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PM needs to woo seats in East

Bruce Strachan Right Side Up Can Stephen Harper count? More critically, can he count to 155, the number of seats required to eke out at least a numerical majority in the 308-seat House of Commons? It's questionable.

Bruce Strachan

Right Side Up

Can Stephen Harper count? More critically, can he count to 155, the number of seats required to eke out at least a numerical majority in the 308-seat House of Commons?

It's questionable.

For whatever reason, Harper seems to be missing the point when it comes to forming government in a parliamentary democracy.

By definition, democracy is generally government by the majority. It's a tough game and there's an old adage that says, democracy is two wolves and one lamb deciding what to have for lunch.

Nevertheless - and like it or not - it's the system we use to govern the country.

In Canada, the problem with forming government is compounded by our geography. Canada is a huge country and terribly lopsided on the basis of population.

Just to give you a sense of our national political imbalance, Ontario has 106 seats in the House of Commons, Quebec has 75. The Greater Toronto area (GTA) sends 45 members to Ottawa. By contrast, B.C. is represented by 36 MPs, Alberta has 28.

Against this backdrop you'd think Stephen Harper, with his minority 144-seat government, would be busting his butt to pick up a few more seats in Ontario, particularly in the GTA. It wouldn't hurt to woo Quebec voters as well.

No, not our prime minister, he's too busy digging up goofy ideas while looking for new and exciting ways to offend people.

Harper's cancellation of the mandatory long-form census questionnaire was one example of morphing a molehill into a mountain of political problems.

First, Industry Minister Tony Clement was caught misrepresenting the comments of former StatsCan head Munir Sheikh. In July, Clement told a Montreal audience, "We've come up with a way that is statistically valid, that StatsCan feels can work."

Later, Sheikh contradicted Clement during a CBC interview saying, "The reliability of much of Statistics Canada's work will suffer without a mandatory long-form census."

The second problem for Harper and company came when the francophone and Acadian communities of Canada asked a federal court judge to reinstate the mandatory long-form, arguing that cancellation of the form would result in a poorer picture of their services and undermine the provision of services in French. Hearing this, Clement caved and reinstated two language questions on the mandatory short form.

Now don't you think that a vote-short political leader would look at the 75 seats in Quebec and attempt to swing a few of those seats his way? Sure, he's changed his mind on the census language question, but in the meantime he's offended the francophone community.

Next on the list of things you don't do when you're a leading a minority party looking for votes, is bring up the notion of cancelling the long-gun registry. The Tories are having great fun watching the NDP squirm on the question, and there's no doubt the gun registry issue has been a boondoggle of the first order, but the Sept. 22 timing of the private member's bill to kill the registry will be troublesome for Harper as he looks for support in urban Canada.

To date, there have been 30 shootings in Toronto this year. Torontonians are not happy, there's far too much crime in their city and there are 45 seats on the Greater Toronto area - seats Harper can kiss goodbye.

Adding to the problem of doing away with the long-gun registry is opposition from the RCMP and the Canadian Chiefs of Police. Two organizations the otherwise law-and-order Tories would want to have on side.

Looking at Harper's handling of these two controversies, it appears he's being exclusive instead of inclusive, a curious position for a minority government attempting to grow its base. All of this is made more curious when you realize neither issue is really all that important.

Will the Canadian economy crash if the long-form census is continued? No. You can ask the same question about cancelling the long-gun registry and get the same answer.

Harper is falling on swords of his own making for no apparent reason.

W.A.C. Bennett used to say, "Draw the circle ever wider my friend." He sought at all times to include diverse opinions in his party.

Bennett knew diversity and inclusiveness were the essential ingredients of growth.

That appears to be a foreign concept to Stephen Harper, who if he doesn't learn to count between now and the next election, never will.