Last Tuesday night, voters clearly chose Stephen Harper’s Conservatives to govern our country through these uncertain times. And the fact that the Tories had run a competent government in their first term gave voters the confidence to make this choice.
What is not nearly so clear is the verdict voters pronounced on Harper himself. Should the fact that he was restricted to another minority government, albeit a stronger one, be viewed as a personal defeat?
Prime Minister Harper has now led his party through three general elections, at least two of which could have been considered winnable. In 2004, the aftermath of the sponsorship scandal helped him reduce the Grits to a minority government. Some will argue that this election was winnable and polls did for a time support this contention. I remain unconvinced, however. The sponsorship scandal and other evidence of massive mismanagement by the Liberals was counter-balanced by the “greenness” of the Conservative team.
The new Conservative party had only been officially registered with Elections Canada on December 7, 2003, and Stephen Harper had only been elected leader on March 20, 2004. Two months later, Harper was contesting his first general election as leader of a six-month-old party. A win here would have been a tall order indeed. Two years later, he did win and formed a minority government.
In 2008, however, up against the weakest Liberal leader in my memory, Harper was unable to gain the majority mandate he had called the election to seek. Quebec, with its 75 seats, had let the Conservatives down by blocking Harper’s majority.
As PM, Stephen Harper had bent over backwards to appease the Quebec electorate, first trying to woo Liberal Premier Jean Charest and later moving his affection to Opposition leader Mario Dumont
The Conservative government had addressed the so-called fiscal imbalance and transferred billions more to Quebec, passed a Commons resolution declaring the province a nation within Canada and gave Quebec representation at UNESCO, the UN cultural agency.
Yet, in Quebec, the election was greatly disappointing. Conservatives were held to 10 seats, while the Liberals took 13 and the Bloc took 50. Conservatives also lost more than three per cent of their share of the popular vote.
Political analysts point to tough justice proposals for young offenders, federal budget cuts for cultural funding and Bill C-10, denying subsidies to films and TV productions “contrary to public policy” as being the turnoffs that caused the fickle, left-leaning Quebec voters to reject Harper’s party.
Should Harper now consider that—having exceeded expectations by uniting the splintered right into a party which has formed a competent government—he should now hand over the reins to someone able to take the party to the next level?
I do not believe he should, at least, not yet.
Our country needs a strong level-headed leader in these uncertain economic times. We also need a prime minister who has had some on-the-job experience. Stephen Harper is both those things.
Harper has the intellect and the statesmanship to lead Canadians to a more confident national identity—one with its own unique personality to the world and one that is more than not being Americans. He can help to establish Canada as the primary cultural link between Europe and North America and Asia and North America. He can enhance Canada’s position among second-tier nations and help us “punch above our weight” militarily and diplomatically.
Do this and our continued prosperity will be assured.
Before the next election, however, the prime minister must show us that he is able to delegate responsibility and share the spotlight better than in the past; that he can avoid rookie mistakes like needlessly offending artists and giving gratuitous investment advice; and that he is able to identify with a broader cross-section of Canadians to eventually earn greater trust and even the affection of voters.