Before month's end; the Minister of Finance will stand in the House of Commons to deliver the annual fall fiscal update of the Conservative government of Prime-Minister Stephen Harper.
Just last week, Minister Jim Flaherty met in Ottawa with the nation's top academics, bankers and economic thinkers to gauge just in which direction the winds of the recession and recovery are blowing. In just two years through the various measures to counter the economic downturn sparked south of the border in 2008; the government of Canada's annual deficit has ballooned to about $50 Billion: Largest ever in the country's history.
Anticipating a ruckus in Parliament when he rises to speak; the Minister raised eyebrows a couple of weeks back predicting a national calamity if a coalition government of Liberals and NDP were elected to govern in the next Federal election which is widely expected in the spring of 2011. It was after all Mr. Flaherty's economic update in the fall of 2008 and its impact on the financing of the parties of opposition which stopped the country dead in its tracks after the three parties opposite told the Governor General they would topple the Tories and form a coalition government if Mme Jean gave the move her blessing on the Queen's behalf. The rest as they say is precedent setting history.
Still it is amazing that Mr. Harper's government has held-on to power in minority status for just coming-up on five years amidst acrimonious sessions in Parliament and two nation-wide Federal elections. In a cogent analysis of the state of Federal politics and more specifically of Mr. Harper's hold on government; Jim Travis in a weekend edition of the "Toronto Star" writes that: "Two lessons this Prime Minister learned from the former (Liberal) Prime-Minister Jean Chretien are never take your foot off an opponent's throat and never miss an opportunity to win an election." - Albeit so far by twice failing to obtain the 40% (or so) support to eek out a majority in Parliament.
It's the same message that comes out of author Lawrence Martin's "Harperland - The Politics of Control" already a Canadian best seller after just one week on the bookstore shelves. Martin though expands the "foot on opponents' throat" analogy further by suggesting as well that Mr. Harper employs the same tactic with his own Party caucus; or for that matter his Cabinet members to muzzle internal opposites. Lest I digress; witness the treatment meted-out to the hapless Minister Helena Guergis even though she's now been fully vindicated by the RCMP.
In political terms Mr. Harper, aged 50, is still a young man. But, in three successive Federal elections: 2005 won by the Martin Liberals; 2006 and 2008 won in minority by the Conservatives; the western based reform movement which the Prime Minister spearheads has not registered the breakthrough it's been coveting since the publication of the Preston Manning Reform manifesto: "The New Canada" in 1992.
With Mr. Harper at the helm, in effort to achieve the wider consensus to national power, the western based conservative movement has allowed several accommodations including tilts towards Ontario and (in their estimation) the despised Province of Quebec by swallowing-up the more moderate Progressive-Conservatives of MacDonald; Bennett; Diefenbaker and Mulroney. What has not changed is Mr. Harper's ultimate grip on the controls of the right of centre coalition which was created when the P.C's flamed-out at the hands of their last leader Peter MacKay back in 2003.
Since that time: Be they Peter MacKay; Jim Flaherty; John Baird; Peter Van Loan; Stockwell Day...the list is long - Ministers and high fliers within the party with aspirations to succeeding Mr. Harper have been kept well in check also with the Prime Ministerial (and his handlers') "foot on their throat." Those who strayed have long ago been relegated to the anecdotes of history: The fore mentioned Helena Guergis and the multi-millionaire Bellinda Stronach among them. (Perhaps a topic for a future post: Noticeably both non-evangelical women). That too is a lesson learned from Jean Chretien who gave his Finance Minister enough freedom to allow Paul Martin's eventual messy take-over. That too is politics.
The problem for Mr. Harper though is that he has successfully manipulated the Conservative Party into a single personality party (his) without the charm and charisma from which others had previously benefited: Trudeau and Mulroney come to mind. Following Brian Mulroney's departure the Progressive-Conservatives were decimated electing only two Members to Parliament, Elsie Wayne of New Brunswick and Jean Charest of Quebec in the Federal election of 1993.
The issue for the current Conservative Party is that not only does it not have a succession plan in place; but Mr. Harper's domineering control won't even allow one to be contemplated. That being the case; unless Mr. Harper is omnipotent it could spell problems somewhere, somehow down the road.
Given that since he assumed the Party's leadership in 2002-03 the Conservatives haven't come close to Majority status in 3 general elections (2004 - 2006 - 2008) - despite the all too public squabbles amongst the Liberal's Chretien / Martin forces; the sponsorship scandal; and the questionable abilities of Stephane Dion. If and when the next election comes, should the ultimate results not prove any better I'd start fretting. For the time being it seems no wind is being allowed to catch into the sails of succession.