Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Harper Defeat Watch I

This Conservative government is positioning itself to hold power for a generation or more. Conservative leader Stephen Harper is working on making Canada an Alberta-style democracy. For those non-Canadian readers Alberta is one of our provinces where, despite its many great citizens, one party rules with no effective opposition for decades at a time. If you believe I'm exaggerating, see this news item, which explains how the Alberta Conservative Party is celebrating its 40th year in office (and they replaced the Social Credit Party, who'd been in power for 36 years!).

With the death of New Democratic Party leader Jack Layton and his already unruly and inexperienced caucus in grave danger of washing away, as well as the political assassination of The Liberal Party, Harper now stands essentially unopposed in Parliament.

I'd like to think that everyone who believes in democracy, regardless of their specific ideology, would be deeply fearful of Canada becoming a one-party state.

I take some hope that today one lone MP is discussing an NDP-Liberal coalition. The two parties should swallow their pride and merge in the name of democracy or they could well be spending the next forty years in the political wilderness.


  1. I agree that Harper absolutely has ambitions / delusions of dominating national politics for generations to come. However, it seems to me that the likes of the Alberta PCs are increasingly rare in modern politics. Remember 6-8 years ago when the US Republicans fancied themselves running things unopposed for generations? Or the talk of "realignment" in the Democrats favour after the 2008 presidential election? (Shelved, of course, after the 2010 mid-terms.)

    By 2015 the Harpercons will have been in power for almost a decade. No guarantees, of course, but there tends to be a cycle for all parties in power. Various stakeholders and interest groups get turned off for one reason or another... scandals proliferate... people simply get tired of your face. Most of the time parties are lucky to last a dozen years. The exceptions (Alberta Socred and PCs, early 20th century NS Liberals, post-Confederation Newfoundland Liberals) are actually quite rare.

    I don't think the NDP is in danger of washing away. Jack's death was tragic and he leaves the proverbial big shoes to fill, but we've seen very few NDP leadership races with the potential depth of talent this one will have -- Thomas Mulcair, Brain Topp, Paul Dewar, Charlie Angus, Libby Davies, Nathan Cullen... capable and experienced politicians all. I fully expect that whoever among them wins the leadership is going to have a reasonably good shot at replacing Harper as prime minister in four years time.

    Regardless, I'm am not at all concerned that Canada is becoming a one-party state. National politics is once again a competitive three-party race (I don't count the Liberals out entirely, despite their current perilous state). Hell, on rare occasion, when the Greens are competitive in a given riding, it becomes a four-party race. We were actually more in danger of turning into a one-party state in the 1990s/early 2000s, when Chretien was routinely racking up 100+ seats in Ontario. The way things were going in May, if we'd had another week we might have ended up with anything from another Conservative minority to an NDP-led coalition goverment.

    Finally, from the NDP side of the equation, I am all in favour of cooperation with the Liberal Party, up to and including not running candidates in a limited number of ridings where they have the best shot of denying the seat to the Cons. (20 ridings, say, where they were within 5% of winning the seat last time around... With a reciprocal gesture from the Liberals, of course). However, I draw the line at a merger. I don't think our respective party cultures are necessarily that compatible. But more to the point, I don't think the resultant two-party system would serve either democracy (fewer voices/choices) or the interests of progressive politics (take a look at the way progressives are maginalized by the Democratic Party brain-trust in the two-party system south of the border).

    By the way, great blog! I enjoy your stuff.

  2. WM
    Thanks for the detailed response (and the possible Quarrington/Rheostatics reference in your name)

    I can't begin to contest everything you say (especially as there's stuff in there I agree with) so I'll just cherry-pick some interesting ideas:

    While I agree that a forty-year Harper reign is unlikely, I still think the threat of Conservative domination is very real. Harper set out to destroy the Liberal Party and make Conservatives the natural governing party and he succeeded. I cannot see The Liberals getting off the ground anytime in the next few years. Even then their fortunes are dim.

    As for scandals, Harper has been impervious thus far and without a government-in-waiting and with his having the news media in his grip I'm not holding out hope in anything but the longest-term.

    "whoever among them wins the leadership is going to have a reasonably good shot at replacing Harper as prime minister in four years time" now here's where I 100% disagree with you. I mean I admire your optimism but it takes a lot of SOMETHING (charisma, money, powerful backers) to unite a party and win a political campaign. I can't say I'm too familiar with everybody on that list but I know Mulcair lacks charm, Topp has NEVER run for office and Davies hasn't built the kind of national image that wins leadership campaigns.

    I do have to say that I worried a bit about our democracy during the early Chretien years as well. Though I disliked many of Reform's polices, Manning did eventually grow to be a credible opposition leader.

    Perhaps your suggestion for a NDP-Liberal coalition is a wise one, though I fear we on the left have underestimated Harper, as I believe you do, and we have just begun to pay for our inattention. With four and perhaps eight years to consolidate power he might prove unstoppable.

    These are new and dangerous times but I'm glad people like us are thinking about all this...

  3. Well he's already got us bent over we might as well let him have his way. Shit for brains is turning our country into a military wing of the U.S. He's a real Pigs Pig.

  4. Yeah, I'm a big time Rheos fan.

    I'm not underestimating Harper. He's not the strategic genius some in the media like to portray him as, but he is a capable tactician and he's been incredibly lucky up till now. I'm sure that over the next four years we'll have plenty of reasons to regret that he ever got his majority. Since his instinct is to go for the jugular, I won't be surprised if it's hardball from the get-go when parliament resumes in a few weeks, especially now that all of the opposition parties are without permanent leaders.

    All I'm saying is that the system is as competitive it's been in a generation and in the vagaries of politics/life in general, there is some hope for 'our side'.

    Keep the faith. :)

  5. it does feel pretty dire at times (i live in toronto and we've got stupid incarnate as our mayor to boot), but turmoil on the federal level has been the standard for a while now. remember the pc die-off not all that long ago? eventually the tide will shift and we'll be rid of harper and the bulk of his troglodytes. that, of course, means that those of us who oppose the right wing have to work, care, vote and talk to fellow travellers, convincing them to vote as well.

  6. Anon
    I do think he's up to a lot of things that'll come back to haunt us.

    Yeah there is hope, though I might differ on how much, I agree with the overall idea.

  7. psotbear
    Yeah Toronto seems to elect clowns to City Hall sometimes (remember Mel Lastman?)

    I see what you mean about the PC die as a point of comparison but that was a self-inflicted wound whereas the destruction of the Liberal Party was a premeditated acts (not that Harper gets all the credit but I'll give him the Lion's share).

    Glad not everyone's a Debbie Donwer like me...


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