The long knives are already out for Stephen Harper as he struggles to contain the rapidly metastasizing Duffy scandal and faces down an increasingly intransigent NDP lead in the polls. Although anonymous Conservative Party insiders are insisting that the Prime Minister would try to hang on as leader of a minority government and quite possibly run for reelection, there’s little doubt that Harper would be interested in once again being Leader of the Opposition in the event of a Conservative loss this fall.
And already, potential rivals for the Conservative leadership are positioning themselves for a run.
The Walrus pointed out in long form last fall what many political observers have long known to be true – Jason Kenney wants Stephen Harper’s job. For those unfamiliar with Kenney, he’s your pretty standard-issue Conservative boogeyman – a terrifyingly uncompassionate human being, uniquely ill-suited to his five-year term as Minister of Immigration:
In his five-year stint at Immigration, the longest of any minister’s in history, he managed to pull off a precarious balancing act: boosting the number of newcomers, among them thousands of cut-rate temporary foreign workers, needed to fill the yawning corporate maw, while brandishing the lexicon of a law-and-order zealot who cast asylum seekers as guilty until proven innocent. Staging showy crackdowns on alleged human smugglers, marriage fraudsters, and whole classes of refugees he branded as “bogus,” he used such inflammatory language that it has changed the terms of the national debate. “What Kenney has done is create this whole new vernacular,” says Philip Berger, co-founder of a national physicians’ campaign against Kenney’s cuts to refugee health care. “It’s creating a terrain of hostile attitudes to refugees.”
Currently the Minister of Defence, Kenney’s latest schtick is serving as a cynical cheerleader for our extremely limited
war non-combat operation in Iraq and Syria. As I wrote in “The ISIS racket“:
I don’t think the political elite have much interest in actually defeating or degrading ISIS. They do, however, have an interest in looking tough – there’s an election this fall, after all! – and getting tough on terrorists never polls poorly. The fact is that this is a very complex conflict, full of regional and sectarian rivalries which confuse even people who have lived there their whole lives. If the HarperCons think a couple CF-18s and some military advisers to the Kurdish peshmerga are gonna make even a trivial difference in this conflict, they’re dumber than they look…
More likely, though, is that they’re cynically manipulating political instability in Iraq and Syria for political points at home in what’s shaping up to be a tough election. The war on ISIS is pretty much win-win – if it goes well, Harper & Co. (and especially Kenney, who’s got his eye on Harper’s job if and when Steve calls it quits) get to brag about Canada’s contributions to the glorious non-combat operation, but if ISIS takes more territory, they can hammer on the theme that now more than ever it’s important to oppose this terrorist menace. And all the while they can steadfastly ignore and evade questions about the effectiveness and realism of their chosen strategy, and bash any opposition leader who questions them as unpatriotic and soft on terrorism.
But as depressing as the notion of a Kenney-led Conservative Party may be, it pales in comparison to this:
Toronto’s infamous former mayor, who admitted to smoking crack cocaine last year, spoke to Bloomberg Thursday about his brother Doug’s ambition to move from Toronto city politics to the majors.
“Doug said if it’s a minority government, Harper’s going to step down. He wants to run for leadership,” Ford told Bloomberg.
“If it’s one member, one vote, he said, you know, he’s as popular as anyone else across Canada.”
On Friday, Doug Ford told Bloomberg that while he supports Harper, he wouldn’t rule out running to replace him.
“I don’t think I’ll have to because hopefully he’ll be prime minister for the next 20 years,” Doug told Bloomberg. “I never say never in politics. But as of right now I am supporting the prime minister 100 per cent. I’m going to be out there — and have been out there — door-knocking and helping out every which way I can.”
And before you say it’s impossible, don’t forget that Ford finished a close second in the Toronto mayoral election, despite only starting his campaign weeks before election day. He was the odds-on favourite to win the Ontario PC leadership contest but decided not to run – perhaps because he was keeping his eyes on a larger prize.
The moral of this story is, as I’ve said before, that stopping Harper is no solution to the problems facing us:
Stephen Harper is hardly unique. He’s a particularly intelligent and cold-blooded specimen, to be sure, but he’s only the latest in a long line of Conservative boogeymen. He’s this decade’s answer to Mike Harris, or Ralph Klein, or Brian Mulroney – politicians who all, not coincidentally, were extremely well-connected to this nation’s financial and business apparatus.
The socially regressive and environmentally destructive policies these politicians favour are not accidents – they are the desired policies of very wealthy and powerful people. Harper, like Harris and Klein and Mulroney before him, is carrying out the will of capital…
As the bogeyman-du-jour changes, memories fade, and the conviction that this time is different takes hold again. Yes, the pro-capital monsters that conservative parties elevate to their leaderships are terrible – but when all of our efforts are expended on electing the least-bad alternative, then capital still wins. It wins by keeping the terms of debate narrow, it wins by putting forth “moderate” “compromise” positions which are “better than nothing” and which maintain or increase their profits, it wins by co-opting parties and governments, it wins by being belligerently disruptive to any government which challenges it (“After the new finance minister’s very first meeting with the banking community , a bank vice-president told him, in the presence of an aide: “Nice speech, Mr. Minister, but we’re going to kill you.” And they did.”), it wins by keeping everybody focussed on the problem of selecting the lesser of all evils while it goes about its wretched unceasing Business.
I mean, can you imagine if we all dutifully vote strategically and cobble together a coalition of half-assed centrist parties pledging variously to continue the tar-sands-pipeline-&-tanker-driven energy program that the Conservative Party has put in place, tinker around on the margins of surveillance law, increase funding for the aggressive policing of communities, and maintain taxes on the wealthy and on corporations at roughly the same levels as we have currently, all so that we can Stop Harper and get the bastard out of power – and then, six months later, we have Doug fucking Ford as the Leader of the Opposition? And then in a few years the political “centre” in the country gets dragged to the right again in yet another strategic voting ABD campaign?
This is a prime example of why we need to demand better from parties and politicians – why settling and voting for compromise candidates is a disastrous path to go down in the long run. There is absolutely no shortage of right-wing psychopaths willing to lead the Conservative Party, and as long as we’re trapped in this vicious cycle of voting for a compromise candidate to stop the Worst of All Evils, we’re never going to be able to pursue actual progressive goals through electoral politics. We’ll forever be caught in a holding action, desperately trying to stave off the worst-case scenario.
So there’s something to think about, next time somebody tells you that we need to stop Harper at all costs – remember who’s on deck for the CPC, and set your sights a little higher. Let’s try for nothing less than the discrediting of the mainstream conservative movement in this country.