Wednesday October 15, 2008
Sacre bleu sweater - Harper blew it!
By BILL TIELEMAN
Politics is the art of the next best.
- Otto von Bismarck, German chancellor, 1815-1898
When Prime Minister Stephen Harper woke up this morning at 24 Sussex the first thing he likely said was: "Sacre bleu sweater! I blew it!"
And he did. Harper is stuck with another minority Conservative government instead of the majority he desperately wanted because he made two key mistakes.
It didn't seem possible early in the campaign. A relentless advertising attack on Stephane Dion had made the Liberal leader look hapless and helpless, certainly no choice for prime minister.
Bloc Quebecois leader Gilles Duceppe seemed equally inept, with nationalism a low priority in the province.
Meanwhile, New Democratic Party leader Jack Layton was aggressively chasing Dion for abstaining 43 times in Parliament to keep Harper in power, while nipping at Liberal heels in Quebec.
Harper did the math - make modest gains in la belle province and hold the fort in Ontario, the Atlantic and western Canada, let Layton bash Dion and merci beaucoup - four years of majority power.
But politics is more an art than a science and Harper made two disastrous miscalculations.
On Sept. 23 Harper attacked arts and culture after cutting $45 million in funding.
"I think when ordinary working people come home, turn on the TV and see a gala of a bunch of people, you know, at a rich gala all subsidized by taxpayers claiming their subsidies aren't high enough when they know those subsidies have actually gone up - I'm not sure that's something that resonates with ordinary people," Harper said in a Jeff Foxworthy "You might be a redneck if ..." moment the old Reform Party would have loved.
But not Quebecers. The incredibly stupid move galvanized the province's artistic community and kick-started the Bloc Quebecois.
The counterattack hammered the Tories in Quebec and any chance of more seats there.
Then came another huge error by Harper. The financial market meltdown terrified Canadians, who saw their retirement savings devastated and their jobs on the line.
So what were Harper's reassuring words of leadership? "I think there are probably some gains to be made in the stock market," he said.
Ouch! Mr. Compassionate strikes again. Harper's hopes that English Canada would reward the Conservatives disappeared, along with his majority dream.
But at least Harper still has the keys to his office. Watch for the Liberal bloodletting to begin as Dion's failure to communicate in this election leads to his swift demise.
And with a Liberal leadership review constitutionally required, Harper can safely ignore any threats that the Liberals will defeat his government.
It may be the Canadian Parliament but it's back to the Mexican standoff between political parties that has marked the last several years.