Little more than two years into his majority mandate, Stephen Harper finds himself at a political and personal crossroad. In 2006, Harper ran a successful campaign against Paul Martin, then on the heels of the Liberal sponsorship scandal. His campaign was based on a promise of accountability in politics – a promise that has not been kept, as Senate expenses and electoral fraud scandals have plagued the notoriously tight-lipped administration.
In 2008 and 2011 respectively, Harper won against Liberal leaders Stephane Dion and Michael Ignatieff thanks to the economic record of his administration, and his effective ad hominem campaign rhetoric. The Canadian economy has however run stagnant over the years; the surpluses Harper inherited from the Chretien/Martin administrations have since become record-setting deficits, and the Canadian housing market is beginning to bear frightening resemblance to the sub-prime real estate bubble in the United States. Also, the personal attack advertisements which were once so successful in altering the public perception of rival leaders have proven this time around to be a spectacular failure on Liberal leader Justin Trudeau: polls indicate that the Conservative advertisements made Canadians more likely to vote Liberal than Conservative.
These facts indicate that none of Harper’s past electoral platforms would be a plausible vehicle for a fourth consecutive Conservative victory. Current polls show that if an election were to be held today, less than 30% of eligible voters would vote for Stephen Harper. As if these tidings were not grim enough, Harper’s caucus has recently shown signs of division and rebellion – in other words, great vulnerability – over topics such as abortion.
While there is plenty of time between now and the 2015 election, history dictates that Stephen Harper would be advised to see the writing on the wall and resign well before the election date. Harper has achieved enviable political success in shaping the modern brand of Canadian Conservatism, and is in the upper echelon in terms of his longevity of rule as Prime Minister. If he were to resign soon, he would be among the few Canadian politicians to honour the political axiom of ‘quitting while you are ahead’, which few have the opportunity or judgement to ever attain.
In terms of political goals, Harper has followed through with a large amount of his Conservative agenda: the Canadian military has been bolstered and re-branded, and criminal justice has been reformed to encourage further sentencing as opposed to rehabilitation. He has crippled the CBC, his long perceived rival, weakened and trimmed the bureaucracy he deemed to be excessive, and distanced himself from the Canadian environmental and peacekeeping accords internationally. These goals are among the many which Stephen Harper and his administration have implemented towards changing the Canadian political and social landscape; few governments could hope to achieve such a drastic paradigm shift.
If Harper persists as leader, he risks placing all of these alleged achievements in jeopardy. By stepping down sooner rather than later, he can give his successor ample time to establish him or herself as the nation’s leader among the Canadian people, while giving a much needed breath of fresh air to the Conservative’s reputation. History dictates that hasty ‘coronations’ within a Canadian political party spell disaster; John Turner, Kim Campbell, and Michael Ignatieff are among recent examples of hurriedly crowned leaders who led their respective parties to enormous electoral downfalls.
Stephen Harper is only 54 years old; an enviable age to exit the highest political office in the nation and pursue other career avenues. His brand is flawed, his policies and conduct are increasingly unpopular, and his caucus has many rising Conservative stars waiting in the wings, such as Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird, or Immigration Minister Jason Kenney. In exiting political office promptly, Harper can cement his reputation as a Conservative success story among his zealots, and pave a solid road for his successor to travel towards the ever-looming 2015 election.
– Eli Vincent Zivot
Photo: by Kashmera, Flickr