Commentary | Why Stephen Harper always wins

PM’s politically flexible and the opposition lacks credibility

Nobody puts Baby in the corner, or Stephen Harper for that matter. Just like the Little Engine, Harper is proving to be the prime minister that could. Although he did come in as a nobody from Alberta just a few years ago (at least from this Quebecker’s perspective), Stephen Harper is playing the parliamentary game remarkably well. It might have something to do with his supposed skills as a tactician, or maybe he just knows what he wants. And that, of course, is to remain in office.

In Canada, it seems that the only way of gaining power is practicing a level of pragmatism to a point where no one can really tell what you believe in. Conservatives and Liberals often seem interchangeable, and when they don’t, the radical candidates get shown the back door. Stéphane Dion, case in point. Since last year’s election, Harper has undergone several ideological transformations, adopting policy changes that would make any Liberal proud. From billions in stimulus spending, warming of business relations with China, the nomination of NDP premier Gary Doer as Canadian ambassador to Washington, and increased spending in Employment Insurance, Harper has shown in practice the power of compromise.

And yet, ask anybody who is the most moderate politician in Ottawa, and Harper would come at the bottom of their list. The problem for the opposition is that nobody comes at the top of the electorate’s list. Several pundits have commented positively on the Liberals’ envious position, forcefully denouncing the government without facing the risk of an election. However, one has to ask what the point of all this election talk is. Poll numbers should never be an excuse to call an election or make a government fall, especially when not even a year has passed since the last election. Why in fact do we need to vote? The opposition might claim that Canada needs a new direction that would favour social equality and economic prosperity, and most Canadians would agree with it. Unfortunately, there is no political option that presents itself as capable of this task. When political wrangling and sound bites are the main preoccupations of politicians, they cannot be trusted with serious policy matters.

All of the federal political parties are guilty of increasing voter cynicism, but the opposition parties hold the burden of presenting a credible option. The NDP and Liberal Party have to choose between antics that aim to increase their poll numbers and promoting the interests of their constituents. Until that time, the Conservative government will be able to hold on to power by projecting an image of stability and flexibility within an uncertain political situation. Most Canadians may dislike Harper for a large number of very legitimate reasons, but that probably won’t stop them from voting him back into office for lack of a better option.

David Searle is a U2 History and Political Science student. Write him at david.searle@mail.mcgill.ca.


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