I find myself in the center of a storm of controversy that requires some explaining. Since many untruths and rumours are swirling around, let me tell you about this in my own words.
Like you, I find myself in a political party that currently has little or no possibility of running this country anytime soon. Indeed, I have begun to think I may be stuck with a tax and spend Liberal Government in Ottawa for the rest of my life! I voted for the merger of the Progressive Conservative Party and the Canadian Alliance because I believed that it would end the Liberal stranglehold on Ottawa by giving Canadian voters ³choice².
So why hasnıt that worked what has gone wrong?
Letıs review these events. The newly minted party, The Conservative Party of Canada (CPC), needed a new Leader following the merger so that there would be no baggage carried over from the legacy partners.
Naturally, many people considered the prospect of leading a conservative party with a real chance of forming a Government. Peter MacKay, though interested, knew that the Party was a clean sheet of paper and should have a fresh face. Stephen Harper, either missed that section of the text in Political Science 101 or, saw this as a way to finally get rid of that pesky Progressive Conservative Party that had been standing in the way of his destiny24 Sussex Drive.
There was more than one little problem created by that move, but essentially it became the best example ever witnessed of winning the battle and loosing the war. Once Harper had declared his intentions, all of those who knew that he had spent the previous 2 years consolidating his strangle hold on all aspects the CA understood that the race was over. Tony Clement, (the perpetual candidate) threw his hat in the ring anyway.
Fearing that Harperıs agenda and positions were un-salable to the electorate, many conservatives, myself included, helped to recruit Belinda Stronach to take Harper on. We knew from the git-go with the head start that Harper had, it was impossible to get our candidate elected. But that wasnıt the real goal. There had to be a place for those people in the party who did not feel at home with the CA leadership. This is simply good politics. Keeping everybody inside the tent was the most important thing at that time.
Following his victory, Harper as the new Leader made the first of many colossal political missteps in making no attempt whatever to reach out to those who had toiled in the trenches for Belinda Stronach. Despite the fact that many of the best organizers in the party were on her lists, none of these folks were given a nod or the time of day, let alone invited to help plan a conservative victory in the looming election. The Harper bunker was full! By not embracing these organizers the new party not only lost those people but effectively their entire networks.
But indeed, these folks were not really required on the Harper journey. Harper and his pals knew they had ³right² on their side and were light years ahead of Mr. And Mrs. Average Canadian. Surely it was only a matter of time before Mr. And Mrs. AC would see the light, correct? It was just an issue of communication.
Harper entered the General Election period with interest in the new party running high and the polls promising, but the new party had no real platform or policy positions and in the absence of same, the Liberals were only to too happy to provide their spin on what the CPC was all about. More particularly, they were happy to inform the Canadian electorate that Harper was ³scary² and was sure to mess with some of their strongly held beliefs. This combined with several candidates falling way off message and nothing on the ground in Quebec was enough to deny the CPC a mandate.
And what about after the vote results of June 25th, 2004 did Harper go out and about to show the electorate the error of their ways? Not a chance. In fact, he was not seen for the entire summer. New MPs, defeated candidates, Campaign Managers, Riding Presidents and many others waited in vain for the calls from their Leader.
And what about when the new Government took its seats in the House of Commons, was Harperıs door open for input from either his MPs or the grass roots? Did he look for feedback from anyone who disagreed? Apparently not! Iıve even heard he chewed out his caucus at a meeting in BC and told them that they were not an advisory board. He was the one who would set party policy and he did not need to discuss it with them. This cemented the dictatorship style of management and our caucus members have been cowering ever since.
At the CPC Founding and Policy Convention in Montreal in March of this year, Harper was so concerned about what would come to the floor that his office organized and coordinated a squad of 200 delegates who moved from session room to session room to skew the results in an ³acceptable direction² including causing the showdown with Peter MacKay over fundamental terms of our merger. This created even more mistrust amongst the former PC party members.
Buoyed, however, by the apparent approval rating of 84% (highly suspicious if you ask me, but that is another whole story that would make the election in the Ukraine look like childıs play), Harper left Montreal with his boxing gloves at the ready and a perceived mandate to bring down the minority Liberal Government. Despite all the evidence that the electorate was not craving an early election, Harper was determined. Endless energy went into controlling the situation, having all hands on deck, screaming at the Government benches, accusing the Liberals of ³wanting power at all cost² and alas, there were too many mouths but too few ears involved.
So, Harper made his move. The Liberal Budget that was, in his words 5 minutes after it was tabled, ³almost a conservative budget² became the target vehicle in one of the biggest political flip-flops ever. One by one the MPs rose in the House to be counted and when the Speaker broke the tie, Harper had lost his gamble. You can blame Belinda Stronach or the independents that voted with the government but what about the guy who couldnıt hold it together? How much effort would it have really taken to give a little bit of recognition to his chief opponent in the leadership race? Keeping your enemies close is another fundamental rule of politics that should never be broken and he can blame nobody but himself for that one blowing up in his face. How long did he think that someone who was CEO of one of Canadaıs most successful companies would sit there and be insulted both behind her back and to her face, and play no effective role in the party?
And what about that Grewal story with the illegal tapings? Harper has admitted that he and Grewal discussed the tapings. So now the party Leader is known to condone stupidity on top of everything else.
Meanwhile, with his numbers falling, falling, falling, Harper jumps into a new strategy. Instead of hiding out in the bunker in the summer of 2005, why not get out on the BBQ Circuit. Quite the strategy! Letıs see, first, letıs tell the world that we know our public image is bad; second, letıs announce to the world how we intend to fix it and how; third, letıs contrive a way to roar around all summer (while the world is on holiday) and flip burgers for the conservative voters we already have. Did I get that right? Oh yeah. That should work. Mr. And Mrs. Average Canadian will LOVE the man by the end of the summer. I know I personally thought the ³Harper does the Calgary Stampede² look was his best ³casual² ever! Made him much more approachable.
So where did this all get us? Are we any closer to seeing Conservative Government in my lifetime?
According to the recent polls we are further from this goal, despite the admitted Liberal Sponsorship corruption in Quebec playing in the background of all the horseplay in the House of Commons. And whom do the pollsters blame for these circumstances? More than one has said the blame must be put at Harperıs feet. See the latest comments in the Leger Poll. The Liberals are happy that Stephen Harper is our leader. The only thing that they fear is that we will change the game on them.
The new Conservative Party of Canada had no chance of convincing the Canadian electorate that it was any different than the Canadian Alliance once it picked Stephen Harper as its first leader.
Politics is a tricky game and political leadership is even trickier. No amount of burger flipping can fix the image problems of this leader. He can continue to fire staff in the OLO, get new communications people, change his wardrobe, try more cornball commercials but nobody can hear our conservative message if they canıt stop looking at the pitch man in disgust.
The time has come for Stephen Harper to stop dreaming that his destiny is 24 Sussex Drive. That day will only come if one of its residents invites him over because they are looking for a stick-in-the-mud dinner guest.
Harper did a good thing (as Martha would say) in engineering the merger and in doing so, has made a valuable contribution to the conservative cause in Canada. However, the Canadian electorate is finished with him. they have made up their minds and have spoken in poll after poll. For him to stay now merely adds insult to the injuries and further damages the conservative franchise in this country.
If Harper does not recognize this and move on, the electorate will be finished with us too and the CPC will not survive. Think about this. Many of you are sitting in the weeds whispering ³Oh well. Heıll be gone after he loses the next election anyway, so letıs not bother ourselves and just wait him out². What does that do for this struggling young party? How does that help us convince Mr. And Mrs. Average Canadian that we hear their concerns and know we have the wrong message and the wrong Leader? How can we swing the ³natural conservatives² (to the extent they still exist) back to trusting us? Regaining TRUST is the hardest thing in politics.
So..why do I want Harper gone sooner rather than later?? Because, what matters to me, and what should matter to all of us is the recovery and survival of the Conservative Party of Canada beyond Harper. According to Mr. And Mrs. Average Canadian, his 15 minutes are up and they donıt plan to invite him over for BBQ, so lets get on with it!