Monday, October 22

Throne speech does little to court female voters, garnering much higher approval among men

The new Speech from the Throne, delivered Tuesday, is being described as deliberately silent on women's concerns or issues.

Nik Nanos, of SES Research, was immediately struck by how the speech failed to make any outreach to the women voters he says the Conservatives will need if they want to form a majority government. He registered his surprise on his website this week.

"Assuming the throne speech is all about forming a majority government, from a research viewpoint it is most likely to yield another Conservative minority," Nanos wrote. "The underlying structural problem for the Conservatives is that they are not competitive among women. The priorities of the throne speech align quite well with the priorities of men, thus reinforcing the core Conservative vote but not addressing a strategy for growth."

Belinda Stronach, chair of the Liberal women's caucus, says it looks like Harper has written off his chances with women voters.

"The silence on women's issues speaks volumes, especially in a throne speech that was intended to trigger an unwanted election," Stronach told the Star. "It says Mr. Harper not only doesn't care about women's issues, he doesn't even care about their votes. It's shameful, but consistent with his record of cuts to the Status of Women and the court challenges program. To add insult to injury, this on the anniversary of the Famous Five - Harper's message is clear – women's issues are not on his priority list"

That assessment appears to be shared in initial polling done by Angus Reid, which shows far more approval by men for the major themes outlined in Harper government's throne speech – sometimes by almost a two-to-one ratio.

When Angus Reid asked 1,018 respondents online to say whether they were satisfied with key themes in the speech, men were far more likely than women respondents to say they were. A full 50 per cent of men liked what the speech had to say on Arctic sovereignty, while only 26 per cent of women did. On crime legislation, 46 per cent of men were satisfied, but only 29 per cent of women; on Afghanistan, 37 per cent of men, 22 per cent of women.

The poll, conducted on Tuesday and Wednesday last week, is considered accurate within 3.1 percentage points, 19 times out of 20.

Heritage Minister Josée Verner, also responsible for the Status of Women, was questioned in the Commons this week about the Conservatives' alleged abandonment of women by Bloc Québécois MPs who referred to the throne speech as "a slap in the face" to more than half the population.

Verner countered that the government wants to do more than pay lip service to women's concerns – that what women really need are practical solutions.

"The reality is that our government increased the grants to women's programs by 42 per cent, making it the largest budget ever for the program that provides direct assistance to women, thus much less bureaucracy and more tangible results for women," Verner said.

New Democratic Party leader Jack Layton says that women aren't buying that message. He notes that women make up around 40 per cent of the NDP caucus and, no surprise, the NDP immediately turned thumbs down to the throne speech.

"Women are very concerned about people being left behind and issues of concern to future generations," Layton said. "Mr. Harper doesn't seem to understand that at all."

Beyond just the issues in the throne speech, there's also some suggestion that the Harper government is turning off women voters simply with its style.

On Nanos' website this week, there was some conversation about why the Conservatives aren't making any inroads in building support among women.

One of the commenters was Angelle DesRochers, a 34-year-old entrepreneur and small-business owner who should be within the Tories' sights as a potential supporter. But she said the Conservatives wouldn't get her vote because of the highly partisan attitude of the government. "Labelling , cajoling or bullying people to get their vote is not working for this woman and many others," she wrote.

LINK: Women still cool on Harper

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