Stephen Harper and the Conservative Party are a bunch of dinosaurs.
With the other parties crawling from the primordial goop, dusting themselves off and discovering fire, the Prime Minister and his cabal of omnivorous cohorts are grazing the planes of Pangea, watching their friends die, one by one, as the loneliness sinks in.
Call the Boss what you want to call him — regressive, stubborn, opportunistic, calculating — the eight-year ruler of Canada has proven again, and again, and again that rumours of his demise are greatly exaggerated.
His unrelenting soothsayers are often trying to predict which meteorite will render the governing Tories extinct. Prorogation? The Afghan detainee files? In-and-out? Robocalls? Duffygate?
Consistently, Harper et al have shown themselves resilient, clever and resourceful in the face of near-devastation.
Harper-haters stomp their feet and protest. How can Canada be this stupid? Who are these idiots? Must be those — intake of breath — Albertans.
For those willing to look behind the verbosity and demagoguery, the Conservatives’ longevity has been thanks to a very intelligent patchwork of supports that range from farmers, to oil barons, to the elderly, to the nouveau riche. He has won, and kept that support, because he has continued to provide measurable deliverables to his core constituencies, coupled with broad policies to pacify the masses. That is, life has gotten significantly better for the right-leaning Betty and Bill living in a cute little condo in Tuxedo, Winnipeg, as it has, to a lesser degree, for political unaligned Jagmeet and Laura, in Thorncliffe, Calgary, just as it has, for an even lesser degree, for anti-poverty activists Tom and Larry in Halifax’ North End. The latter couple may never vote Harper but, if pressed, have to confess that Harper’s nickel-and-dime policies have had a positive impact on their bottom line.
Of course, if everyone voted out of self-interest, it would have been tax-cuts-and-puppies Harper vs. behead-the-bankers Layton in a 2008 cagematch. But, for some reason, people decide their party thanks to some sort of etherial ethos. So it’s not that clearcut.
As such, Harper has figured out how to cobble together friends and foes in such a way that his perpetual victory is assured, so long as he keeps the threads together.
But, one by one, Harpers friends are dying.
Where he could once count on the chest-thumping support of the all-powerful dairy-and-egg lobby, the good folks who travel under the cloak of supply management are none to happy with the Boss. In fact, one source tells me, they readied a set of attack ads to knock off the Tories, thanks to CETA (they’ve backed down on that threat — for now.) Those well-to-do farmers who control a sizeable number of ridings in central Ontario also look skeptically to Trudeau’s Liberals and the Martha Hall Findlay-sized traitors in their midst. That could mean a boon for the protectionist Dippers and their legions of collectivist ideologues, and bad news for some long-time Ontario Tories.
Then there’s the telecoms industry — the punching bag for James Moore’s pitch to consumers. The push to putsch the big three wireless providers from their high-fee-poor-service business model was laudable, but perhaps ill-fated. Much of his plan for better competition in Canada rested on helping Videotron break into a national market and disrupt the wasteful oligarchy that, on paper, should have inspired populist celebration. But with Videotron mascot Pierre-Karl Peladeau now a shill for the Pequists in Quebec, Harper may be forced to abandon the plan — which, admittedly, was perhaps overly optimistic, if Quebec’s equally uncompetitive market is any evidence. This is atop a kiboshed bid from fed-up Verizon Wireless. And what does the government have to show for it? Large bite marks on a hand that fed. The telecoms industry, no slouches when it comes to public relations, have fired a shot across the bow with Fair for Canada, an exercise in wrenching the consumerist, nationalistic narrative away from the Tories.
The telecom revolt may be emblematic of the water temperature in the business community as a whole. While Harper has defined himself by a hand-wringing balance between business and nationalist on the foreign takeover file, Justin Trudeau has thrown caution to the wind and bunkered down into the any-investment-is-good-investment camp, as evidenced by his pom-pom waving on the CNOOC-Nexen deal in 2012. This is especially relevant to the brains on Bay St, as recent indicators show that foreign direct investment into Canada is slowing to a halt, after months of sluggishness. While the tie-dye crowd might consider the Boss too business-friendly, there is an easy case to make that he’s not considerate enough of their needs, and that a ship-jump to the Liberal Golden Boy might be more profitable.
Then you’ve got the old Reformers, who really did believe that lark about an elected and accountable Senate, and of the death of those shady Liberal days. If softening poll numbers are any indication, there is a coalition of populist-minded rural do-gooders who are just fed the heck up with the never-ending process story about Harper the neurotic information hoarder, Harper the Senate reform failure, and Harper the Ottawa elite.
And then there’s the social conservatives. Not that they’ve been counted on for many years, it’s nevertheless worth noting their exodus en masse from the Sodom and Gommorah that is the modern Conservative Party. From the epic post-rant mic drop delivered by the Real Women of Canada, over John Baird’s morally bankrupt support of gay people facing persecution, to the exasperated defeatism expressed by the anti-abortion crowd — it’s game over for the pearl-clutchers at the back.
One consistent constituency that Harper has always been able to count on is the tough-on-crime soccer moms/dads. He’s not liable to lose that base. However, having his legislation continually struck down and declared unconstitutional by the courts is beginning to weigh heavy on the Boss. What’s more, the law of diminishing returns eventually must eventually come into play. While the Soccer Mom/Dad Gang normally care more about the existential possibility of the shotgun-wielding robber in a ski mask, or that-hooker-at-the-end-of-the-block, they have other priorities. If you can’t trot out a new scarecrow for them to be worried about every few months — mentally-ill offenders, rapists, terrorists — then they’ll eventually go off and chase Curly and his talk of the Hallowed-Out Middle Class™, or that bearded guy who keeps talking about ATM fees. With the fabled Victims Bill of Rights finally coming before Parliament in the coming weeks, after decades of promise, we may finally be seeing the light at the end of the tunnel for the Tories’ justice overhaul. There could soon be a day when there are no more monsters in the closet, and when voters are finally confident to go get a fresh pair of socks.
Arguably the most important contingent that the Tories are still pretty confident that they have a hold on is the New and Not-So-New Canadian vote. While the Conservatives have counted on older first and second generation Canadians, thanks in no small part to the Minister for Curry in a Hurry Jason Kenney, they have yet to make up that gap for those who have been in Canada for less than a decade. What’s more, they have clever organizers for the NDP and Liberals nipping at their heels. If some anecdotal evidence is any proof, the Liberals have done a good job bringing Sikh and Muslim — traditionally Liberal-leaning groups that have split off to the NDP and Conservatives — back into the fold. The NDP, meanwhile, have hired a dedicated Chinese outreach officer who has been tapping into some simmering resentment towards the Tories over cancelling the immigrant investor program. If the opposition does siphon off enough Conservative support from those communities, trouble lies ahead.
While we in the crystal ball business like to sit around and push around tea leaves in predicting the opinion shifts of the masses, there is a real science to reading the weathervanes of Conservative support.
If the wind is to be trusted, one by one, Harper’s friends are dying. Even Harper’s ranks are thinning out. He now has to visit the graves of Dimitri Soudas, Marc Nadon, Mike Duffy, Pamela Wallin, Patrick Brazeau, Jim Flaherty, Nigel Wright, and a host of others.
And as the special few in government find themselves increasingly alone, surrounded by a new age of spear-wielding prophets of this “Middle Class,” they’ve begun acting erratically — doing things like introducing insane amendments to the Elections Act, and insisting that despite the chorus of opposition, they are right and everyone loves them.
But electoral winter might be on the way, unless Harper can find himself some new friends.
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