Wednesday, October 15, 2008


In a recent post entitled "Bye, Bye, Stephen," I concluded:

The polls indicate another minority government--possibly even a Liberal one. Harper has managed an impossible feat--making Stéphane Dion look good in comparison. Snatching defeat from the jaws of victory--because another Conservative minority government is as much a defeat for Harper as a Liberal win--he has dashed the hopes of his party and his constituency. How much longer will he lead it?

My first prediction--no majority--has been borne out. It is too early to judge the accuracy of the second one--that The Harper's invincible leadership will now face challenges. But his failure to do much more than spend $2300 million of the taxpayers' money on a non-event that changed little or nothing in the House of Commons has been duly noted.

Here's the Globe & Mail:

Mr. Harper has now led the Conservatives in three winnable elections. In the immediate aftermath of the sponsorship scandal, he was only able to reduce the Liberals to a minority government in 2004. Two years later, with the Liberals increasingly directionless, with a strong public desire for change, and despite a dubious mid-campaign intervention by the RCMP, he could do no better than form a minority government of his own. And in 2008, up against by far the weakest Liberal campaign since John Turner's disastrous 1984 effort, Mr. Harper was unable to gain the majority mandate he called the election to seek.

For Mr. Harper, these results should be cause for reflection. He has chosen to build his party around himself, failing to follow the example of past prime ministers who built a national coalition by sharing the spotlight with strong party members with authority and credibility in their home regions. This strategy has been a failure, in no small part because of Mr. Harper's prickly personality. Meanwhile, his much-vaunted tactical and strategic acumen must be called into question, given the myriad errors made during this campaign: A weak debate performance, the failure to release a platform until the campaign's final week, and a failure to quickly grasp the depth of public fears over the global economic crisis, exacerbating this with gratuitous investment advice and a failure to live up to his makeover as sweet Steve. It all served to reinforce rather than ease voters' reluctance to hand him a majority government.

None of this should impact Mr. Harper's short-term future. The country needs a strong hand at the helm to steer it through uncertain economic times, and this period will give the Prime Minister an opportunity to demonstrate that he is continuing to grow into the job. Mr. Harper may yet prove that he is able to better delegate responsibility; that he can keep his less appealing impulses in check; that he is able to connect with enough Canadians to eventually earn greater trust.

But it may also be that, having long ago exceeded early expectations by converting a fractured right into a party capable of forming government, he will need to hand over the reins to someone able to take his handiwork to the next level.

In the public mind, he may have grown as much as he can.

And here's the Ottawa Citizen's Randall Denley:

[Harper has] had three elections now. How many tries will he get? Put it this way, Harper couldn't win a majority against a befuddled Paul Martin in 2006 and this time he didn't get the job done against the stunningly weak Dion. What Liberal could he beat to get a majority?

Last election, Harper blew a majority at the last minute by musing about closet Liberals in the public service and the courts who would constrain his government. This time, he did it again with his comments about the arts and youth crime. That cost Harper a chance for a breakthrough in Quebec that would have given him his majority. Harper refused to take reporters' questions in the last couple of days of the campaign to avoid another blunder, but it was too late to apply the duct tape.

Although Harper assured voters on the weekend that he is not "the devil in a cowboy hat," he is the devil we know and Canadians went with him yesterday, however grudgingly.

One can hardly blame the voters for their lack of enthusiasm. Harper is an autocratic and unlovable figure with no real vision for the country.

If Harper wants to govern and try again for a majority, he needs to stop trying to be a one-man show. He ran an election campaign that was all about himself and his leadership. Policies were few and slight, his cabinet team scarcely in sight. In this election, voters didn't say no the Conservative party or to conservative government, they said no to Stephen Harper. Harper has cemented his image as the bully boss who attacks or silences all those who disagree with him. Too many Canadians just don't like Stephen Harper, and that's a problem he probably can't fix.

It seems I'm in good company. Harper needed a majority to win. And in the short term he will act like a winner, and express no end of public enjoyment as he watches the Liberal carrion feast about to take place. But in the long term, having made his reign about leadership, his demonstrable lack of it--his inflexibility, his micromanaging, his intolerance, his inability to connect--will spell his end. The Tories are no strangers to long-knife nights: I suspect the blades are already being sharpened.

The NDP is alleged by the punditariat to have somehow failed last night. Perhaps the party set expectations too high, but it increased its number of seats by 23%, while the Tories increased their holdings by 10%. That's hardly failure. All of the other parties, of course, lost seats.

Jack Layton and his team ran an excellent campaign. Canadians are just waking up to the possibility that the Liberals' star may indeed be visibly waning. The NDP is poised to replace the Liberals, I believe, although this is an incremental process to be sure. But forget self-serving talk about alliances and mergers. The NDP--at least, this is my fond hope--will have nothing to do with the Liberals. We would lose ourselves and our souls by wandering into that mouldering big tent. We need to keep our eyes on our vision, and work to achieve it, not for ourselves but for the country.

And those of us disposed to be critical of our party should never yield to the temptation to be silent, or to rationalize, or to prevaricate on its behalf. This isn't, in the final analysis, about parties at all, but about alternatives. Another world is possible, but only if we stay honest and are able to look the Canadian people in the eye.

Enough for now.

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