Lawrence Martin predicts Harper will hang up his hat
In a column published in yesterday's Globe and Mail, Lawrence Martin is predicting that Stephen Harper will call it a political career in 2009.
Martin lists seven essential reasons why he believes that Harper will do this:
1. By resigning as leader, Harper would be one of few Conservative leaders -- among the few, Robert Stanfield and (naturally) John A MacDonald -- to leave the Conservative party in good condition, cementing his legacy within the party
2. With Barack Obama being elected in the United States, the global mood seems to be shifting away from conservative governance.
3. Stephen Harper lacks a final big goal to pursue. Having "tightened the screws" on government (in Tom Flanaghan's words), Harper has nothing concrete left that he needs to accomplish.
4. The spectres of Brian Mulroney, Bob Rae and RB Bennett may be reminding Harper that governing during a recession is not nearly as much fun as governing during times of prosperity.
5. Michael Ignatieff is not the "punching bag" that Paul Martin and Stephane Dion were. With the Liberals out of office, the chances of a scandal helping the Conservatives win an election are extremely remote.
6. Harper has enjoyed his share of good fortune, and ought not to expect much more.
7. Chances of Harper winning a majority government are remote.
Certainly, some of these reasons -- particularly, numbers one and four -- are in play. But Martin would be mis-reading both the current political situation and Canada's political history in order to pretend that any of the others are sufficient reason for Harper to choose to leave office.
First off, one has to remember that while Obama has certainly promoted himself as a liberal leader, he's come under significant criticism -- including scathing denunciations from Naomi Klein -- for not being liberal enough for the liking of many of those on the left wing.
While Obama certainly seems left-wing compared to George W Bush -- and honestly, who doesn't? -- being liberal in comparison does not a drastically left-wing administration make. One has to recall that Obama was elected at least partly because he was palatable to conservative Democrats.
Secondly, Harper has plenty of goals left to pursue. While his recent appointment of 18 Senators show that Harper is (unfortunately) willing to compromise on his principles in the short-term, Senate reform certainly hasn't come off the agenda.
If anything, Harper's appointments should give the opposition reason to bet behind an elected Senate. The best way to stop a future Conservative (or Liberal) government from stacking the Senate is to require that Senators be elected.
Third, the election of Stephane Dion was expected to intellectually intimidate Stephen Harper -- intimidation that many expected to effect Harper's performance. Instead, Stephane Dion performed well below expectations, and Harper strengthened his minority government.
Michael Ignatieff has many strengths that Dion doesn't have. But Ignatieff also has weaknesses that Dion didn't have. Ignatieff wasn't chosen leader by the members of his party, he became Liberal leader by default. Furthermore, Ignatieff's prior stance on the Iraq war will prove to be a soft spot that the NDP, who are always eager to improve their seat totals at the Liberals' expense -- won't shy away from exploiting.
Fourth, to try to predict who will or will not enjoy good fortune is actually rather insipid.
Last -- and certainly not least -- Martin forgets that winning a majority government is not necessary in order to be recognized as a great leader. Lester Pearson tried for his entire tenure as Liberal leader to win a majority government, and never accomplished that task.
Yet Pearson continues to be recognized as one of the best Prime Ministers Canada has ever had. While it certainly must have been helpful to have an amicable relationship with then-NDP leader Tommy Douglas, Pearson showed that it was possible to accomplish great tasks with a minority government.
Unfortunately, Harper doesn't enjoy the same luxury. Instead, Harper faces opposition leaders who have constructed the political discourse in this country on grounds so stringently ideological that they literally cannot politically afford to be seen cooperating with him, on on issues -- such as tackling violent crime -- that Canadians overwhelmingly support.
Instead, Harper has taken advantage of the opposition's distinct fear of an election in order to incrementally accomplish his fiscal goals.
But Harper isn't done yet. Anyone who honestly believes that Harper will leave without having accomplished as much as he can sorely underestimates the Prime Minister's determination.
Not that Harper couldn't decide to leave office -- he mostly certainly could.
But there's a difference between recognizing that Harper may choose to leave office and flat-out predicting that he will.
Lawrnce Martin says the "smart money says Harper exits this year". But if Canada's recent political history has shown anything, it's that the smart money is on not making predictions at all.