Tuesday, 17 February 2015

Stephen Harper's Spring election call is likely given a filled war chest, Liberal readiness and the NDP low in the polls. Let the attack ads roll.

Will we all be counting on the Prime Minister for a Spring election?

The 2015 Canadian Federal General Election. 

Stephen Harper has lots of reasons to call a Spring general election rather than wait until Fall.

by Tom Thorne

I have been ruminating about the upcoming 2015 General Election that according to the legislation passed by the Harper Government must be held this year. The more I think about it, the prospect of the election coming in the Fall is less likely due to circumstances that could hurt Conservatives if they wait too long.

Prime Minister Stephen Harper is a wily politician. He has experienced more changes than a chameleon during his political career. His party loyalties and affiliations have been varied. In the 1980’s he was a Liberal a fact that he would rather not let people know about after he went hard right on the political spectrum. 

His early conversion to the right was as a member of the Reform Party working first for MP Deborah Grey in the 1980’s. Eventually  after going head to head with Reform’s leader Preston Manning he left politics. That took him out of parliament for a period in the 1990’s when he headed the National Citizen’s Coalition (NCC) as its President. There he found his true right wing home.

Stephen Harper quit the NCC to become the leader of The Canadian Alliance winning a by election in 2002 that made him Leader of the Opposition. By 2004 he had resigned from the Canadian Alliance and ran for the leadership of The Conservative Party of Canada. This act merged the right orientation of the Alliance with the more centre right Conservatives. Effectively the Harper version of the Conservative Party shifted more right with Harper as their choice of leader. 

As Leader of the Conservatives he returned to parliament as the Leader of the Opposition in 2004. The general election of that year returned the first Harper Conservative Government with a minority that required the combined efforts of the Bloc Quebecois (BQ) and the New Democratic Party (NDP) to keep it in power.

In 2008 Harper’s Conservatives were awarded another minority government which lasted until 2011 when another election finally gave the Conservatives a majority with 38 percent of the votes. The Liberal Party faded as a potent force in Canadian political life and the NDP swept Quebec to become the Official Opposition under Thomas Mulcair.

Now the stage is set for the 2015 General Election. Prime Minister Stephen Harper has recently seen prominent conservatives leave his caucus. John Baird, after a credible stint as Foreign Minister is going he says at age 45 into the private sector. My view of this is Baird wants to be out of the fray this time so he can return as a leadership candidate once the Harper era is over.

Then there is Jason Kenny who shares Stephen Harper’s right wing sentiments. Kenny is a rival for Harper’s job and he also is waiting for Stephen Harper to withdraw from politics. Kenny is the most independent of the Harper cabinet bright and tough enough to deflect too much Prime Minister’s Office (PMO) interference in ministries he has headed.  Jason Kenny is the one to watch as the country goes through the next election.

Of course there are other rivals for the Prime Minister’s job but first of all we have to examine reasons why his job will be open. Stephen Harper will remain Prime Minister for at least one more election. How long he stays after that election depends on how well the Conservatives do.  A majority would give him another full term. A minority government ensures that he will leave politics sooner. He will also have had the job for over 10 years by that time.

Other problems are on the horizon for Stephen Harper. First is the upcoming Senator Mike Duffy trial  that is due to start in the Spring. This means that the turgid mess concerning how Duffy received payments of $90,000 from  PMO chief Nigel Wright to repay his mistakes about where his primary residence is actually located. No one has been completely able to nail down what Prime Minister Harper really knew about this payment. That will emerge during the trial under oath. Certainly it was not only Nigel Wright who knew other PMO staffers were clearly in the know. 

If the Prime Minister’s shown that his Question Period answers to Opposition Leader Tom Mulcair’s grillings were misleading or even fibs about the $90,000 payment then he could end up being accused of lying to Parliament. If this happens before a Fall election it could be very damaging and provide a lot of fodder for the Opposition parties to use on the election hustings.

Nigel Wright was not charged by the RCMP concerning his personal $90,000 payment to Mike Duffy. That suggests that Wright may be a key witness for the trial.  It may not be illegal to offer to pay someone’s debt, but when you are also the head of the PMO it smells badly and suggests that the PMO and the Prime Minister just wanted Duffy to go away. The trial should get to the bottom of this embarrassing event. 

Also it is time to examine how well the Prime Minister chooses people. His batting record with appointing senators like Mike Duffy and Pamela Wallin and appointing Nigel Wright suggest poor skills at first choosing people but more his subsequent managing of them. His personnel skills are in some doubt.

Another faux pas is the Dimitri Soudas firing. Soudas was at one point head of the Conservative Party apparatus as its director and later a key communications advisor in the PMO. His help to then girl friend Conservative MP Eve Adams to get a nomination caused Prime Minister Harper to fire him. Recently Eve Adams was told by the PM that she could not run again as a Conservative candidate in 2015. The result: she bolted to the Liberal Party where she was welcomed by Liberal leader Justin Trudeau. 

No one really knows how Eve Adams, now engaged to Dimitri Soudas, links to the Liberal Party as an intelligence source, as Eve Adams prepares a bid to run against Conservative Finance Minister Joe Oliver in his riding. Of course a wily Justin Trudeau is making Eve contest the riding against other potential Liberal candidates. If she loses the nomination, then his Eve Adams association ends.

My point is there is something lacking in Stephen Harper’s choice of people to work for his government. He always seems to have problems reigning in people he chooses. Loyal first rate Conservative operatives like Nigel Wright , Dimitri Soudas, John Baird seem to self destruct under his micro management. His choice of senate appointees Duffy and Wallin first screw up and then turn against the Prime Minister. And when someone gets in trouble in his government (actually the PM) they become instantly persona non grata.

Lastly there is the balanced books conundrum. Finance Minister Joe Oliver still says it’s possible even with low world oil pricing battering the Canadian economy. Even if it isn’t possible it will be possible for the upcoming election and that election will be sooner than later so that is possible. It is, after all, the Prime Minister’s wish that the budget be balanced.

Yes, the 2015 federal general election will very likely be in the Spring. Strategically that makes sense since the Opposition will be not fully prepared, polls for some life for Conservatives exist in Quebec, and the federal budget now slated for April will come down loaded with goodies and an upbeat message about how Conservatives always steer the ship well through turbulent times. 

© Copyright 2015, Tom Thorne, All Rights Reserved.