This Globe and Mail column is correct in that the Liberals, NDP and Bloc have an important job in front of them that they cannot, for the sake of the country, fuck up, but it actually manages to understate the importance of the task for progressive politics as a whole.
Simply put: discrediting Stephen Harper as a leader will shred Conservative politics for years.
The interesting thing about Stephen Harper is that he is more popular than his party is (this, despite general public acceptance of the belief that Harper is a cold fish – he is regarded as a competent technocrat). The last election was largely about transferring Harper’s personal popularity to the party as a whole, but the lack of ability to attain a Tory majority can be seen as evidence that it didn’t really work.
The problem for the Tories is that beyond Stephen Harper, they really have nobody ready to lead the party.
Peter Mackay is the obvious next-in-line, but Mackay suffers from being a gormless twat whom nobody really likes; moderates don’t like him because they think1 that he sold the Progressive Conservatives out to the crazy Reform gang, and right-wingers don’t like him because they think2 that he’s a weaselly moderate. Mackay also had the bad luck to be involved in that patently stupid “calling Belinda Stronach names” mini-scandallette which didn’t really piss anybody off, but didn’t impress anybody either. Finally, Peter Mackay looks like a boring accountant. He is the definition of “inessential person.”
Jim Flaherty is the Minister of Finance and in Canadian politics, traditionally that role goes to someone who is known for being really smart and able to make tough decisions. Flaherty is both of these things, and also a folksy public speaker (never to be underestimated). However, he is also very conservative in his fiscal policies, and since the election has been embarrassed by his blatant campaign lies about how Canada wouldn’t have to run a budget deficit anytime soon. More importantly, if Harper gets ousted, it’s going to be because of Tory policies regarding the worldwide economic meltdown being the exact opposite of what every other country on the planet is doing (namely, massive public works infrastructure investment as a vehicle for economic revitalization). Flaherty is exactly responsible for that. If Harper goes, Flaherty’s political career is dead in the water.
Stockwell Day is a former Tory leader and well-liked by social conservatives, but he is a national joke because he is well-liked by social conservatives (we’re a rather liberal country, remember) and also because he is frankly a bit of a dipshit. Well, okay, actually he’s a lot of a dipshit. Three-quarters dipshit. Primarily dipshit. He is a Dipshit-Canadian.
And those three are the good options. Looking down into the ranks?
Chuck Strahl is a well-liked moderate, but he doesn’t speak French well and there’s that whole “I have incurable lung cancer” thing. Rob Nicholson has the right politics to succeed in the party and out of it, but he’s never had a really high-profile government position until his recent tenure as Justice Minister, and Justice Minister isn’t even in the top five most important jobs in Cabinet. Jean-Pierre Blackburn is smart but a political nonentity. Rona Ambrose isn’t ready yet and even if she were she’s too young3; Christian Paradis has the same problem but even worse. Jim Prentice is a shitty liar4, his tenure as Minister of Industry was a bad joke, and his firm opposition to same-sex marriage bans earned him the enmity of the social-con wing of the party. John “Mister Shouty” Baird is a blowhard and has a track record of looking stupid in public. Gordon O’Connor’s career is tied to the war in Afghanistan, and even those Canadians who support the war in Afghanistan on grounds of responsibility don’t actually like it. Tony Clement was lucky not to get turfed in the last election. Jason Kenney is intemperate and not that bright. Vic Toews is a deeply horrible man.5
About the only name I can come up with who isn’t a placeholder/rebuilding era candidate is Lawrence Cannon, the current Minister of Foreign Affairs. And I don’t know if he’s up to the job, or even wants it. (Seriously, you have to be kind of crazy to want to run Canada. We’re a freakishly neurotic country, you know.)
And that’s the problem for the Tories; their bench isn’t deep. Taking out Harper as a credible leader of the party (and causing him to lose the party will almost certainly do that) means the Tories have to rely on said bench. Good luck with that, guys.
Contrast to the Liberals, who have a heap of fresh leadership candidates who are both relatively young (but not too young) and ready for the job and capable of running a strong campaign. Of course, the Liberals’ problem is that all of those candidates have to get past Michael Ignatieff and Bob Rae, which is depressing when you think about it.
- Correctly. [↩]
- Also correctly. [↩]
- 39 is too young to be a national leader. Sorry, but it’s true. You ideally want your national leaders to be past the potential midlife crisis stage. [↩]
- Never underestimate the importance of being a good liar in political life. Yes, that goes for the “good guys” as well. [↩]
- Also, he looks eerily like Jack Layton. [↩]