It was pretty obvious, as the current edition of the Parliamentary newspaper; "The Hill Times" notes, that there was plenty of Tory party networking going-on at last Thursday's celebrations marking the 1984 Mulroney landslide victory.
The Prime-Minister may have an iron-grip control over the current manifestation of the Conservative Party of Canada. Be that as it may, a failed bid to secure a majority or worse a defeat in the next Federal Election could easily signal Mr. Harper's demise as leader.
As Mulroney himself made clear by ignoring any reference to the current leader at last week's Montreal shindig: Scars over the marriage of convenience between the Progressive Conservatives and the Reform Alliance which gave the "Harperites" their January 2006 victory over Paul Martin haven't exactly healed. Meantime, the list of potential candidates grows marking time behind the curtains to take over after Harper goes for the high jump. And, with Harper conveniently absent from the Montreal affair due to a pressing 45 minute engagement in Washington over an Air Canada matter with the President of the United-States (See previous post), those thinking about leadership easily saw an opportunity to press the flesh of potential contributors along with the Party faithful.
The candidates it seems are also evenly split between the western based Alliance-Reform Movement; and those of the centrist Progressive-Conservative Party who followed in Mulroney's footsteps. Judging from the Mulroney bash; former P.C. testing the waters of a leadership bid include Ex-New Brunswick Premier, Bernard Lord; the last national leader of the P.C. Party, Defence Minister Peter MacKay; and Quebec (Liberal) Premier Jean Charest. Charest too is a former leader of the Progressive Conservatives. Among the right-wing Reform contenders are the Environment Minister, Jim Prentice; Trade Minister, Stockwell Day and (Ontario based) Industry Minister, Tony Clement. Clement and two other former Ontario Cabinet Ministers, John Baird, who has been Harper's "Go To" man on the front benches; and the Finance Minister, Jim Flaherty, are disciples of the Mike Harris regime, though Baird is viewed as the least far right advocate.
As was apparent at the Montreal soiree, relations between the Prime Minister and Brian Mulroney (who once mentored Harper) remain strained. Harper launched the inquiry into the Karl Heinz Schreiber affair, muzzled his key advisors from speaking to the former P.M., and his Ottawa office has been blamed for the false rumour that Mr. Mulroney was no longer a Party member.
While history may judge Brian Mulroney's significance in Canadian public life; particularly once the Schreiber Inquiry results are made public this coming winter; within the ranks of the Conservative Party he maintains a significant role. He is well connected, the most ever successful Tory politician in Quebec, and the "Grey Eminence" architect behind Jean Charest's three successful elections as Premier of Quebec. Mulroney is also credited with Harper's breakthrough in Quebec in the January 2006 Federal Election...before relations between the two men soured.
From the floor of last week's Montreal event, Canadian Press reporter, Jennifer Ditchburn described the mood in the Sheraton Hotel ballroom as follows: "For those Harper loyalists who believed the party...would be a display of renewed (Tory) unity, the evening was a clear miscalculation." The Premier of Newfoundland, Danny Williams, was more succinct: "The people of Canada are looking to mobilize around strong leadership, but I think right now there isn't one single person who has the charisma of Trudeau or the savvy of Brian Mulroney."
Come to think of it: Maybe Mr. Williams may want to add his name to the list of the party's National Leadership candidates in waiting - And, no less make it the tie-breaker amongst "nine" white middle aged men coveting the party's top job. On charisma and savvy alone he might just stand a damned good chance.