Monday, June 1, 2009

Harper treads water

It is utterly amazing to me that, in the face of such terrible conditions and remarkable incompetence, the Conservative Government still maintains a respectable showing in the polls. I have been thinking a great deal about this and trying to determine what might explain such a situation.

Many die-hard conservatives will, of course, simply contend that Canadians are more committed to conservative principles than ever before and that is why the Harper Government maintains a certain degree of popularity despite so many difficulties. I believe we can dispense with such a claim immediately for two main reasons. First, because on many issues, particularly social ones, the Canadian population is, over time, slowly becoming more liberal. Second because Harper’s Government has demonstrated that it will abandon any principle in order to gain and hold power, so the public can’t be holding on to any particular principles which it shares with Harper or his cronies. Harper has abandoned accountability, the rule of law, transparency, the freedom of individual MPs to serve their constituents, his claim that he would never appoint Senators, all his claims to populism, his legislative opposition to gay marriage, and of course his claim that he would never run a deficit. It is hard to believe, therefore, that Canadians are supportive of Harper’s principles since it is not clear that he has any. And one need not argue that Harper has only temporarily abandoned these ideals until he gains a majority, because principle’s jettisoned for expediency (even temporarily) are not principles at all.

Thus I don’t believe for a moment that the Canadian public has simply become more Conservative and that is why Harper’s Government maintains a decent poll showing. I think we must look elsewhere for a convincing explanation of this phenomenon. When you think about it the Conservatives are actually playing a pretty simple game; in times of generalized uncertainty the right-wing is often fairly successful because it trades on basic fears of crime and instability. This was certainly true in Europe during the 1930s. All Harper has to do is maintain a public image of strength and sow the seeds of fear in people’s minds and he will not drop too far in the polls.

However, another contributing factor in the Conservative’s continued popularity is Liberal incompetence. In times of uncertainty, when people want strength, the Liberals have exuded a consistent image of weakness. While blustering constantly about how terrible Harper and his government have been, they have failed at every opportunity to oppose them. And an Opposition that doesn’t oppose cannot create an image of strength in people’s minds. This has, thus far, been a deadly combination for the Liberals; weakness in opposition, uncertain times, and a Prime Minister who, though sinisterly Machiavellian, has kept his public image of strength. And until the Liberals can change this, nothing that the Conservatives do, in and of itself, will make a real difference. Fifty Billion Dollar deficits, racist comments, abandonment of principles, a finance Minister who doesn’t know a Loonie from a lug-nut; none of this will really matter. Until the Opposition actually becomes and Opposition we can rely on the Conservatives maintaining 30 to 35 percent in the polls.

Of course the incredible hypocrisy of Jack Layton (and keep in mind that I am closer to the NDP than the Liberals) is now presenting the Liberals with a new opportunity to show some backbone. If the NDP are going to take up the role of keeping the Harper Government alive the Liberals can finally start to vote against Harper for the first time. Six months of a strong opposition, coupled with a completely incompetent Government will surely tip the polls enough to lay waste to Harper once and for all. 

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