Stephen Harper, David Dodge and Dalton McGuinty Get Ready to Rumble

Stephen Harper must think he is dreaming.  A year ago he was trying the defeat the Liberal government only to miss by one Jim Cadman vote.  A year later he is Prime Minister.  There is no talk of a “secret agenda”.  Poll numbers say he is set to win again, this time with a majority.

Not so fast.  Even though all of that seems so true in the spring of 2006 who says it will really happen?  Just as the political reality of last spring denied him an early entrance into Sussex drive why can’t it change now as quickly?  We have troops in Afghanistan.  We have interest rates going up.  We have a soaring loonie.  That spells storm signals on some political horizons.

Right now Harper seems above all that.  He has corralled his rural political constituency with more farm aid and the promise of dropping the gun registry.  He’s also mining political minerals in Quebec.  It’s key for any future majority electoral victory.

Almost forgotten in this new political environment is the Liberal party.  There is a plethora of candidates for the Liberal leadership.  I was hoping for Belinda Stronach, but alas she has decided to check this one out.  Maybe I should put my money on former NDP Premier Bob Rae?  We’ll see.

A premature burial of the Liberal party in 2006 shouldn’t be considered by anyone.  On January 23rd the Liberal party lost the election, but really not by much.  The Liberals with 102 seats are a strong opposition.  Paul Martin’s departure took their leader away, but not their fight.  Once the Liberals get their new leader they will once again be primed to gain power.

The key will be if the Liberals try to understand what happened to them.  If they nurture themselves in the facts of their defeat and try to improve the Liberal party based on those facts, we’ll all be better off.  However, if they look at their election defeat as an aberration, they will start down the road to nowhere.  Stephen Harper is a smart enough politician to capitalize on that.

How the NDP fits into this I don’t know.  With Bob Rae muddying the political water the differences between the NDP and Liberals might be lost.  That might bother my fellow columnist Kevin Blake, but that’s the way I see it.  The key will be for the NDP to capitalize on that and make the proverbial progressive voter go their way.  Jack Layton, a personable and dynamic leader might be the secret to that.

Much will depend on whom the Liberals elect leader.  How does Jack Layton look against Joe Volpe, Hedi Frye or Stephane Dion?  How does Jack Layton look against Bob Rae or Michael Ignatieff?  Clearly there are big differences.  However, there are also big opportunities for Layton and the NDP.  How they manage those opportunities will be key to their success.

Political observers will surely be watching how things unfold.  Last week, many Liberals criticized Stephen Harper for introducing Ontario Conservative leader John Tory as “Ontario’s next Premier.”  Harper made this statement at a fundraiser immediately after meeting with Premier McGuinty over the fiscal surplus.  Harper fought back by saying John Tory is a friend of his and has been for a long time.

With McGuinty facing an election on Oct 4, 2007, the clock is ticking.  He needs that fiscal imbalance between the provinces smoothed out, resulting in more money staying in Ontario.  This would work well going into 2007.  How Harper manages McGuinty vs. Quebec’s Jean Charest will be a fascinating study.  With some saying Harper’s road to a majority leads thru Quebec, McGuinty might have the short end of the stick.

Add a little economic instability into the mix and you have some new political realities.  We saw a little of that last week.  Premier Dalton McGuinty musings last week about the high dollar and high interest rates will find some traction in Ontario.  The guy responsible for that monetary policy Bank of Canada governor David Dodge shot back that the dollar was overvalued and there wasn’t any really good reason for it.  Usually when a central banker says something like that the loonie would tank.  This time it did nothing, staying over 90 cents for another week.

So there is a lot at stake here for Dalton McGuinty, Stephen Harper, and David Dodge.  McGuinty is right in saying a monetary policy geared to controlling the Alberta economy is hurting the Ontario heartland.  Dodge is right that he needs to control the Alberta economy, but also the surging housing and services market in Ontario.  Harper simply has to handle it all because ultimately a new Liberal leader will foist these economic storm symbols on him.  In the end two out of the three of them will have to face the music.  How they handle it, will surely shape our immediate political future.