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Monday, January 25, 2010

Still Standing

Yeah, yeah, yeah....

On Jan. 23, 2006 - four years ago today - Harper and the Conservative party ended 13 years of Liberal rule in Ottawa, beating a man and a political organization, Paul Martin and the Big Red Machine, that had once seemed invincible.

"They predicted it could not last," Harper said yesterday to a Parliament Hill meeting of his MPs and senators. "They gave us 18 months at the absolute most but we survived, we persevered, we won re-election and tomorrow we enter our fifth year of serving Canadians."

But above all a successful leader must have a weak opposition. Had Prime Minister Joe Clark faced Leader of the Opposition Stephane Dion, the 1980s might have turned out to be the Joe Clark decade. You can finish shuddering at the end of the post. Instead Joe faced Pierre, and his ruthless determined supporters, and the rest is history, as any victim of NEP will tell you. Brian Mulroney had John Turner, who was the ideal man to lead Canada, in 1968. For decades Conservatives sounded like Liberals, and suffered for it. For that brief moment a Liberal leader sounded like a Conservative, until in desperation he embraced the looney nationalist Left and campaigned against Free Trade. Brian Mulroney became the first Tory PM to win a second majority - leaving aside Borden's wartime coalition - since 1891. Couldn't have done it without John. Takes two to win a majority, the winner and the future or current opposition leader.

Further back Lester Pearson had the distinct advantage of being Liberal leader, just as John Diefenbaker was slowly self-destructing. Pearson became Prime Minister by default. While Dief had discredited himself as an effective PM, he was still the darling of rural Canadians, who kept him and the Tories from oblivion, and denied Pearson his majority government. The Tories, unwisely but perhaps unavoidably, assassinated Dief and replaced him with Bob Stanfield. Swinging Pierre spent three elections facing everyone's favourite, but impossibly WASPish and dull, uncle. Amazingly Trudeau nearly lost in 1972, more due to his own foibles than the inspired genius of the Progressive Conservatives.

Yet Stephen of Calgary - formerly of Leaside  and Etobicoke - has, even by the remarkably lucky standards of the previous residents of 24 Sussex Drive, been truly blessed. Paul Martin became a text book example of the Peter Principle. Stephane Dion, as everyone knows, was the blackest of black horse candidates. His election as leader the baffled, and baffling, response of a Liberal Party recovering from nearly fifteen years of Martin-Chretien feuding. 

Politics is a blood sport. It is thus unusual that the lamb is not merely lead to the slaughter, but also appointed acting shepherd as well. The timid, and slightly bemused, Dion then compounded his obvious inadequacy for the position with the spectacularly tin eared Greenshift. After the Harper Tories failed to seize a majority government in October 2008, many observers, including me, thought the boys in Blue had peaked. If the Master Strategist can't win a majority with a Bambi-eyed leader of the Grits, then the boy is never going to survive an encounter with a genuine Liberal leader. 

A year after the succession of Michael Ignatieff, only the PM's self inflicted wound of the prorogation has significantly dented his popularity. So far. It's a long time until March and there is every chance people will simply forget or get distracted. Yet even if the wound is mortal, it would have been through no talent or insight of the Liberal leader, who has displayed the same pseudo-apoplectic reaction to everything the government does, no matter how great or small. This is part of the job description, but as the vocal coaches tell us: modulation! 

In marking the fourth anniversary of Stephen Harper's elevation to the highest office in the land, many tributes will be written to the ill-coiffed PM's strategic genius. He is definitely a shrewd operator. So was Jean Chretien, who was in the end only a high-level ward heeler with a Francophonized Catskill schtick. Stephen Harper is Prime Minister of Canada today for the same reason most of his successors entered, and stayed in that office, because there was no one better to kick them out. Until there was. This is true of most things in life, but good to keep in mind when the chattering class wax and wane on the merits and demerits of the PM and his would be successors.

Posted by Richard Anderson on January 25, 2010 | Permalink


To compare Mr. Harper, the best PM since Sir John A., to Chretien, the second worst ever (only Pierre the Terrible was worse)is horrendous. The whole era of 1993-2003 was nothing but lies. Adscam, Iraq, 9-11, the 1997 election call during the Winnipeg flood, etc, etc and above all exempting Ontario from Kyoto makes Crouton an abysmal, horrible example of leadership. Even Martin did better - ineffective and weak to be sure, but not corrupt.

Mr. Harper, on the other hand, has been a beam of sunshine. He's been a decisive and positive force for the world. He helped the military in many ways especially buying those C-17s now indispensable for operations. He repaired relations with the US after a decade of neglect. He secured, however unpopularly, the economy during the recent recession. His greatest achivement, the one that places him into the front ranks of Canadian prime ministers is his rejection of Kyoto. When his "opponents" were willing to sign a blank check to the UN and IPCC, Mr. Harper said no, it was counterproductive and too costly. In the process, he saved millions of jobs and the social services people take for granted. For that, he is #1.

His "opponents" are weak because they followed ridiculous policies and had pathetic leaders. While the same could be said for Chretien's time, there is an important difference between him and Mr. Harper: Harper governs well, while Chretien governed badly. In that sense, Mr. Harper follows the Constitution's highest tradition of good government. Chretien used cover and concealment to prevent people from knowing what he was up to, like supporting the Iraq War from the start. May Mr. Harper rule for many years to come.

Posted by: Zebulon Pike | 2010-01-25 10:09:46 AM

Corrupt Jean Chretien should be charged with fraud and obstruction of justice, everyone agrees he is a crook, no one disputes that $40 million dollars was stolen while he was in charge.

Posted by: Philanthropist | 2010-01-25 12:52:29 PM

$40 million? At least. Where is the billion or so that disappeared in that job creation scam, can't remember the department. HRDC? Whatever, find me one party that can account for all the money. And we won't know what Harper and his crew has made off with until much later, after he is gone. Politicians don't, or very rarely, face the music if caught. Kinda like being a cop. May Harper walk the plank as soon as possible.

Posted by: Steve Bottrell | 2010-01-25 11:30:20 PM

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