Monday, 28 October 2013

Senator Mike Duffy rains on Prime Minister Stephen Harper's Calgary Conservative Party Policy Convention. PMO looks for new spin on event.

Prime Minister Stephen Harper enthuses about the  
Conservative Policy Convention in Calgary this weekend. 

This week Conservatives gather in Calgary for their policy convention. Will the party be in one piece when they get to Calgary? More importantly, will they still be in one piece the day after the convention closes?

by Tom Thorne. Monday 28 October 2013

The current Senate of Canada hassles may cloud the Conservative Policy Convention slated for later this week. With the revelations by Senator Michael Duffy this afternoon in the Senate of Canada, his new allegations may very well remove Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s Teflon coating as he is further implemented in the Nigel Wright PMO fiasco.  

It always seems that once political parties are in power for a time they begin to wear a bit thin. It happened to the Liberals and they are still picking up the pieces and now it may be the Conservative’s turn to implode. It couldn’t come at a worst time as Conservatives attempt to build their image this weekend in Calgary.

There has been a lot of talk from Prime Minister Stephen Harper of preserving the Conservative “base”. The Conservative base from my perspective consist of two main parts. A right wing that draws its roots from Preston Manning’s view of the world woven together with Stephen Harper’s ideas honed by his years with the Citizen’s Coalition. 

These people think that the less government, lower taxes and rugged individualism makes Canada better. Current Prime Minister’s Office (PMO) Chief of Staff, Ray Novak probably falls into this category since he shares a Citizen’s Coalition background with his boss. Certainly Mr. Novak utilizing his PMO media spin department is energetically engineering how to take away the pay and allowances for Senators Duffy, Wallin and Brazeau.

Then there are the so-called “Red Tories”. This group of Conservatives hold that the state has to intervene when injustice is done or when the greater good is in jeopardy. In short they are more social without straying too close to Liberal Party ideas. They also support the Charter of Rights and Freedoms in the context of what’s happening now in the Senate.  Senators Hugh Segal and perhaps Donald Plett would be on this side of the party. 

Their plea for due process in the case of the current Senate expense problems means going against the wishes of the Prime Minister and the PMO’s press spinning. Senator Plett has served as President of the Conservative Party and is a Harper appointment so his views may not go down well with the PM. Hugh Segal, although a Conservative, was appointed by Liberal Prime Minister Paul Martin.

Together these two basic groups form the current Conservative Party and there is often an uneasy peace when one wing goes more the to right or the more socially conscious members of the party border on too much liberalism. In balance these constantly unstable elements of the Conservative Party enable it to stay near the middle of the Canadian political spectrum without actually being right on the centre. 

Sometimes the stresses of keeping the “base” or both bases on side creates a type of Conservative schizophrenia and the Party goes on a destructive bender akin to being off its meds. We may be teetering on that historical point at the moment. It’s happened before. The catalyst may well be the Conservative Members of the House of Commons and the Senate who are tired of being mere trained seals for the Prime Minister. There may be cracks in their solidarity although no fissures have appeared openly to this time.

Another interesting fact of Canadian political life is the current Harper government got into power by splitting ridings and by getting 38 percent of the vote across Canada. Conservatism in its present incarnation survives and forms majority governments by neatly splitting the New Democratic and Liberal Party vote. That means that 62 percent of Canadian who vote didn’t vote Conservative.

They have a modest mandate to be in power but not to swing too far to the right. Their changes to court sentencing, prison revision, the environment and long gun registries are all done with 38 percent of the popular vote. When the focus in Ottawa is on a scandal such as the Senate affair, the Conservatives will begin to erode their 38 percent if they don’t take care. That’s what Prime Minister Stephen Harper really means when he talks about the “base”.

The Senate of Canada now has a majority of Conservatives. Perhaps the promised Harper Senate Reforms can finally begin but that is unlikely given the turmoil in that place.  At the moment the numbers are: Conservatives 60, Liberals 33, Independent 6 (includes Duffy, Wallin and Brazeau) and there are six vacant seats for Prime Minister Harper to fill with more Conservatives. There are a total of 105 Senators. It is easy to vote against Duffy, Wallin and Brazeau and suspend them without pay and allowances with this majority but only if they play ball and observe their Whip.

As the Conservatives go to their policy convention this week what “base” of the Conservative Party is Prime Minister Stephen Harper appealing to or has he got left to appeal to? Has he got any room to back off from these Senate suspensions?  Can he justify his actions over the last few months in the PMO? 

Can he really wipe out former PMO Chief of Staff Nigel Wright’s gaffe with Senator Mike Duffy? After what happened this afternoon in the Senate with new fresh Duffy revelations there is little room for the Prime Minister and his PMO to move as they get ready for their Policy Convention and get the Senate to suspend Duffy, Wallin and Brazeau at the same time.  

How can the Prime Minister say that he doesn’t know what the former PMO Chief of Staff Nigel Wright was doing? How can his vindictive orders to the Senate now be implemented without fall out? The Conservative Party may need to fill that prescription for their meds this week if they are stay intact.

© Copyright 2013, Tom Thorne, All Rights Reserved

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