Next month there are two events where we will see the initial outlines of how Prime Minister Harper will wage the 2015 election campaign.
First, on October 16, comes the speech from the throne. This will give a broad outline of the legislative agenda the government plans for the next two years. Then at the end of the month, on Halloween weekend, the Conservative Party will gather in Calgary for a policy convention. The convention will give Mr. Harper an opportunity to reel in the recalcitrant members of the caucus, and ordinary party stalwarts, who, this past winter and spring finally started chaffing against the tight reins imposed on them by the PM and his entourage.
The convention, originally scheduled for the end of June, was cancelled because to the heavy flooding in Calgary at that time. The cancellation brought a sense of relief among some in the Tory leadership because the government was under fire from within and without the Tory ranks for a host of reasons, including the government’s handling of the Senate expense scandal.
But, it wasn’t just Senate expenses that was drawing the rath of disaffected Tories. Backbench MPs are virtually told every move to make, and have every word they say in the House scripted by the prime minister office. B.C. MP Mark Warawa found this out in spades when he put forward a controversial motion on abortion and sex selection. The motion was rejected by the Tory majority of a House committee without any discussion or debate. When Mr. Warawa wanted to use a one-minute statement all MPs have in the House of Commons to complain, this move was vetoed by the Conservative House leader, Gordon O’Connor. Later in June Alberta MP Brent Rathgeber quit the Conservatives and now sits as an independent after the government arbitrarily changed the wording of his private members bill to make government salaries public.
There were concerns that had the convention gone ahead in June, this dissension would have dominated, if not the talk on the floor, at least the talk in the corridors and that would have meant nothing but trouble.
When the House closed for the summer there was the belief that the absence of Question Period would take the focus off of the Senate scandal. The government could recalibrate and the PM would use his inimitable charm on the gullible public. He’d get his mojo back and everything in the garden would be lovely.
The summer’s over and nothing went according to plan. The Senate scandal remained alive all summer as the media made a new revelation every week or so. The government did recalibrate when Mr. Harper made his first major cabinet shuffle (There are now 39 cabinet ministers - name six). The PM went to the Stampede donning the obligatory stetson; he went to the arctic for photo ops with the sled dogs and what passes for the army up there. His plan to lower cell phone prices dissolved into static when Verizon, the American white knight mounted its steed and galloped off into a brighter sunset.
All this and the Conservative polling numbers remain at best, unimpressive. At the moment they trail the Liberals. Stephen Harper is not an inspirational leader, he’s an autocratic, take charge guy. If you don’t like it, too bad, but get out of the way. He’s been prime minister since February, 2006. A lot of what he initially said he’d do, he didn’t. And maybe in the broader Canadian context that’s good, but for many of the people who’ll be at the Calgary convention, Mr. Harper hasn’t delivered. And he needs them back on side before the election.
Oh, what to do, what to do?
We can expect a throne speech with lots of rhetoric on the economy. Pipelines here, (heading east), pipelines there (going west and south). Jobs - having run the ads without a program, maybe now they’ll try to create jobs without the ads. With the senate scandal showing signs of creeping into the prime minister’s office don’t be surprised if there is some dramatic diversionary tactic vis a vis the senate. And don’t worry about constitutionality, there can be a lot said, even a bit done, before encountering any constitutional quagmires.
What the throne speech says in parliamentary language , the Prime Minister will give full political, rhetorical flight to when the Conservative goblins gather in Calgary to learn their tricks and be promised their treats.
The political wars are about begin in earnest, the sparring matches are over.
- Alan Holman is a freelance journalist living in Charlottetown. He can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org