Stephen Harper “behind” No campaign in transit referendum, SFU prof says

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      Author Donald Gutstein believes that Conservative insider Hamish Marshall’s involvement in the upcoming transit referendum is no accident.

      “It shows the long reach of the Prime Minister’s Office,” Gutstein told the Straight in a phone interview today (January 9).

      According to Gutstein, there is a “very direct link” between Conservative Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s office and the no-vote campaign to be run by Marshall in Metro Vancouver’s transit referendum this spring.

      “It’s a Ford Nation type of move,” said the SFU adjunct professor and author of the 2014 book Harperism: How Stephen Harper and His Think Tank Colleagues Have Transformed Canada. “Like they’re appealing to the suburban Conservative voters. ‘We don’t want, you know, new taxes imposed on us.’

      “And the connection to Harper is not really masked,” Gutstein continued. “Like Marshall’s connections to the Prime Minister’s Office are pretty obvious, so that’s going to be known to people that Harper is behind this. He’s behind it because he doesn’t want his suburban voters to be saddled with another tax. So that would explain the long arm of the Prime Minister’s Office.”

      Marshall was manager of strategic planning in the Prime Minister’s Office from 2006 to 2007. He was also the Conservative Party of Canada’s pollster in its successful 2008 election campaign. From 2008 to 2010, Marshall was a member of the party’s national council, representing British Columbia. (Marshall was also involved in setting up the pro-tar sands website EthicalOil.org, for which his wife Kathryn served as a spokesperson.)

      The country is going into an election this year, and according to Gutstein, a campaign against taxes, specifically the additional sales tax proposed to fund transit improvement in Metro Vancouver, fits into Harper’s messaging.

      “It’s an election year. It’s just to reconnect with his base. He’s probably going to be doing it in a dozen different ways, but this is certainly one of them. He’s looking out for their interest,” Gutstein said.

      And one way of looking out for the Conservative base’s interest is to keep taxes down, he added.

      “We’ve balanced the budget. We’ve cut taxes. We’ve given more back to the taxpayers. And that’s certainly going to be one of the major themes of the campaign,” Gutstein said.

      Arrayed against a coalition of business, labour, environmental, and other groups supporting transit improvements, the “no” campaign might lose, according to him.

      But Gutstein thinks a defeat wouldn’t really matter to the Conservatives, because the campaign would have demonstrated something that they would want to portray themselves when the election comes around, which is that “somebody’s got to stand up for the little guy”.

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      33 Comments

      Patrick J

      Jan 9, 2015 at 1:34pm

      Two questions I'd like the media to ask:

      Jordan Bateman: Was the PMO in any way involved in the decision by the CTF to hire Marshall?

      Diane Watts: How do you think the people of Surrey should vote on the referendum?

      Stephen Rees

      Jan 9, 2015 at 1:40pm

      “somebody’s got to stand up for the little guy”.

      Doesn't the little guy ride the bus? Isn't the little guy standing at the bus stop watching yet another over full bus pass by without picking him up? Isn't the little guy the one who has been trying to get a ride on HandyDart but keeps getting refused?

      Hazlit

      Jan 9, 2015 at 2:07pm

      Translink may well be a cesspool of corruption and giving them money like throwing oil on a fire, but the "no" side vote is really a vote for Harper. Political conservatism is and has always been a cover for theft.

      Conservatives really believe in economic hierarchy--the religion of free markets equates wealth with virtue. Economic conservatism then, like Calvinist notions of the elect, seeks a winner take all society. When you ask to have your taxes reduced, but not your services cut, you ask in effect for your money to be given to the financial elect. They, because they are the anointed, the chosen, have NO obligation to you the taxpayer.

      When you throw your money at Translink you are supporting the opposite notion--the idea that when you pay taxes you actually get something in return.

      Forest

      Jan 9, 2015 at 2:15pm

      Stephen, you're absolutely spot on. I find the whole referendum to be so deliberately divisive and manipulative. Yes, the public transit system is fraught with mis-management (but remember, this really went south when the BC Libs appointed an unelected board, rather one directly accountable to BC's constituents). And most certainly, we need much better (and deserve better) transit in the province. But to render this conversation to an 'us against them' conversation will only result in a loose / loose scenario. Without more money for transit, an already failing system will continue to disintegrate. We'll see increases in wait times while trying to get to and from work, we'll see more cars jamming the roadways and more carbon in the air. In effect, quality of life is diminished for all. Better Public transit needs better be funded by the Province AND the Feds. Instead of trying to destroy a crucial public system, the Fed. Cons should be ponying up big bucks to support it.

      Tommy Khang

      Jan 9, 2015 at 2:18pm

      This is a neat little conspiracy piece but honestly why would Harper care? If he wants to kill the project all he has to do is state that the federal government won't support the referendum if it results in a Yes vote. He knows his base and those who are most pro-transit are coming out of Vancouver, which is not a bastion of the conservative party.

      Irving

      Jan 9, 2015 at 2:30pm

      What Harper really doesn't want is anyone asking where all the cash from fuel taxes goes. There's a lot more collected than Translink spends.

      spartikus

      Jan 9, 2015 at 2:34pm

      In addition to the points made about the link to the PMO, that they have to tap an astroturf specialists like Marshall rather than seeing a bonafide grassroots leader spring up says it all about the state of the "No" side.

      Say what you will about Bill Vander Zalm, but he wasn't fronting for anyone (except Bill Vander Zalm).

      Ethical Oil wasn't very well thought out. It's arguments were full of contradictions and ultimately was simply exploiting human rights to push product. The "Yes" should take heart the same braintrust will be running the "No" side.

      For the first time I feel a kind of hope.

      Dave

      Jan 9, 2015 at 3:23pm

      @Tommy Khang
      No conspiracy. This would matter to Harper for political marketing purposes. I think the point Gutstein is making is that the Cons will use the transit referendum as a fantastic opportunity to spread a rhetoric that supports their agenda (via affiliates like Marshall). Like the end of the article points out, the project approval isn't necessarily what matters - it's the fact that the referendum will be leveraged to affirm a conservative ideology - Marshall will use the media (he knows how) to spread the message beyond Vancouver. The aim is to polarize Canadians on issues of public spending and recruit to the Conservative camp.

      Natty

      Jan 9, 2015 at 4:06pm

      People who vote opposite the opinion of whichever politician they hate are in for a tough choice: Christy supports it and Harper hates it. What a dilemma they've created :op

      GaryL

      Jan 9, 2015 at 4:45pm

      That photo shows Harper's Pinocchio nose getting longer.