A year from now, Stephen Harper could be rearranging his cabinet, planning what comes next and savouring yet another election victory, chants of "four more years" still ringing in his ears:
On election night in Calgary, Oct. 19, 2015, he had told the country he would bring more of the same: lower taxes, smaller government, and a "principled" foreign policy. He had pledged to fight terrorism in Canada and abroad, arguing that his party could keep the country "safe" in a "dangerous" world. His "jobs and prosperity" platform, coupled with the exposure of his Liberal opponent Justin Trudeau as an intellectual lightweight, had put Mr. Harper back in 24 Sussex Dr.
Of course, the Prime Minister had decided privately that he wouldn't stay for all four years of his mandate. That would be really pressing fate. But two or three more years? Why not? More time yet to remake Canada in a conservative shape.
Harper-haters out there, calm down. This is only conjecture of the idle kind that can neither be proven nor rejected. No one knows what will happen a year from now.
Listening to pollsters and pundits these days, a year before the vote, they have Mr. Harper dead and buried. A few even have him resigning next year in order to avoid certain, ignominious defeat. Still others think he'll call the election right after the late-winter budget to maximize his chance of winning. Still others predicted an election call after the fall economic statement, and will soon be forced to eat their predictions.
The foolishness of most predictions is directly related to the amount of prattle about the political future. Prattle fills air time, gives talking heads a chance to sound learned and passes the time harmlessly, in large part because so few citizens actually care.
Mr. Harper might well be toast today. But toast tends to pop up at a fixed point in time. So what does he have up his sleeve? Plenty, and Harper-haters ain't seen nothing yet.
Start with money. Campaign spending limits don't begin until the writ is issued. Before that point, parties can spend what they raise or have in the bank, which means that Mr. Harper's Conservatives can outspend the other parties. And the Conservatives will do so with advertising, especially of the negative variety against Mr. Trudeau.
They have government money, too, to spend on television, targeted radio and ethnic newspaper advertising for government programs with a heavy political spin. The Harper Conservatives, supposedly so tight with the "hard-earned taxpayer dollars," are shameless about this.
They have a budgetary surplus. It won't be splashed across the country – rather, it will be targeted directly at swaths of the electorate that vote Conservative or might. Critics will howl at lousy tax policy; the Conservatives won't care a fig. If, as the other parties insist, the election is about the worries of the middle-class, which party has best demonstrated a fixation with the Tim Hortons vote?
Better still, the Conservatives have the Liberals (and the New Democrats for that matter) on side. Neither of the other parties dares propose rolling back any of the personal income tax reductions or the two-point drop in the GST.
They've bought into the Conservatives' essential message that lower taxes are good. So the Conservatives have fundamentally won that crucial debate, because all the NDP will do is propose higher corporate taxes, while the Liberals … well, who knows what they will do?
Nobody targets voters better than the Conservatives; nobody drives wedge issues better than the Conservatives; nobody ties foreign policy better to domestic groups (think Jews, Tamils and others) than the Conservatives; nobody can subtly use domestic terror attacks for political purposes better. With just 40 per cent of the electorate needed for a majority victory, who says the party can't make up the current gap with the Liberals? The pollsters.
Mr. Trudeau has published a book about himself. Alas, he's also filled a small pamphlet with his verbal gaffes. It was telling last week that former prime minister Jean Chrétien had to ride to his rescue with a column (negotiated behind the scenes) to put some modest coherence into Mr. Trudeau's position on Canadian participation in the mission against the Islamic State.
Mr. Trudeau has not yet been through the campaign wars. Mr. Harper has, and he takes no prisoners. Reports of the Prime Minister's political death, a year before the election, are likely premature. At the very least, a modesty of predictive certainty is warranted.