Steps to a Harper Majority
by Margret Kopala

Published in the Ottawa Citizen, February 24, 2007

Unflattering parallels are being drawn between Liberal leader Stéphane Dion and ill-fated conservative leaders Stockwell Day and Joe Clark so those attack ads must be working. If the parallels also prove accurate, Conservatives should call the election before the Liberals find their answer to Preston Manning.

Who can forget how Preston Manning lit a fire under conservatives everywhere, and then kept it burning until they had a party that was fit to govern? It took a few leaders and a few parties to achieve this but in the end he altered Canada’s political landscape and leveled its democratic playing field.

If, electorally speaking, Conservatives are preparing to rumble, so should Liberals. Much as Brian Mulroney presided over the last gasp of an Old Canada Progressive Conservative Party, Jean Chretien did the same for the Old Canada Liberal Party. Paul Martin was the first casualty of a necessary metamorphosis and now Dion is marked to be second. The next Liberal opposition leader, under a more stable Conservative government, would be better positioned to oversee his party’s overdue modernization. Best they get on with it.

Dion’s failing fortunes aren’t the only hope Conservatives take into the coming election. The demographics are with them too. An aging population grows more, not less conservative, particularly on issues of public safety and national security - areas which Conservatives are well positioned to strengthen. With Alberta tarsands infrastructure now a recognized target for terrorist attacks, for instance, there is every reason to follow the example of the Poles and Czechs who this week announced intentions to sign on to missile defence. And while violent crime rates dipped in the 1990s, Statistics Canada figures point to how overall they have quadrupled since the early 1960s.

But tougher laws to fight the problem of guns, gangs and drugs are only part of the equation. The other part is their root cause, fractured families and communites, on which subject the Archbishop of Canterbury recently sounded a leadership note by praising the “heroes” of intact marriages.

For Conservatives, it is also a good sign that the monolithic liberal legal establishment has reacted so strongly against Conservative appointments to judicial selection committees. Fully cognizant of the ideological side on which its bread has long been buttered, this establishment avoids acknowledging as much by redefining ideology as the new four letter word. But given an inherently politicized selection system, it is unlikely to accept the only alternative - which is to make it transparently politicized, which means electing our judges. Unless and until this happens, how to protect Canadians from the arbitrary actions of a self-styled legal aristocracy claiming to be beyond legislative oversight and with interests of its own to protect is a valid question.

Less successful are Conservative initiatives in other areas of institutional reform. With two Canadian Wheat Board law suits pending, the agriculture minister’s injudicious attempts to dismantle the wheat board by dividing and conquering western farmers are backfiring. This suggests the need for some timely ministerial shuffling. More important, it suggests the government acquire clear ideas for Canada’s agricultural future. For a world famous grain marketing board that once had American farmers interested in accessing its services, that future should include the option to become a towering multinational.

In other words, it’s the vision thing and that’s before considering Québécois nationhood. A strategic thinker first, Stephen Harper will nonetheless realize winning works best with substantive policy underpinnings. Delivering on promises, he has established himself as a skilled leader who gets things done even though prior to the last election he had little time in which to develop a well rounded, comprehensive agenda. This election, there’s no excuse.

And neither can he ignore how those who live by the attack ad die by the attack ad. Here, Preston Manning again points the way forward. Despite sound strategies and deep policies, only late in the game did Manning achieve the avuncular style that could have helped his prospects in Ontario and among women voters.

For Harper, this means being front and centre on good news announcements while letting the troops attack and deflect as necessary on others. Then, with his solid one-on-one televisual style plus, at times, his fetching (if unconscious) impression of The Vinyl Café’s Stuart McLean, Stephen Harper may yet win his needed majority.

MARGRET KOPALA’s column on western perspectives appears every other week.

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