Tuesday, 19 November 2013

Prime Minister Stephen Harper may have crossed the Bay Street Rubicon when he "fired" Nigel Wright.

The latest Harper Government Cabinet. 
Who can or will dare to replace Prime Minister Stephen Harper?

Nigel Wright and Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s future may be intertwined with several crises presently simmering in Canada.

by Tom Thorne

Nigel Wright gave up a lucrative position with Gerald Schwartz’s Onex Corporation to become the Chief of Staff of the Prime Minister’s Office. He was prepared to give the Harper government at least two or three years until the next general election in 2015. His politics mirror Prime Minister Harper’s views and so Nigel Wright was seen as the bright guy with a business track record who could get the ball rolling for the Harper Government.

That all came to a halt when it was revealed that Nigel Wright wrote a personal cheque to Senator Mike Duffy for  $90,173 to help him pay back faulty Senate expense claims. In addition, it now clear that the Conservative Party paid Senator Duffy $13,000 to cover legal expenses over his expense claim troubles. Prime Minister Harper claims he knew nothing about the Nigel Wright payment or the $13,000 payment. Nigel Wright resigned and then later the Prime Minister revealed in House of Commons Question Period that he had fired Nigel Wright.

That’s the problem. Which is it? Did Nigel Wright resign or was he fired. If he chose to resign then that means the decision was completely his. If the Prime Minister fired Wright then that will create an entirely different outcome for the future for Stephen Harper. Given Nigel Wright’s track record in business, this tacky cheque writing seems out of character. There is a lot of doubt that the Prime Minister knew nothing about any of these payments. 

To put it simply Nigel Wright is a respected person in business and Conservative Party politics and for anyone to fire a heavy hitter like him even if he did a have a momentary lapse of moral fibre, is not the way for the Prime Minister to make friends and influence people in the Conservative Party power elite. The Prime Minister may have inadvertently set in motion stage one of his own political demise. Nigel Wright cannot return to Onyx and so is in a type of limbo until this situation is either dealt with by the RCMP or the Prime Minister tells his story in a more forthright manner.

By the time the next election comes around Stephen Harper will have had 10 years at the helm of this country. The Conservative Party may be looking to change horses. The PMO scandal with Nigel Wright will by that time passed through the hands of the RCMP and any charges that may be laid against Senators Duffy, Wallin and Brazeau or Nigel Wright will be in the courts. If it reaches the courts the whole affair will illuminate the Prime Minister’s vagueness and perhaps implicate him directly.

If Prime Minister Stephen Harper is seen to have obscured any facts or gone after the three senators without any real cause and claimed to have fired Nigel Wright when he resigned himself then he certainly looks bad. There may also be wrongful suspension suits launched by the senators. Worst yet, his actions may prompt constitutional arguments of who appoints and suspends senators.  In short Stephen Harper will look like he is at the helm of a botched entangled mess.

At that time the Conservative Party will go into survival mode or engage in internecine warfare as the far right of the party and Red Tories come back to their basics and the truce that formed the current party unravels. That is a bad thing for the  Conservative coalition, for that is what it really is, to stay together. If it unravels then the 38 percent of the popular vote that gave them a majority government is in jeopardy.

That will mean they will return to a minority government situation. This impending scenario is an opportunity for the New Democratic party and the Liberal Party. The Conservative strategists will see this impending doom scenario and will begin the process of replacing the leader. Who could they get to keep the Conservative coalition together?  Stephen Harper may keep the job by default.

Prime Minister Stephen Harper will stay after the next election for continuity sake but it may be clear by then that his days are numbered. He will have built up Canada’s National Debt and despite the attempts by Finance Minister Jim Flaherty to balance the books or develop a convenient surplus for the 2015 election year it will all wear a bit thin. The Conservative Party will be looking for a new leader.

Much of this scenario depends on who is staying for the election and who is re-elected after the dust settles in 2015. Much of the ground that has been ploughed to this time will have rooted and begin to show a crop of reduced yield for the Conservative Party’s fortunes after 2015.

The Supreme Court will probably find that no sitting government can alter the Senate and its constitutional origins unilaterally. Therefore that issue will go into long negotiations with the provinces creating a long fight for Senate reform. If Premier Pauline Marois plays all her nationalist cards and gets a majority then there may be a crisis in Quebec.

If the NDP loses its hold on all those Quebec ridings we may see two things. A modest Liberal resurgence and the status quo for Conservatives from Quebec. The NDP may hang on to about half the seats it got last time by default. That leaves some kind of Quebec Nationalist option to modestly reappear or a Liberal resurgence to fill this void. Quebeckers will fragment the NDP grip in the the Federal House of Commons. That can only benefit Marois and her real agenda of Quebec separatism if she survives a 2014 general election.

The economy will remain tepid forcing low interest rates to continue and more personal debt to mount thus building towards a Great Credit Reckoning and low investment returns for seniors protecting their retirements. Middle class safety nets will be further eroded giving Liberals a chance for resurgence.  

Youth with good educations and large educational debt loads will become more and more cynical as their job and career prospects remain doubtful. Corporations with cash will continue to hold back on investment due to medium and long term uncertainty. Canada will remain an ecological laughing stock and the pendulum that has swung to the right on these issues will only then begin to return to the centre. 

Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s experiment will begin to unravel in a climate of discontent with the right and his time in office. Pipelines to the USA will be thwarted by a dysfunctional US Congress. Opposition to moving tar sands crude to Montreal refineries through 40 year old pipelines will encounter public resistance. The European free trade pact will take a lot longer. The details of this deal will slow its implementation and create domestic political blowback for the Harper Government just before 2015.

Prime Minister Stephen Harper has now crossed swords with several scions of Bay Street. The economy is not yet robust enough to really experience a real round of right wing economics and government spending cuts. In addition, his own leadership in the Senate crisis is suspect. His secretive style of management may well be his undoing and he has yet to reform the Senate of Canada which has turned into a millstone around his neck. 

The only thing that can really save him at this point is to show clearly that he is the best of the current party leaders. He is already unleashing election style propaganda attacks on Justin Trudeau and Tom Mulcair. He has to now look competent and the Conservative Party may let him alone because they have no real replacement for him because cabinet ministers are  kept in the shade and under the tight control of the Prime Minister’s Office.

© Copyright 2013, Tom Thorne, All Rights Reserved

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