Tories in for long term? It all depends on Harper

Dan Leger
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The other day I was asked to appear, if that's the right word, on a radio talk show out of Ottawa. I listened in, waiting for my turn to gas on about Liberal fortunes in Atlantic Canada as the previous segment wrapped up. It concluded that the Liberals and NDP can't dislodge the Conservatives, who will remain in power for another 15 years.

The argument is straightforward. The Tories have united the centre-right vote against a splintered centre-left, they have made important inroads into the ethnic and new Canadian vote and Parliament is adding seats in areas where the Conservatives are already strong.

I don't disagree with any of that. But I would add a condition: the Conservatives will stay in office for another decade or more only if Stephen Harper remains their leader. Harper is the key player, the one with the insight, wisdom and will to maintain discipline within his party and keep it in power. He has no obvious successor nor has any internal rival emerged to challenge him.

Now, hazarding long-term predictions about something as short-term as politics is a recipe for regret. Conditions can change in the economy and in society. Demographic shifts could shake the Tory hold. It's also a safe bet that scandals will erupt as government members decide they're entitled to power and grow disdainful of the public trust.

All these things will happen over time. The economy is always in flux and as we've seen since 2008, Canada can't do much about global pressures other than manage its own house. The Tories have persuaded Canadians they've done that fairly well.

Canadian social values might change over time, perhaps going out of sync with Tory values. But the wonderful thing about parties led by a resourceful mind like Harper's is that they can change to keep pace with the electorate.

We've seen it in Harper's refusal to debate abortion or same-sex marriage. His party wants to engage but Canadians don't. Harper has listened.

Or say the economy gets its groove back. The Conservatives might then become sensitive to environmental issues. Canadians are becoming more strident on the environment and the Tory claim that we can't afford to protect it is way out of step with public opinion.

We also know that Canada is aging and that demographics challenge both public policy and politics. But that's no particular disadvantage to the Conservatives. All parties have to face it. And maybe people do become more conservative as they age. If so, that favours the capital-C Conservatives.

As to arrogance and scandal, those sins are already showing up. The longer parties stay in power, the greater the risks. Wednesday marks seven years to the day since their victory in 2006 and there's no reason to think Conservatives are immune to temptation. Bev Oda, anyone?

But if the opposition stays divided, with no cataclysmic economic shocks or a sudden emergence of a superstar Liberal or NDP rival to Harper, conditions look good for a long period in office for the Conservatives. That's if Harper himself stays on.

And that's the great imponderable. What will Harper do? It is a punishing job running a complicated and diverse country, spread across six times zones and with interests around the world. Just managing the expectations of his own party is a challenging task.

Harper also has personal and family pressures. His kids are teenagers now and their father can't have much time for them. They're growing up surrounded by bodyguards, which must be a form of teenage hell.

Yet Harper rarely seems tired and almost never loses focus. Agree with him or not, he's one of the most determined and capable individuals in modern Canadian politics. At 53, he shows no sign that he's ready to retire.

So, Maritimers and their governments had better get used to managing relations with a Harper majority over the long term. Tory Premier David Alward in New Brunswick is already an ally. For Nova Scotia and P.E.I., it's time to give serious thought about dealing with the Harper party in Ottawa, now and for many years to come.

Dan Leger is a Halifax-based writer and commentator. Twitter: @Dantheeditor.

Organizations: Conservatives, Tory

Geographic location: Atlantic Canada, Ottawa, New Brunswick Nova Scotia

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Recent comments

  • right wing monologue
    January 21, 2013 - 09:56

    This is quite the right wing pro-harper monologue. I guess the guardian actually pays this opinion. What next Ezra Levine.

  • Harper has no use for PEI Premier
    January 21, 2013 - 08:51

    When the Ghiz team went to town on the PNP program and betrayed Canada to enrich themselves and their friends by changing rules, they were BRANDED and since then Harper has not given Ghiz or PEI a minute of time. Why should he??? PEI is run by a bunch of crooks. thanks eh?

  • Garth Staples
    January 21, 2013 - 08:06

    Well I have to agree with Leger on his analysis. Harper is one of the most highly intelligent PMs I have experienced and read about. Canada is being remade from a whining sniveling society to a 'lets do, can do' one . Canada is starting to shine.

    • Dan
      January 21, 2013 - 12:51

      Garth: It's too late to suck up to Harper.Duff (the $33,000 man) has the job.

    • Garth Staples
      January 21, 2013 - 18:53

      DAN---wait and see! I support a PM that has brought a brighter future for our Canada. Don't you? Justin WHO?