Canada faces what the German philosopher Jurgen Habermas called a "legitimation crisis." Duncan Campbell writes:
Simply put, many Canadians no longer believe that power being exercised in their name is rightful. The political system as a whole is no longer believed to work.
When in 1993 Canadians voted massively to throw out the Conservatives, it was expected that changes would ensue. Instead the Chrétien-Martin Liberals continued with the same economic policies introduced by the Conservatives.
Disillusioned with political outcomes, people give up, and declare a pox on all political parties. The abstention rate in federal elections has been running in the 40 per cent range.
Stephen Harper understands how to turn the crisis in his direction:
The people who stay home multiply the strength of Conservatives who tend to turn up and vote. The 25/60 rule says that if 25 per cent of eligible voters vote Conservative, and only 60 per cent of the population bothers to vote, the Conservatives win 40 per cent of the total vote and over one-half of the seats in Parliament.
His base hovers around 30%. As long as they vote -- and other voters stay home -- Harper will own the cat bird seat. So he keeps delivering for his base:
The Harper government target their political base constantly. No government in Canadian history has focused every action on pleasing about 35 per cent of the population and ignoring the rest of us. This is the essence of Harperism.
The legitimacy of the government and what it does is not questioned by the Cons' supporters. They get fed what they want. Tough on terrorists, check. Lower taxes, check. Cutbacks to social spending, check. But for significant numbers of Canadians, the Harper Cons lost their legitimacy as a government by following a narrow ideological agenda.
The next election will be all about how well the opposition parties get out the vote. If they offer a kinder gentler version of Harperism, the votes need to defeat Mr. Harper will stay home.