Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Dion and Harper both in trouble after election

Sure, it was a bad night for Stephane Dion.
And collapsing financial markets and a bad showing in Quebec hurt Stephen Harper's hopes for a majority government.
But Harper and his party face some tough questions as they assess the election results today.
Perhaps there just aren't enough Canadians who share his brand of conservatism to deliver a majority.
Not to be contrarian, but Harper's future as leader - despite winning 19 more seats than in the 2006 election - should still be in doubt.
He has failed three times to deliver the kind of majority victory Conservatives supporters want. And the setbacks have come despite conditions in the last two campaigns that offered the Harper great opportunities.
In 2006, the Liberals were discredited and tainted with corruption.
In this campaign, the Liberals were divided, disorganized and had a leader in Dion who struggled to communicate. The Conservatives were organized, rich and focused. Conditions were highly favourable for a majority victory.
What went wrong?
There were stumbles by both main parties. Even before the market meltdown, the Conservatives were struggling to find a way to a majority. But the financial crisis highlighted a core belief of Harper's brand of conservatism - that government has a very limited role to play in any aspect of society, economic, cultural or social.
When Harper suggested that people should consider plummeting stock prices - and RRSPs and home values - as a chance to pick up some bargains, he wasn't just being insensitive. He believes that markets and people should be left to sort out their own problems and create their own opportunities. Government's role should be sharply limited. Not non-existent, but as small as possible.
It's a legitimate position. In the U.S., neoconservative policies that stress market freedom and individual responsibility, opportunity and accountability have found fairly wide support.
But the U.S. is different than Canada. Its founders started with a deep suspicion of government; their goal was to escape the control of a remote and interfering British regime; their constitution an exercise in limiting government power. In Canada, the same anti-government sentiment wasn't at the centre of nation-building.
In the campaign's early days, Harper said that he believed Canada had undergone "a tremendous change" in the last two decades and become more politically conservative. They wanted lower taxes, free trade and balanced budgets, he said.
The party's campaign reflected that, from the initial hands-off approach to the financial crisis to arts cuts to tougher penalties for youth criminals.
But the results yesterday suggest Harper got it wrong, at least in terms of a majority.
Canadians don't want waste or irresponsibility, but they do think government has a role in helping make peoples' lives better.
The numbers are still being tallied, but the Conservatives managed to only nudge their support from 2006 - 36.3 per cent - slightly higher. That's enough, given vote-splitting on the centre and left, to allow a minority government.
But not a majority, which is the real goal for Conservative party members.
The campaign started with much speculation that Dion would be dumped. He will be.
But expect questions about Harper's future as well. After three unsuccessful campaigns, he has still not won Canadians' support, even with dismal Liberal competition.
Given the perception that this is very much Harper's party, it's hard to see where the Conservatives can go with him as leader.
Or exactly where Harper can go as prime minister. In the campaign, he talked about treating a second minority government as a stronger mandate for the party's policies.
Harper should have more room to govern given the Liberals' weakness, but faces a financial crisis and slowing economy.
Harper's achievement in bringing together the Reform-Alliance-Progressive Conservative coalition will be remembered.
But this might have been his last chance to win a majority government.
Footnote: The election results should worry Gordon Campbell. The Conservatives did much better in B.C. than in the rest of the country. Nationally, their share of the popular vote barely changed; in B.C. it jumped from 36 per cent to about 48 per cent. The attacks on Dion's carbon tax - and on Campbell's nearly identical tax - likely were a significant factor, building on existing public opposition to the B.C. tax.


Anonymous said...

your blog simply rocks!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
good work.. keep rocking
im lance

Anonymous said...

Hate to break it to you, but the Conservatives tend to be more rational about party issues than the left of centre parties. An example would be the successful "unite the right" plan culminating in today's Conservative party. Constrast this with 40 years of NDP & Liberals competing against each other for the same segment of the electorate. Harper may not have won a majority, but he's gotten the party in power and that's more than could be said for Manning, Day, Clark, or Charest.