Saturday, April 18, 2015

Harper Faces Frustratingly Fuzzy Future

Note: This column first appeared in the Ottawa Hill Times in September, 2014; I think the analysis still holds.

For Prime Minister Stephen Harper this must be a particularly frustrating time.

And no, what’s frustrating him isn’t the Conservative Party’s consistently poor showing in public polls, or the scandals which have plagued his government or his increasingly toxic relationship with the media.

In fact, none of that stuff would really bother Harper.

What would irk him, however, is the fuzzy nature of Canada’s political future.

Keep in mind that Harper is a meticulous planner and strategist; he’s like a general who won’t commit his troops to battle until he’s accounted and planned for every possible contingency.

In short, he doesn’t like surprises; he doesn’t want to improvise a strategy in the heat of combat.

Yet, whenever Harper scans the political terrain that will serve as the battle ground for the 2015 election, his view is obstructed by dark clouds of uncertainty.

For one thing, no one, including Harper and his strategists, knows how Liberal leader Justin Trudeau will perform once he’s thrown into the lion’s den of a national election campaign.

And Trudeau’s performance will matter because for the past year or so, the Conservatives have been airing TV ads telling us that Trudeau is “in over his head.”

These ads are meant to plant a seed of doubt in the minds of Canadians, seeds the Conservatives hope will bloom during an election, when voters will start to truly focus on the Liberal leader.

If, during the election, Trudeau stumbles, if he commits a series of verbal gaffes, if he performs poorly during the televised leaders’ debate, it will reinforce the Conservative message that he’s not up to the job.

But pinning all your hopes on an opponent making mistakes is always a gamble.
What if Trudeau campaigns like a pro; what if his winning smile charms the electorate?

That’s something Harper needs to consider.

And the “Trudeau factor” is not the only unknown confounding Harper.

He also has to worry about the NDP. More specifically, he must be wondering how the NDP, and its leader Thomas Mulcair, (who like Trudeau has never run a national campaign) will fare against the Liberals.

This is a key question because for Harper to succeed in 2015 he needs the NDP to soak votes away from the Liberals. He especially needs the NDP to keep the Liberals from scoring an electoral breakthrough in Quebec.

Is the NDP up to the job? Can Mulcair put a dent in Trudeau’s popularity? How will Quebeckers react to a Mulcair vs. Trudeau tilt?

Nobody knows. And that puts Harper’s plans in a state of flux.

Then to muddle things up even more, Harper also has to consider that the world itself is becoming increasingly unpredictable.

Russian President Vladimir Putin is rattling sabers in Eastern Europe; barbaric terrorist organizations are conquering huge swathes of territory in the Middle East; Israel and Hamas are at each other’s throats.

Given all this instability, what will the world look like when Canadians go to the polls a year from now? What will our economy be like? Will there be a war? Will there be a terrorist attack in North America or Europe?

We just don’t know.

And more to the point, Harper doesn’t know.

All these unknowns, all these variables, all these question marks, will make it extremely difficult for Harper to calculate a winning political equation.

Yet, of course, that won’t stop him and his team from trying to craft such a plan.

But just to cover all their bases, they will also have to prepare a Plan “B” and a Plan “C” and maybe even a Plan “D.”

1 comment:

Dave Chappelle said...

In my opinion PM Harper’s issues are all the bridges his party has burned. Without effort I can think of four...

1. The anti-choice crusaders who didn’t get their referendum. (For the record, I’m for an abortion referendum, as long as only women of child-bearing age are allowed to vote in it.)

2. Wealthy people who the government ripped off by promising not to tax income trusts, and then reversing position and taxing income trusts.

3. Marijuana users. For the moment let’s ignore the obvious gorilla in the room that no one has the right to tell anyone else what s/he can consume.
There was a licensing system in place, which the Conservatives revoked and did what they always do – steal from individuals and small business and give it to a handful of very large corporations, who like it or not will be seen as Conservative campaign donors.
Then there was the whole Mark Emory fiasco… handing an innocent Canadian over to Americans for a five-year prison sentence, when he’d broken no Canadian laws.

4. Law-abiding firearms owners. Easily the most vocal group of Conservative supporters, these folks represent the almost invisible election workforce – campaign workers, scrutineers, letter-to-the-editor writers and radio talk show callers, who do what they can to sway opinion. The Turf Mark Holland campaign, for example, saw that Lieberal DB tossed from office.
They know the other parties will ban guns at the first opportunity, so they work to keep the other parties out. And yet the Conservatives have taken this group for granted, and ignored the promise to rescind the hopelessly stupid and confusing Firearms Act. Many of this group have stopped donating money. Many more have decided to stop giving their time. How many will even bother to vote?