The problem with governments of long duration is that they are overcome by stubbornness. They don't adapt. They fall victim to the oldest refrain in politics – time for a change.
It's the biggest threat to the Harper government today. It's become predictable in most everything it does, set in its ways, unwilling to change.
It's strange. The Conservatives know they are vulnerable to the change argument – they've fallen below 30 per cent support in many polls – but do little to counter it. Rather than bold new promises to make things better, we get the daily drumbeat of dogma. Rather than change their much-criticized way of operating, they double down on control. Voters looking for evidence of their being wiser than yesterday don't find much.
The economy isn't doing well. But is there any sign of an economic policy shift? They contend that their economic management, its essentials being tax-cutting and resource exploitation, has brought dividends. It has. It has also seen the lowest 10 years of economic growth in this country since the 1930s. And, as we now flirt with another recession, more grim numbers are on the way.
Global conditions are to blame, says the Prime Minister. That is true to a degree. But global conditions were worse throughout the stagflation of the 1970s when Pierre Trudeau was in power. Our average economic growth rate in the Trudeau years was about double of that under Mr. Harper. Maybe there's something systemic now that needs be addressed. But to hear Finance Minister Joe Oliver, no change is in order. The old approach will do.
The Conservatives' policies are locked in on virtually whatever area you care to name. There's the odd new commitment, such as the pledge – by the year 2100! – for a carbon-free economy. And maybe they'll surprise us with something big in the weeks ahead. But don't count on it. The vision is the status quo pushed forward.
Their policy appeal extends not far beyond their ideological base. Only about 40 per cent of Canadians, polls show, would even consider voting for this Conservative Party. Why not make the breadth of the appeal broader? In the past, we've heard parties promising to be "a government for all Canadians." Pollyannaish, of course. Now we're going to the other extreme. A government for one-third of Canadians. That's all they need to win. Why care about the rest?
Where their resistance to change could really sting them is in their method of operating. They are condemned far and wide for being authoritarian. But other than Michael Chong's watered-down reform bill, they offer no respite from the modus operandi of manipulation.
Barring Ches Crosbie, the son of former Tory cabinet minister John Crosbie, from running for a seat in Newfoundland is one of the latest examples. There is no promise to change, to start showing respect for democratic institutions, to stop the use of abusive omnibus bills, to stop the muzzling, to be accountable.
On the latter note, former parliamentary budget officer Kevin Page has a book coming out before the election. Unaccountable: Truth, Lies and Numbers on Parliament Hill is its title.
The governing team's attitude was recently encapsulated in a much-mocked statement by campaign spokesman Kory Teneycke. The former executive of the flopped Sun News Network told interviewer Tom Clark: "We're better than the news. We're truthful."
In keeping with the lack of change on policy and on management style, add the management team. The country is being run more and more by a tight cabal of adolescent-minded enforcers such as Jenni Byrne and Ray Novak in the Prime Minister's Office and cabinet member Pierre Poilievre.
What's that old proverb that pride goeth before the fall? There is a lot of truth there. Hubris can be ruinous. By standing defiantly on the status quo, the Prime Minister is taking a big risk. He's making the time-for-change argument resonate much louder than need be.