Stephen Harper has a bounce in his step lately thanks to the polls. Sure, his numbers are down among men, but that’s nothing he can’t solve by claiming to be writing a book about cleavage or pressure washers. It’s springtime, the weather’s nice and he’s at 33 per cent, baby. Nothing beats the ego trip of knowing you’re being rejected by only two-thirds of Canadians.
It’s remarkable that Harper is in front at all given the 2010 he’s had so far. Fresh off his second prorogation, which went over about as well as my “Grown Men Who Heart Justin Bieber” Facebook group, the Prime Minister poured his soul into a 6,000-word Throne Speech that among Canadians was immediately reduced to a single question: “You’re going to do what to our national anthem?”
Harper flip-flopped on that proposal?.?.?.?and on his policy rejecting condoms as part of a plan protecting the health of Third World women?.?.?.?and on a plan to ban free mailings by MPs to other ridings. About the only thing he didn’t flip-flop on was his belief that Canadians owed him a post-Olympics bounce in popularity. His first major speech of the new Parliament consisted pretty much in its entirety of, “Mr. Speaker: YAY OLYMPICS!!” If he’d had his way, he would have spent most of March wearing Jennifer Heil on his lapel.
At the same time, Harper finally began paying a political price for importing his cabinet directly from the Island of Misfit Toys. One minister, Jean-Pierre Blackburn, got snippy after airport security confiscated his tequila. Another, Lisa Raitt—apparently forgetting that being a minister of the Crown still qualifies as a day job—announced via BlackBerry she was “thinking of live-tweeting QP.” (OMG!!! P. MacKay = dreamy!!)
And then there’s Helena Guergis, who with her husband gave us the rare gift of a political story that includes profanity, tantrums, drunk driving, strip clubs and busty hookers, not to mention allegations of cocaine parties and incriminating photographs. Looking back, you begin to wonder if maybe they were starring in a sequel to The Hangover the whole time. And while the scandal did cost Guergis her job, she and Rahim Jaffer will get their reward when Harper officially names them as our country’s ambassadors to reality TV.
All in all, then, a difficult period for the Prime Minister. But it’s important to remember that he still has two things going for him: the national opposition parties.
Michael “Michael” Ignatieff has been leader of the Liberals for a year now. His party still lags in the polls. No one seems to know what Ignatieff stands for, what a Liberal government would do differently or when Ken Dryden is going to finish that anecdote he started in 2008.
Ignatieff has also revealed himself to have a curious definition of what it means to be a leader. Leadership should be about “convening,” he says, “not command and control.”
Convening? This came as a surprise to Harper, most Canadians and the dictionary people, all of whom have laboured under the apparent misconception that leadership is about, you know, leading. Nope—turns out it’s about building “networks of responsibilities that are focused on outcomes.” Translation: if Ignatieff had given Churchill’s wartime speeches, he would have vowed to “facilitate the pursuit of satisfactory outcomes upon the beaches, streets and other relevant jurisdictions.” And then the convening! If you think I should declare war on the Nazi menace, press 1, followed by the pound key.
I wouldn’t want to be Ignatieff right now. Or whenever he’s in caucus and Denis Coderre gets that “I should give my two cents” look in his eyes. But let’s face it—being a Liberal still beats being a New Democrat.
Here’s a question worth asking: why does the NDP even exist anymore? It’s certainly not to win power. They’ve been blessed with a right-leaning, divisive Prime Minister and a disorganized, ineffective official Opposition and still they can’t convince more than one in five Canadians to give them a look. So what purpose do they serve?
True, it can be useful to have public figures who demonstrate that it is still possible for a man to pay less than $75 for a suit. And yes, there’s no denying that a foolproof way to determine if you’ve had too much to drink is to see if you can successfully pronounce the surname of NDP MP Judy Wasylycia-Leis. (Wash-a-lisa-lease? Have a safe drive home. Wash-a-lasha-lasha-lash? Call a cab!)
Beyond that, most of us instinctively grasp the fact that if NDPers really wanted to see genuine progress on the causes they support, they’d disband and join the Liberals en masse. They wouldn’t get everything they wanted in terms of social progress or gluten-freeness, but they’d get something more than nothing. Instead, Jack Layton carries on—the walking, talking, still talking, stillll talking manifestation of Stephen Harper’s job security.
Harper is by no means a popular Prime Minister. But with enemies like these, who needs friends?
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