Sunday, July 12, 2015

On succession plans

Over the past few days, I've finally made it around to reading Paul Wells' The Longer I'm Prime Minister. And there are a few points raised by Wells' account of Stephen Harper's stay in office which call for plenty more discussion.

Let's start with the conflict between Harper's long-term plans and his short-term tactics.

There doesn't seem to be much doubt that Harper's ultimate goal is to build a lasting party which serves as the default federal government in a polarized political system. And in theory, the political systems of Alberta and B.C. are supposed to provide templates for that goal.

But there's another reality of Western political life which runs directly contrary to Harper's seeming plans.

It's true that in Alberta and B.C., right-wing parties have often been able to maintain power for long stretches of time exceeding those of left-wing alternatives. And part of that may be explained by the same tactics applied by Harper - the strict suppression of dissent and scandal which allow a party to cling to power longer than it might otherwise.

That strategy isn't without its costs, though: it tends to result in the factors which topple a government boiling over all at once rather than emerging gradually with time, permanently tarring a party as unfit for office. And I doubt that anybody's betting on the Alberta PCs breaking the trend of their predecessors in ceasing to be a viable governing alternative once they've finally been toppled.

Under systems which allow for unlimited corporate donations, that hasn't often been a problem for right-wing movements. The same backers who support one government tend to have little trouble coordinating their efforts choosing a new party brand once one has become tarnished beyond saving. And to the extent there are any hangers-on from a previous government, they tend to go away or shed their own skin over a period of a few election cycles.

But that option may not be so easily available under our federal financing rules which prohibit corporate donations. It's far from clear how one would go about transferring the Cons' base of financial and organizational support to another party - and likely to take far longer to do so than would be the case for a provincial party which merely needs to designate the magnet for funding from a small corporate elite.

So I'll raise the question: is there any realistic prospect of right-wing support jumping from party to party federally as tends to be the case in Alberta and B.C.? And if not, might Harper and his party need to start planning fairly shortly for the aftermath of having their actions in office exposed?


  1. If the Liberals and/or the NDP come through with any sort of electoral reform then I suspect that your question is superfluous. Instead of shifting financial and organizational support to another party, the need for consensus and cooperation will mean that the Cons will either need to reform themselves significantly or face total exclusion from power.

    1. That's a very good point - and particularly under an MMP system it wouldn't be surprising at all to see the Cons once again split into their component parts while seeing which combinations could work with enough parties to form a majority.

  2. "Harper and his party need to start planning fairly shortly for the aftermath of having their actions in office exposed?"
    Maybe, but I am sure they are focussed on dirty-tricks-2015-version to prevent this.
    We may have caught a few miscreants like Peneshue and DDM, and exposed systematic attacks like in-and-out & robo-calls but methinks they were just the tip of the iceberg.
    Oh, and unless Maude's injunction works out there's ~500k anti-Harper voters shut out.
    I hoping for an Alberta but expecting a UK. sigh

    1. We'll see. Lots can happen between now and this fall, but based on the Cons' combination of modest first-choice support, little second-choice support and the least popular leader of the lot I'm seeing more risk in the aftermath of the election than in the election result itself (barring a bunch of terrorism news either real or contrived).

  3. Shrewd post, Greg. The merged Conservative Party in 2004 gained access to the PC's trust fund and the Canadian Alliance's mailing list and incipient CIMS project. To survive the loss of government and public opinion in a system so dependent on individual donors (what Tom Flanagan conceded in his latest book on modern political campaigns), will be a tricky proposition. But it will be made harder if one party is to die and be replaced by another. Merger will have to wind up being part of the solution. Unless the new government re-introduces some form of public subsidy.

    1. That might be a factor, though a renewed subsidy wouldn't help a new party until at least an election down the road. The best hope might be for someone to hand over enough useful information from the CPC and its allies for a new party to start building - but that too looks like at least a multi-cycle job.