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Margaret Atwood

Stephen Harper, prime minister of Canada <em>Picture: Remy Steinegger</em>

Stephen Harper, prime minister of Canada Picture: Remy Steinegger

By Graeme Murdoch

Day 1, Toronto, 26 March. Minus 9C.

Chilly for Perpetual Minority Man premier Stephen Harper – a man with a plan. So here we go as the first blows are landed in the fourth Canadian election in seven years, and the question on most Canadian minds is: how will this change anything?

In 1995, Liberal finance minister Paul Martin confronted the crippling federal deficit by cutting transfer payments to the provinces. This put some space between the provinces and Ottawa.

Now the widely held view is that old, white and male Ottawa is irrelevant and that the low turnout among voters aged under 25 in 2008 is expected to be lower in May. Young Canadians, particularly women and visible minorities, perceive an administration that under-represents them.

So Harper’s election strategy is to set his sights on the voters who have often eluded him: women. Oh, how we guffawed in the bar. The women electorate should reflect on how Margaret Atwood excoriated Harper in 2008 when he stated that “ordinary people” didn’t care about something called “the arts”. Harper’s take on “the arts” is a bunch of rich people gathering in salons and galas whining about their grants, Sound familiar?

Shortly after I arrived from Scotland on Thursday, I picked up a program guide to “celebrate the arts in your community”. All around greater Toronto, events like concerts by youngsters, photo exhibitions, a women’s sound circle, an art alley mural project and an opportunity to design your own environmental bag are getting city and provincial support.

So, Mr Harper, there you have your campaign’s key platforms: the arts, environment and education. Get your sleepy head round that and the women’s vote and others will surely follow.

And here are two other suggestions: dump the grey suits and get to the gym.

Graeme Murdoch is part of Cultural Connect Scotland

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