Friday, 09 July 2004
Where Harper goes from here - THE COMMENTARY
By Joseph Planta
VANCOUVER - Following last week's election, Stephen Harper let it be known that he was considering stepping aside as leader of the Conservative Party of Canada. The Conservatives, though they improved their seat total, especially in Ontario, going from two to 24 seats, did not make the necessary gains in Ontario, Quebec, and Atlantic Canada to even consider themselves significantly successful. Conservative Party support plummeted in urban areas, and even in some of their safe British Columbia seats, a right fight was had as a couple of incumbents were defeated outright, while a number held on to their seats by the slightest of margins.
Stephen Harper as leader is doing the right thing by floating this trial balloon. He is taking his share of the responsibility, just as he would had the party performed glowingly. The party should not demand his head, or review his leadership. A divisive party review would be detrimental to an already young party, who couldn't get their act together quick enough to garner a minority government. Harper performed well as leader, though he failed to rein in the bleatings of more vocal and controversial MPs, Scott Reid, Cheryl Gallant, and Randy White. Failing to do so allowed the Liberals to succeed in their campaign of negativity, and their fear mongering against Stephen Harper and the party. Canadians voted strategically, and in so doing hurt the Conservatives, as well as the NDP.
Despite not being able to hold onto the numbers posted by both the Alliance and Progressive Conservative parties in 2000, Stephen Harper needn't resign. Obviously more could have been done to bridge the gap so that the new entity could do better or even just as well as the sum of its two forerunners. The party is new, and the fact that one year ago the entity did not even exist is proof that the party needs to work on building a more cohesive party, as well as working out the kinks in marrying all elements of the party for a cohesive vision and platform to offer to Canadians. Say what you will about the Liberals, though there are factions within the party, at the end of the day, they manage to pull themselves together. This past campaign notwithstanding, they manage to sing from the same song sheet, and even though some in the party run their mouths off spouting nonsense, the leader is quick to point out that it's the policy of but one member and not indicative of the entire party. In the Reid, Gallant and White outbursts this last campaign, Stephen Harper did not offer that kind of leadership.
Earlier this year, Stephen Harper said that he'd hope for a later vote, preferably this fall instead. It is curious therefore that late in the campaign, doubtless buoyed by the polls, Stephen Harper expected to form a minority government. He looked dejected and disappointed following the results on election night, and that could be construed as political naivety. The message wasn't honed well enough. It isn't enough to tell Canadians to trust them, especially an entity that was so new.
With new MPs like Belinda Stronach, and her 20 or so caucus colleagues from Ontario, as well as Jim Prentice in Alberta, the Conservative Party doesn't need to be remade as much as refocused. Stephen Harper is vital to that. It's on his shoulders that the party laid its hopes and fortunes on earlier this year. John Ibbitson, in the Globe and Mail, made an appropriate observation that Stephen Harper do to the Conservative Party what Tony Blair did to the Labour Party in Britain. It is odd, as that's exactly what people used to suggest to the NDP, but Harper could use the advice. A policy convention, as Ibbitson suggests, needs to be called so as to neutralise the less than favourable elements within the party, such as those hardcore right-wingers who hardly give a damn about the environment or who are less than generous when it comes to tolerance for issues like abortion or same-sex marriage. Harper, though a strong fiscal conservative, doesn't seem like a social conservative. He needs to let that come through to the Canadian public, so that they won't buy into the Liberal spin that the party is made up of ogres. The party needs to sanitise itself, so as to put forth a more palatable party. They don't have to, of course, but they will need to if they want to garner more support at the next election. And in doing so, the Conservatives will deserve to govern.
Questions and comments may be sent to: email@example.com
An archive of Joseph Planta's previous columns can be found by clicking HERE .