Sunday, January 23, 2011
Five Years Later...
Five years ago today, Stephen Harper, the MP for Calgary Southwest, former Canadian Alliance leader and then-Conservative Party leader, won a stunning victory over his political rivals in a 8-week long election that saw momentum drift from one side to the other, and brought down a Liberal dynasty that had survived for 13 years. Harper, given the smallest mandate in Canadian history (124 seats, or 40.3% of all seats in Parliament), was given his due in his amazing victory, but his government was never pegged to last too long. He was simply too right-wing, his party was simply too prone to gaffes and blunders, and once the Liberals got their act together after the devastation wrought upon them by the election loss and their own internal discord, Harper would be swept out of government and would remain nothing more than a footnote in the history books.
But here we are, five years later, and Stephen Harper is looking about as entrenched as you can be. He's standing on the cusp of a majority government, and often in practice he seems to have it. His opponents are demoralized and broken, and even with the various scandals, ministerial gaffes, and an economic downturn, he has not been seriously threatened by his opponents, whether Liberals or otherwise.He has now survived three different Liberal leaders, and it looks like he may survive a fourth. He has a stranglehold on the West, he's taken easy advantage of the Liberal collapse in Quebec, and while Ontario is still somewhat of a slight issue, he is making inroads in former strongholds and is now hedging his bets on making more. How, exactly, could we have not seen this happening? How has Harper survived for so long? And what will the future hold for the 22nd Prime Minister?
The initial idea of the Liberals getting their act together and taking Harper out isn't necessarily an incorrect one. Harper's government is not popular, and when presented with another alternative, Canadians would be willing to take it. It's the reason why he can't get a majority, and why he still struggled so much against a succession of weak Opposition leaders. The notion that because there are so many parties in Parliament a majority is impossible is quite simply incorrect; we've had five viable parties before, and majorities abounded. It simply takes a strong leader that people can rally behind. But Stephen Harper is not a strong leader, and people aren't going to rally behind his party enough to give him a majority.
But the issue is that no one fully realized the extent of the damage done to the Liberal Party. We were not only beaten, we completely ripped ourselves apart. Petty internal divisions allowed Harper to exploit us in ways we didn't expect, and weak leaders who either couldn't or wouldn't impose discipline on the Party allowed him an easy path to victory. If we had actually rebuilt ourselves back after our loss in 2006, maybe we wouldn't be at this point, regretting the five years of Harper's mismanagement and partisan chicanery has wrought upon Canada. Maybe we wouldn't all be running around worried about a possible Conservative majority, one that quite literally could threaten all we stand for. But, here we are.
Will Harper get a majority? I doubt it. As I said, he isn't a strong leader. He doesn't inspire confidence in Canadians, but they do see him as more competent than the alternatives. This fact alone will keep the Conservatives below that 155-seat mark but in power. But it doesn't matter, because Harper has already won. The Liberal Party, who have governed this country more times than any other, are actually considering coalitions, electoral pacts, and other nonsense, because we can't seem to do it on our own. Harper has taken advantage of our weaknesses and it seems we're almost running scared. And while I applaud Michael Ignatieff sticking to the "no coalition" plan, the fact is, the cats out of the bag and we aren't putting them back in. That is simply how badly we've been scarred by Harper and his government. We're willing to sell our souls to simply end his reign. In that regard, Harper has already won. Majority or not, he's made his impact on Canada. Even if he's defeated, I'll tell you right now, there isn't any way we'll forget him.
So, five years later, Stephen Harper remains strong. He's completely rearranged how this country views its political system. He's utterly eviscerated his opponents. And he isn't done yet. Who would have predicted that?