Harper time

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Canadians are not about to see a federal election. Neither partner in the informal Liberal-Conservative alliance that dominates the House of Commons has a reason to provoke an election in the immediate future.

The Liberals are too weak to chance a defeat at the polls; and the Conservatives are not strong enough to win an election. While the Liberals got less of a boost in popularity from the coronation of Michael Ignatieff as leader than would have been welcome, Conservative support has not slipped as much as the economy, which is about as good as the government caucus could expect.

Pollster Nic Nanos has just confirmed more Canadians (48 per cent) get their news through television than any other source. When it was reported last week that secret government documents has been left behind at CTV, following a studio interview with Harper minister Lisa Raitt, Liberal frontbencher Bob Rae quipped: maybe she thought CTV was a branch of the government.

Prime Minister Stephen Harper continuously gets favourable television coverage, most recently for his European speech commemorating the June 6 landing in Normandy where he was seen in the company of Presidents Obama and Sarkozy.

The Conservative negative television advertising campaign to undermine another Liberal leader has been running through the Stanley Cup playoffs, though not on the games shown by CBC, who objected to placing campaign ads outside an electoral period.

After having the fright of his political life, when his arrogance provoked a parliamentary coalition ready to take power from him late last year, Harper has been using his time since he prorogued parliament, and then introduced the February 2009 budget, to divide his opponents, and ensure they remain divided.

To hold onto power, Harper needs to be seen as the leader bringing about an economic recovery. Ideally, as soon as the economic numbers go from negative to positive, Harper goes to the nation as the prime minister who bested the world recession.

Amnesia is a great ally of sitting prime ministers. Even people who follow politics forget what was done or said. Who remembers how much military spending has gone up because of waging war in Afghanistan ($18 billion projected through 2011), or government revenues gone down this fiscal year ($34 billion) because the Conservatives cut taxes?

Keeping voters in the dark is the favoured strategy of the Conservatives with the politically disengaged who become all important at election time. Making himself available to the sports media at junior hockey tournaments, or showing an interest in the Royal Conservatory of Music is what matters to Harper, not explaining why his government increased borrowing by $200 billion in the last budget, so it could buy $125 billion in dodgy mortgage debts from the major Canadian banks, and stand ready to lend to the financial sector.

In his recent memoir one-time Progressive Conservative Garth Turner, tells about finding himself as a backbencher in the Reform Alliance Conservative party headed by Harper. Everything was about staying on message Harper told him. Truth is for journalists, who make bad politicians he told former journalist Turner, who had started a blog, where he was dishing the dirt on what was wrong with politics in general, and his party, caucus, and leader specifically.

Time, Einstein famously remarked, was needed because not everything happens at once. In politics, making time your friend is what gaining, holding, and exercising power is about. Successful politicians do not have to be great leaders, or introduce good policies. They do have to use time to their advantage. Understanding where all parties stand in the sequence of events, and how to be in the right place at the required moment is what political leaders try to do.

What terrifies Harper is not another minority government. He is learning how to make what he can from a less than ideal situation. His only concern is losing control of the economic agenda, and having to face a united front in the House of Commons, before he is ready to face the public.

Duncan Cameron writes from Vancouver.

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