Stephen Harper claims that he does not want an election. But there he was, in today's National Post, testing the electoral winds and drawing lines in the sand.
He talked again of a separatist coalition: "I think what we've seen is that it's pretty clear that next time, if there's not a Conservative majority, the other parties will form a different government;" and he further claimed that he "will not back down on corporate tax cuts, which he said are essential for the Canadian economy."
Never mind that he was quite willing to enter such a coalition to bring down the Martin government. Never mind that he broke his own fixed election law in calling the last election. No, said Mr. Harper, it's all about principle:
We have made it a fundamental principle of our government since we got into office that we would have a competitive tax structure for job creators, for employers in this country.
It is, indeed, remarkable that Mr. Harper can repeat this stuff with a straight face, after thirty years of growing economic inequality. And, again raising the coalition chimera, he claimed that the coalition partners will move "the next day" to relegate his party to opposition status. No, said Mr. Harper, a coalition would be bad for the Canadian economy. It couldn't take the strain. Never mind that the Canada Pension Plan and Medicare were the products of coalition government. The nation is too fragile for such an arrangement. What the country needs is strong leadership -- his leadership.
Gerry Nicholls, writing in the Globe and Mail, knows what this is all about. Nicholls used to work with Harper at the National Citizens Coalition:
To be blunt, Mr. Harper's ultimate strategic goal really isn't to win a majority government -- it's to eradicate the Liberal Party as a viable political force.
Indeed, his desire to eliminate the Liberals is something he and I discussed way back in the days when we worked together at the National Citizens Coalition. His theory, as he explained to me, was that conservatism would be better served in this country if Canada had a two party system, one that pitted right against left, free enterprise against socialism, Conservatives against New Democrats.
There would be no room for coalitions in such a landscape. But there's more. For Harper, says Nicholls, it's personal:
In his view, the Liberals have exhibited an anti-Alberta bias since the days of Pierre Trudeau, a bias that resulted, among other things, in the disastrous national energy program. Mr. Harper holds a grudge, and he wants payback.
Nicholls is only another in a long list of people -- from Preston Manning to Deborah Grey to former Harper staffers interviewed for Lawrence Martin's book, Harperland -- who have a less than salutary opinion of the Prime Minister.
Canadians would be foolish to ignore these signs. They would be wise to dump this prime minister -- and a coalition government would be the perfect instrument to accomplish that end. Mr. Harper enjoys a reputation for strategic genius. But, as Eliot reminded us, hollow men have head pieces "filled with straw." And, as Joseph Conrad -- who inspired Eliot's poem -- reminded us, such men seek to fill that emptiness with power.