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The Guardian (P.E.I.), Thursday, July 21, 2005

Tories underestimate Grits’ power to demonize them, says Mike Duffy

By Wayne Thibodeau

The Conservative party has consistently underestimated the Liberals' ability to paint them as the bad guys, says a journalist described by the Toronto Star as the "ultimate insider".

Mike Duffy, a native Islander and political reporter for CTV, said given the scandals plaguing the governing Liberals, the Conservatives should be riding high in the polls.

But that's far from reality.

A new poll gives the Liberals a commanding 11-point lead over the Conservatives, with staggering leads in battlegrounds like B.C., Toronto and Atlantic Canada.

The Pollara poll puts the Liberals at 38 per cent, the Conservatives at 27 per cent and the NDP at 15 per cent.

In Atlantic Canada it was 45 Liberal, 33 Conservative, 20 NDP.

Duffy said polls like that suggest to him that radical change is needed.

"I think Canadians don't trust Stephen Harper," Duffy said, in an interview with The Guardian. "Before you get to trust somebody you have to know them. Canadians didn't know him and I think he underestimated the Liberals ability to paint him. If you give a blank canvas, somebody is going to fill it in.

"For all his vaunted intelligence, I don't think Stephen Harper realized just how vulnerable he was to being painted into a corner by the Liberals and how effective it's been. The sad thing is that once it's down to the grass roots, it's very hard to turn it around."

But Duffy does not believe the Conservatives are going to try to topple Harper before the next federal election, expected early next year.

"I don't think there's any stomach for a move to push Stephen Harper out," he said.

Duffy said the party has a long history of pushing out its leaders, making reference to Dalton Camp's efforts to topple John Diefenbaker in the early '60s and Brian Mulroney's attempts to squeeze out Joe Clark in the late '70s and early '80s.

"Swallow the leader has been a Tory thing."

Part of the problem, said Duffy, is there is no obvious successor.

Duffy said Peter MacKay, the deputy leader and Nova Scotia MP, looks great and is a natural politician, but he doesn't believe he could take the party to where it wants to go, to the government-side of the House of Commons.

"The Liberals would tear him to pieces over this deal with David Orchard," making reference to his deal to merge the Progressive Conservative Party with the Canadian Alliance.

Duffy is host of CTV NewsNet's Countdown. He's spent more than 30 years covering politics in Ottawa.

On Wednesday, the Charlottetown-born Duffy participated in the 2005 UPEI distinguished speaker series at UPEI.

There was standing room only in the lecture theatre at the K.C. Irving Chemistry Centre for the Wednesday afternoon speech.

More than 125 people were in attendance.

Duffy has a summer home in Cavendish.

Duffy said Harper has to shoulder some of the blame for his party's poor standing in the polls.

"One of the problems for Stephen Harper, from what I hear from people who work for him, or used to work for him, is that he's his own strategist," he said.

"What's the point having advisers if you don't take their advice?"

But Duffy admits a Liberal bias at some media outlets makes it difficult for Harper and the Conservatives to get their message out.

"I've just been speaking to a couple of young journalists and I was shocked," he said.

"One young journalist in New Brunswick said to me, 'when I see Stephen Harper I see the enemy.' It's not journalists' place to have enemies."

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