Is Stephen Harper Lucky?
We all know of the tragic death of Jack Layton just a few weeks ago from cancer. The outpouring of grief was nationwide, and people of all political stripes recognized the contributions and dedication of the NDP leader. A later post will comment more specifically on the death of Layton, his achievements and the future of his beloved party, but today’s post is a commentary on the situation faced by Prime Minister Stephen Harper.
I do not intend to make light of Layton’s death in any way, as it is an extremely tragic event, and I am one of the many Canadians who is devastated by the loss. But is it wrong to point out how lucky Stephen Harper has been in his nearly six years in office, with regards to opposition leaders? He has seen a revolving door of opposition leaders, who sometimes are gone sooner than they arrive. I thought for sure that this time would be different. The NDP’s surge to number two would return to Stornoway, a strong, experienced and capable opposition leader. Yet, for a reason we will never know, that did not come to pass, and there are now two parties in the House of Commons with interim leaders, leaving Harper without any real opposition… for now anyways.
When Harper’s Conservatives won their first minority in 2006, he displaced Prime Minister Paul Martin, who swiftly resigned, and did not become opposition leader. Bill Graham took over as interim leader, and was the opposition leader for less than a year, while a leadership convention was held. The reigns then went to Stephane Dion, who as we all know, led his party to an even bigger defeat in 2008, and resigned as well. Michael Ignatieff then took over, and he managed to better Dion, and lead his party to an even worse defeat in 2011. That opened the door for Jack Layton to take over as opposition leader, which was cut short by his death in August 2011. Since his death, NDP Interim Leader Nycole Turmel is now the Acting Leader of the Opposition.
That means, in just over five years, Harper has seen four official (and one acting) opposition leaders. I don’t intend to suppose that this is an absurdly high number of opposition leaders, but it is interesting that none of Harper’s political opponents has lasted more than three years in their positions. Is he lucky, or is he politically smart?
Layton’s death is obviously not related to Harper, but one can argue the downfalls of Martin (who could have potentially stayed on as opposition leader) Dion, and Ignatieff were. Is he exceptionally skilled at destroying his House of Commons foes, or does his opposition just keep picking weak opponents, that are bound to fail. I think one can make the argument either way.
It will be interesting to see how the House of Commons functions in the coming years. We are thankfully years away from an election, which will give the new leaders of the Liberals and NDP time to settle into their new roles. Let’s not forget the Bloc Quebecois, who are also leaderless. Although, with only four seats, it is unlikely they will be making much noise in Parliament. Either way, Harper gets to sit and watch as three rookies walk into the House of Commons, ready to put their mark on the Harper government.
What are your thoughts? Is Harper getting lucky? Or is he a skilled politician who is exceptionally suited to ousting his opposition leaders (Layton not included, of course)?
As I said before, I do not wish this to be a commentary on Layton’s death, or Turmel’s leadership thus far for the NDP. It simply brought to my attention once again, the striking fact that Stephen Harper’s government seems to be running on autopilot, with nobody around to throw the plane off course.