Stephen Harper spent the week wandering around the North, crowd testing his stump speech for the 2015 election. Chantal Hebert writes that, before decides to take the plunge, Harper faces two challenges.
The first is Michael Chong's parliamentary reform bill -- which would put significant curbs on his power. Because Chong and former Conservative M.P. Brent Rathgeber seem to be the only Harper M.P.'s courageous enough to think for themselves, the prime minister will probably swat aside that potential problem.
But he faces a bigger problem -- a by-election for Jim Flaherty's Oshawa-Whitby seat:
For as long as the former finance minister was its MP, the riding of Whitby-Oshawa was not on anyone’s list of top seats at play and that likely would not have changed had the Conservatives succeeded in bringing Flaherty’s widow, Christine Elliott, over to the federal arena.
But Elliott, who was reelected to the Ontario legislature in the spring, has set her sights on the provincial Tory leadership and Tim Hudak’s succession.
Whitby-Oshawa landed in the Conservative column in 2006 and Flaherty increased his share of the vote to more than 50 per cent over the two subsequent elections. But it was previously in Liberal hands and the party has been on a bit of a by-election roll since Justin Trudeau became its leader.
In the recent Ontario election -- where provincial and federal ridings are congruent -- politics took a distinctly anti-Harper turn. And it's worth remembering that Flaherty's seat used to belong to former NDP leader Ed Broadbent. Voters in that riding could prove to be far more independent than Harper's caucus.
If Harper loses Oshawa-Whitby, it could serve as a bell weather for what will happen in Ontario. If Ontario turns against Harper, he will have no majority. And, if a majority is out of reach, Harper will have to ditch his stump speech -- and, perhaps, politics altogether.