When victory is not a mandate

Hats off to Stephen Harper. In a story that could be called Triumph of the Reluctant Policy Wonk, Harper finessed the Conservative Party into a…

Hats off to Stephen Harper.

In a story that could be called Triumph of the Reluctant Policy Wonk, Harper finessed the Conservative Party into a position of power.

Finessed by image consultants, Harper was the single voice of the campaign — the Conservative Party’s lunatic fringe was muzzled and locked away in a back room.

Adopting that one-window approach to campaigning, Harper projected an image that was relaxed, friendly and confident.

He put forward a few new ideas and, generally, kept his cool.

It was hard to pin the guy as a threat. Listen carefully, and his voice mimicked the soothing, self-deprecating tones of popular CBC Radio host Stuart McLean.

It was a fine performance from a guy not known for them, and he won.

That said, it is difficult to buy into Harper’s statement that Canadians voted for change.

Sure they voted — turnout was up about four per cent nationally — and Conservatives won the day, by a sliver.

But 8.4 million people voted against the Conservative agenda. Only 5.4 million voted for it.

Change happened, but Canadians didn’t give it an overwhelming endorsement.

Harper should consider this while governing, but he’s giving no indication that he will.

The Harper honeymoon is underway, and expectations are high.

And this poses a significant problem for the Conservative government.

Now that he’s in power, Harper has to build support in Ontario and Quebec. The future of the Conservative Party lies in East.

But Harper can’t afford to alienate his power base in Alberta. So he must pander to both regions, and that won’t be easy, especially given the West’s contempt for Ontario and Quebec.

That western power base is a liability unto itself.

Throughout the campaign, Harper could keep the goofballs under control. Now that the election is over, that task becomes impossible.

Some of them will be in cabinet, and regularly talking to the media.

Alberta politicians are independent thinkers, often hold extreme views and are not very media savvy, having cut their teeth in a province known for weak-kneed journalism.

On a national stage, those politicians will find it difficult to handle reporters willing to challenge them.

That, coupled with their inexperience is guaranteed to lead to public relation nightmares that will sap the government focus.

And choosing suitable cabinet ministers from Quebec could prove tough. The Conservatives orchestrated a breakthrough in the province, but you have to wonder whom it recruited to run.

Entering the election, the party had almost no support there. Nobody expected it to win a seat. Late in the election, it was expected to win three seats. It won 10.

The new Quebec team might be excellent, but that’s a long shot. It’s more probable that the Conservative Party’s press gangs plucked whomever they could find to run.

Given the importance of the province, the Quebec team will be a prominent part of the new government. So it will be interesting to see if they are up to the job — heck, it will be interesting to see who they are, period.

As previously mentioned, there are high hopes for the new government.

But it has such a tenuous hold on power that it will be difficult to float a very ambitious agenda.

Cleaning up government with accountability legislation should be fairly easy — Harper won’t get much of a fight from Liberals.

It will be difficult for any party to oppose lowering the GST.

And, given the gang violence in Toronto, it should be easy for Harper to get tougher on crime, though Canadians should pay close attention to how this is accomplished.

The Bloc might support his child-care rebate — Quebec already has good child-care infrastructure, so a federal grant is just federal money in parents’ pockets.

However the rest of the country needs more child-care spaces, and Harper’s rebate won’t build them. This is a serious problem.

And his plan to allow Canadians to seek health-care treatment in private clinics also needs to be scrutinized.

As commonsensical and benign as the plan might seem, it could easily become a way for private medical corporations to siphon easy money from government, while leaving the more difficult, less profitable procedures to the public health clinics.

Such a plan may end up costing the country more money, and saving fewer lives.

And on it goes.

Harper promises change — but the type of change, and the speed with which he produces it will determine the fate of his party.

And, maybe, the country. (RM)