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Prime Minister Stephen Harper on Halloween 2013: A meditation on power

Last Halloween, when Prime Minister Stephen Harper went trick-or-treating, he was monarch of all he surveyed.

This year, he's a ghost.

Oh, Harper is still corporeal enough. He passed through security Wednesday on his way to Calgary, I suppose, although one imagines prime ministers don't have to take off their shoes and shuffle along in their stockings, or answer to why they failed to stow their toothpaste is in a special little Government of Canada baggie.

He may even put on his prime minister's costume today one leg at a time, just as the rest of us would if we’d been invited to the same Halloween party.

But his credibility is as thin and tattered as the old sheet Canadian moms cut a couple of holes in and give to their kids when there isn't time to stitch up a better outfit.

You'll never know it when he strides onto the stage of the Conservative convention tonight in Calgary. Harper's young neocon acolytes will howl their approval. The media will bow down on bended knee and tug its collective forelock, just in case. Trolls on this blog will declare the PM is a winner who will win and win and win again, if only he turns harder to the right.

Moreover, Harper's speech will be calculated to save his political skin as surely as was Senator Mike Duffy's in the Senate last Monday. And who in the punditocracy will dare to take the chance of predicting that he won't succeed?

But, in truth, each day it looks more as if Harper has about as much chance of surviving politically now as does the senator, or the mayor of Toronto for that matter, and for essentially the same reasons.

First, and very seriously, like Senator Duffy, Prime Minister Harper has become a liability to the electoral survival of the Conservative Party of Canada.

He can jump to the left, step to the right, or move wherever he likes, but he has had the misfortune to be caught in the headlights of an issue the public intuitively and instinctively gets.

The public might not have cared if he prorogued Parliament, or held it in contempt. Indeed, much of the time they hold it in contempt themselves. But they do care that he's been lying to them, about issues they can understand, and at this point it's just as plain as the brains on a zombie's teeth that there's just no way he hasn't been lying, and that the reasons for the lies are understandable if not attractive.

Indeed, it couldn't be much more clear if the police had just announced they have the video!

That's why donations from ordinary Canadians -- the kind of solid citizens who have supported the Conservatives, even as the party's policies have hurt them -- are suddenly drying up.

Yes, cash continues to flow into Conservative coffers, but not like the river it once was. Federal Conservative Party donations shrivelled by almost 30 per cent between last spring and summer, Elections Canada said on Halloween. For the first time since Harper took the party's helm, moreover, more Canadians were donating money to the Liberals.

Why do you think so many senior Tories are suddenly whispering the name of the sainted Jim Prentice -- whose move in 2010 to abandon ship for the upper reaches of then banking industry suddenly doesn't look like the lousy idea it once did?

One wonders: What did Prentice know then that he discreetly chose to keep to himself as he headed toward the exit?

More seriously, from the perspective of Harper's political survival, he has begun to pose a grave risk to the rapid success of the neocon project for which he has been such an able Canadian frontman.

Certainly, Prentice would be a better bet for keeping that plan on track and continuing Canada's slide into destructive neocon policies financed by a waning petroleum boom, although perhaps not the best bet of all.

That would be Justin Trudeau, don’t you think? Sexy and fresh faced, Trudeau is just back from a Calgary visit of his own touting a slightly kinder, gentler Keystone XL pipeline.

Even the NDP's dour Thomas Mulcair, the tentative new convert to the Gospel of No New Taxes, would be a better bet in this regard than Harper!

If the threat the prime minister now poses to his own party doesn't get him, the danger he presents to our brave new marketized world will finish him for sure.

He is most likely, in other words, done like dinner -- even if the pageantry in Calgary tonight suggests his crown's secure upon his head.

Remember, while the Tory hordes are cheering themselves hoarse, the party's insiders will be honing their blades and steeling themselves to the unpleasant reality of plunging them in if the prime minister won't do right by his party.

In their defence, this is no peculiar Tory malaise. The leaders and loyalists of any political party would have to do the same in the same circumstances.

It is real politics. It's the reason why most of us can sleep when we lie down, but … uneasy lies the head that wears a crown.

This post also appears on David Climenhaga's blog, Alberta Diary.

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