Stephen Harper’s majority rules

In the session ahead, the PM needs to remember that his mandate ‘has a big old fence around it’

Harper's majority rules

Fred Chartrand/CP

In the early morning hours of May 3, with the ballots almost all counted, he basked in a Conservative majority. The Liberal Party of Canada, his nemesis, was in shambles. The Bloc Québécois was decimated. If the world seemed then to have tilted in Stephen Harper’s direction, his political situation has become only more advantageous since.

The NDP, though now the official Opposition, has lost its uniquely popular leader, removing Harper’s primary challenger from the House of Commons. What’s more, with Progressive Conservatives mounting serious challenges in Ontario and Manitoba, Harper might awake one day next month to find that every single province west of Quebec is led by a right-of-centre government—a resounding endorsement of the Prime Minister’s twin assertions that “Conservative values are Canadian values” and that “the Conservative party is Canada’s party.”

But if it is to be Stephen Harper’s world, what will Stephen Harper do with it? Perhaps only as much as he said he would do. “The challenge will be getting the balance right and not overreaching,” says Jim Armour, who once served as Harper’s director of communications. “If the Prime Minister goes too big or tries to go too fast, then he risks unifying the opposition and attracting the media’s attention. If, on the other hand, he continues with the ‘stick-to-the script,’ ‘no-surprises’ approach to governing that he’s taken for the past five years, then he’ll be fine. As with all things—even once-in-a-lifetime political opportunities—the key is moderation.”

Beyond boosting the narrative, it’s unclear how substantive the impact of Conservative victories in either or both of Ontario and Manitoba might be on the Harper government’s agenda. “My observation of how the Prime Minister works with premiers is that it is wholly dependent on the personal rapport between the PM and the individual premier,” says Geoff Norquay, a former aide to both Harper and Brian Mulroney. Swapping Ontario Premier Dalton McGuinty for PC Leader Tim Hudak would, if nothing else, put a supporter of the Prime Minister’s Senate reforms in charge of the country’s most populous province.

The greatest of Harper’s opportunities will remain in Ottawa. For the next six months—ahead of a convention in Toronto next March—the NDP will be embroiled in a leadership race, one that will likely direct attention, not to mention prominent members of caucus, away from Ottawa. Eventually—ahead of a vote in 2013—the Liberals will have to follow suit. Matched against two caretakers—the NDP’s interim leader Nycole Turmel and the Liberal side’s Bob Rae—Harper would seem first to have a chance to further define himself. “The mainstream generally likes energetic, focused, practical leaders, and Stephen Harper has been working hard to become known as the most energetic, focused and practical,” says Bruce Anderson, a pollster and strategist. “As other parties are in the process of defining their leadership choices, it gives Mr. Harper more time to establish himself as the best choice for centrist voters.”

The coming session of Parliament is set to be dominated by campaign commitments and Conservative icons. “One thing this Prime Minister has been very good at is keeping the covenant he’s made with his own voters, keeping his promises he’s made to his own voters,” observes one Conservative strategist. Government House leader Peter Van Loan is promising a fall agenda that continues the government’s focus on the economy, but also includes legislation to reform the Canadian Wheat Board, rebalance representation in the House of Commons and eliminate the long-gun registry, in addition to an omnibus bill to implement all of the government’s law-and-order measures.

Majority government is said to have provided certain degrees of comfort and focus for Conservatives and it might compel, at least as compared to the feverish years of minority government, a more substantive Ottawa. “Opposition parties will need to realize that basically their only option is cogent arguments that make sense in the court of public opinion,” Norquay says. “The real job of the government is, finally, to rise to the opportunity of having a four-year time frame in which to propose and implement a very substantive policy agenda.” In addition to the specific measures promised by Van Loan, everything from a security perimeter with the United States and free trade with Europe to copyright reform and shipbuilding procurement could, by turns, dominate the discussion in the months ahead.

Whatever he might hope to accomplish over the next four years, when the Prime Minister appeared before the Conservative caucus, he spoke primarily of the economy: a preoccupation that would become all the more understandable a day later when Statistics Canada reported a net loss of jobs for Canada in the month of August. However great his advantages, global turmoil still threatens the Canadian economy and another downturn would challenge the government’s ability to respond. And however advantageous the situation, Harper might be best advised to understand his limits. “They gave him a mandate, but it has a big old fence around it,” the Conservative strategist says of voters, especially those right-leaning Liberals who helped propel Harper to a majority. When the Prime Minister has suffered political wounds—think, for instance, of the decision to prorogue Parliament in late December 2009—they have often been self-inflicted. And in the absence of political rivals (and barring economic catastrophe), presumptuousness may be Harper’s only foe. “The trick for him, in the absence of an opposition,” says the strategist, “is to remain disciplined and focused.”


Stephen Harper’s majority rules

  1. With a steady incremental pace, Canadian politics will move back to the ‘right’. Thereby, finally, erasing the Trudoupian Stain from Canadian society..

    • Canadians are generally liberal, not conservative….and Trudeau remains the country’s most popular PM.

      No amount of ‘creeping’ is going to change that.

      • You must have been born in 1960 or later to truly believe that.. Canadian society is aging, and most Canadians over 50 remember Canada as it was, ‘before’ Trudeau’s ‘Just Society’ started moving everything to the socialist left. There is a saying which rings true: If you are under thirty, and are not Liberal you have no heart. If your over thirty and still a Liberal, you have no brain..

        • I was born in 1946. Leading edge of the babyboom.

          And Canadians leaped at the chance to leave the repressive 50’s behind…they are the ones who voted for Trudeau, and he remains the country’s most popular PM.

          Old sayings have no meaning anymore….and you’ve misquoted it anyway.

          • No, it was throngs of emotional women that voted for Trudeau, because they though he was cute. Other than that, he was a total unknown at the time..

          • Don’t be daft…Canada didn’t have ‘throngs of emotional women’…and I don’t think anyone thought he was ‘cute’.

            Men voted for him. It’s how he got his majorities.

            He was parliamentary sect’y to Pearson and later the justice minister…also one of the ‘3 wise men’…hardly unknown.

          • “Men voted for him. It’s how he got his majorities.”

            This is awesome, coming from Emily, who claims that only cranky old white males vote Conservative.  Yet somehow there’s a Conservative majority government.

          • I can’t stop laughing!!!!   This is so true – as a teen growing up in Ottawa, I watched grown women acting like they were groupie chicks at a rock concert, lol!!

  2. Harper will have a good four years. He is disciplined and focus, will be ok.


    • Which has nothing to do with the mess he’s gotten himself into.

  3. I hope at some point his libertarian heart will lead him to finally jolt the middle if the road voter into recognizing what he really is – before he fully implements his tea party agenda.

    • Please explain exactly what his tea party agenda consists of.

      • See his positions as leader of the National Citizens Coalition — his statements as an original member of the Reform party — looks similar to the tea party to me —

        • So which awful things is he going to implement or do which he hasn’t already implemented or done?  You’re being awfully vague.  Is he going to criminalize abortion?  Force school prayer on us?  Eliminate funding to the CBC?  Abolish equalization payments?

          • You’re being a little disingenous there OB. We already see signs of what kind of majority PM he’s going to be. Wrong headed crime bills forced through because he favours good poltics over good policy; ignoring a democratic vote of farmers to disband the wheat board; realignment of Canada’s longstanding foreign policy, largely without debate or in put from non- idealogical conservatives. The very people who decried Trudeau’s arrogance will be cheering all this on. Sure he won a mandate alright; but it’s entirely debateable whether he won an idealogical mandate – my reading is he won a steady as she goes mandate.
            As for the other stuff you cite, you know as well as i do that just because Harper knows he must remain a pragmatic PM in order to stick around, that doesn’t mean he isn’t partial to some of those neo-con wet dreams, ie., capital punishment, limits on abortion or abolishing the CBC. It may be a moot point,cuz i can’t imagine he’ll make any of those move – the fuss would be substantial; but as i say, it doesn’t mean he isn’t thinking it.

          • He’s already working on abortion — see the restrictions on foreign aid payments. Abolishing the CBC would attract too much attention, but with the review now taking place I can see him knee-capping it and gradually starving it into submission.

            A similar approach to equalization payments is likely — gradual reduction accompanied by as much smoke and mirrors as possible — in my original post my hope was that he would fail to give the usual attention to the smoke and mirrors that seem to mesmerize the public and the press.

  4. We are so fortunate to have a majority conservative government right now as many other countries are focused on fighting over their respective political spoils instead of looking after business.   Contrary to what the opposition keeps ranting, I am proud to be a Canadian.

    “Canada has the best reputation in the world, says a study measuring public perceptions of 50 countries around the world, released on Tuesday.

    The Reputation Institute study measures the trust, esteem, admiration and good feelings the public holds towards 50 countries, as well as perceptions of peoples’ quality of life, safety and attention to the environment.

    The countries scored high for their steady democracies, high economic output per capita, focus on active lifestyles, well developed political systems and perceived neutrality to international political upheavals.

    Being perceived as a safe country was the main driver of a country’s reputation.”


  5.  Harper, and his Police State, will only leave in his wake, what Mulrooney left -Nuthin of any value whatsoever..
     And compared to Trudeau’s legacy, Harper will be just another conservative majority leader.
      In ALL things health, education, technology, constitionally,… Trudeau has left an impact on Canada that far surpasses even Sir John A., or Laurier.
     Harper, will be nothing but a tiny embittered ripple in the pond 10 years from now, Whereas Trudeau will retain hi Legacy the greatest Prime Minister this country has ever had, or ever will.
     Extreme right capitalist thinkers/believers’ is NOT where the world is going btw:  Lol.
    Just ask your american wall-street buddies.
     In fact, thank god the world is finally beginning to lean a teeny bit more toeards that Trudeanian socialistic-left values.

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