Conservatives are congratulating themselves. They believe that -- having disposed of Senators Duffy, Wallin and Brazeau -- they have achieved a great victory. But, Michael Den Tandt writes, it was no victory at all:
For clues as to why, let’s examine Canadian Conservatism today from the point of view of a voter from, say, southwestern Ontario. We look to these folks because they are at the heart of the East-West coalition that propelled Harper to a majority in 2011. These are, as a rule centrist pragmatists; people who supported premier Mike Harris’s provincial Tories back in the day – until they didn’t.
Consider the Ontario Conservatives who gave Harper his majority:
They are represented in cabinet by figures such as Finance Minister Jim Flaherty, MP for Whitby-Oshawa. He was a scrapper at Queen’s Park in the Harris days; within Harper’s circle he comes off as almost avuncular. Or there’s Diane Finley, MP for Haldimand Norfolk, the minister of public works. More often than not, when asked a question in the House of Commons, she tries to answer. There’s Lisa Raitt, MP for Halton and minister of transport. Amid the din of imbecilic partisanship, Raitt has often stood out as a thoughtful presence.
Ontario Conservatives have no love for the Reform Party -- the people who Harper is courting. They voted for Bill Davis again and again and they believe in personal responsibility:
Personal responsibility is a core conservative value. It may be the most important conservative value. Individuals, not government, must see to themselves, their families and their communities. Those who go astray, as we’ve heard so often in the talking points about Duffy, Wallin and Brazeau, must be held accountable. And those in charge are generally expected to embrace Harry Truman’s dictum: The buck stops here.
Stephen Harper, from day one of this affair, has taken a quite different approach: Day after day, week after week, he has blamed everyone but himself, and in particular blamed his former chief of staff, Nigel Wright. This makes many Conservatives uncomfortable: No one who knows Wright believes that, if he did indeed keep Harper in the dark about his $90,000 payment to Duffy, it was for any reason other than to protect the PM politically. However misguided and wrongheaded that was, it was an act of loyalty. Harper has repaid it with disloyalty.
My hunch is that, when historians write the story of the Harper years, they will write that things fell apart with the Senate scandal and -- more importantly -- Harper's handling of it. That's when he burned the bridge between western and eastern Conservatives.