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Conservative leader and Canada's Prime Minister Stephen Harper reacts to a question during a news conference in Calgary, Alberta May 3, 2011. (CHRIS WATTIE/REUTERS)
Conservative leader and Canada's Prime Minister Stephen Harper reacts to a question during a news conference in Calgary, Alberta May 3, 2011. (CHRIS WATTIE/REUTERS)

Jeffrey Simpson

The man who remade Canada's political landscape Add to ...

Stephen Harper is the first non-Quebecker to win a majority since John Diefenbaker in 1958. If he governs wisely, his party should be in office for at least two majority governments, or nearly a decade. In that time, he and his successor (should he choose to leave politics) could remake many aspects of Canada.

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Through a combination of skill and luck, Mr. Harper already enjoys considerable advantages that come with being in a majority situation, with more advantages to come.

Canada's population will soon start aging fast as baby boomers hit 65. Older voters are more likely to be Conservative supporters - and to show up for elections - than younger ones. New seats will be added for British Columbia, Alberta and Ontario, where the Conservatives are strong.

More immigrants will stream into Canada from China and South Asia. Mr. Harper successfully targeted these ethnic communities in the election, with Conservative candidates doing well in many ridings once considered to be Liberal bastions. With so few Liberal MPs left, the Conservatives can run up much larger margins among these groups.

Already way ahead in fundraising, the Conservatives will soon be even further ahead. Mr. Harper will abolish public subsidies for parties, a move that will cripple the Liberals and hurt the NDP. As a majority government, Conservatives will be able to raise even more money, since money loves a winner. None of the other parties will be remotely able to compete with the Conservatives' financial juggernaut. And we've seen what money can buy between elections (think TV attack ads).

The left is divided, and is likely to remain so. The New Democrats scored a historic triumph on election night, and they should revel in their success. But some of that triumph was a fluke. Most of their Quebec victories were the political equivalent of a one-night stand. Outside Quebec, the NDP did better than even, but not superbly well, given the Liberal collapse.

Perhaps the "unite the left" idea will catch on to create the Democratic-Liberal Party, just as Mr. Harper eventually executed a merger of the Canadian Alliance and the Progressive Conservative Party. Perhaps a united "left" would pose a greater challenge to Mr. Harper than he faces now. But the gaps between New Democrats and Liberals are wide, deep and not easily reconciled, at least not any time soon.

As witnessed on Monday night, Liberal-NDP splits handed seats to the Conservatives in many ridings. As long as the Liberals and NDP fight each other, the Conservatives will win lots of seats with 35 per cent of the vote.

Better still, Mr. Harper has achieved one of his long-term objectives: the decimation of the Liberal Party. It was the major obstacle to the Conservatives becoming the country's dominant party, but now the Liberals are a shell of their former selves. The New Democrats, leaving aside their unlikely Quebec support, are nowhere in vast swaths of Canada outside Quebec and, as such, don't pose a serious long-term threat to the Conservatives.

Mr. Harper's core vote is utterly loyal. It can't be shaken by errors or controversies, and won't even wobble through a punishing economic recession. Mr. Harper has the Sun newspaper chain and its little television offshoot at his beck and call to whip up that core, and he has most of the country's newspapers editorially onside.

In the years ahead, Mr. Harper will expand the Conservative majority in the Senate by nominating more bagmen, defeated candidates and other partisans, thereby making that body even more compliant to his wishes. Very little, institutionally speaking, will stand in the way of the full sway of prime ministerial power.

Mr. Harper has remade the Canadian political landscape, creating a new party, battling through minority governments, and now winning a majority that should stretch past the new four-year mandate. What he must worry about is the hubris of victory and the arrogance of power, the devils that are the most insidious enemies of the mighty.

 

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