While Stephen Harper has managed to hold it together until now by sheer force of his captivating personality, rigidly-enforced party discipline, and a collective lust for power, there is increasing evidence that after two minorities and no prospect for improvement, the fractious Conservative coalition is beginning to crumble.
Take two new Web sites launched recently designed to lobby the Conservative government. Cut The Fat.ca and No Bailouts.ca were launched under the auspices of the Canadian Taxpayer's Federation, a group that has traditionally been quite supportive of the Conservative Party, and can count a great many Conservatives as its members. Both are petition-sites, and make clear they're not pleased at all with the fiscal policies of the Harper government, even if they never use the words Conservative or Harper.
And interestingly, the apparent creative force behind the campaign, and the admin of the corresponding Facebook groups, is none other that Blogging Tory-poo bah and well-connected Conservative Stephen Taylor.
What does it say when staunch Conservative supporters need to launch Web sites to lobby their own government?
Also killing virtual trees is another new Web site called Homeless Cons: Conservatives in search of shelter. The group's mission?
Greetings. You are invited to join our network to meet like-minded HomelessCons and stop feeling like you're completely alone. Because the truth is, you're not. A lot of us are out there looking for shelter. Why not start building one?Reading through some of the messages the members seem particularly disturbed by Harper's abandonment of supposed socially-conservative principles. Founder John Robson talks about the group:
"If you are a conservative in this country," Robson says over the phone, "you believe in free markets, traditional social values and strong national defence. You are lucky if you get one out of three out of any Conservative Party you elect."
And Robson thinks that with the way the Harper Conservatives are acting right now, the score is zero for three. The government will not touch the abortion issue he notes, gave up on the vote they promised on gay marriage and in his mind doesn't fund the troops properly. The final straw for Robson appears to have been the latest budget with its projection of a $64,000,000,000 deficit over two years; this after the government was already the biggest spending government in Canadian history. "If that's conservatism," he says, "why not vote Liberal."
So what do Conservative Party members and supporters think about the group? The regular reply seems to be, "Where are they going to go? They can't vote Liberal." That's true, but they could either stay home or start another party.
Take a look through the membership list and you'll recognize a good many prominent Blogging Tories, as well as such familiar names as Gerry Nichols, a former Conservative-loyalist (and Harper subordinate at the National Citizens Coalition) who has been on his own crusade (and book tour) of late lamenting how Harper has strayed from the path.
Some Conservative MPs are even unloading their souls to their Liberal colleagues, and asking the Liberals to provide the opposition that, as trained Conservative backbench seals, they're unable or unwilling to. Writes Liberal MP Glen Pearson:
Then a strange request: Would I be willing to be more aggressive in the House concerning the cuts, seeking at least a time of reappraisal of the results of such a decision. Let me get this straight: a member of the government was asking me to be more forceful in opposition? Indeed, we are living in strange times.Also interesting has been following the campaign by the Harper PMO to distance the party from former PM Brian Mulroney. There was a time when the PMO's word was scripture, but it seems more and more Conservative MPs, and even cabinet ministers, are willing to defy Harper and deviate from the PMO line:
He said he would try within his own party to seek a second look at the CIDA change and I truly believe he will. But this is a Conservative government that doesn’t broker self-criticism. His task is hopeless, and I could tell he knew it just by the tone of his voice. Thus, his call to me.
On Tuesday, senior party sources told reporters that Mulroney was no longer a member of the Conservative Party of Canada. But Defence Minister Peter MacKay and Revenue Minister Jean-Pierre Blackburn say there must be a mistake because Mulroney will be a member for life.
And of course there was the recent Conservative in-fighting over their disastrous performance in Quebec last election.
The Sun's Greg Weston is even writing of the post-Harper era, which more and more Conservatives see as not that far away. The jockeying for Harper's job has begun:
Three times in recent weeks, for no apparent reason, we have been pleasantly entertained by senior Conservatives who, one suspects, would otherwise wish us no ill that wasn't slow, painful and terminal.And all the king's horse's, and all the king's men...
This suggests that either spring delirium has come early to the nation's capital, or Stephen Harper's party of the bound and gagged is starting to break loose for reasons worth risking the boss's wrath.
Buzz is starting in the backrooms and chatrooms that Conservatives looking down the road are seeing the next election and life after Harper coming sooner rather than later.
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