Monday, January 23, 2006

Harper’s tough job gives B.C. an opening

VICTORIA - Now the hard part starts for Stephen Harper.
He’s starting an audition today. The Conservatives can’t rest comfortably on this victory, and not just because they only managed a minority government.
The Conservatives’ success owes much to the public’s anger at the Liberals. That will fade, with the only question how long that process takes. And without that factor, the Conservatives may be another doomed government.
Harper and the Conservatives have to convince Canadians that they can govern effectively. He has to prove to skeptical centrist voters that the Liberal attacks ads about same sex marriage and reckless tax cuts were false.
And his biggest problems will be the 124 MPs sitting behind him on the government benches.
It’s been 13 years since the Conservatives were in power. For the Reform/Alliance side of the party, this is their first taste of government.
And many of the MPs elected Monday are getting ready to fly into Ottawa with great expectations. Some have accepted the need for unity and party discipline in order to win the election. They learned that lesson painfully in 2004.
But now they are going to want action. They have waited in the wilderness, and they are bound for Parliament to make big changes.
Which creates a problem for Harper. Go too far, and the public’s fears will be confirmed and the road back cleared for the Liberals.
Don’t go far enough, and the MPs who believe the Conservative party should denounce gay relationships, or launch any number of more extreme policies will get grumpy and fractious. (These are people, don’t forget, quite willing to form new parties with little chance of real political success for years.)
The successful campaign gives Harper more clout in the party. And the minority government may be a blessing. Harper can remind MPs that getting too radical could mean a brief term in government, and a long wait on the outside.
The minority government is also a good thing for British Columbia. In the 15 elections since 1958, this is only the fourth time that B.C. voters have been on the winning side and had strong representation in government.
But even in this election the Conservatives lost seats in this contrary province. Their share of the popular vote rose, but it appears that strategic voters in key ridings were just too nervous to allow Conservative wins.
Harper must do better in B.C. next time, and that means paying attention to British Columbia’s issues.
There will be some quick tests. The Conservatives promised $1 billion over 10 years to help deal with the pine beetle disaster. They said they would halt the sale of Ridley Terminal in Prince Rupert. After some fumbling they agreed to support the Kelowna Accord to assist First Nations, although they want a clearer spending plan.
Failing to deliver on any one of those would indicate B.C. is being forgotten.
And the number of cabinet seats from the province, and the jobs given to MPs like Jay Hill, Stockwell Day and Chuck Strahl, will signal Harper’s attention to B.C.
Paul Martin is right to resign. The party did better than expected, especially in B.C. But Martin is not the man to give the party a needed new start it.
His decision buys Harper time. The Liberals will now be looking inward. They will be in no rush to topple the Conservatives.
I expect many British Columbians will see these results as the best of a bunch of bad options.
The Liberals are out, the Conservatives in check.
And if Harper wants a majority next time, he has to look to B.C. The Conservatives expected a better performance in the province. Their share of the popular vote actually rose slightly, but they lost five seats.
They need to find out why so many British Columbians were still not ready to trust them in government if they ever expect a real victory.
Footnote: It will likely take until recounts are complete to determine a critical question. The NDP and Conservatives are on the edge of having a combined majority in Parliament. That would open the door to a more stable coalition, and free Harper from dependence on the Bloc Quebecois. It won’t be an easy partnership, but there are near-term advantages for both parties.


Malcolm said...

Lack of attention is noted as the NDP grew stonger in BC. .... And as HARPO tries hard to keep his electorial promises, 1 then 2 points off the PC.'s own (1991 value added tax), while trying hard to keep the mouths of his Alberian born(first time in the big city)backbenchers shut, plus appease the christian($$) from both sides of the border. ......
Now, how do you say; we'll be back to the polls after a short recess.

Anonymous said...

Strategic Thoughts has a good article today about folks like Joe Clarke who decided to run things as if with a majority. Money means vote of confidence. Away went Joe. are we to see the same again with this guy Harper? Some of his guys are talking as if they have a majority . Don't burn the election signs just yet. He promised tons of money for just about everything so the juggling will begin as they are sworn in. Today he is going to ,arm the border guys. The Ridley Port improvement is going ahead without the support of the local first nation. One of the last kicks at teh can by the martin group. Let's see how harper and Co. handle that one

Anonymous said...

why would the NDP form an alliance with the far right conservatives. the Liberal boss has quit and their policies are not as wingy as the cons. In my view the Liberals and the NDP are more likely to get together on many issues.The liberals will, when push comes to shove, work wiht Layton. The BLOC sure wouldn't allow the cons to reduce social programs either

Anonymous said...

The issue of same sex marriage was during the election, sort of in the back room said candidate Harper sometime later, not right now.

In the local paper today it seems that it's now later. I guess if you are trying to keep the rednecks in the closet duing an election thats how you talk. Squeeze out a minority, and even before getting sworn in, its a thing for right now. He reportedly had to be rushed to hospital , maybe something was caught in his throat. His words. Kyoto, next week maybe? Sort of reminds me of Lying Brian.