Tuesday, May 17, 2005

Stephen Harper, the writing is on the wall

Belinda Stronach's move today says many things about Stephen Harper.

First, it says that he cannot hold his caucus together and therefore his skills as a leader are in question. Belinda Stronach telegraphed her discontent with the Conservative strategy to defeat the budget a few weeks ago. What did Harper do as a result? Nothing? Or just not enough? Can you imagine this happening to Brian Mulroney or Jean Chretien? I don't think so. Some may think this unfair, that there was nothing he could have done, etc. Maybe that's true. But I think that the circumstances say something about Harper's leadership skills. Perhaps he was uncomfortable with her as a former rival. But she had left the door open to a resolution by making her discontent public. This should have forced him to do whatever reckoning he had to do in order to solve that situation. Now, she is gone and whatever efforts were made to keep her there were a failure...and so this reflects upon him.

Now there are rumblings about two Conservatives from Newfoundland who may also vote for the budget on Thursday under tremendous local pressure to support the Atlantic accord. Belinda's move to the Liberals may provide them with the political cover to vote in support of the budget as their votes may now not be crucial, given the new numbers. How will such further defection reflect upon Harper?

Secondly, this says something about the direction that Harper is taking the party. And I see it in this quote: "I told my wife only a few days ago that I thought it had become obvious to Belinda that her leadership ambitions would not be reached in this party regardless of whether or not we won the next election. It will be interesting to watch her progress in the Liberal party."

What is he saying here? I hope that better folks than me try to decipher this statement. So, she would not be able to succeed as a leader within the Conservative party according to Harper. Let's say there was an election and he eeked out a minority win. OK, then Harper would stay on for the foreseeable future. But if he lost a June election once again to a Liberal minority, wouldn't he have to consider resigning? I guess he's saying he wouldn't. But do his comments mean on a longer term basis that people like Belinda Stronach could not become leader due to their political views? This is the likely import of his statement to me. That his party has no plans to reach out beyond its current constituency to grow in their positions on social issues such as gay marriage. That the western base of the party is too strong for someone like Stronach to overcome in the next few years.

And if that is the case, then the Conservatives will not be a truly national party for the foreseeable future.