Just the other day, it was said by one of the usual suspects in one of the usual places that Prime Minister Stephen Harper's Conservative Party of Canada now sees itself as having inherited the mantle of the country's "natural governing party" from the woebegone Liberals.
It is certainly true that this could happen if the dice roll the Conservatives' way, as so far they have. But this potential outcome notwithstanding, the so-called Conservatives -- who despite their honourable history are nowadays neither really conservative nor truly a national party -- face considerable roadblocks to their great ambition.
Chief among these are the radical and intolerant nature of their own political base and their nearly complete lack of support in one of the key regions of the country. For despite having many more moderate supporters, they remain the party of the hate-filled, Internet-trolling, union-hating, fear-mongering, gun-loving, homophobic, anti-abortion, loony right as well as of corporate greed, and they have little support in Quebec outside a few reconstituted separatists.
Consider the United States as an illustration of the fate that may await the Canadian Conservatives if they cannot overcome their baser nature and also build meaningful support in French-speaking Canada -- both goals that are within the grasp of the party, but which will not come particularly easily to them.
In the U.S., Democratic Party President Barack Obama may very well be reelected -- despite his profound lack of success on the economic front and his betrayal of his own key supporters on a wide range of issues.
Why? Simply because the Republican Party has forfeited its role in the modern era as America's natural governing party, which it has enjoyed since the inception of Richard Nixon's divisive but effective Southern Strategy in the late 1960s. It has done so by moving consistently to the right to the point where it is on the verge of becoming the Treason Party of the United States. All this the Republicans did to themselves without facing the danger of alienating voters in a part of the country that speaks another language, for the simple reason no such region exists -- yet...
To a significant degree, Prime Minister Harper's Tea Party of Canada still appeals most to essentially the same minority of voters, and managed to form a majority government by successfully keeping those supporters in check at the same time as it moved its policy platform back toward the middle. Add to that strategy a waning and still discredited Liberal Party and a not-quite-ready-for-prime-time NDP, and they were able to achieve their goal.
Having done so, however, the question is whether they can overcome the radicalism of their own core and the extremist instincts of Harper himself to really become a natural governing party. In other words, they need to get their trolls under control -- and some of those trolls are pretty well placed!
The conundrum for the Conservatives is that to become the natural governing party, they need to be a moderate party that hews to the centre -- even if they try to ease the centre to the right. But if they succeed at staying near the centre line, they risk losing their most loyal supporters -- perhaps to a national version of Alberta's Wildrose Alliance party, as indeed has happened once before.
One senses the PM understands this strategically, but can't quite achieve it viscerally, in his gut. Indeed, for a vivid example of the PM's own instincts at play, consider his warning yesterday in an online CBC retrospective on the 911 attacks that there may be an "Islamicist" in a suicide vest hiding under each of our beds. Please!
So, we shall see. If the Conservatives truly become the natural governing party, it may not as bad a thing as some of us fear. After all, they will have had to moderate their worst instincts to achieve that goal.
And if they don't, well, there's another party waiting in the wings -- one with support in Quebec and fewer lunatic trolls among its fringes -- almost ready to play that starring role.
This post also appears on David Climenhaga's blog, Alberta Diary.
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