Stephen Harper is clutching the microphone stand with his fingertips like there is a current running through it.
I won’t get to get what I’m after, until the day I-
He lets go and whips his head back.
The Prime Minister was onstage at the Jewish National Fund dinner, supposedly singing his swan song to the poorly-chosen tune of The Seeker, by The Who. He, usually loathe to leave the country, had just announced his visit to the Middle East.
If you believe National Post scribe John Ivison, the downtrodden chief will fly to Israel, do his rounds — with people who actually appreciate him, thankyouverymuch — and return to take his bows.
But the commander’s press monkeys say otherwise. And they say so emphatically.
Stephen Harper will lead us into the next election, one Harper hireling told me.
Bruce Carson, ex-PMO apparatchik, dredged out the question: when will that election be? In an email to certain Ottawa journalists and bubble types on Friday, he suggested that Harper may blow up his own government and bareknuckle box the two pretenders to his throne in a spring election — a full year early.
They call me the Seeker
I’m a really desperate man
Crazy, sure. But just crazy enough for the honeybadger.
And you don’t corner a honeybadger. They’ve got a thick hide, dagger-like teeth and they’re fast as hell. And they will chase you.
If Harper decides to go after the fox and the bear, it will be a bloody mess.
The bear has proved himself a worthy opponent in the House of Commons, but has utterly unproven mettle in an election campaign, and his party has generally failed to break into the news cycle unless there had been a Question Period that day.
The fox, meanwhile, has risen to astounding heights of honeymoon popularity, and has picked up his fundraising numbers to a respectable level. But his off-the-cuff style, refreshing though it might be, has proven that the distance between his mouth and his brain to be his biggest liability. His happy-go-lucky aloofness is a prime target for Harper’s cannon.
As I ransack their homes
They wanna shake my hand
Evaluating his opponents, the chief must have a reasonable expectation of success.
Stoking the fire of the snap election theory is a simple question of math — if Harper calls the election after April, 2014, it would be for a 338-seat chamber. That means that the Tories can put 27 new seats into the ‘in play’ column (while writing off the three new seats for Quebec.) If, in running the numbers, you make the safe assumption that the Liberal fortunes in the West will dissipate at the first ray of sunshine, then the math gives you another Conservative victory. That might not hold for long.
If Harper doesn’t fight, he’ll flee. His story has been as much about winning as it has been about quitting.
He went to the Hill, fresh-faced and doe-eyed, with Progressive Conservative MP Jim Hawkes in the 80s. Then he quit in disgust with Mulroney’s government. He ran against Hawkes, as “Steve,” but aborted his own campaign in the face of disagreements with leader Preston Manning. He ran again and destroyed his former boss, only to quit and resign his seat before finishing the mandate. Then he returned to the Hill by obliterating the hapless jet-ski enthusiast Stockwell Day. Quit. Fight. Quit. Fight. Quit. Fight.
I learned how to raise my voice in anger
Yeah, but look at my face, ain’t this a smile?
Harper is, right now, resting on his laurels. We’re not too sure whether he’ll quit or fight.
In chatting with some of Harper’s Tories, nobody is quite sure what The Seeker will do, but they’re all pretty sure that he won’t be phoning it in. Primarily, they figure, because he hasn’t yet get what he’s after — vanquishing the Liberal Party.
I’m happy when life’s good and when it’s bad I cry
I’ve got values but I don’t know how or why
Before Trudeau haplessly waded into the Liberal leadership race, things looked great for Harper. Marc Garneau or Bob Rae seemed destined to coddle the Liberals into their slow descent towards death, and Harper had secured the Conservatives at least half of the governing mandates in the near Canadian future. The economy had turned around. He had done away with long-standing and generally-meaningless vestiges of Liberal supremacy like the long-gun registry and the Wheat Board. Perhaps most importantly, he painted the first few strokes of a new Canadian identity that incorporated both things uniquely Canadian, like the War of 1812, and decidedly English, like reinstating ‘royal’ anywhere it would fit.
And the only real opposition was the NDP — the party that, in a post-Liberal Canada, would govern when Tory fortunes lie fallow. Ceteris paribus, the Tories would govern half the time. Maybe a little more.
He would have gotten away with it to, if it weren’t for the Senate, and that meddling Justin Trudeau, too.
We all know this refrain. That dysfunctional appendix that burst at exactly the wrong time for the PM. He couldn’t put the parachute on in this kind of weather, like Chretien did. And he knew too well that handwringing would get him pushed. No, he couldn’t leave some hapless Martin-like rube to fly the plane. So he headed into the storm.
Now, wandering through a graveyard of mixed metaphors and defeated politicians, Harper needs to come up with a plan.
We can try to divine hints, reading each move like lines on a palm — that Dmitri Soudas has returned, that Harper’s trip to Israel got bumped up, or that he has virtually gone into the Harperbunker in recent weeks.
But Harper can’t hint to a decision he hasn’t yet made.
What has been accepted, however, is that the status quo is unsustainable. Once the House returns from Christmas break, it’s do or die time. People are upset, the polls are clear, and there is more to come — both from the Auditor General and the RCMP.
Harper can resign, yes, and he can drop the writ early and try to burn the underbrush. He can, too, come back from the vacation and try to break the younger Trudeau. He could come out for Senate abolition, or institute sweeping reforms to the top-down structure of his government. Few of those are a sure bet.
The clock is ticking. Obvious leadership hopefuls like Jason Kenney, Peter MacKay, Maxime Bernier and Brad Wall have already staked claims, and won’t let Harper crash the party to which they all believe they are heir to.
I wonder get to get what I’m after
Until the day I die.
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