Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Has Harper Peaked?

The media is finally turning their gaze towards a real truth, Stephen Harper has a ceiling. James Travers makes a relevant point:
At a time in the political life cycle when most governments are peaking in public opinion, Stephen Harper's is back about where it was on election day in January 2006 and keeps bumping up against the trust ceiling.

Barbara Yaffe:
How to explain such a situation when Conservatives have by and large provided competent, honest government that has been surprisingly non-ideological? And all this against the backdrop of a robust Canadian economy and an absence of public sector scandal.

Party organizers are sensing there's a problem out there. Which could be why the Conservative website features photos of the big guy taking son Ben to hockey practice and cuddling kittens.

Even more troublesome for the Conservatives, as outlined in this piece, the Tories don't have much left to offer:
Yet insiders say that, after 18 months of governing, many staff are exhausted and out of good ideas. "It's not directionless but there's nothing new in the pipeline," said one source.

But it is a pretty skimpy legislative agenda. Cabinet meetings are done in an hour; chiefs of staff meet for around 20 minutes.

The problem with "getting it done" is that you have to have a constant flow of new ideas or you end up becoming a victim of your own proficiency

If Travers is correct, that Harper enjoys the historic "peak" presently, then the future might not be so kind. If peak is a minority, then Conservatives should be concerned about future prospects, given the corresponding lack of new initiatives. In other words, the Conservatives have attempted to bombard us with legislation, all in the name of expanding support, but this effort hasn't translated at the polls. One has to wonder, if there is anything on the legislative horizon that can turn around Tory fortunes.

If we don't have an election, we can probably expect a mini-budget in the fall, with a whole new series of voter friendly payoffs. Other than that opportunity, there is nothing looming that has the power to boost Harper's fortunes. In fact, I would argue the calendar is the Conservatives enemy, because this government now has enough of a track record for themes to gel, some of which aren't flattering. If Canadians haven't "warmed" to this government, it's hard to see that changing anytime soon.

This reality may explain the negative attacks on all things Liberal. Having failed to expand support with legislation, the only option is to go negative and hope that pays dividends. The problem with that strategy, and it is starting to manifest itself in the media meme, the more they attack and don't get a bounce, the more it solidifies the "hard cap" theory.

It is true that Harper should be "peaking" in his political life cycle. What is interesting, it is also true that opposition leaders generally start off slow and become more effective, and popular, over time. Realistically, Harper is at the apex, while Dion has the potential, hardly a recipe for Tory confidence moving forward. With a lack of new initiatives in the offing, the Tories will take a more natural, defensive posture, another potential negative moving forward. Harper, the control freak, may be more spectator as the government reacts more and more, to events which they can't control.

It is possible, that we look back on the spring of 2007 as Harper's last, best chance to get what he craved most. The future looks far more uncertain.


Anonymous said...

Hence, making a big issue of senate reform.

Go to an election with that? Wouldn't be too bright. Most Canadians worry about health, environment, economy.

The senate is not foremost in their minds and if the Conservatives want to spend $300 million of taxpayer money in an unnecessary election over an issue that really isn't that important I think they will pay the price dearly.

Woman at Mile 0 said...

I don't know where she gets the "by and large competent government" part. That's the last thing I would call it.

Steve V said...


It's a conservative puff piece, but she does make some interesting admissions, which is always a good sign from the cheerleaders.

Ti-Guy said...

I think they've even run of crises to manufacture, although some of the Harrisites in this government could still surprise us.

Reform-a-toryism is a not "new governance" for Canadians. It's participated in our government for 17 years now, and it's shown us quite clearly the limits of its "vision" (*snort*). Harper only ever wanted to be Prime Minister (for reasons that escape me somewhat) and he got that. There's really nowhere else to go.

Stephen said...

"surprisingly non-idelogical"?

Really? If that's the case, I'd hate to see them when they are ideological.

Steve V said...

"I think they've even run of crises to manufacture"

That is clearly demonstrated in trying to revive the Liberal ad "scandal", which increasingly looks like a complete partisan backfire. It's not particularly surprising that they have run out of ideas already, afterall their entire election campaign was really "we're not them", which only takes you so far. That well has dried up.

Scotian said...

Good post Steve V, and I think you are right. Don't forget, Quebec is key to his electoral planning and the Vandoos deploy this summer. What do you think Vandoo casualties will do to his popularity, especially if he refuses to commit to withdrawal in 2009? As Tavers noted he has been in long enough that he has his own record as government and he can no longer play the "it's the Liberals fault/record which needs paying attention to instead of anything we the Harper CPC have done or not done" card that he has relied upon so extensively since before the CPC was created. Not to mention that if this summer acts like most of the last ones over the past decade it will be a scorcher reminding Canadian voters about global warming and his resistance to Kyoto.

Harper is in a very bad spot, he already had a reputation as a hardnosed brass knuckle political brawler, which is not exactly the most attractive quality in a PM, especially when it is done by using tactics unsavoury (Grewal, Martin supporting child porn, etc) that upon examination fall apart (Dingwall, Goodale, etc) on the actual basis for the attacks. Harper has tried to buy popularity with his budgets and that has failed, and he has spent so much already that it is going to be hard to come up with much more, at least not without making it impossible to avoid deficit which is something most voters will not tolerate after the pains and sacrifices of the 1990s to deal with that problem.

It does appear Harper has a ceiling, and that he did not understand the election results that put him in power. He appears to have taken it as an endorsement of him and CPC values instead of a protest vote against the Liberals. If he had been smart during his first year he would have governed as a moderate in both substance and tone, would have genuinely tried to work with his opposition, and built up a collaborative Parliament where it would be obvious that any partisanship was coming from his opponents instead of from himself. If he was smart he would not have launched attack ads outside of a campaign cycle, something not traditional in our politics either. If he was smart he would have run an open government instead of running such a secretive government that he refuses to even let Canadians know when Cabinet is meeting (something that I know of no other PM doing, certainly not in the post WWII era) or that the taxpayer is paying the salary of his stylist (which is why the story would not die, it was not so much the hypocrisy in this case given the way Harper treated Manning on the issue of stylists but that he hid a salary that had no business being hidden from public view/examination). If he had been smart about all of this instead of looking always for maximum tactical advantage (see Quebec as a nation, the way the Afghanistan vote was clearly set up primarily to split the Libs instead of dealing with the good of the mission itself, etc) he would look far better I think to voters than he clearly does.

Now personally I am glad to see all of this, but then I am a dedicated Harper opponent. The decisive strong leader image/approach that causes so many CPCers to swoon in ecstasy is not one that many Canadians find all that comfortable, especially not when accompanied by the mean spiritedness which infects Harper's approach to all he perceives that oppose him and his agenda. In America, the GOP managed to do very well by appealing to the voters with the "strong if wrong" mold, where it is better to be seen/act as strong even if it turns out to be wrong down the road. This is a dynamic though that has far less resonance in this country, although it is yet another good example of how closely Harper has mimicked the GOP playbook in both rhetoric (flip flopper, cut and run, support the troops without question or you support the Taliban, etc) and deed as well as how he perceives little difference between the Canadian and American cultures/societies. Which is also why I think he is such a threat to this country, in no small part because he really doesn't understand it all that well, as his record clearly indicates from the late 80s to this day.

Steve V said...

Scotian, that is a great point about the Quebec deployment. I don't know if you read the Afghanistan poll post, but those Quebec numbers should give Harper pause, and will only get worse if there are casualties from Quebec, which there will be unfortunately.

With each day, Harper loses his favorite rallying cry, namely discrediting the Liberals. The Conservatives still use it daily, but it's certainly wearing thin.

burlivespipe said...

Besides riding the 'law'n order' issue' hard, the rest of the 'goodies' in harpor's bag are all the ideological bits that he has to keep hidden until that golden majority comes. He still has the
option to steal items from the Liberal and NdP cookie jars, but both are playing it a little wiser, holding their policies closer to their chests.
I wouldn't say that Harpor has hit a definite ceiling, however.
There is the possibility that, given the proper circumstances, he could 'play over his head', as the sports analogy goes. To prevent that, the opposition and specifically the Liberals need to keep at his achilles, which I believe has been truly ignored.
It's Iraq. The poison from that deadly blunder continues to slowly spread yet remarkably hasn't cost either Cheney or Bush their job.
At the Liberal convention, one of the biggest cheers to come up in a speech was when Chretien (or someone) said "we said No to war in Iraq."
It's an issue that registers with progressives. It's an issue that registers with red tories, even those who like some of Harpor's economic (yechh)
policies. It's an issue that resonates in Quebec, with the Jewish community, with a vast majority of women, with vast majority of youth. It registers with Canadians, period.
Yet when I asked Ignatieff last week why we are not reminding Canadians this (especially as it relates to Harpor's you're-with-us and
Liberals-are-with-them act, and decision-making in Afghanistan) he said we need to be careful not to sound anti-Americanism. No matter how you try to pin this tail on the Harpor donkey, that will be their defence. But giving him a pass on this, like we did on the 'accountability file', we effectively let him set the direction of the debate. If you stay on course, talk about the letter to the Wall St Journal by Harpor and Day, show that harpor has been all about stepping into (both physically and verbally) international fracases with a big pointy stick and little interest in the more Canadian tradition of finesse and peace-broker (no matter how exaggerated that reputation is) I think the general effect is obvious. They'll obfuscate, they'll point away. But they know it's a tar (and one that they should face) that is a no-winner.
Harpor isn't merely pro-American, and many Canadians have no problem being boosters of our neighbour -- but he's definitely pro-republican. Even Blair and Howard have learned that isn't a wise policy at home to hang your hat on
all of the time.
Reminding people that Harpor would have put squarely into that quagmire would also highlight the possibilities his hawkish co-horts are ready to support if given carte blanche.

Anonymous said...

I don't know who said it "History is two steps ahead one step back...'
Harper WAS our one step back ,,,
Now two steps ahead we will do again ... with the Liberals of course .

Conservatives are longing for the past they can't last..

marta from Vancouver

ottlib said...

I would argue that he peaked in January 2006, notwithstanding the wholly predictable post-election honeymoon and post-budget twitch.

Scotian hit the nail squarely on the head in stating his election victory was the result of a protest vote. Canadians voted against the Liberals but not for the Conservatives.

December and January demonstrated that Canadians are comfortable with the idea of voting for the Liberals again. Mr. Dion is showing increasing signs of getting his legs underneath him and he is becoming more effective as a party leader. That bodes well for the Liberals going forward.

It does appear that the media is beginning to change the narrative a bit. That bears watching to see where it will finally end up.

Cliff said...

What an excellent summation of why left wing voters can safely vote their conscience as the threat of a Harper majority is an empty one. I seem to recall having made that argument once or twice - here among other places - to general Liberal scorn and fear-mongering.

Steve V said...


Some of us are hoping for more than a Conservative minority, which you seem to easily endorse. How do you feel about all that wasted effort in committee? Enjoying the irrelevant ride?

Cliff said...

Irrelevant? Well it's massively humiliated the Cons and forced them into a corner where no matter what, they're going to have to do more on the environment than they want to, and it's created a framework for change that will be referred to for years to come no matter who the government is.

But its no surprise that Libs consider actual attempts at responsible goverence rather than partisan posturing is irrelevant.

I can see why Libs are so fond of the Greens - you really can't envisage any role for any other political party but either arch foes or junior partners of the Libs can you? And May has made it clear that she can't concieve of a grander ambition but to be the Libs junior partner.

That would be a much more comfortable minority partner for you than the NDP wouldn't it? Hmmmm....

Once again, thanks again for your concern and helpful advice. We Dippers know that Libs have nothing but our best intersts at heart of course.

Steve V said...

"Well it's massively humiliated the Cons and forced them into a corner where no matter what, they're going to have to do more on the environment than they want to"

So, effective opposition is relegated to superficial "humiliation". The only reason the Conservatives are doing more is because of the universal condemnation of environmental groups and the media, not because of Jack Layton. If you want to get something done on the environment, the last thing you should want is another Conservative minority. To argue anything else lacks logic at this point, so obvious the circumstance. Have a nice day in theoretical land :)

Cliff said...

Right, because the Libs have such a great record of 'getting things done' on the environment...

Anonymous said...

Yup, Harper is all washed up and Dion is going to parlay his 16.7% leader support into a majority. The Conservatives will lose all their money in a weekend at the casino and they will not be able to move ahead. Harper's barber has predicted it all; the Liberal return is upon us. Or, maybe not.

While we're in a mood to believe everything Jim Travers writes, lets have a look at his column from a few days ago:

Try describing the current governing party. It's disciplined, rolling in money and counting on crucial Quebec support in the coming election.

And as they say in those annoying TV ads: Wait, there's more. Its leader is more fluently bilingual than his principal rival – not to mention more prime ministerial – and the most sophisticated, best-oiled campaign machine is now painted deepest blue, not red.

...Liberals are a mess. An election anytime soon will put unsustainable pressure on an organization that is, at best, a work in progress and on a party that must decide soon if its goal is recovering power or reconsidering its leadership.

Mushroom said...

I have written numerous times in my blog. Harper still has a trump card up his sleeve. Risky, but effective.

Go hard right.

Pander to Canadian nativism. Run on a Mike Harris neoliberal agenda. Insist on the need to less accomodate multicultural communities. Attack people like Nav Bains and Omar Alghabra by saying "they are not us".

At the same time, he should support a more supply side economic policies similar to what Reagan and Thatcher proposed. Massive tax cuts and slashing government spending aggressively may help.

Why would Harper run on Mike Harris policies, given its failure in Ontario? Two reasons. One, Harris is more popular as Premier than Harper ever hope to be as PM. Second and this is the heart of the argument. Canada has been running more of a centre right agenda since 1984 and it was even more conservative under Chretien and Martin. A tiny swing to the right is much more palatable to Canadian voters than a swing to the left, which Dion is trying to pursue. By swinging hard right, Harper is throwing a gauntlet to Dion. Better the devil you know than the uncertainty you don't know.

Cliff said...

It would cost him Quebec, and a bunch of mushy middle voters in Ontario. He'd get some more support - but only in ridings where he's already past the post like in Alberta and Saskatchewan - it might even lose him some support in places like Edmonton and larger urban areas in Saskatchewan that defy the doctrinaire right wing prairie stereotupe.

Hard right isn't a viable option for Harper, he knows it even if you don't.

joe said...

Of course the reverse question not asked on this blog, Has Dion bottomed yet? If Dion keeps company with his present advisers Harper will by default go higher in the polls.

Steve V said...


That's the scary part, the Liberals have bottomed out. Don't count on anything lower, this is base support. No place to go but....