Saturday, February 16, 2008

Harper Safe?

The Globe and Mail outlines the prospects for the various party leaders, in the aftermath of an election. The consensus seems to imply, that as long as Harper retains power, he has little to worry about in terms of his leadership:
If his party failed to achieve a majority in the election toward which Canada seems propelled - if the Conservatives were unable to increase their seat count, or even if they lost a few - politics watchers say Mr. Harper could hang on to his party's top job.

Mr. Harper's leadership will remain unchallenged even if the party does not gain ground "as long as the Conservatives continue to form the government," said Tom Flanagan, a University of Calgary political science professor who is a close friend and former campaign chief of Mr. Harper's.

Harper's biggest asset, he has created an atmosphere where he is clearly the central figure, in a sense he is the Conservative Party (see website). A concerted effort to centralize control, none of the surrogates given much latitude. There is no sense of any heir apparent in the Conservative ranks, Harper has ensured that everything flows from his office, others are left to parrot.

With all that said, I'm still not sure I buy the argument that Harper is safe, should he maintain, or even lose a few seats in the next election. The looming election will be Harper's third as a leader, which means that Canadians know him well, plenty of time to form concrete opinions. Should the Conservatives fail to expand, cling to another fragile minority, it seems reasonable for people to start wondering if Harper is the right person.

The article also mentions Dion, with some caveat that should the Liberals gain more seats, he may hold his position. I'm not buying that for a second, anything less than victory, Dion is quickly removed, there are just too many doubters waiting in the weeds. Conservatives are unanimous in their belief that Dion is an exceptionally weak leader, which should translate into questioning, should Harper fail to capitalize. It's hard to see Harper remain strong, should he not benefit from the perceived advantage over Dion, if he were to lose seats, a fairly negative verdict.

I don't see a scenario where a sitting PM is ousted, but to say Harper would carry on, business as usual, should he fail to gain seats or maintain, seems a simplistic view. I would imagine some frustration, and the beginnings of a whisper campaign to establish a successor. Harper's iron clad hold on the party would be erased, he would lack the authority to squelch any dissent. Three tries, the last against a perceived gift in Dion, and no progress, maybe a minor setback- doesn't sound like the stuff of firm hold from here. Safe, but weakened.

29 comments:

liberazzi said...

Obviously, Dion is in a more precarious position if he does not do well or gain seats. Moreover, I think if Dion does not at least win a minority, he will be a goner. There are no moral victories, when you are a Liberal leader, so I do not buy the argument that he will be safe simply by gaining seats. Harper deserves praise for rebuilding the Cons and getting them into power. However, Harper has had over two years to improve the Cons numbers and has failed to do so. Maybe, he will be given one more shot if he only wins another minority this time, but if he loses power, you gotta figure he's also in a precarious position. As mentioned in the article, I think the only thing that might prevent the knives coming out for Harper is a weak talent base. Yet isn't that an overall indictment of the entire Harper government? Flaherty (lets lock up the homeless), Baird (the screamer), Mackay (the backstabber). The only one with potential is Prentice, but he is not as Red Tory as he would seem.

The Jurist said...

It's worth noting how slanted the article is in terms of the expected outcome - amounting effectively to "if Harper wins he's safe, if Dion loses he's in trouble".

In truth both appear to be in equally precarious positions, if for different reasons: Dion due to the contenders waiting for another shot at his job, Harper based on the fragility of his coalition. And either of them can likely expect those factors to pose a serious problem if they don't form government following the next election.

MarkCh said...

You have to be kidding. Harper is faced by three oppostion parties, with the support of nearly two thirds of voters in the last election. All three opposition parties are essentially in agreement with each other on the idea that government should be a big handout machine for people, and are supported by a strong majority of the Canadian population. And yet, Harper has run rings around the opposition in Parliament, and has made significant progress in cutting taxes, bringing in stronger anti-crime legislation, giving Canada a stronger military and foreign policy, and fending off the Liberal boondoggles of Kyoto (not necessarily a bad idea to start with, but impossible by the time Martin was booted out), government-run daycare, and the Kelowna agreement.

Now sure, if there were a Canadian with the political stance and charisma of Ronald Reagan, then maybe a dump-Harper movement would arise. But guess what? There is no such person.

Why do you think the Conservatives raise so much money from individuals? It's because their base are true believers, who value their conservative principles. Swapping Harper for a pretty-boy like MacKay or Bernard Lord (both viewed as contenders in their day), without an ounce of conservative principles, would go precisely nowhere.

Meaning no offence, Liberals like you and your commenters and most media types are completely unable to assess Harper's situation. In the Liberal party, a leader who is not delivering maximum power is failing in his primary duty. That is not so for many Conservatives.

The Conservative hard core feel that Harper is the best Prime Minister in 40 years. We are not going to dump him because it takes a long time for Toronto and suburbs to get with the program: if David Miller and Dalton McGuinty can pass muster in Toronto, it will clearly be a generational project to educate Toronto-area voters. If Harper can keep on delivering minorities, that will do the job fine.

And, don't flatter yourselves about Liberal bench strength. Bob Rae and Ignatieff have major disadvantages themselves: that's why Dion beat them for the leadership.


I hope you don't mind the rant, but I thought you might enjoy hearing from a Conservative supporter on this issue.

RuralSandi said...

I'm not relying on the pundits who'd rather yap, yap with their biased opinions.

Nick Nanos says otherwise - he thinks Harper's in trouble. He was on Mike Duffy last night saying so.

Raphael Alexander said...

I agree with Steve's analysis for the most part. Stephane Dion's days are numbered, and I think Michael Ignatieff is ready to jump into the lead role. Unless the Liberals can defeat the Conservatives in an election, and I'm not sure that's true, I think his job is gone. Anyway, I know that I don't want someone of his questionable decisiveness leading our country.

On the subject of Stephen Harper, I think that he'll retain the leadership for as long as he retains total control over the party. His weakness lies in grassroots disenfranchisement with any broken promises he may make, and his continued intent to ignore the Accountability Act and transparency he promised. Some may see that as an asset, while I see it as a window into authoritarian tendencies. Authoritarian leaders can be very popular [Vladimir Putin], but I don't know how well it flies in Canada. The secrecy behind the Afghan mission has put off some people.

The strongest leader by far is still Stephen Harper. The political world awaits somebody else who can challenge him.

The Jurist said @ 10:51 AM, February 16, 2008:

It's worth noting how slanted the article is in terms of the expected outcome - amounting effectively to "if Harper wins he's safe, if Dion loses he's in trouble".

That's not slanted. It's the truth. Oh, and the NDP should get moving on a leader who isn't so smarmy. Speaking of leadership that is...

Anonymous said...

You should read Jim
Travers, Today's Toronto Star, about how Paul Martin was way ahead in the polls, but the
RCMP and the
NDP interfered. If it were not for that, Harper would not be in.

Dame said...

Ah the Strong Dear Leader who actually develops some weird Cult around his face and burly bodywork.. pasting everywhere his blue framed face with the Canadian Flag as backdrop .... yes he is strong and kind of ruthless with his ways to be the Only Man to be seen in His "party"
Yes he is appears strong the only problem he wants to take Canada to the wrong direction what very few Canadians would like to go....

And on the opposition there is a Skinny Youngish looking leader of the opposition sometimes hesitating and thoughtful and meaningful "complicated " man who just won't put all his ideas in a simple slogan ... but reflects well on what most Canadian wants about their Country..

I say we go for the "skinny one"

The Jurist said...

Raphael: My point is that the converse is also true in both cases - if Harper loses he's in trouble, if Dion wins he's likely safe. But the article seems to assume away those scenarios for no apparent reason.

Incidentally, I'd think the "total control" strategy is precisely why Harper is vulnerable. While he's able to get away with it as long as he can claim to be increasing the party's power, I'd expect him to have an awful lot of trouble keeping the lid on conflicting messages and internal dissent if he loses an election.

Tomm said...

Steve,

Mark is right about Harper, he is absolutely in control of the conservative movement right now.

I know it can be hard for a Liberal supporter to understand, but if you consider that people with a true conservative bent have been watching our federal government with horror for many, many years, it might be easier to understand.

Harper's two years seem a blessing, and even if he were to lose power tomorrow, his leadership would still not really be in question because all we ever expected was the chance to change the channel.

There is a recognition by conservative's that the average Canadian has been sucking at the teat of the nanny state and liberal policies for their entire lives. No conservative expects this change to last and won't blame Harper if it doesn't.

Canadian's have been drinking the koolaid for so long that they are comforted by it, and will go back to it if given half a reason to.

All conservative's hope is that somebody like Harper stays in power long enough to dismantle some of the social engineering, throw a monkey wrench into the Federal control structures, and re-style a nation, to give folks something to remember.

Tomm

Gayle said...

I'm OK with the conservatives keeping Harper. It is not like they have any real choice given the obvious lack of talent in their caucus.

This silly notion that the conservatives are going to "educate" Toronto voters, relies on the belief that non-conservatives are going to believe such nonsense as:

"Harper has run rings around the opposition in Parliament, and has made significant progress in cutting taxes, bringing in stronger anti-crime legislation, giving Canada a stronger military and foreign policy, and fending off the Liberal boondoggles of Kyoto (not necessarily a bad idea to start with, but impossible by the time Martin was booted out), government-run daycare, and the Kelowna agreement."

Of course the majority of Canadians do not drink this particular brand of Kool-aide. We can see that Harper has been playing with the crime bills, delaying them in order to bring them forward when he thinks they will give him the most political advantage. We are embarassed by Baird's behaviour last December. We wonder why we are subsidizing the rich by giving them $100.00/month/child when many of the recipients of that money make more money than those of us paying it.

Harper may enjoy great support from the conservative core, but he is also the single biggest reason the conservatives have been denied their majority.

So keep him...please.

Mushroom said...

If Harper gets hit by a bus tomorrow, the alternative would be the reincarnation of Preston Manning and Stockwell Day.

Both can do much better than Harper by the way.

Steve V said...

"This silly notion that the conservatives are going to "educate" Toronto voters"

Maybe they can educate Montreal and Vancouver voters too, or any other major city outside of Alberta for that matter.

Tomm said...

Gayle,

I think you're right in that there is really not a majority of Canadian's right now thinking along the lines of the CPC.

Therefore, unless the left continues to split itself off, it's likely that a majority is never in the cards.

The best the CPC can expect is the situation today where all parties are left of them and all parties are thinking about self preservation and not coalition.

Tomm

Gayle said...

Steve - Albertans are rightly insulted when other provinces talk about "educating" us to vote liberal. (While I obviously do not share the anti-liberal bent here, it does stem from some legitimate complaints).

I am at a loss why the same people who do not like being treated like ignorant voters make statements regarding educating other voters. You do not win voters over by insulting them.

Tomm said...

Insulting Toronto voters?

Is that the same as insulting Edmonton voters who voted for Bill Skoreyko, term after term after term just because he was Ukrainian?

Skoreyko had the worst attendance record in the House of Commons and was essentially useless, yet my Grandmother voted for him every election.

I tried to change her mind, but couldn't. It finally dawned on me that her vote was just as good as mine. We just had different reasons for voting.

Toronto voters live in their little reality just like my Grandmother and can vote for whoever they wish. Nobody should begrudge them their democratic rights. Educating a voter is not what people external to the situation, think it to be.

Tomm

MarkCh said...

I live in Toronto (South of Bloor) and, believe me, "educate" is the proper word. Probably half the people in this town opposing Harper do so for ridiculous, straw man reasons, such as fear that he will ban abortion, eliminate all social programs, or even, yes, bring in conscription. Anti-Alberta prejudice is also a big factor.

Anyway, I was explaining why Conservatives will keep him, and that is what they feel.

steve v:

In fairness, the Conservatives did take seats in Ottawa, Saskatoon, Regina and Winnipeg. What constitutes a major city?

Steve V said...

"Probably half the people in this town opposing Harper do so for ridiculous.."

When I lived out west, and talked to Calgarians, I had the same thought. Pure nonsense, most of it, but it was sort of required sport.

I now live in rural Ontario, the Conservative heartland and I can assure you that "ridiculous" opinion isn't particular to a specific domain. It's alot like rural Alberta actually, but don't tell anyone, they're apparently unique.

Tomm

I take offense at the "average Canadian" being used to "sucking at the teat of the nanny state". Are you talking about the 90% of us that work everyday, with no help from anyone? Are you talking about me, who shells out 12 grand for childcare (after my taxable handout from Harper), because you can't survive on one income in Canada? What the *&^&^ are you talking about exactly?

Tomm said...

Steve,

I apologize.

I was too aggressive in my comment. Point taken.

I simply meant that there has been a generation at least that has been the recipient of a government and media structure that has glorified central direction on social and economic pathways as an understood and correct path for Canada's future.

It is difficult for conservative leaning people to reach some citizens because of what they grew up admiring and seeing, and what they are told from their media outlets was right and just.

Tomm

Calgary Junkie said...

Why do I support Harper ? Lots of reasons, but here's the biggest ...

Flash back to the bleakest, darkest days of the Canadian Alliance under Stockwell Day. We had the break-away DRC, Day being ridiculed mericlessly, the CA going as low as 6 % in the polls, Paul Martin waiting in the wings to take over and romp to a 200+ seat majority.

On the sidelines, president of the NCC, with a young family, sits Stephen Harper. A group of close friends approaches him, asking him to lead the Party out of this political hell. Who could blame Harper for saying "no thanks" ?
But Harper was a good man, who came to the aid of the Party. He
stepped up to the plate, took on the enormous challenge, and the rest is history.

That is why I supported the guy then, still do, always will, and donate to the CPC on a monthly basis. I'm one of the "true believers" that Markch talks about.

For comparison purposes, flash back to the weeks after Martin's loss in Jan 2006. What did all the LPC heavy hitters do ? One by one--Manley, McKenna, Tobin--they all took a pass. How depressing that must have been for the Liberal faithful.

WesternGrit said...

Folks, I've lived in the "West" all my life: Sask., AB., now BC. Toronto bashing is a sport, and for some out here, a lifetime occupation (and wise career choice for some Conservative MPs. Someone mentioned Alberta bashing in the big cities outside of Alberta, or in Ontario? Get off it. I've spent a LOT of time out there, and in large Western cities. Alberta doesn't even register - until some politician from Alberta makes a comment about "firewalls", or immigrants, or "our right to bear arms", or the flow of the Niagara River, or if man lived with dinosaurs. Albertans seem to have a pre-occupation with feeling like they're being attacked by the rest of Canada - or at least by those "evil Torontonians". I remember being verbally attacked for wearing a Maple Leafs cap at a Calgary gas station. I recall hearing loud rants on the C-Train on the way to downtown Calgary for work - rants about Ontario, Quebec, and Toronto. It all amounts to an Alberta Napoleon complex. Plain and simple.

Anyone can simply look at voting records in Toronto and Calgary, and compare which city has had the most homogeneous voting record. Calgarians have been basically voting blanketly conservative (under different name-brands) for decades. Toronto actually HAS a conservative past in a very large part of the city - and not in the too distant past either. As recently as Mulroney's Tories, large swaths of Eastern Canadian cities voted conservatively. All the while Calgary continued to go to the ballot box and vote for "no change please, we're conservative".

Anyways... back to the topic at hand. I agree that both leaders may have some trouble with a loss. I have been contacted by a Conservative politician - former PC, who is working on (an unnamed) conservative's leadership bid. The people are waiting in the wings on both sides. Sure Harp has no-one to threaten him inside of caucus, BUT there are a lot of moderates (PCs - real Tories) just itching to take their party back from the Reform Wing of the party. A soon as it is clear that hard conservatism of the American neo-Con ilk is getting them "not to a majority", they will dump him. The old networks are still out there...

Kynikos said...

Je me souviens. I've not forgotten 1992 when the Tories sacrificed two winning leaders to the winds of change.

The silly twits here show no ken of that recent history.

Silly twits? If you've read this, you prove my point.

Steve V said...

western grit

That is a solid rant. Well said :)

junkie

Quite the story. You forgot the part of how the guy that was getting ZERO traction with the Canadian people just happened to be a the right place, at the right time, up against a party mired in scandal and a country desperately wanting a change. I would argue a fragile minority is hardly a triumph here, in fact, it really should have been a landslide. Kind of like now, where Harper can't seem to move his numbers, despite all these apparent advantages. It's not because the country doesn't give Conservatives majoritys (see the chin), it's because people really don't care much for the guy, he lacks a basic political pre-requiste, the power to inspire, any affection. Harper has some strong traits, nothing extraordinary, but overall he mostly a dud, who has capitalized on circumstances. There is no sense of greatness in the man, most of the ideas are imported or lifted from others- these guys can't even develop original phrasing.

burlivespipe said...

Yeah, Harper the visionary. Harper the brave leader. Yeah, that's the ticket.
Junkie, you forgot to rant on how we still should be in Iraq, that we were wrong despite being right on why that war was wrong. Oh, and Harper saving your individual rights, sort of like he defended Arar's rights as opposition leader? Yeah he sure showed independent cojones during those dark days, eh? Harper, helping stamp out liberalism of all forms -- although he sure spends like one, eh? How about all those patronage appointments -- ol' Lyin Brian couldn't have done better. He even showed his sense of humour by putting bagman 'Monty' Burns in charge of a nuclear agency. What a card. Now he's got calendars that only show his face, the walls in the House of Commons are festooned with his puss, really tell the story, don't they?
He's the only one, and his team better not forget that.

Calgary Junkie said...

Steve, I think you should review the political environment around December, 2001, when Harper made the decision to run for the CA leadership. Sheila Fraser's Auditor General report didn't come out until almost two years later, in Nov. 2003. The BLOC was asking a lot of questions in QP, that's about the extent of the scandal.

But anyway, the point I'm trying to get across is that a guy like me in the CPC base feels like Harper has done a heck of a lot to get us this far, and deserves my support.

Pearson and Trudeau were inspiring in their own way. Harper is inspiring in his way. And I think, after watching Manley's press conference about his Afghan report, that Manley would have inspired the LPC to a much greater team effort than your MPs et al are exhibiting now.

MarkCh said...

This discussion is about how the leaders can hang on if they don't win a majority government. The discussion of whether Harper is great is not going to be fruitful. But take a look, people: the evidence here, from the actual conservatives who comment, is that Harper's support (among Conservatives!) is very very solid.

Miles Lunn said...

I think if Harper wins another minority, there will be pressure to find a new leader, the problem is Harper has done an excellent job at ensuring there is no apparent heir. In fact I suspect the Harper people to argue that for all his flaws, anyone would do worse. Still, I think if Harper wins a minority, he won't leave for at least a year, at the same time I expect some of the higher profile members who have leadership ambitions to start speaking more freely in this case so they can position themselves as a potential successor.

Off course the party could always look into provincial politics, but here, Bernard Lord is really the only one I would see as a strong choice. All the others mentioned in the past (Ralph Klein, Mike Harris, Danny Williams, and Jean Charest) have too many liabilities against them. Ralph Klein is too much of a loose cannon and little bit old, Mike Harris is too polarizing and also unilingual. Even if he improved the party's fortunes in Western Canada and Ontario, the gains wouldn't be large there and he would almost certainly cost them seats in Quebec and Atlantic Canada. Danny Williams, with his relentless campaign against Harper, has pretty much burned all his bridges with the Tories. Charest might be a decent choice, but I am somewhat skeptical of someone being a Quebec premier and then prime-minister considering that some issues that are popular in Quebec are quite unpopular elsewhere in Canada (i.e. Bill 101).

Steve V said...

miles

I wonder if MacKay has any aspirations?

Anonymous said...

I would think that if Harper was out of the picture people like Jim Prentive or Jim Flaherty would be major contenders for the leadership.

Miles Lunn said...

Steve V - I don't think MacKay is the only one with aspirations, I would also throw in Jim Prentice and I am sure there are others. Even James Moore probably does, although he is still a bit young at the moment. At the same time MacKay needs to win his seat next election or his aspirations are probably finished.

The Conservatives I could potentially see running to replace Harper are: James Moore, Jason Kenney, Jim Prentice, Rona Ambrose, Jim Flaherty, Tony Clement, John Baird, Lawrence Cannon, Maxime Bernier, and Peter MacKay. Now off course some such as James Moore, Jim Prentice, Lawrence Cannon, and Maxime Bernier would probably be good choices, while Kenney, Flaherty, Ambrose, and Baird, bad choices and Tony Clement I am somewhat torn on.