Musings —11.13.2014 04:24 PM—
Have the hunted become the hunters?
This week, I spoke at a well-attended fundraiser for the Mississauga-Lakeshore federal Liberal association. Their impressive candidate Sven Spengemann was there, along with about 30 Grits. They were a great bunch – in part, because they didn’t throw any finger foods at me.
But there was another reason, too. They had that lean, hungry look about them – the look of political people who have grown tired of being the hunted, and were turning on the hunter.
Let us explain. For too long, progressives – and Liberals in particular – did not take Stephen Harper seriously. They underestimated him.
I cannot tell you how often I heard from Liberals – in 2005-6, 2008 and 2011 – that Stephen Harper was heading towards humiliating defeat. That he had a secret agenda to destroy Canada, and that he was going to lose because of it.
They’d say that Harper is a socially-conservative extremist who would ban abortion or gay marriage (he didn’t). Or that he would privatize health care and social programs (he didn’t). Or that he was a crypto-fascist with creepy eyes (he isn’t – and don’t be an idiot).
But Harper won the elections in each of those years. Creepy eyes notwithstanding, Harper’s political agenda wasn’t so secret – it was, in fact, right out there in the open, easily seen. It had two parts.
One, bring together the warring factions in the Reform Party and the Progressive Conservatives, and create a single, winning conservative force. He did that.
Two, drive the Liberal Party out of existence – with election law changes, with wedge politics, with whatever it takes.
But he didn’t do that.
The good Grits in Mississauga-Lakeshore are living proof. For one thing, they are still there, united, and election-ready. I therefore fully expect Spengemann will roll over the do-nothing Conservative MP who currently holds the riding.
For another, I didn’t detect the faintest whiff of arrogance or contempt in the hall at the beautiful Holcim Waterfront Estate. That is, none of them underestimate Stephen Harper’s political cunning. None of them hated him.
Liberals, instead, have acquired a grudging respect for Harper’s political skills. They have learned, the hard way, that you underestimate Stephen Harper at your peril.
And, as such, they are no longer the prey. They instead have Harper in their sights – and they had plenty of questions for me about what makes Harper tick, and what he is likely to do in the coming months.
For Harper, the weeks and months ahead loom large. For him, there is history to be made.
As my colleague David Akin has noted, Harper has – as of today – become the sixth longest-serving Prime Minister. As of today, he has surpassed Brian Mulroney’s tenure. If he makes it to the Spring of 2016, he will have bested the record of my former boss Jean Chretien – and become the fifth longest-serving Prime Minister.
Will he make it? Will he win the election that is supposed to happen in October 2015, but could come much sooner than that?
No one knows. But one thing is certain: the smart Liberals in places like Mississauga-Lakeshore don’t underestimate Stephen Harper. And they don’t hate him, either – they respect his smarts, as you should respect any political adversary who has survived for this long.
This much will become known, too: the Liberals, for so long the hunted, are now turning on the hunter.
And Stephen Harper shouldn’t underestimate them.