By Jason Menard
The smile is there and all the right words were said, but somewhere deep inside one has to think that Stephen Harper realizes that just about the worst outcome came to bear on Monday night.
Sure, his name will go on the list of Canadian Prime Ministers, but things are set up in such a way that he may join Joe Clark as nothing more than a footnote in the leadership history of this country. He has the power, but in name only.
Conversely, another man destined to be a Prime Ministerial footnote goes out the same way he spent his entire Liberal tenure – as the good soldier. For years, Martin’s been the solid backbone of the Liberal party, biding his time, and playing second-fiddle to the more extravagant Jean Chrétien. And, once the reins of power were finally turned over, Chrétien and the political culture he fostered again rose up to stab his old nemesis in the back.
Today is a new day for Canada – and the beginning of the end of the Conservatives.
Harper’s House is stacked with enemies around every corner. While the Liberal minority was buffered by socially similar allies in both the NDP and Bloc, the Conservatives find themselves alone on the right. There’s no way that the left-leaning parties are going to support any of the Tories’ more aggressive platforms, so the Conservatives will find it increasingly difficult to get anything done in this Parliament. And that alone spells doom for Harper.
Think back just a few months ago to when many in the Tory camp weren’t just ready for Harper to fall on his sword – they were lining up to give him a little push! Faced with a stiff opposition to his minority rule, his ineffectiveness will no doubt rankle the Hawks in his party who have had enough of playing the patient game. Now that the tape is off their collective mouths, what’s to stop them from flying off the handle very early into the mandate?
Now that the Conservatives are in power, they have the responsibility for cleaning up Parliament – as they’ve promised. But with the final Gomery report on its way, what happens if the systemic corruption to which the Tories have alluded never actually materializes. They’ve used the spectre of greater improprieties much in the same way as the Republicans used the treat of Weapons of Mass Destruction – so what happens if the Tories’ search ends up as “fruitful”?
So we turn to the Liberals, who now are searching for a leader in the wake of Martin’s decision to step down. What better way to wipe the slate clean of the sponsorship scandal than to usher in fresh, new leadership? One gets the impression that this election was more a referendum on Martin’s leadership than a coronation of Harper. And, in the end, the Liberals showed much stronger than expected. What does that say about the Canadian voters’ interests?
A new leader, a renewed focus on the social issues that matter to Canadians, buffered by the financial strength displayed over years of government make the Liberals an attractive option for people looking for long-term stability. A Liberal party that many Canadians already support headed by a new leader without all of Martin’s baggage? That’s a recipe for victory.
So what is Harper to do? He can’t call a snap election in the midst of a Liberal leadership race hoping to capitalize on the leadership fallout (much as the Liberals tried to do with the questions about Harper hanging over his head). If he does that, two things happen: Martin pulls a Trudeau and comes riding back on his white horse to rally the troops back to battle; and the electorate – already frustrated with two elections in two years – fights back against the opportunism and ineffective governance that the Conservatives will have provided.
In the end, Harper can only sit and wait. The Liberals will rise, his government will be handcuffed by its minority status, and it will only be a matter of time until the Conservatives are calling for his head. And the Conservatives going into another election with a lame duck candidate, reeling from the arrows in his back, and an electorate looking for the stability and five-year security of a majority government all spells a Liberal resurgence sooner rather than later.
But at least, until that time, Harper will have a nice place on Sussex Drive to fiddle from as his party slowly burns.
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