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Lawrence Martin
Lawrence Martin

Lawrence Martin

The year Harper proved his critics wrong (including me) Add to ...

It being near year's end, a time we get in prediction mode, I decided - there being a motive for this - to check out some of the worst predictions ever made.

How about the concert manager who told an aspiring Elvis Presley in 1954: "You ought to go back to driving a truck."

Then there was Kaiser Wilhelm's message to German troops in August of 1914: "You will be home before the leaves have fallen from the trees."

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Not to be overlooked were the powers of augury exhibited by The New York Times. Television had no future, the newspaper prognosticated in 1939, because people had to glue their eyes to a screen and didn't have time for it.

A personal favourite is from a parent/teacher night back in 1895. A pedagogue took Albert Einstein's father aside and delivered the straight goods. "It doesn't matter what he does," he reportedly said of young Albert. "He'll never amount to anything."

And who can forget Decca Recording Co.'s marketing analysis in rejecting a pop band called the Beatles in 1962? "We don't like their sound. And guitar music is on the way out."

An impressive list of prophecies, but it would be perhaps even better were it to include - we need Canadian content here - one of my own. A year ago, I forecast that, in 2009, we would probably see the end of Stephen Harper. Yep, he would be having such a dreadful time with the brutal recession, a new opposition leader and a liberal tidal wave from the south that he would likely step aside, pass the torch.

I wasn't auditioning for a job at Decca - it only sounds that way. Just how loony-tune that forecast was became apparent when Mr. Harper took the stage in the fall, winning cheers for his own Fab Four recital. As 2009 closes, the ever-warming world is his ever-warming oyster. He is unchallenged. He has complete control over his party and the government. He towers, like Zeus, over the opposition. His attack machine mows down all adversaries.

Although not in majority government land, you can sense his grip on the country gradually tightening. Unlike Liberal reigns, there is not one region that spurns him. He has smartly mixed his appeal, tossing meat to the middle with his glut of Keynesian spending and butter to the base with his glorification of the military, his law-and-order leanings, his reluctance to go green.

Regrettably, Mr. Harper's success is based much more on politics - his brutally partisan wielding of executive power - than on inspired policy. The key is his Vlad the Impaler toughness. He's got more venom than your average cobra.

Some leaders lose authority as they move along. Others acquire it. This PM's gravitational pull increases with time, as does his resilience. In the past fortnight, he has been hit with cover-up allegations on the Afghan detainee file, chastised for taking the slow boat to China, admonished for letting MPs send out flyers suggesting opponents are anti-Semitic and upbraided by leaders at a Commonwealth conference for foot-dragging on climate change. Other leaders would be reeling from all this and dropping in the standings. This one, while setting his counterattack troops to work, remains propped.

He is fortunate to face weak opposition leaders who don't respond in kind to his personal attack ads. He is fortunate that he governs at a time when the Canadian news media is no longer liberal-dominated. On global warming, for example, he need not worry too much about his go-slow approach. The major chains (CanWest and Sun) are practically climate-change skeptics. They're with him.

In 2009, he has put all the year's suppositions to rest. The recession didn't bury him; it buoyed him. Michael Ignatieff didn't bury him, he buoyed him. The Barack Obama tide never hit.

If Mr. Harper's doing this well in tough times, how will it be in good? Remarkably, he has turned his most serious character flaw, his spiteful side, into his greatest governing strength. There are those, myself included, who think you can't turn that trick forever, that the negatives - the government's denials in the Afghan detainee affair took a bad hit yesterday - inevitably come back to haunt.

But if that sounds like a prediction, stop the music. It's not. The lesson of the past year, when it comes to this Prime Minister, is to steer well clear of those.

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