Monday, April 24, 2006

Depressing News?

The Hill Times offers a depressing story, for anyone who fears a long Conservative reign:
Political foes say the five priorities are a packaging PR exercise, but Conservatives and even Liberals say if Prime Minister Stephen Harper gets three of his five top legislative priorities through Parliament before the next election, the Conservatives will likely win a majority.

"Unless something extraordinary comes up that we don't know about, I think we will win the next election with a majority," one top Conservative, who did not want to be identified, told The Hill Times last week. "I think Harper is going to get three of his five priorities approved before the next election and with that he can, in my view, win the next election with a majority."

Some Liberals agree. "These guys are in for at least six years. The situation doesn't look that great in Quebec [for the federal Liberals] even now. We don't have a leader and who knows who will be the leader and what kind of [political] skills that leader will have. So, considering the information that we have at this time, it would be fair to say these guys are in for six years," said one top Liberal who also did not want to be identified

I'll admit that Harper's strategy is formidable and presents a daunting challenge for the opposition. However, given the fact that we are at least a year away from another election, the optimism of Conservatives and corresponding pessimism of Liberals is pre-mature. Until the Liberal Party chooses another leader, any predictions are suspect.

It is true that Liberal fortunes in Quebec don't look promising. Also true, that the Conservatives have made a massive push in Quebec, as they try to make a bigger breakthrough. But, the situation in Quebec is fluid, with many factors still in play. I don't think Quebec is forever lost to the Liberals, as the past elections were more of a rejection of the Chretien/Martin approach and the sponsorship scandal. On social issues, the Liberals are still a more natural fit for a relatively progressive Quebec population. If the new Liberal leader is sensitive to Quebec's aspirations within confederation, free of the old Liberal regime ties and daring on the environment, opportunity still exists for the party. The Conservative breakthrough in Quebec was a combination of shrewd overtures and simply filling the federalist vacuum, as many people could no longer support the Liberals. To say that the Conservatives enjoy concrete support and potential for growth is somewhat misleading. Much of the Conservatives future fortunes are directly tied to how the Liberals respond. Afterall, no one predicted any Conservative presence in Quebec prior to the election.

The defeatists misread the electorate in my view. Despite Harper's small rise in the recent polls, the support is still relatively soft. Important to remember that Harper's enjoys success during a temporary situation. Once the Liberals choose a leader, in concert with the free media bonanza, we will have a much better understanding of the political landscape. Is there reason for concern? Yes. Is the situation a fait accompli? Come on.


bigcitylib said...

Talk about an over reaction! The Tory "rise" in the polls isn't even out of the margin of error.

One thing though, I think the Libs may be strategically playing up the "doom and gloom" stuff to keep people a bit on edge. better to overestimate your opponent than to underestimate them.

Steve V said...

If there has been a true "rise", it means nothing, given the unique situation of an official opposition without a leader.

Scotian said...

Don't forget Steve that part of the CPC success in Quebec was due to two things they promised, increased international visibility/representation, and correcting the so called fiscal imbalance. If he is unable to do both of these then his ability to gain in Quebec a majority is seriously impaired if not derailed totally. So it is not just that the Libs have no leader and that there was Liberal/Sponsorship fatigue in Quebec that gave the CPC ten seats but also some rather difficult promises to keep, especially that one on the so called fiscal imbalance.

I do think the doomsayers of the left and those on the right seeing long term victories for many years are both making waaaaaaay too many assumptions too early to be worth much of anything. Take that CPC rise in the polls, how much of it is due to actual support and how much of it is due to the inherent fair mindedness of Canadians to give any new government a chance/time to prove itself before rejecting them? Take the poll increase showing Canadians seeing Harper as Prime Ministerial, sounds good except for failing to acknowledge the reality that this happens to anyone that becomes a new PM, the trappings of office itself increase that perception through no direct action/inaction by the officeholder.

While I am more than willing to grant the possibility of a CPC majority in the next election depending on how things play out I am not willing to consider it a near certainty. I seem to remember similar beliefs about Martin once he became PM and we saw where that went. We saw how weakened the CPC and Harper was seen as yesterday's leader less than nine months ago and yet he is PM today. These are instructive lessons on the volatility of the electorate and how political realities can turn on a dime and suddenly what looked unlikely to impossible becomes the new reality, indeed the CPC plurality last time out underscores this, and since it is such a weak minority despite that perfect storm against the Liberals it would be foolish to count as solid any CPC increases at this early a stage into their first government.

I personally will oppose a CPC majority any way I can, because I fear the politics of division that Harper is willing to use to gain and hold power. As divisive as the old PCPC and Liberals could be in playing regions off each other I see far worse coming from the CPC playing not just regions but subgroupings in society against each other in a replicated "culture war" just as the conservative movement in the States did. His actions to date do appear to be in that mold, and that to my mind is a far greater threat than any other party save the separatists IMHO.

montreal simon said...

I don't think you can underestimate the danger of a Conservative majority. If the situation in English Canada essentially remains the same, the dynamics in Quebec practically guarantee them a healthy one.Harper's strategy in Quebec has been brilliant. He never fails to hit all the right buttons that play to Quebecers pride in themselves and their achievements.
Above all he has managed to win over the soft nationalists who hold the balance of power by promising them a new era free from the separatist bashing of Chretien and Martin. They want autonomy not messy separation (an independent Quebec in a united Canada) and Harper's soothing words are music to their ears. If a new Liberal leader is to stand a chance in Quebec he or she will have to make a huge break from the past. Anyone who doesn't have some kind of bold new vision to out-autonomy Harper shouldn't bother to apply. The only thing that could turn things around in time is if Quebecers recoil from Harper's social agenda. Or if enough of them find out how anti-French some of the Conservatives really are. I would recommend focusing on the latter. The former takes too much time. Why does everyone assume that Harper will wait until the Liberals choose a leader, before calling an election?

Steve V said...

montreal simon

" If a new Liberal leader is to stand a chance in Quebec he or she will have to make a huge break from the past."

I agree with you. As I said in my post, the new leader must break from past approaches and speak to Quebec's aspirations.

Steve V said...

I think you are quite right to point out the ambitious, and maybe somewhat unrealistic, promises Harper has made to Quebec. Harper has already put the fiscal imbalance issue on the backburner. Obviously, he will try hard to meet his commitments because he recognizes the electoral windfall, but practically it might not work out the way he has argued.

FurGaia said...

Steve, with regard to your comment that I don't think Quebec is forever lost to the Liberals, I think that you are right. Having lived for many years in Quebec, I can vouch for the love-hate relationship that Quebecers have towards the federal Libs (when they are not engrossed in the sovereignist issue). Conservatives, on the other hand, are just a means to an end. I have never felt that they had taken root in Quebec. If Quebecers feel that they are being conned by the Harperite Neocons (a different breed from the Charest Neocons although they all drink from the same trough), they may very well give the Conservative the boot and vote Liberal at the next federal election, if only to spite Harper. I think that the man to watch in the coming months is Gilles Duceppe. We'll get a sense of where the wind is blowing from him.

Liberal Fortunes said...

The Liberals are not only in trouble in Quebec, but also out West too. It is likely they will lose over half of thier seats in the West come next election.

In Quebec, they only have one saet outside of Montreal.