Holy. Farting. Jesus. How the mighty have tumbled. Remember a few months ago when the Conservatives were looking weak in the popular vote but still had a lock on the seat count in the House of Commons? Voters may have tired of all the various scandals of a government past its best-before date, and they may have grown fed up with the Conservative’s asshole approach to governing, but a minority win for Harper looked inevitable.
Well, that’s all changed.
Harper’s campaign has leapt from misstep to misstep and it’s starting to show in the polls. Granted, they ticked up in the last few days despite a series of disastrous gaffes related to the Syrian refugee crisis, but the best the Conservatives have been able to do since August 1 is shift back and forth between second and third place — on popular vote and seat count.
Sure, that makes it a close race. And there’s still five full weeks left before the election (the usual length of a campaign). That leaves plenty of room for a miracle from the Cranky Conservative Fairy. But no matter how you try to gussy the numbers up, this is an ugly place for an incumbent to be. Two thirds of the country hate the Prime Minister with the combined fire of a thousand red and orange suns. And even Harper’s fabled, rock-solid Conservative Base is starting to drift elsewhere. Turns out, there are more than a few life-long Con voters who’d rather take their chances on Maybe-Not-Quite-Ready Justin or on Mulcair The Angry Tennis Ball than stay linked to a soulless Dalek who’s intent on exterminating any goodwill the electorate ever had for conservatism.
Whatever happened to the Stephen Harper whose superpower was an ability to get elected no matter how much everybody kinda didn’t like him? Why is he campaigning like such a dumbass?
I have three theories on the subject. They’re after the jump…
1. THE SLIM PLURALITY GAMBIT
I still wake up to the occasional media opinionator arguing that Harper is a cunning political fox who’ll surprise us all and once more elude an electorate on the hunt for change. This notion hinges on the idea that Harper knows that with the Liberals and NDP splitting the left-of-centre vote, he can squeak out at the very least a one-seat plurality in the House just by counting on the efficient, single-minded voters in his Base.
“Look at Harper talking to Mansbridge about how the party who gets the most seats gets to form government. He’s heading off any Coalition-of-the-Left talk. He’s thinking moves ahead of us dumb rubes. See! There is method to this great man’s madness!” goes the argument.
Well. Maybe. But honestly, I can’t say I’m impressed even if it turns out this is the sum of Harper’s electoral strategy.
I mean, this is hardly a new talking point from the PM, after all.
Remember 2008 when Harper prorogued parliament so as to kibosh a coalition led by Stephane Dion and Jack Layton? At the time, he made a coalition of the second and third place parties sound like an undemocratic coup in some unstable proto-state. I half expected him to call on all party loyalists to take up their long guns if the Liberals and NDP tried to take power.
At the time, he was adamant, you get just one more seat than everybody else, you form government. Period.
And the public bought it. During the post-proroguation hiatus from parliament, voters soured on the idea of a Liberal-NDP coalition, Bob Rae and Michael Ignatieff ousted Dion, and Harper’s emboldened minority government stormed along for two more years.
But things have changed since then. Voters seem to have realized coalitions are perfectly legal in our parliamentary system. And they’re starting to like the idea. Based on polling numbers, if the NDP and Liberals together have a clear majority in the House, most voters feel that a coalition is preferable to four more years of Harper.
They hate him that much.
Meanwhile, as of right now, it really doesn’t look like Harper can put together that one-seat plurality.
So far, all the polls show the NDP dominating in Quebec; the Liberals sweeping the Atlantic provinces while making major gains in Ontario; the Conservatives will lose seats on the prairies and in the north; and BC is still a toss up. Nothing in there translates into a slim minority for Harper. Instead, it’s shaping up to be, at best, a limp into second place or — worse — a third-place humiliation.
That means all this talk about “whoever gets the most seats gets to govern” may just be making things easier on Mulcair or Trudeau.
And that makes such rhetoric sound less like canny political maneuvering and more like a tired rehash of old talking points that made more sense four years ago but sound awfully out-of-date in the context of 2015.
And that kind of sums of Harper’s entire campaign so far: tired, stale, obtuse and maybe a little lazy.
If Harper was going to shake things up a bit and offer a stratagem that might work in his favour this time around, he’d be reminding everyone about how our parliamentary system actually works: whoever led the previous government gets first crack at forming the new parliament. Even if the incumbent only wins the second most or third most seats, they can continue to govern if they can hold the confidence of the House.
Harper could bank on the fact that the Liberals and NDP are pretty fractured right now. Both are hoping to become the default party of the left. And neither can be looking at the prospect of a coalition with much relish as whoever leads it will likely snatch that mantle.
Plus, if the Conservatives tried to hold on to power, that would put both the NDP and Liberals in a nasty bind. Neither would want to incur the wrath of voters by voting non-confidence in the Conservatives and thereby forcing another costly election.
But neither would they want to be the ones to prop up a leader as unpopular as Harper. That would consign their party, whether Liberal or NDP, to the dustbin in the next election.
So, if Harper were a truly canny — nay, diabolical — strategist, laying the ground work to govern from second place would be his move right now. It would be a gamble. But it’d be smart.
As it stands, with two thirds of the electorate desperate to see him gone, he’s only making matters worse for himself. By saying, “whoever gets the most seats, wins,” he’s telling every non-Conservative voter to get behind whoever is the Harper-alternative leading in the polls.
And that’s exactly how Harper could set himself up for, instead of a slim minority, a nasty Kim-Campbell style defeat.
2. THE LAST MINUTE SURPRISE
This is the thing that keeps me up at night. And it’s SFU communications prof David Gutstein who put me on to it.
I interviewed Gutstein for a piece I wrote last month, and he ended our conversation by saying, “Every election, Harper comes up with some new dirty, corrupt trick. I’m waiting to see what it is this time.”
And I was like, “Shit, he’s right.”
Everybody remembers the 2006 election when Paul Martin’s Liberals fell due to big news allegations of party corruption during the Gormery Inquiry. But less well remembered is a report from 2008 concluding that the outcome of that election was likely swayed by the actions of the RCMP.
See, in the middle of that campaign, RCMP commissioner Giuliano Zaccardelli decided to release a report to the NDP naming Ralph Goodale, then-finance minister for the Liberals (and who, at the time, looked like the last honest guy in politics), in a criminal investigation into impropriety around an income trust announcement.
Goodale was later exonerated of any wrongdoing. But according to the chief of the RCMP’s public complaints commission, Zaccardelli’s decision to reveal the investigation during an election was enough to influence the outcome.
And what was that outcome? Harper’s first government.
Now, it’d be irresponsible of me to suggest that Zaccardelli did what he did to help the Conservatives into power. But, holy crap, that announcement was awfully convenient for Stephen Harper.
And the Conservatives and the RCMP have been best buds ever since.
I mean, how did Zaccardelli end up with a sweet gig at Interpol despite being the guy who fingered Maher Arar (and got fired for it)? And despite being linked to improprieties around the RCMP pension?
I’m not saying Zaccardelli was being rewarded for getting Harper into power. I’M NOT SAYING THAT. But holy crap, that announcement was convenient.
And then of course there’s this piece by Michael Harris at iPolitics which asks, “Have the Mounties become Harper’s private police force?”
He points to some suspicious stuff in the RCMP’s recent history. Like why is it that Nigel Wright, Harper’s former chief of staff, has never been arrested for bribery? Duffy is in court defending himself against a charge of taking a bribe. But Wright is a free man despite being the guy who admits to bribing Duffy.
And then of course there’s the whole weird case of the long gun registry. The RCMP illegally deleted it on orders from Harper’s government. And when it looked like they might get into trouble for this infraction, Harper passed a law that retroactively made what the RCMP did legal.
That’s not just a case of “you scratch my back, I’ll scratch yours.” That’s, “you scratch my back, I’ll go back in time to keep you from even getting itchy.”
And there’s more. Harris’ piece is worth a read.
So what I’m saying is… and, yeah, I fully admit it makes me sound like a total loon… but shit, if the RCMP is in Harper’s back pocket, we could be facing any kind of crazy October Surprise that could embarrass whatever party’s in the lead and knock them into irrelevance.
I know! Like I said, I look like a loon!
But seriously, Harper is campaigning recklessly. He has total disregard for what people think of him. Even news sites that support him are saying he’s doing himself more harm than good.
And yet Harper carries on, calm and assured.
He’s campaigning like a guy who knows he can’t lose. He’s campaigning like a guy who knows something is coming that’ll guarantee a win.
Or maybe I’m completely paranoid.
Steve says I’m completely paranoid.
I’m probably completely paranoid. But still… just wait…
3. THE “SCARECROW DOESN’T HAVE A BRAIN” THEORY
Okay, my October Surprise theory is probably nonsense. In truth, I think it’s far more likely that this whole clusterfuck of a Conservative campaign comes down to two words:
Dimitri was the guy who used to work in the PMO as Harper’s communications director.
He was basically Harper’s Harvey Keitel.
If something went wrong, like some dopey MP shot a guy’s head off in the back of a car, Soudas would drive up in an Acura NSX and: Sort. Everything. Out. (Motherfucker.)
But Soudas and Harper are now on the outs.
Remember Eve Adams? Former star Conservative MP? Former star Liberal non-candidate?
She and Soudas were an item and worked together on her ill-fated nomination run to be the Conservative candidate in the new riding of Oakville North—Burlington. She got turfed from the whole party for some kind of electoral “misconduct.” Was Soudas involved? Don’t know. Probably? What was the nature of the “misconduct”? I can’t really tell. There was something about making calls outside her riding — which is totally legal though maybe frowned upon. And there’s something about her refusing to leave a meeting being held for her rival in the nomination fight.
Everything I’ve read sounds pretty minor when compared to the misdeeds of dudes like Peter Penashue, Julian Fantino, Ray Novak or Dean Del Mastro — all guys who’re remain happy members of Harper’s Conservative family.
But Adams, for whatever it was she did, was told to hit the bricks.
And Dimitri Soudas went with her.
I’ve read internet speculation that that’s why the Liberals invited Adams into their party. As a potential MP, Adams was a liability. But Soudas was the real prize and worth the risk of having Adams on their playbill.
Soudas knows all the dirt on Harper and the Conservative Party. He knows how they run a campaign. He knows every nasty secret they’ve covered up while in government.
Soudas knows shit we’ll never hear about even after everybody involved is dead and in the ground.
He knows what’s inside Harper’s glowing suitcase.
And now he’s either working for the Liberals or a free agent.
Either way, he’s not working for Harper. And that means Harper doesn’t have a Harvey Keitel to clean up his messes any more.
And boy howdy does he have some messes in need of a quality cleaner.
Harper and company have done some pretty stupid, petty, mean-spirited things over the years. But losing Soudas over the Eve Adams affair might be the absolutely dumbest thing of all.
* * * * *
Okay. Those are my three competing theories about why Harper is running his campaign like a dope and losing the election as a result.
They’re probably all wrong. And Harper will maybe win the election.
It’s too soon to say. But I will continue to speculate because that is what makes elections awesome.
P.S. A note about that crap election 2015 circle graphic accompanying this blog post. Steve is going to hate it. That is why I made it. To get under his skin. And because it will inspire him to make something good to replace it. In the meantime, you should know that beaver graphic comes from a rejected 1960s design for Canada’s flag. Holy shit, I love that beaver.