Thursday, March 28, 2013

The Conservative Coalition

This week's revolt in the Conservative caucus has exposed the government's fault lines. Tom Walkom writes that the Harper Party is split three ways:

Over the past eight days, three of those factional fault lines have emerged into full public view. The first is economic. Some Conservatives are true market zealots who view any interference with the workings of demand and supply as anathema.

It was these Conservatives that Small Business Minister Maxime Bernier was speaking to last week when he publicly chastised Finance Minister Jim Flaherty for asking mortgage lender Manulife Financial to raise its bargain-basement rates.

The second great fault line in the party is moral. On one side are social conservatives. These tend to be anti-abortion, suspicious of gay marriage and favourable to capital punishment.

Harper himself has always been uncomfortable with social conservatives. But in the past he managed to keep them on side — partly by emphasizing law and order and partly by promoting what he has called a moral foreign policy.

The third great fissure is over populism. Harper makes no secret of his distaste for populists. He has argued that a political party that panders to the whim of voters ends up standing for nothing.
Yet the Reform Party that eventually became the Harper Conservatives was very much a populist movement, one that believed MPs had a duty to represent the interests of their constituents over the diktats of party brass.

Harper is a dictator.  However, his government -- like most Canadian conservative governments -- is inherently unstable. Up until now, he has been able to convince the three wings of his caucus to bide their time. But, clearly, the natives are restless.

John Diefenbaker's caucus imploded. So did Brian Mulroney's. Joe Clark wasn't around long enough for things to fall apart. But fall apart they will. The only question is whether or not Stephen Harper will be around when they do. My bet is that the man who prorogued parliament twice rather than face defeat will head for the exits before the cataclysm -- leaving someone else to pick up the pieces.


Anonymous said...

Harper is flying under a false flag. He is no Conservative. He is a Dictator from his, Northern Foundation Party of 1989. Harper was Policy Chief. He has carried his policies, right along with him. He doesn't like, Harper's Conservative Government. He has instructed, The "Harper Government".

While Harper was dictating to us, his caucus said nary a word. When Harper dictated to them, now they are squealing. Not one of them lifted a finger, to stop Harper's treachery. I have not a lick of sympathy, for any of them. They supported a monster.

Lorne said...

Reading Walkom's column today gave me a modicum of hope Owen, especially when he cites Maxime Bernier and jason Kenney as the likely aspirants for the leadership once Harper goes. If those two are the best the Conservatives can offer, the chance of ending Tory rule will be well within the realm of possibility.

The Mound of Sound said...

My Tory backroom buddy in Ottawa has always been open about the discontent simmering in Harper's caucus.

Harper's style of government is scarcely more open to Tory backbenchers than to opposition MPs. Consultation, even of his own caucus, is Harper's style. He surrounds himself with three or four close cronies - Baird, Flaherty, Oliver. It's more akin to the government of Fidel Castro than any real democracy. Very authoritarian.

The problem with reprising the role of Caesar is that, at some point, you'll find yourselves surrounded by your sycophants in the Forum.

I have at times wondered if Harper, like Karzai, will have the smarts to get out before the knives are drawn. He can't deliver victories forever and his caucus will pounce when he falters.

Owen Gray said...

As was demonstrated yesterday, Lorne, Harper -- in the short term -- can keep the party in line.

But the Reformers are chafing. They will eventually split things open. Neither Kenny nor Bernier have the skill to put the egg back together again.

Owen Gray said...

My hunch is that, as time goes by, Harper will find it harder to make all the members of his caucus tow the line, Anon.

You can only keep your foot on someone's neck so long before he or she fights back.

Owen Gray said...

Harper may inspire fear in his caucus, Mound. In fact, there is a quotation somewhere -- supposedly attributed to him -- to the effect that he likes to see fear in people's eyes.

But I can't believe any of his caucus feel a sense of loyalty to him. From Garth Turner, to Bill Casey, to Helena Geurgis, he's made it clear that he can and will treat them ruthlessly.

Like Caesar, his day will come.

The Mound of Sound said...

I'm sorry, Owen, I meant to write "Non-consultation." It is said that Harper is not only mean-spirited and hot tempered but also nearly oblivious to the political aspirations of those beneath him on his own team.

Dana said...

If members of the Con social conservative wing start disappearing will the RCMP be instructed to investigate the Liberals?

Will the RCMP remain the state police or will they show a little independent judgement?

Harper has one more majority to go. He'll win again in 2015 because none of the alternatives have the courage, determination or willingness to get in the mud. They think playing fair will do it for them and the great Canadian people will see that.


The great Canadian people is a myth and fair minded people finish last in this world.

I don't have any idea if Canada as a country will be around by 2020.


Owen Gray said...

I figured that's what you meant, Mound, and that other readers would, too. Harper doesn't consult. He's too insecure to do that.

Owen Gray said...

It's certainly true, Dana, that if Harper continues to starve the federal government, the centre will collapse.

Tossing Pebbles in the Stream said...

The party splitting apart and Harper exiting needs to happen sooner rather than later.

I wonder what he could have said to bring the "moral" social conservative faction back in line. I read there were as many as 2 dozen that was supportive of them bringing up their agenda. It was disappointing that at least some did not cross the floor and sit as independents. After all none has a future in the Conservative Party of Harper and all have put in enough time for a pension.

Owen Gray said...

If they really have the courage of their convictions, Philip, they should cross the floor.

This is a true test of who they are.