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.