Will Harper “step down this summer”?

Mar 10th, 2013 | By | Category: Ottawa Scene

The latest news is that “Stephen Harper's hockey book will be available at a bookstore near you just in time for Christmas” 2013. Will he have more time to promote it then?

This past Thursday Steve Paikin wrote a short “Inside Agenda Blog” on the TV Ontario website called “Why Stephen Harper May Step Down This Summer.”Â  The Huffington Post repeated the item in its Politics Canada section.

On Friday Andy Radia on the Yahoo Canada site wrote that “Steve Paiken – a journalist for TV Ontario – has written a provocative column that’s getting some buzz in the #cdnpoli world this week … In his article posted on the TVO website, Paiken wonders aloud if Prime Minister Stephen Harper might retire this summer.” (Yes Mr. Paikin’s name is spelled incorrectly here, but that is the spelling Mr. Radia used!)

According to Andy Radia, Liberal insider Warren Kinsella thinks Steve Paikin’s suggestion that Harper might step down voluntarily, so to speak, as early as the summer of 2013, is “ridiculous. Why quit when your opposition is split, and you’re going to win?” And Conservative consultant Gerry Nicholls says: “Anything is possible, but I would be totally shocked if Harper stepped down before 2015.”

Reactions of this sort leave we non-insiders and non-consultants far away from Ottawa wondering why someone as savvy and seasoned as Steve Paikin has raised the prospect in the first place. But you don’t have to look too hard for at least some half-answers here.

To start with, there are the recent opinion polls garnering such headlines as “Poll suggests Harper Conservatives are at their lowest mark since 2009” and “Trudeau would win next Canadian election for Liberals, poll shows.”

And then it may well be that Justin Trudeau himself is becoming a bit unnerved by the extent to which his father’s mere name has become a kind of mindless magnet, for a growing share of Canadians who are suddenly finding and/or always have found the Harper Conservatives wanting. But PM Harper’s Freudian slip in the House this past Thursday, when he alluded to the young M. Trudeau as “the minister, uh, the member from Papineau” – and “ then called Trudeau the ‘minister’ from Papineau a second time” – suggests that Mr. Harper himself is starting to get a bit rattled by the new Trudeaumania Jr, which sometimes seems the most fascinating landscape on a rather lacklustre Canadian federal political scene these days.

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Of course, the always interesting Chantal Hébert, in no less liberal (and Liberal) a place than the Toronto Star, also has a point in “Justin Trudeau’s lacklustre reception outside Ontario, BC should worry Liberals …  Liberal leadership front-runner Justin Trudeau is causing excitement in Ontario and BC, but in few other places.”

PM Harper has breakfast with cat Stanley, January 2013.

Ontario and BC, however, are absolutely crucial to the majority government that Stephen Harper finally won in 2011. If they are straying from the one true faith, then the new conservative (and Conservative) dispensation in Canada that Preston Manning still likes to fantasize about probably is in some serious enough trouble.

From here, it is only another short hop, step, and jump to another new wave of grief in the Alberta-based Canadian resource economy, that has clearly enough had a lot to do with Mr. Harper’s ability to turn a less than 40% plurality of the cross-Canada popular vote into an ultimate parliamentary majority in Ottawa.  And for some apt recent commentary on this side of the twisted picture, see: “Alberta’s oil woes mean trouble ahead for Canada: Walkom …  The Canadian economy has been kept alive by the resource boom. It could be ending” (also in the Toronto Star), and “Alberta budget gets a failing grade from almost everybody.”

The wisest observations in all this, no doubt, are that it is still well over two years before the next Canadian federal election, that, as Warren Kinsella has stressed, Mr. Harper’s progressive (Liberal-NDP) “opposition is split,” and that being Prime Minister of Canada is pretty clearly Stephen Harper’s favourite job in all the world.

There are also those who say the big question is just who would replace Mr. Harper as the new more plausible leader of his new Conservative Party of Canada? And the suggestion that Jason Kenney is the chosen heir is easy enough to greet with considerable mirth.

At the same time, one of Stephen Harper’s strongest claims on the Canadian political tradition is that he just may be some ultimate Conservative answer to the record longevity of the Liberal leader William Lyon Mackenzie King, Prime Minister of Canada 1921—1926, 1926—1930, 1935—1948. And, if anything, in a number of respects Jason Kenney (grandson of famed Canadian swing band leader, the Western Gentleman Mart Kenney, who once ran a musical ranch in the Toronto exurbs), looks even more like Mackenzie King – “a more subtly accurate, a more flexibly adjustable Gallup poll of Canadian public opinion than statisticians will ever be able to devise … the representative Canadian, the typical Canadian, the essential Canadian, the ideal Canadian, the Canadian as he exists in the kind of God.”Â  (And we should stress that we don’t think either Stephen Harper or Jason Kenney seriously qualifies for these words on Mackenzie King from the ancient Canadian historian Frank Underhill – only that Mr. Kenney may finally come at least a little closer than Mr. Harper! Maybe … or maybe not??)

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  1. Whether Harper stays or goes, there’s no doubt that Trudeau poses a threat. But the real threat that Trudeau poses is not necessarily to Harper, but to Tom Mulcair.

    Check out our recent poll on leadership attributes – Mulcair is behind Trudeau on all but one of the attributes we tested


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