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Thread: Paul Martin stumbled and a Stephen Harper breakthrough in Canadian politics

  1. #1
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    Default Paul Martin stumbled and a Stephen Harper breakthrough in Canadian politics

    Martin stumbled, and Harper had his breakthrough
    Tories have become a national force

    Let me be among the first pundits to say it: I was wrong.


    Three months ago, chagrined by Liberal support in the face of the Gomery evidence — even as Prime Minister Paul Martin claimed goodness because his party would pay back $1.14 million it stole — I said Stephen Harper might as well give up. I cited a newspaper letter saying he couldn't win a Quebec seat "even if he were to join la Société Saint-Jean-Baptiste."


    It was a hyperbolic critique of eastern voters, not Harper. But still, wrong. Whatever Monday's outcome, Harper has achieved credibility in Ontario — and a Quebec breakthrough even more impressive and important.


    One poll after another shows that Harper has at least tripled Tory support in Quebec. He has the Bloc Québécois leader, the man Montreal comedians Bowser and Blue call Gilles Ducepparatiste, pedalling his sovereignty unicycle backward. After bravado about exceeding 50 per cent support, polls now have the Bloc dismissing this as just an election, not a referendum.


    Now, in true punditry, let me waffle about being wrong. I'd anticipated opposition parties succumbing to Martin's gambit for an election after the second Gomery report. Defeating him early changed the dynamic.

    I also said Chrétienite/Martinite infighting could hurt Liberals, and that rift contributed to their campaign mess — but Tory success is a credit to Harper and his team.


    A minority is the most likely result. A lift of 15 to 20 points in Quebec won't yield the seats it would elsewhere. But whatever the outcome — Tory minority, majority or even something cosmic causing a thin Liberal win — Harper's party is now a national force. Not since John Diefenbaker in 1958 has Quebec taken this seriously a western conservative leader.

    Like others in the West, I saw late-2005 Liberal support as indicating Ontario would remain distrustful of Harper and Quebec disdainful. But the campaign shows he and his party have matured. Voters wanting to sweep out Liberals were just waiting for an acceptable broom. A switch by just one in 10 makes a trend; two makes a landslide.


    What's left to determine is whether enthusiasm for the sweeping outweighs reservations about a majority. Whichever happens, clearly this is no longer just a western conservative party. "The West Wants In" mentality that reflected alienation even though the finance minister and deputy PM hailed from here, already flagging as economic power shifts, now must yield. The West is in, big.


    The Liberal collapse has a Liberal genesis, starting with sponsorship and running through bizarre campaign twists:


    Berating Harper over Kyoto despite abject failure in meeting emissions commitments.


    Denouncing Harper's suggestion Quebec could be represented at a UN group, when Martin said the same.
    Touting "national standards," then making the Constitution an election gimmick, saying provinces could have the notwithstanding clause, but not Ottawa.
    The stupid "soldiers with guns" ad; Martin weaselling about its meaning, contradicting himself as to whether he approved it, continuing to air a version in Quebec only. The "we didn't make this up" ads were largely mocked, a fatal sign.
    Buzz Hargrove. Harper is too much an Albertan? Better to vote Bloc than Tory? There's some Liberal tolerance for you.


    None of this played well in the West, if anywhere. Meantime, Harper staked out the small-c middle ground and stayed there. This week's doubled-edged comment about liberal courts keeping him in check was one of few missteps, but Martin's semi-hysterical reaction dampened its impact.


    Barring that cosmic event, Harper will be PM. He could blow it, as Joe Clark, the last western Conservative elected as PM, blew it in 1979 over a gas tax increase on which he hadn't campaigned. Or, he can stick to priority campaign commitments while consolidating his success, especially in Quebec.


    Harper made big spending and tax-cut promises. To deliver, he'll need continued economic good times and spending cuts in low-profile areas. But the man once dismissed as a western extremist has learned that in Canada, change must be incremental.


    Harper is smart enough to know this could be the only shot a conservative party gets in a generation. I wouldn't underestimate him again.

  2. #2
    Elite Member Grimmlok's Avatar
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    Default Re: Paul Martin stumbled and a Stephen Harper breakthrough in Canadian politics

    He's learned to muszzle his Reform party members, but its still the same party. I can't wait till they start raising their bigoted voices.
    I am from the American CIA and I have a radio in my head. I am going to kill you.

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