Tuesday, June 14, 2005

Wild ambitions in our sights

This is probably not helpful. (Except for, y'know, the other side.) OTTAWA -- Political knives are out for Stephen Harper as his federal Conservatives sink deeper in the polls, and the sharpest weapons are being brandished by members of his own party. "There is a lot of discontent with the turn of things. People are saying it's time to replace the leader," said one key Conservative organizer in Toronto who, like many others, asked not to be named because it could hurt his status in the party. Just a few months ago, Mr. Harper won the support of 84 per cent of party members at a policy convention. Although a recent poll puts the Conservatives eight percentage points behind the Liberals and suggests that six in 10 Canadians have a negative view of Mr. Harper, he can be unseated only if he decides to step aside. "Stephen Harper surely is going to get another chance to lead the party into an election," said Sid Noel, a political science professorat the University of Western Ontario. "It would be extraordinary for the party to dispense with the leader when he came very close in the last election." But, behind the scenes, party members from coast to coast are pointing fingers and asking why opinion surveys have the Tories battling for third place nationally when the Gomery inquiry into the sponsorship scandal should still be tarring the Liberals with the stigma of corruption. Yes, it's disappointing, and a considerable part of the blame for bad polling numbers at the moment is directly attributable to ham-handedly screwing up with the Grewal tapes. Competence is regarded more highly by Canadians than honesty, it seems, and understandably, given just how badly that was fumbled. I don't mind seeing the Tories playing the great game, but I'd at least like to see them doing it with some marginal skill. That said, what good could come out of dumping Harper now or shortly after another election loss? There's no miraculous potential leader-in-waiting that'll stop the Hidden Agenda accusations, or the random claims of institutional racism, sexism or homophobia. The article mentions rumours surrounding Jim Flaherty secretly vying for the leadership, among others. People, if you think Harper is unfairly vilified as a heartless, Canada-destroying scary neocon monster, the optics on Flaherty - after a few well-placed hysterical editorials in the Globe & Mail - will astound you. (Not that he wouldn't be a good federal leader; I'd support him, as I did when he ran for the Ontario PC leadership, because he seems the most authentic political heir of Mike Harris. But that's not a net positive, in terms of short-circuiting the Liberal smear machine.) It's not Harper that's broken, but our polity itself. Frantically calling for the opposition leader's head on a pike for his inability to overcome hostile media spin and shameless Liberal dirty tricks will only serve to reinforce the perception that the party is unstable and extremist, prone to eating our own and preoccupied with petty infighting. It's not fair, but that's what we've got to fight, and that spin isn't going to disappear because someone else is sitting in the big chair. Stephen Harper is likely the best candidate for PM Conservatives could possibly offer up right now, given the prejudices of our system; could we at least put away the knives until and unless that long-sought magical leadership candidate turns up?

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