A topic of discussion in blogland recently has been is Stephane Dion taking the Liberals to the left, and is that good or bad. I don't quite agree with the premise, and think it's more of a Conservative talking point than reality, but that's a discussion for another day. Today, I'd like to look at Steve Harper, and where he's taking the Conservative Party.
We know that since the 2004 election Steve has been trying to moderate himself and his party to appeal more to centrist voters, a necessary step if he's going to broaden his support enough to gain a majority. So he's clamped down his caucus and his ministers to an unprecedented degree, and pleaded with the social conservative wing of his party to just shut-up and keep quiet until he gets his majority. He's tossed them the odd bone here and there, with favourable judicial and board appointments, but for the most part he hasn't been advancing their causes at all legislatively.
As I've said before, I don't think Harper is a scary social conservative. He's a decentralizing fiscal conservative, which I also find a tad scary, but that's another story. But while he's no so-con, a lot of his supporters are, and without their organization and votes he wouldn't be here today, on the edge of the majority. And he needs them to stay on board.
So, the question for Harper is, can he keep his right-wing base satisfied and on the team while also building support on his left-wing from centrist voters? If he just ends up trading righties for centrists he's only treading water.
It's a delicate balancing act, and how well Harper handles it may well be more important to his electoral success than anything the Liberals can do. And how is he doing? It appears some cracks may be forming in his social conservative coalition.
I came across a copy of the January newsletter of Campaign Life Coalition Canada on the subway recently, and it actually offered some interesting reading. A rather large lobby group, the CLC describes itself as the political wing of the pro-life movement in Canada and it has strong ties to the Conservative Party.
They're starting to sour on Harper though. They weren't at all impressed with his half-hearted attempt at re-opening same sex marriage, seeing through Harper's attempt to placate, them knowing Harper had no intention of using the notwithstanding clause, the only way SSM could be overturned:
It was clear that Stephen Harper and his advisors wanted this issue to disappear; get it over with early enough so that most voters wouldn’t have the ‘divisive’ debate fresh in their minds going into the next election, but late enough for social conservatives to remember that he had kept his promise to try to re-open debate on it.So, clearly they're pissed with Harper over the SSM vote. Basically, they're saying he flip-flopped and he showed weak leadership and played politics. No where have we heard rhetoric like that before?
The prime minister himself was not present during the debate that preceded the vote and only a relative handful of MPs from all parties, including the Conservatives, were present during the actual debate. Many pundits took that as confirmation that the Harper government was merely going through the motions of fulfilling its promise - a bone thrown to social conservative voters – rather than a serious attempt to restore traditional marriage. Most journalists reported that Harper desperately wants the issue to go away.
Unfortunately, Harper also said he had no plans to introduce a defence of religion act saying that it was not necessary at this time. This contradicts his previous, emphatic statements that C-38 did not actually protect those who hold religious beliefs opposed to same-sex ‘marriage’ – but what has changed since June 2005?
Once again, the prime minister has taken the easy route and failed to show leadership on vital moral issues, preferring to play politics with them.
It seems their disappointment goes beyond just SSM though. A separate article in the newsletter is devoted solely to Harper and social conservatives:
It is quite obvious that Harper wants this issue to go away. It is also obvious that he is counting on the gratitude of traditional values voters in the next election. In January 2006, weekly church-going Christians tipped the balance of power to the Conservatives and Harper needs to keep them in his big tent to win the next election.So, they're not leaving the party yet, although I wouldn't be surprised to see many stay at home in election day, depending on the local candidate. It does look like they are going to flex their muscle to get more socially-Conservative MPs nominated, and hopefully elected.
Pro-life and pro-family Canadians must not lose sight of the bigger picture and blindly follow Harper or his party. They must continue to pressure the party, and continue the battle for the rights of the traditional family, along with the battle for the rights of unborn Canadian children. The issue will not just go away. It can’t, since the current situation defies nature, defies reason and will inevitably lead to great harm to our nation. The issue is far from decided.
More Canadians who value life and family will make these issues priorities in their voting, and nominate or support candidates, regardless of party affiliation, who will uphold the sanctity of human life and family in all its aspects, and restore the uniqueness of traditional marriage.
This poses some interesting scenarios. First, if the so-cons stay home that's a big chunk of votes lost to Harper. Second, if they get lots of so-con Con nominees selected then no matter what moderate messaging Harper is doing nationally, they will face a tough battle locally being called-out on their so-con views and less will be elected. And third, if they do get more so-con Con Mps elected, then Harper will have an extremely hard time running a moderate government while trying to tame a wild so-con caucus demanding action.
Anyway, while the Liberal Party are facing some challenges, clearly the Conservatives are not without difficult challenges to overcome as well. Recommend this Post on Progressive Bloggers