October 18, 2007

Obviously It's Harper that Wants the Election

Now that Harper has been unable to get the Liberals to force the election via the throne speech, he will make a second attempt through an upcoming crime bill. This new crime bill will include pieces of legislation that were previously amended or dropped through agreements made with the opposition. The Conservatives have also indicated that they will not accept any new amendments and the new bill will be a matter of confidence. Obviously Harper is looking for an election in hopes of getting a majority.

So why would Harper want an election when it is clearly not wanted by the public? Well there are all the obvious reasons such as his decent poll numbers, his supposed strength in Quebec, the lack of funds and organization of the Liberals and the declining numbers of the Bloc. Though don't believe for a second that it's only about taking advantage of the opposition.

Over the last few weeks there have been many reports forewarning about the slowing of the Canadian economy. Add this with the job losses that have already been occurring in the manufacturing sector – namely the auto sector – and any government in power will likely be facing a firing squad. Harper in particular wants to avoid this because his government has already had some of the auto sector job losses attributed to his government’s apparent inaction and therefore will likely take the brunt of the blame for a bigger downturn.

There is also the issue over the environment agenda. It is hardly a secret that Harper hasn’t won any hearts or minds over the environment. Right before he was to stand in front of an international consortium touting his environmental plan the results of the National Roundtable on the Environment and the Economy review were released. The news wasn’t good for the Conservatives and reinforced what most people were saying all along – Harper is failing on the environment. Don’t expect that to change either. Aggressively addressing this issue would be an affront to both his base-support (Alberta) because of their reliance on oil reserves and to his ideology on so-called government interference in certain matters.

However, it is possible that Harper could survive criticism over the economy and make amends with the opposition over the environment. So what else could there be? Well, there’s the growing storm over three separate investigations involving the Conservatives. I can’t say to any certainty how far these investigations will get but each has the potential to damage the credibility of the Conservatives to some degree. One in particular that involves the breaking of election financing laws and seems to have some clout, is likely to hurt them the most especially since Harper once made a big deal about accountability and trust with the parties and government. While none of these are at the scale of the sponsorship scandal each will still have a negative effect if brought to fruition.

It would seem that the plan at this point is to have an election in hopes of achieving a majority. With a majority Harper could spend an uncontested four years weathering the storm of a declining economy with the hopes of it righting itself before the next election. He could also force the adoption of an extremely poor and ineffective environment policy without question. And he could guarantee his hold on power even in the event any of three brewing controversies cost him support or confidence. At this point, Harper has probably had enough with making compromises with the opposition and having to really deal with policies that he could care less about. Since being in a minority government is forcing him to at least make an attempt at governing, Harper can’t do what he wants to do most; force a failed ideology on the masses and then quit governing out of principle. However, I'm pretty sure that the tactics to force an election will be attributed to Harper. This latest move reeks ala Joe Clark and Harper is likely to get called on it. Crime is not as much an issue of importance as health care, the environment or poverty are and therefore is likely not to produce the intended effect. And one only has to look at the Ontario election to see how much the 'law and order' banter has any pull in the face of declining crime rates. My call is that the worst-case scenario has Harper with another minority with the same number of seats of fewer.


ALW said...

Harper either wants to govern like he has a majority, or precipitate an election in which he will attempt to secure a real one. Either route is ok by him.

It's also defensible policy, from a non-ideological perspective. It's saying "if you aren't going to let me do what I want to because you think it's not in Canada's best interests, then let's let the people decide".

The weaknesses you have identified are all fine and well, but I suspect they won't be the ballot questions. It's the reason why 80% of francophone Quebeckers are totally offside from Harper on Kyoto and Afghanistan, yet he remains amazingly popular there.

For better or worse, politics in 2007 is all about the leaders. Harper is a strong one, Dion is a weak one. The policies are (sadly) secondary. It's all about who's in the big chair - very much like US Presidential races. And even many Liberal voters wince at the idea of a guy like Stephane Dion in the big chair.

Kyle said...

Didn't the people already decide how they want things to work when they handed Harper his first, but Canada's second consecutive minority government?
Even though polls are not always the best indicators, recent ones do seem to point to a desire to see the current structure of parliament work out.

I do agree that policies seem to be secondary, but only in between elections. Recent campaigns that have been based on personalities over policies haven't really done so well for those leaders. They always start out strong and then eventually fizzle. Now that isn't to say there weren't other factors also involved or that a new federal election will change that. However, running on a leader over policy has a lot more risk involved, especially with an ever growing cynical public.

ALW said...

Okay, suppose we look at it your way: that whatever the results of the last election were, that’s what the public wants. Just one problem: how do we interpret the results? Is it fair to say, as the opposition does, that 63% of the public voted “against” the Conservatives, and hence they shouldn’t get to advance their agenda? And if so, can’t we also say that even larger numbers of Canadians voted “against” any of the other parties?
“Making Parliament work” is a disingenuous term that every party uses when it is trying to avoid an election. Besides, how do we know when it’s an appropriate time to end a minority Parliament? Indeed, why do we assume they should have shorter lifespans than majorities? Should they?

I guess we will just have to disagree about Dion’s chances in a campaign. Frankly I think the old yarn about Harper and the Tories being “extreme right-wingers” has pretty much been worn out. Few people can point to very much Harper has done that’s radical or extreme. So if Harper runs as a centrist, as it appears he is gearing up to do, what does Dion do? Move further left to compete with the NDP, Bloc and Greens? He is boxed in. And it’s entirely the Liberal’s own fault. As Warren Kinsella noted, the Liberals were sent to the penalty box in the last election but still haven’t figured out why. Until they actually show evidence of having gone through some introspection and developed some serious policies that aren’t rooted in knee-jerk reaction to whatever Harper is saying, they aren’t going to be back in government.
But I return to my original point: when people have to pick between Stephen Harper and Stephane Dion as a person to lead the country, I don’t like Dion’s chances.

Kyle said...

I'm not disagreeing that Harper was elected as the largest power or that the other parties, taken separately, have larger opposition against them. I'll even concede that even majority governments technically have the majority of voters opposing them. The way I was looking at it was through a combination of the minority government with the recent poll about the public wanting parliament to work, rather than having it fall. I could care less about Dion's excuses for keeping parliament running. I was more concerned about the poll - for as much as it's worth. And in that regard I don't believe it's about just Harper's agenda. It's about getting results through consensus and compromise between all the parties. If it was just about Harper's agenda then his numbers would be on the up-and-up on the basis of what he has done or at least on what he has presented but that doesn't seem to be the case.

I'm not saying Dion's chances are great or any policy the Liberals present will overcome his supposed shortcomings. And both yourself and Kinsella are correct in saying the Liberals have much further to go to understand just what is wrong with the party and how to move forward. A major change in our approach and perspective are needed, and probably some of the backroom brains need to be pushed out as well.

As for the campaign strategy I don't believe running a campaign based on a leader is a good idea and the risk is greater than running on policy. I still don't know if it's possible for Dion to win out even if it came to policy versus leader situation. As you said, the chances don't look good for Dion, no matter what. As for Harper being centrist, you and I both know the truth of the situation; if the Conservatives had a majority we wouldn't be having this debate because it would be clear he isn't. The most telling aspect is that his original core supporters - far-right, religious right, etc. - are still with him. You're still supporting him and as far as I can tell you're views haven't softened since our undergrad days. And for me (and likely countless others) that's enough to convince me we're in a 'you know something we don't' type of situation. If Harper was truly genuine about moving to the centre another Reform party would be popping up and once again splitting the right. That hasn't happened yet.

ALW said...


I agree with most of what you've said except about Harper. Surely you can't honestly believe he'll burn the house to the ground after getting a majority. Do you really think he's that stupid?

Stephen Harper is unlike any conservative leader we've had in this country before: he thinks very long term. He is trying to change Canada incrementally, over time. That modus operandi won't change when he get's a majority, for the simple reason that if he tried do, he would basically send the conservative movement back to where it was in 1993: a mess. Having gone through the ridiculous Reform-PC-Alliance-merger exercise and wasting a decade, Harper will never allow that to happen again. And the reason it won't repeat itself amongst the base is because everyone realized was a stupid decision it was to splinter off like that.

As for being far-right, there's a difference between what my personal policy preferences are, and what I'm willing to settle for. I don't oppose compromise. I just oppose compromise for it's own sake, a la Red Tory thinking.

I can't understand how the same people who seem to acknowledge that Stephen Harper is a very smart guy, somehow think he's going to turn into some reckless nutcase if he gets a majority. Why? So we can have fun for four years and get utterly destroyed in the next campaign? It just makes no sense.

Kyle said...

I don't think Harper is stupid. But I do think he is ideologically driven. Whether he'll 'burn' the House down in four years or twelve is irrelevant, really. And to be frank I think he cares less about the party than he does his dream policies. Once he has the opportunity to make certain fundamental changes to the way the country and mainly the federal government operates, he will do it, no matter the consequences. Why? Because once the changes are in place, then the damage is done. Undoing the damage will make subsequent governments look bad because they will spend millions, if not not billions, trying to rebuild and therefore not putting enough into programs such as health care or the environment, etc. issues that are already being neglected by Harper, out of ideology. From where I sit, no matter how much this might make seem like wingnut, I see a man who doesn't really want the job of Prime Minister to govern but to put push what he wants on to the rest of us. Sort of like the Cheney-Rumsfeld rule in the US but not exactly the same (I don't think it's about passing cash to big business for Harper).

ALW said...

Sure, Harper is “ideologically driven”. But then, so was Pierre Trudeau. I find it strange that you consider Harper wanting to “push what he wants” on the rest of us any different than any other politician. I wouldn’t want a politician without some sort of vision doing the governing –isn’t that sort of unpredictability more worrisome than anything? The debate is just over which vision you like. So if you don’t like Harper’s vision – and plenty of people don’t – that’s fine, but don’t make it sound like it’s strange or dangerous that he should have one (and if anything, small-government types are not “pushing” anything onto Canadians: they are pulling back the state from doing the pushing. So if you don’t like politicians forcing people into living according to their own visions, it’s strange that you’d be comfortable on the left side of the spectrum).

Finally, and I guess this is just my take on the man personally, but Harper isn’t going to do anything that jeopardizes the Conservative Party’s long-term competitiveness. It simply isn’t going to happen, even if he wins 200 seats in the next election. He never stops looking years ahead down the road, so he won’t blow his brains out in some orgy of slash and burn policies just so he can feel good about himself. He’s just not that kind of person – does it honestly fit with his past behaviour? And that vision I was speaking of isn’t nearly as drastic as I think you assume. It’s just a vision of a country where conservative and liberal ideas battle it out on a level playing field, rather than having the deck stacked against conservatives time and time again.

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