Bill C- 51 was supposed to have been Stephen Harper's trump card. If the economy went south, he could scare voters into supporting him. It worked a couple of elections ago, when he claimed that coalition governments were for losers.
But Mr Harper's gift for political poker seems to be failing. Steve Sullivan writes:
It’s remarkable to recall how, only months ago, many members of the pundit class were calling the security issue Harper’s ace in the hole — a policy area where he had a clear position and a solid advantage over the New Democrats and Liberals. But the timing worked against him: Terrorism gave him a polling bump that lasted just long enough for too many people to learn just enough about C-51 to loathe it.
Now, and quite suddenly, the bill is a political problem. This week we saw something astounding: a group of right-leaning critics of the bill — including National Firearms Association president Sheldon Clare and National Post comment editor Jesse Kline — calling the information-sharing provisions in C-51 “the long gun registry on steroids” and warning of a split in the Conservative party’s own voter base.
The Conservative base -- which Harper has courted assiduously -- doesn't like the bill. Now the base is rebelling. They write in an open letter:
“Bill C-51 represents everything that principled conservatives have been fighting against for the past decade,” reads a letter signed by the critics and posted on the website StopC51. “It is appalling that a Conservative government would even consider voting for such legislation, much less crafting it and pushing it into law.”
The letter goes on to excoriate C-51’s provisions for “secret trials” and online censorship, to accuse Harper of rank hypocrisy for pushing C-51 after having damned the long-gun registry and the long-form census as unacceptable intrusions into Canadians’ privacy, and to state the bill violates basic small-c conservative principles by extending the reach of Canada’s security services into an extralegal grey zone. It warns that C-51 risks depressing the Conservative core vote and allowing the New Democrats or Liberals to come up the middle.
“On balance, there is no need for C-51,” it reads, “and it is politically foolish to bring in such legislation that can only result in a massive political defeat.”
Could Mr. Harper have been wrong? Has he lost touch not only with a majority of Canadians, but also with his own formerly stalwart supporters?