So, Prime Minister Stephen Harper and former prime ministers Brian Mulroney, Kim Campbell and Jean Chretien took a plane to South Africa to attend the public memorial for Nelson Mandela.
Also on the plane, NDP Leader Thomas Mulcair. (Not on the plane, Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau.) Midway, the plane starts to dramatically lose altitude. The pilot comes on to say the Airbus is going down and the passengers have to jump. Problem: There are five leaders and only four parachutes.
Harper grabs one. “I’m the most irreplaceable! Canada needs its prime minister!” he hollers and jumps. Mulroney does likewise, and yells as he leaps: “I’m the one with the best legacy!” Mulcair grabs a parachute, saying, “I’m the smartest, and the smartest question period performer,” and follows Harper and Mulroney.
Campbell stares at Chretien, terrified. “Jean! There’s only one parachute left! What should we do?” Chretien is unfazed. “Relax, Kim. There’s a parachute for both of us, and one for the pilot and the co-pilot, too. The irreplaceable guy, the legacy guy and the smartest guy have all jumped using the flight crew’s backpacks.”
Old joke, but wouldn’t you have liked to be on that jet to South Africa, as the passengers (likely) exchanged pleasantries and (likelier) reflected on who jumped out of politics and who was pushed? On who is going and who is staying?
Campbell, of course, was pushed by voters. She led the Conservatives to their worst-ever showing in 1993, and left politics.
Mulroney won two big majorities, and quit before he could be fired.
Chretien wanted to leave in 2000, was pushed by Paul Martin, and pushed back, delaying his departure to 2003.
Harper and Mulcair, of course, are still in the game. But, as the jet buzzed towards Africa, they likely silently reflected on the whereabouts of Justin Trudeau, their opponent down on terra firma. And wondered whether Trudeau will do to them what Chretien did to Campbell and, indirectly, Mulroney.
Mulcair won’t jump. He just got the top NDP job, and he thinks he can win power by being the best interrogator in the House of Commons. He’s only auditioning for the job he already has. His party is going to lose plenty of seats in 2015, mainly to Trudeau. He’ll start eyeing the exits shortly thereafter.
Harper, meanwhile, sips his orange juice and ponders the next year and a bit.
If he stays, he runs risks aplenty. The sordid Senate mess can’t be controlled. It’s now in the hands of the Mounties, and they delight in dropping scandals on politicians. The media love it, too.
His caucus is restive, in some cases mutinous. One of his former cabinet ministers has authored a popular bill that wants to render him a figurehead. His backbench MPs have taken to grumbling to the media, much in the way that Martin’s cabal used to about Chretien.
And the economy — thought to be rebounding — is stalled, or (depending who you talk to) sliding. No one seems to think happy days are here again, or will be anytime soon.
Chretien and Mulroney, being the old pros on the plane, know Harper is unlikely to go anywhere. He’s surrounding himself with loyalists — Dimitri Soudas, Jenni Byrne, Ray Novak — and they know he’s too proud to let Trudeau, who he regards as an airhead, drive him out.
Harper and his inner circle think Trudeau is undisciplined and reckless. That he is all sizzle and no steak. They’ve soundly beaten three sure-thing Liberal leaders to date, and they firmly believe they can do it again.
They may be right, they may be wrong.
But, as his plane alights in South Africa, Harper can be forgiven for eyeing those parachutes.