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.