By the time of the next election, should this government’s term run four years, Stephen Harper will have been prime minister for almost a decade.
He’s still relatively young, he relishes the exercise of power and there is much he still wishes to do in transforming Canada into a conservative society. The likelihood is that he will run again and try to extend his stewardship of the country to 14 years.
That’s what the smart money tells us. It almost makes me wonder why I’m writing this – but a number of other possibilities do need to be considered.
One possibility is that in a couple of years’ time, our suzerain will decide he’s had enough, call a leadership convention and leave with his reputation intact, a major political success story in the conservative pantheon.
Another is that he will prefer to stay, but circumstances will force his hand; the public grows weary of him before the next campaign date, perhaps, and he senses it.
There’s also the scandal scenario, in which Mr. Harper’s standing falls so low, because of accumulated evidence and belief that he is a serial power abuser, that he has little choice but to step down. Chief among the Prime Minister’s worries here is that the Elections Canada robocalls probe turns up wrongdoing. Mr. Harper’s image is already taking a beating over the F-35 jet fighter file.
To date, Mr. Harper has gotten away with his style of governance. When his government was found in contempt of Parliament last year, it barely registered with the public – or, it seems, with him. In the past week, he has been pilloried (with conservative commentators leading the way) for embedding important legislation on the environment and employment insurance in the bowels of the mammoth 420-page budget bill. The Prime Minister turned up his nose at the critics, imposing a seven-day time limit for debate on the hugely complex legislation before it’s sent to committee.
In opposition, Mr. Harper railed against the Liberals for bill-bundling practices nowhere near this magnitude, but this duplicity probably won’t register with the public, either. Still, there’s the old saying: What goes around comes around. One day, it may be that the billy club turns on him.
Another possibility, if ominous clouds gather in the next year or two, is that rather than step down, Mr. Harper calls a snap election to seek a new mandate, arguing that he is being falsely accused. Everyone thinks the next election will be in 2015, but the Prime Minister has already ignored his own fixed-date election law once, in calling the 2008 campaign, and he could well do it again.
Any number of surprises are possible, but the character of the PM suggests that he will hunker down for the long haul. If the robocalls probe goes against him, for example, he is likely to use every tactic at his disposal.
That’s been the modus operandi so far: Mr. Harper has routinely rejected the word of the courts, of independent agencies, of watchdogs such as the Parliamentary Budget Officer. In the campaign to dismantle the Canadian Wheat Board, the Conservatives ignored a democratic plebiscite among farmers that went against them and a Federal Court ruling censuring the move. The toolkit continues to feature smear and intimidation tactics, as seen in Environment Minister Peter Kent’s latest charges against groups opposed to the Northern Gateway pipeline.
Mr. Harper appears oblivious to the toll all of this is taking on his reputation. He is essentially saying that he doesn’t care, that he will not be constrained by the limits of traditional democracy.
In speculating about how long he will be in power, don’t underestimate the degree of this defiance. His instincts are such that he will attempt to trample anything or anyone seeking to remove him.