Why Stephen Harper will go in 2014

The numbers are against him, James Cowan says: ‘So too is time’

Jeff McIntosh/CP

James Cowan writes for Canadian Business. More of his columns here:

When trying to predict the future, it’s helpful to first check the archives. Reading old news is a reminder of how often prognosticators are wrong and how quickly public opinion can shift. Take, for example, Stephen Harper. In the past few months, there has been a constant flow of stories speculating that the Prime Minister will step down before the next federal election in October 2015. And despite Harper’s emphatic denial, this makes eminent sense given his steep and long slide in popularity. But it becomes even more reasonable when you consider what didn’t change in 2013.

Just over a year ago, Ipsos Reid pollster Darrell Bricker declared the Prime Minister was looking “solid, solid, solid.” The Conservatives had avoided accumulating the “barnacles and cuts and bruises” often associated with a long-governing party and stood a strong chance of getting re-elected. This sentiment was reflected elsewhere; a Nanos research survey showed 48% of Canadians felt the country was headed in the right direction and a healthy majority believed Harper’s government was doing an average job, at least. Twelve months later, public opinion has shifted. Nanos polling now shows that 55% of Canadians believe the country is headed in the wrong direction and 56% said federal government was doing a “poor” or “very poor” job. Similarly, an Ipsos Reid poll showed 60% of respondents didn’t think the government was working, a reflection of a “Tory brand” that was starting to get “a little tattered,” according to Mr. Bricker.

But polls are just snapshots, right? Harper has more than a year-and-a-half to put the Senate scandal, so often blamed for his woes, behind him. But here’s the thing: Even back in 2012—when Mike Duffy was a household name as a former broadcaster and Harper was looking solid, solid, solid—57% of Canadians still thought he should quit before the next election. A year later, that number had crept up slightly to 59%. Canadians have changed their mind about his government and the direction of the country, but their long-term career advice for the Prime Minister remained consistent.

Also remaining consistent—some might say frozen—is Harper’s economic policy. A year ago, Finance Minister Jim Flaherty was said to be preparing a “stay-the-course” budget; the message this year is identical. The government continues to push for a fourth national wireless carrier, while refusing to make changes to foreign investment rules that might make Wind Mobile into a viable contender. They’ve demanded an answer from U.S. President on the Keystone XL pipeline, while stalling on environmental concessions that might have made it easier for Barack Obama to say “Yes.”

The Conservatives could get away with this as long as the Canadian economy fared better than the rest of the world, with relatively low unemployment, relatively high wages and no sign of the housing market crash that doomsayers’ predicted. When the rest of the world is falling apart, the act of just holding things together became laudable. With a recovery now visible in the United States and elsewhere, Canadians will start asking—what has the Harper government done to position the economy for future growth? Save for the significant achievement of signing a free trade deal with the European Union, there isn’t much. Which leaves the Conservatives with little ammunition to defend themselves when bad economic news—like the loss of nearly 46,000 jobs in December—presents itself.

Reading back to the beginning of 2013, it seemed unthinkable that Stephen Harper would step down before the next election. But the numbers—the polls, the employment reports—seem against him. So too is time. To have a leader in place for the next election, the Conservatives can’t wait until 2015 to see how Harper’s fortunes hold out. No matter how much he denies it, this is the year that Harper will go.




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Why Stephen Harper will go in 2014

  1. …and now that Julian Fantino has just publicly taken a wizz on veterans, a core group of supporters who reliably go to the polls, you just have to wonder how much longer they can hold on. It’s not that veterans will necessarily vote for anyone else; the threat to Harper is that they decide to not vote at all. This government is now looking so tired, so tone deaf, so out of touch, and so fixated on their own hold on power, to the detriment and neglect of everything else (especially the economy) that the chances of any kind of turnaround in their fortunes are now remote. The theme of the next election may well be ‘a change is as good as a rest’. And as for Fantino, I’d say the next scheduled bus is right around the corner, and he’ll soon be under it.

    • Of course, the Cons under Harper have been blowing turds all over veterans and current members of the force for years. But their incessant drumbeat of hate and appeals to emotion work wonders. Amazingly similar to the Republicans in the US. Never have so many useful idiots been so completely and for so long…

  2. “To have a leader in place for the next election, the Conservatives can’t wait until 2015 to see how Harper’s fortunes hold out.”

    Perhaps, but neither rank&file Conservatives nor the Conservative caucus will be making this decision, it is going to be made by Stephen Harper.

    Harper’s challenges are similar to Martin’s last election. The Conservatives have now been pushed back into a regional party, losing in Ontario, wiped out East of Ontario, dominating in Alberta and competitive in BC and the Prairies. Check out the best site for this type of info: http://www.threehundredeight.com/

    Also similar to Martin, Harper’s personal brand is damaged. Most Canadians now view Harper as less than honest and forthcoming (thanks Duff). Still he is the best and most experienced campaigner among the leaders and I believe could pull out a fairly strong minority government in the election if nothing of substance happens this year.

    However, Martin was also in a position to do the same thing. Then the RCMP announced it was looking into a budget leak from Goodale. It turned out to be bogus, but because the Liberals had used up all of their goodwill with the public, the polls shifted dramatically to the “straight-arrow” Harper.

    While Harper has some advantages in experience, he is now exceedingly fragile. Will Wallin have something exciting to say? Will Elections Canada move the Robocall scandal beyond Sona? Who is Author Hamilton and will the public get to know this shadowy figure? Will Nigel come out and talk? Harper is in trouble because he and most of the senior Conservative leadership are seen as disingenuous. In morphing from a wooden, straight-arrow to a polished performer, Harper has removed his ability to effectively deny wrongdoing to the public. Regardless of what the Conservatives are accused of in the coming year, Harper’s word will not carry any weight beyond the Conservative base. With his political capital gone, the next “scandal” that resonants with the public will be a disaster for the Harper Conservatives.

    • ” Still he is the best and most experienced campaigner among the leaders…”

      An amateur built the ark…professionals built the Titanic. Voters just get tired of the same old routine with every government. The Liberals were tired and spent, and voters wanted a change despite halfway decent economic numbers. Harper is staring at the very same reality (except the economy has turned on him)…and if Fantino isn’t tossed toute suite, then don’t be surprised if there’s an Exodus of MPs looking to save their own skin. Reform Party 2.0?

      • I’ve already got a name for them…Transreformers

  3. I’m hoping his Israeli ‘triumph’ was the grand finale.

    • Emily, I’m sure that if Harper gets another majority in the next election, you will be the first one at the plate accusing the Jews of rigging the election.
      for someone who claims to disdain religion in general…..you sure do seem focused on one in particular.
      Why is that?

      • Israel is a state not a religion!

        • …a state “owned” by a religion.

  4. The global economy is likely to be shaken and stirred badly this year, resetting the political landscape pretty much everywhere in the world again, including Canada.

    The tapering of QE by the FED in the US and the new Chinese regime trying to reign in China’s shadow banking system is causing emerging market turmoil.

    The illusion of growth in Europe and the United States is also likely to disappear as deflationary pressures in the developed world from the Global Economic Crisis begin to reassert themselves.

    And we won’t even go to what an accidental war or civil war might do.

    • Well we’ve had since 2008 to sort things out. Some were keen to use the window of opportunity we were offered….others dug their heels in, sank their fingernails into the windowframe and flatly refused to enter the 21century.

      C’est la vie.

  5. Hmm. Well, having an electorate telling pollsters we’re heading in the wrong direction, and a government hell-bent on staying the course is indeed a disconnect. I hope harper goes, and I also hope the polls that say Petey is most popular for the head job are true. Petey in charge would make me very happy for a few years of conservative disarray.

    • Personally I am hoping for Tony Clement . . . . he would be like a Stockwell Day V2.0

    • I agree, to an extent. The real PCs probably still hate MacKay for stabbing them in the back, after promising not to support the merger. That would risk creating new divisions, and splitting the right vote all over again. Then again, that’s probably just the reason he will never be leader.

  6. The numbers have always been against Harper so much of this article is more wishful thinking than anything.
    Until pollsters can actually come up with a methodology that is relevant today anything that a poll says is probably far from accurate.

    • “The numbers have always been against Harper”

      Any other comforting fictions you’d like to share?

    • I wish people would actually read the articles before they comment.

    • To quote Supertramp:
      “Dreamer, you’re nothing but a dreamer…”

  7. The author here isn’t the same James Cowan who is (or was until this morning) a Liberal Senator, by any chance?

    • Doesn’t appear to be.

      From LinkedIn: James Cowan
      Deputy Editor at Canadian Business Magazine
      Past:Reporter at National Post, Inc., Associate Editor at Saturday Night Magazine

      Education:McGill UniversitySummary:

      Journalist with more than a decade of experience as a writer and editor.

      From Parl.GC.CA (Parliament’s web site): Senator James Cowan, appointed on the recommendation of Prime Minister Paul Martin on March 24, 2005, currently holds the position of Leader of the Opposition in the Senate. He is a native and resident of Halifax.

    • No

  8. The status quo is actually great for would-be Tory leaders. Harper remains leader, and loses the next election – but keeps Trudeau to a minority (which is consistent with the numbers as they stand). Harper resigns after the election, and the Tories get a new leader. The senate scandal is no longer so fresh. They wait till Trudeau dips in the polls and join up with the NDP for a VONC against the Liberals.

    Harper is the best standard-bearer for the party. For all of his faults, he can bridge the gap between reformers and old-school Tories. He has some positives, and they are likely to be amplified next to the less experienced Trudeau. Moreover, his defeat will allow a cleaner break from the past for the next leader.

    Nobody wants to be the next John Turner.

    • Unfortunately, Harpo got away with this, but canadians won’t be so fooled again, by his political antics, so Harper and the CONS are one ‘n done, they’re a spent force, and for quite some time to come.
      Trudeau(Libs) will ally with the NDP (he already started the ball rolling with the Senate…) and may very well get a majority gov’t.

      LoL Turner was a drunk, womanizer, and just plain dum. Even MulLooney, who was only a little better, could debate circles around TT -( aka “Toilet” Turner).

      Trudeau is … well, thankfully NOT any of those traits.

  9. I want him to stay because he deserves to be beaten badly by Justin Trudeau.

  10. Pigs

  11. Canada’s economy outperformed due to the resource boom, rather than Harper’s leadership. Now that resources have tanked, the reality of CONs incompetence has simply become more obvious.

  12. Yep I agree, he’s gone this year

  13. Stephen Harper would rather see his party decimated then step down before running in an election against a Trudeau. This man’s ego won’t allow him to back away from a fight with Trudeau.
    Canada needs Mr. Harper to stay the course and fight the next election so that this version of the Conservative party disappears in a blaze of hellish fire.

    • read the above comment carefully before you downvote. he is calling for Harper’s victory so the CPC decline will be final and vicious. (what every sane Canadian wants.)

  14. The economy growth of pass years was due to liberal policies of years before. Now the truth of this useless government is coming to light

  15. Another option is for Harper to call a snap election in 2014.
    The justification could come from several sources including the imposition of the Enbridge pipeline in BC through to escaping the constant – and effective – grilling he takes from Tom Mulcair; an uncontrollable envy of Trudeau’s hair, or to put down an impending Conservative caucus revolt.

  16. This comment was deleted.

    • its funny, the only entitlement I sense is that of conservatives

      faced with the reality that their leader is an empty suit, bereft of vision and deeply rooted in deceit and scandal, spending money like drunken sailors on mideast vacations while closing search and rescue and PTSD centres

      some people, patriots I think, recognize that a new direction is needed; others, traitors I believe, throw scorn around to everyone except where it is deserved: on themselves.

      • New direction? Good luck with that….you have a short memory when it comes to Liberals.

        • No we don’t and we wont with Harper – Nice job of trying to defect this poor governmental track record – Its not going to work though

          • Poor gov track record?? Economy is strong, people are working taxes are low. What’s your beef? The only scandals are creations of the liberal media party. You need to smell the roses pal.

          • Yeah Right buddy – I kind of expected that you would step forward with that fact-less rubbish – Oh well not everybody can do research and only rely on what they read in the papers – I am a member of the Canadian Taxpayers Federation – I know the truth – Too bad you cannot say the same.

          • No time to give you a power point presentation but hey, you are a member of the CTF. You can always count on a partisan lobby group for the truth. You stick with the shiny pony and I will stay with the guys producing the results. Cheers!

  17. Haven’t any of you heard that Rob Ford is going to be Prime Minister. He is the most famous person in the world. He and Doug will build a subway all the way across Canada. He’ll win by the largest percentage since the big bang. He will save every individual Canadian a trillion dollars in taxes. Their will be no hug a thug going on when Rob’s in Ottawa. Shoot’em down on the sidewalk of have them beat up in jail. He’ll stop the gravy train nation wide. I know a lot of you have reservations about having Rob as PM, but don’t worry, he’ll lose weight.

  18. We seem to be forgetting about the elephant in the room here. His unwavering support for Israel during the Gaza massacre has put Canada in a very bad light; and has put the lie to all the propaganda that I was raised with; that we Canadians were concerned and supported the human rights of others (that is unless you are Palestinian!) His toothless saber rattling; kowtowing to fanatical and psychopathic Neo-Cons and NATO; with his ridiculous sanctions against Russia over the Ukraine; sanctions that will hurt Canada more than the Russians;and is willing to bring Canada to the brink of war to protect the archaic and outmoded Breton Woods, The Petro Dollar and the hegemony of the U.S. dollar; in short he is a sociopath. We need leaders who will put the interests of Canada first not the interest’s of NATO; the G8; or Israel.

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