History suggests that Prime Minister Stephen Harper should take the first open caucus rebellion of his seven-year tenure seriously.
Such episodes routinely feature MPs who toil in relative obscurity, with little prospect of advancement but in politics hope springs eternal. It does not necessarily follow that their actions are completely divorced from the thought that they could do better under a different leader.Hébert goes on to name some of the other "rogues," including Maxime Bernier and Jason Kenney, who have at times gone against the PMO's directions. Fair enough, and if Harper ever does step down, Kenney and Bernier are serious threats.
But is there a serious threat now? Is there a possible social conservative (or socon) revolution just around the corner? The sad fact is that we don't really know, though from all appearances, there isn't.
In the last two and a half years, there's been three big votes on "social conservative" issues: Motion 312, Bill C-279, and 2010's C-510. In all three, there a large contingent of Conservatives either defected from the main group, or didn't vote the way Harper did (though C-279 featured Harper voting "no"). I would also include M-408, which is Warawa's failed motion. It didn't feature any vote, but had quite a lot of people bring petitions in favour of it forward. Here's a nicely compiled list:
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So, there's roughly a dozen determined socons among the Conservative caucus that you can glean off these, admittedly few, votes they've made (or petitions produced). There's a larger caucus of what I'd say are between 55-65 other members that have voted in favour of socon legislation on a regular basis, taking into account missed votes and the fact that we've only had a few votes like this.
So, we can roughly guess that a determined socon opposition against Harper could produce around 70-80 MPs, possibly including five cabinet members (Kenney, Fast, Ritz, Shea, and Van Loan). That would square off against a roughly equal-sized amount of non-socons, or at the very least, Harper supporters.
That would be a definite threat against Harper, as a revolt of that size would destabilize the Conservatives in a big way. The question, of course, is whether or not it could ever happen - and I feel the answer is likely no. Even among socons, there is probably not a big enough issue to cause them to join a revolt against Harper. They know who holds the keys to power. Lord help them if a revolt failed. These people aren't stupid enough to risk their careers like that, especially not the cabinet members. Warawa being beat down isn't really a concern for most of them.
When Harper steps down, however, is another story. There is enough support out there for the socon wing of the party to make a big impact, especially after they've felt so repressed over Harper's tenure as Prime Minister. Plus, they've got big names - Jason Kenney, Gerry Ritz come to mind - to challenge anyone from the other side. And really, think about the non-socons in Harper's cabinet that could be taken seriously: Peter MacKay? Baird? Flaherty? Sure, big names with lots of experience, but also a hell of a lot of baggage.
Right now the Conservatives can probably rest easy under Harper - but just wait until he's gone. The fun will start then.