Stephen Harper doesn’t sound particularly sheepish in his interview with the boss. Wrong on policy? Nope: he’s going to put cuts to public funding of political parties in his platform for the next election. (Excellent. Bit belated: Since he clearly planned to do this all along, he maybe should have put it in his platform for the last election. It’s an odd rationale for electing a guy: if we do it often enough, we might finally smoke him out on what his plans are.) Wrong on the economy? Nope: this week’s version of the Harper economic policy was the right one all along. But perhaps the most striking line is this one, in which he muses about his party’s chances if the opposition unites to defeat him:
Obviously, if we had an election today somebody will have a majority because it will be either Canada’s Conservative government or the coalition.
Now obviously, this applies today (or, say, the first week in February), if the Coalition of the United ND-Libera-Québécois, branded as such, unites to take the government down on a confidence vote and then petitions the GG for a new government within this Parliament. Harper will petition the GG for dissolution, believes he’ll win, and now says he would run the whole campaign as a binary choice between Our Lot and That Lot.
But don’t kid yourselves, coalitioneers. This binary choice will now certainly be the campaign strategy of any Harper-led campaign at any point in the future under any circumstances. Recall that Harper just campaigned against Stéphane Dion as a guy who would raise the GST, based on two-year-old musings by Dion during the ’06 Liberal leadership campaign. He doesn’t recognize statutes of limitations on his opponents.
So at the next election, whenever it happens and however it comes, Harper will run on a guarantee — his own guarantee — that the opposition will unite to govern unless Conservatives outnumber them all. And the opposition can’t exactly deny it, can they, after Dion spent the last campaign swearing up and down that he would never form a coalition with Layton’s bunch?
Note that I’m not predicting Harper’s polarization gambit will win. I’m just telling you, that’s the game now.