Attempting to spell defeat v-i-c-T-O-R-Y

October 17th, 2008
Email This Post  Print This Post  

It’s always a good idea to under-promise and over-deliver. But what if somebody else is doing the promising for you? That’s the dilemma with which Stephen Harper has come out of the election. During the campaign he assiduously spoke about the likelihood of another minority government and at most asked for a “strong mandate”. The commentators, however, continually insisted that the true test was whether he gained a majority.

They unilaterally raised the bar – so any other result could be portrayed as a defeat. Despite his significantly stronger mandate and improved parliamentary manoeuvring room, most of Canada’s pundits used the result to trigger another round of their favourite pastime – Harper-bashing.

On CBC’s As it Happens (which Dr. J. is somehow able to stomach – Mr. K. absolutely never turns on the CBC), host Carol Off concluded that “no one has a sea-to-sea mandate to govern”. What does this mean? Who invented this standard? Is it in the Constitution? Is Off saying that if the Conservatives gained 250 seats but were missing Newbrador, they wouldn’t be allowed to pass laws? But that if Jack Layton could place an MP in each province, he’d be green-lighted to become Chavez Del Norte?

Off’s political panel, including former Reform/Alliance/Conservative MP Deborah Grey, were mostly down on the PM. It was left to, of all people, B.C. NDPer Joy McPhail to describe the obvious gains Mr. Harper’s made on Tuesday night.

Another CBC piece asked the loaded question “Can you win an election and still come out a loser?” This is only one example of the wishful thinking school of anti-Harper analysis. And it’s a big school. You can always count on Lawrence Martin of the Globe to utter the most ham-fisted version, in this case suggesting Mr. Harper would likely scurry off the public stage in the face of a new, stronger Liberal leader. Right.

CanWest’s irascible columnist Don Martin also came up to bat. He spoke of a “humbler” post-election Harper, “undoubtedly haunted by the realization his government had all the makings of a majority and he personally blew it with some ill-timed announcements that backfired in Quebec.” You can always count on Don to see the black cloud around the silver lining, especially if the story involves the prime minister. Also in the Post yesterday, the ever-pompous Ian MacDonald weighed in with a similar thesis shrouded in his standard layers of nuance.

We of course can’t pretend that the culture/justice announcements had no effect. But we think that even in their absence, there would have been something else that wandered on-stage and took on a life of its own. The real question is why this is so.

The Conservatives’ over-arching problem in Quebec was what the PM alluded to on Wednesday. As leader of a Quebec-only party, Gilles Duceppe could campaign in his homeland basically 24/7. The other leaders were (and will forever remain) unable to do that. The Conservatives lack a strong, credible Quebec figure who can stand in for Mr. Harper in organizing the response to erupting threats and leading the counter-attack. The Conservatives do have to re-think their Quebec strategy – but more on the issue of how to carry out day-to-day slugging than crafting their entire policy manual only for Quebec’s liking.

The median media opinion seems to be represented by CTV’s Craig Oliver, perhaps because they were all exhausted by six weeks on the campaign trail. Many simply questioned if the election was “worth it”, having yielded “only” another minority. Oliver dubbed all the parties as losers.

Finally, in today’s National Post blog, columnist Kevin Libin sticks his neck out. Was not the result an 80 percent Harper victory? Wow, there’s some new math for you. Sounds like another version of what we said in our previous post – that of the five main possible outcomes for the Conservatives and Mr. Harper, Tuesday’s result was the second-best. Mr. Libin must be affected, like us, by the thin air out West.

Blogmarks BlogLines Digg Facebook Google Google Reader Magnolia Yahoo! MyWeb Newsgator reddit SlashDot StumbleUpon Technorati
By John Weissenberger and George Koch