Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Our Teflon Prime Minister?

There is a certain beautiful irony that the same week the Prime Minister Stephen Harper (CPC – Calgary Southwest, AB) revealed that his government had made significant progress towards a European trade deal that the Senate scandal reared its ugly head. Mr. Harper is in his seventh year as prime minister of Canada. The natural length that party leaders stay in power is about ten years, which means that like many politicians he is seeking to enshrine a lasting legacy.

According to Paul Well, reporter with Maclean’s Magazine and author of the new book about Stephen Harper, The Longer I’m Prime Minister, Mr. Harper wants to fundamentally change Canada. He has tried to make Canadians comfortable with the idea of a governing Conservative Party and stave off the return of the Liberals. Interestingly, if you look at Canada’s history you’d see long periods of Liberal governance punctuated by brief-to-decade-long stints of Conservatives/Progressive Conservatives. To many (especially Liberals) this is the natural order of things. Mr. Harper would like to permanently change that.

The Canadian-European Trade Agreement, if accepted, will be definitely one of the items Mr. Harper is credited for long after he leaves office. However, much like the last Conservative PM, his trade deal may well be passed but his party could be run off on a rail.

As every major news broadcast and newspaper is reporting, Senator Mike Duffy, Senator Pamela Wallin and Senator Patrick Brazeau are fighting tooth and nail against a motion in the Senate that would suspend them indefinitely without pay. In a last move of desperation they have, understandably, turned against their former masters in the Prime Minister’s Office and decided to attack. Unlike previous incidents where an errant MP had been kicked out, Mr. Duffy and the others are mired in scandal, and they have paperwork to pull down their former comrades.

This has been the news for over a week now. On Monday afternoon Senator Duffy publicly released documents that revealed that the Prime Minister misled the public/parliament about his knowledge and actions related to this scandal. Last week in my Worth Reading I cited an article my Chantal Hébert where she suggested the Harper leadership team is losing control of the caucus.

Now, this isn’t Great Britain or Australia and it is highly unlikely that Mr. Harper will be suddenly and unexpectedly removed from office, as Margaret Thatcher was. The next election is not expected until October of 2015, two years from today. Will the electorate’s rage simmer for that long? Will the Conservative’s popularity dip dangerously low?

Journalist David Akin tweeted this on Monday:

These numbers are incredible and reveal for the first time since Stephen Harper became their leader that they have polled third. It seems possible that the reek of the scandal has turned off enough voters to at least send them temporarily into the arms of the NDP and the Liberals. This type of scandal badly hurts Conservatives among their base. The NDP’s consistent message to abolish the Senate may be gaining traction.

I am too cautious to believe that this is the end of Prime Minister Harper. The man has weather scandals before, serious ones that challenge his credibility as a leader. This one is clearly a shot closer to home and more dangerous, but it is unlikely without a caucus revolt to send him out. Caucus could revolt, but with not obvious heir(s) apparent the Conservative MPs likely fear fracturing their party. For Canadian political nerds, we certainly are living in interesting times.

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