This government needs to recover its sense of purpose. The odds are it will. But in politics, the odds can quickly change.
Stephen Harper has little to show for the past six months. While the last half of 2012 was dedicated to pushing the tough measures of last year’s budget through Parliament, the winter and (endlessly delayed) spring of 2013 have been a policy vacuum, with a stay-the-course budget, a trade deal with Europe gone missing, and a slender legislative agenda.
Governments that get lazy get punished, and the Tories have taken their knocks. Dodgy travel expenses among senators. Rebellious backbench MPs. Temporary foreign workers purportedly taking jobs from Canadians. Justin Trudeau! Justin Trudeau!
To get back in control of the agenda, the Tories need to have one. In one respect their hands are tied, because only U.S. President Barack Obama can decide whether to approve the Keystone XL pipeline that would allow further expansion of the Alberta oil sands.
The Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement with the European Union must get signed, and the government will need to land another deal – there are talks under way with India, Thailand and Japan, among others – before the next election, to show its commitment to diversifying the economy through trade.
The budget must be balanced, whatever the cost, by 2015, which will allow the Conservatives to move on their pledge of an income-splitting tax cut for couples with children.
And we may have seen another key element of the agenda unveiled this week, as Treasury Board President Tony Clement confirmed the government’s intention to intervene in contract talks between Crown corporations and their unions, and to impose wage-and-benefit restraint on the core public service.
All of this plus a cabinet shuffle and a throne speech or two may be enough to convince the 40 per cent of Canadians who voted Conservative last time to vote Conservative again. Or it may not.
The Liberals have a young and charismatic new leader. Only those who don’t know him dismiss the chances of NDP Leader Thomas Mulcair.
And then there’s the great intangible: luck. Will unforeseen events break the Conservatives’ way or won’t they? The Conservatives don’t know, and neither does anyone else.
What we do know is that governments defeat themselves by losing control of the agenda because they have none of their own.
This Prime Minister has repeatedly demonstrated the means and the will to win any political fight. Can he do it again? We’ll see.