Both, interestingly enough, have columns today signalling a general sense of unease with Prime Minister Stephen Harper's government. Is this what happens when you get out of Ottawa? And by the way, if you want some statistical backup to their columns (though I know stats are so out this summer), take a look at this Canadian Press story on what people are telling focus groups about the Harper message-control machine.
I've done a bit of roaming outside the Ottawa bubble this summer, but it's mainly been with the Liberal Express, Michael Ignatieff's summer-long tour of the country. Granted, this is a bit of a bubble itself -- mainly the crowds consist of committed Liberals. But what I've heard generally backs up the observations of Hebert and Martin.
Several Liberal riding presidents, for instance, have told me that if Ignatieff had attempted this tour a few months ago, they wouldn't have been able to muster up enough people to justify a stop on the journey. They say that the G8 may have been the tipping point, but this whole year of damn-the-critics, on abortion, census, gun control, etc., are waking up complacent voters.
I've spoken to more than a few Liberals who have a vague sense that enough's enough -- it's time to stop bitching and whining about internal party pettiness and start thinking about the bigger picture. (You'd be surprised to hear how much pettiness is out there -- I'm pretty sure that it's a legacy of Liberals' never-ending obsession with leadership battles, dating back to the 1980s. But that's another story.)
In his off-the-cuff speeches to the crowds, Ignatieff is getting the biggest applause when he talks about democracy and Harper's limits on it. One woman in the St. Catharines area told me that when she's been trying to round up people to come and hear Ignatieff, people's ears prick up when she invites them to compare Ignatieff's come-one-come-all approach to Harper's highly controlled public settings. "Would you ever see Stephen Harper allowing people to ask any question they wanted to ask?" she says, and this seems to elicit nods of agreement. The image (and the cost) of the $1-billion security lockdown in Toronto during the G8 is also proving to be a vivid visual aid to the point Ignatieff is making on the road.
Like Chantal, I am only reporting impressions here. For the most part, I think that people are disengaged from politics, and those that I've met wouldn't be disposed to saying anything good about Harper anyway. But it is my impression that a cumulative narrative is building up out there about a government that doesn't seem to like the citizens it's supposed to represent. Four and a half years of sneering and anger at any hint of criticism and the strict controls on free speech are taking their toll.