As long as Stephen Harper refuses to expand his PR image beyond “competent” and “safe”, he will fail to attain his much-desired majority government. If he can put forth a coherent, positive, aspirational vision for the country – whether it be with a hard conservative edge or not – he will get it. And now may be his opportunity, as he has once again combined strategic mastery with a bit of luck to buy himself at least another year as Prime Minister in a minority parliament, with an opposition in absolute disarray.
The latest work of strategic mastery? The 2009 budget, presented yesterday, unloved by everyone today. How can a document that has been panned across the ideological spectrum be considered a strategic masterpiece? 1) It pays lip service only to the irresistible force of the Keynesian “stimulus” nonsense fad dominating the world right now, projecting an inflated budget deficit that will never actually take place thanks to a neat poison pill (a provision that releases infrastructure funds only when matched dollar-for-dollar by provinces or municipalities – dollars that simply don’t exist) that will ensure most of the infrastructure billions announced will never be spent. This allowed Harper to gain Liberal support and earn NDP/Bloc wrath – wrath directed mostly at his true rivals, the Liberals, once again fracturing the left into little pieces; and 2) It avoids the “third rail” that conservative politicians must never touch – tax increases – and actually offers, in difficult times, small but tangible tax savings for most.
As for the luck? That happened in December, when the Liberal Party inexplicably decided to cancel its leadership race, and install “The Czar”, Michael Ignatieff, as its instant, permanent replacement for the hapless Stephane Dion. “Hey, he’s brilliant, he’s dashing, he’s worldly, he’s respected – he’s our Obama”, the pinheads in the party must have been saying. But what arrogant Liberals have failed to learn is: a coronation hands its recipient a poisoned chalice. The public at large will always be suspicious of a leader who did not earn his position. Paul Martin, Kim Campbell, and John Turner all learned this in the most humiliating way: each was utterly rejected by voters after being handed the Prime Ministership on a silver platter. I guarantee, the vast majority of non-political-junkie Canadians who watched the news tonight had the same opinion of this performance: who the hell is this guy, and who does he think he is, putting the government on “probation”?:
Iggy is everything the Liberals should have avoided: an arrogant-sounding, elitist, Toronto-centric, prickly, inexperienced, cold, humourless, hard-edged, bitter-looking opportunist, whose every public word makes him sound like an actor pretending to be a politician. While Stephane Dion had even worse flaws, at least he seemed genuine. As I have contended for two years now, there’s only one Liberal leadership candidate who was in the running that the Conservatives were scared of facing off against, and that was the very dangerous, very destructive Bob Rae. Further, there’s only one Liberal who could have peeled away the Conservative base and led them back to government quickly, and that would have been John Manley. But, as luck would have it, the Libs, panicked by their ill-conceived runaway-freight-train coalition experiment and their precarious financial position, took the worst possible choice in the worst possible manner.
Bad choices come with bad costs. Now, we’ll see if Harper can seize the opportunity, and move from being a competent caretaker to an inspirational leader.