Election Post-Mortem: The Conservatives
A lot has been written over the past two weeks about the election that was, but nearly all of it has been about Jack Layton's victory. This may be a bit unfair to the election's actual winner, so let's pause for a moment to reflect on what Stephen Harper accomplished on May 2nd.
He became just the 7th man to win three elections in Canada's 144 year history. If he serves out his current term, he will sit 6th on the all-time list of longest-serving Prime Ministers, and second only to Sir John A among Conservatives. It's a safe bet there will one day be a Stephen Harper Calgary International Airport, and the man just turned 52 during the campaign, so the sky's the limit in terms of what he can accomplish.
Even more impressive is that Harper very much created his own "winning conditions". When he was elected Canadian Alliance leader under a decade ago, the Liberals were comfortably in power, facing a divided opposition. Harper's own party had just cannibalized Stockwell Day, with a dozen MPs breaking off to form a rebel faction in the House.
The prospect of a 200 seat Paul Martin majority lay on the horizon and there was no one out there who thought a dull reformer from Calgary with fractured French and a fairly "un-Ontarian" view of confederation would ever become Prime Minister.
Yet, here we are. Fewer than 10 years later, and Harper now leads a majority government, with the left divided and the Liberal Party decimated. Sure, there were breaks along the way, but from merger to minority to majority, Harper was largely the author of his own destiny.
So how did he take that final step, to get over the 154 seat hump?
In some respects, the election was won long before the writ was dropped. I know many will jump over me for saying it, but Harper has governed as a moderate. Maybe he's been forced into it, but whatever the reason, he hasn't done anything during his time in power to rock the boat or worry centrists. This left the ground ripe for a Tory majority, helped no doubt by a little fertilizer in the form of a 5 million dollar Just Visiting ad campaign.
Once the campaign hit, Harper did what he's always done. He found a simple message and stuck to it. Voters were offered more of the same, or an unstable jumble of opposition parties who would raise their taxes. This message was repeated over and over again, and it paid off at the ballot box.
As for the road ahead, I don't expect things to change much under majority rule. Yes, the gun registry will go and some "lefty" programs will be cut, but we're not going to see abortion legislation, two tier Health Care, or a blue flag. Harper's largest objective in politics seems to be turning the Conservatives into Canada's natural governing party and he won't achieve that by jerking the country sharply to the right.
The largest obstacle for Harper in the next four years may very well be his lack of obstacles. The opposition cannot be blamed for holding him back, and the Senate cannot be blamed for killing his crime legislation. Sure, the CBC might be good for a few fundraising letters, but Harper will need a new adversary to rile up the grass roots. A Quebec-dominated socialist opposition party may do the trick there.
The larger challenge will be explaining to his base why he can't go as far as they'd like him to. But in terms of problems Harper could be facing, that's a nice one to have.