Although the Conservative Party still maintains a majority government in Ottawa for another year, a 2015 election is beginning to loom larger for Prime Minister Stephen Harper, in a way that it didn’t in 2013. The clock is continuing to tick faster on the record of the Harper Conservatives as it counts down to zero hour in 2015, and many Canadians may not be ready to mark another ‘x’ for the party.
Once viewed as the energetic alternative to the tired Liberals, the roles of late have proven to be reversed. Now bogged down in Senate expense scandal, the Conservatives have spent their glorious days in majority maintaining a firm handle on the economy and job creation, but have faced heavy criticism for everything from criminal legislation to less than progressive environmental and social policies.
Admittedly, conservatives by their very ideological nature are slow to change and heavy on the preservation of time-honoured traditions and policies. Their reign at the top shouldn’t have contained too many huge surprises for the Canadians who voted them into office.
Still, it would be hard to suggest the policies and direction of the Conservative Party, and Prime Minister Stephen Harper himself, aren’t looking tired and lacking in vitality in the first bright days of 2014.
And while the Conservatives seem to be adrift, their opposition will surely be on the offensive. Having spent so many years on the other side of the House before taking office, it seems ironic that when the shoe is on the other foot, Stephen Harper often seems baffled by how to confront partisan attacks of the Opposition. Good policy choices are one thing. But a series of bad choices are conspiring to seriously mar the shining armour of our prime minister as we enter a year when Canadians will be taking a closer look at the government’s record.
Will Justin Trudeau and the Liberal Party continue to climb in the polls at the expense of the Conservatives in 2014? Even the mention of the name Trudeau probably gives Conservative campaign strategists cold sweats in the dead of an Ottawa winter. Political heart-throb Justin Trudeau will appeal to younger and more left-of-centre voters in a way that Harper never will. However, many are still left wondering if the father’s son will be able to fill his father’s considerable shoes.
One thing we can be fairly sure of — the huge boost in the popularity of the NDP will not be sustained in a 2015 election. Jack Layton’s bumbling successor Thomas Mulcair has failed to inspire even his own party faithful, let alone other Canadians. Managing to alienate western voters with his ill-considered views on our petroleum industry, Mulcair has also had no luck in raising the party’s hopes in Ontario.
Entrenching for a hoped-for big Quebec payday with a side of Layton legacy on election day in 2015, the NDP are poising themselves to become a regional non-entity, proving once again that even political parties as seasoned as the NDP have failed to learn the one enduring rule of Canadian federal politics — regional parties will never be anything but regional parties unless they attempt to appeal to a broader electoral base.
Just how much a split vote on the left might affect a 2015 election will be one of the biggest questions of 2014. If the NDP are content to pin all of their hopes on maintaining their Quebec beachhead, the Liberal Party will have a legitimate chance of swinging a number of ridings in Western Canada and the Maritimes, as well as powering further into the traditional Liberal bastion of Ontario.
That being said, no amount of effort at public re-engagement on the part of media-shy Stephen Harper will be able to hold a candle to the media-savvy prowess of a leader like Justin Trudeau.
Media darlings, of course, don’t always necessarily make great prime ministers. Harper is as plainfaced and come as you are as most Canadian leaders will ever get. Charming and witty he is not. Competent, hard-working and hard-nosed when it comes to his policy goals he certainly is. Looking much more aged every day and beset by scandal, is he still up for the challenge presented by the Canadian public in 2015? Perhaps, perhaps not.
Rumours Harper may be planning an early departure from the role of prime minister slipped out of Ottawa late last year. If there is truth to these rumours, a new leader at the helm of the Conservative Party would add an entirely new dimension into the countdown to 2015.