the same,” he said in French — the choice before voters about which party has the best economic plan to move the country forward.

That, too, was deliberate, part of one of the takeaways from the kitchen cabinet dinner, that the campaign had to get back to focusing on its core economic message, and pitch the contrast between Harper and his opponents.

Other takeaways: Harper should loosen up. Voila: there soon followed two photo ops of him doffing his suit jacket and playing ball hockey with kids after a disability savings announcement, then later shooting the ball around with his staff on an airport tarmac.

Yet no one downplays that it had been a tough week.