I was driving in Calgary recently and spotted one of those bumper stickers from 10 years ago that read “No Kyoto, no wheat board, no gun registry.” These were the issues that excited Harper’s Conservative base for years and helped propel the Tories into power. You’d mention Kyoto or the gun registry in a room filled with Conservatives, and you’d go deaf from the hoots and heckles.
Seeing that old-school bumper sticker got me thinking, now that these boxes have been checked, what are the next big issues for Conservatives?
It’s been six years since Stephen Harper led the Conservative Party to government. He’s now been prime minister longer than some of Canada’s most celebrated before him, like Diefenbaker and Pearson. The next election is about three and half years away — a lifetime in politics.
Harper needs to keep Conservatives excited to ensure the party coffers are filled with donations, and voters are motivated. But that’s hard to do without key issues to rally people around.
So what will these new goals be?
Sometime in March there will be a federal budget that could help answer this question. We know Harper has talked about raising the eligible age for Old Age Security to 67. However, while this may be fiscally prudent, it’s hardly exciting to voters.
The budget will also reveal the amount of federal spending that will be cut to get the budget balanced before the next election. Spending cuts are necessary, but they are rarely popular with the public.
With his recent trip there, Harper has also emphasized improving Canada’s relations with China. This will be good for trade, but aside from the international business crowd, it is unlikely to get Conservative supporters writing too many donation cheques.
Most of Harper’s priorities are centred on being a good economic manager, which is a label every prime minister wants. But is that label enough to keep your voters coming back? Paul Martin is often regarded as having been a good economic manager, and he lasted in office for barely two years.
Only offering the public good economic management is not enough. You have to provide some big ideas of where you will take the country. This will be a challenge for Harper’s government, as it is with any government when it has been in power long enough.
Maybe it’s time for someone to get to work making a new bumper sticker.
- post by Kathryn Marshall. Originally published in 24 Hours Vancouver.