The (Un)Natural

Rex is impressed at how Stephen Harper has turned Preston Manning's dream into reality.

Rex is impressed at how Stephen Harper has turned Preston Manning's dream into reality.

Read the transcript of this Rex Murphy episode

The (Un)Natural

May 5, 2011

Has there ever been a Canadian election which started so miserably?  No-one wanted it.  It continued so tediously.  For the first three weeks, it was Sominex with long speeches.  And then it turned into a cauldron of amazing stories.  Bloc Québécois fallen to dust and irrelevance; the NDP rise, the cane and the surge; the demolition of the Liberals – Ignatieff's utter defeat – candidates who campaigned in Las Vegas and won in Quebec.  (Almost as good as campaigning in Quebec and winning in Vegas.)

So many dramatic stories that they overshadowed and crowded out the greater story of a fundamental realignment of Canadian politics.

It is more than worth recalling that Preston Manning – one of the great political and intellectual forces of modern Canadian times – started all this. Far earlier than others, Manning saw the weaknesses of the Liberal party.  He – correctly – pushed for a place for the West at the national table, and he had the courage and foresight to start a political movement that in 20 years (with some changes) has displaced the natural governing party and forged new realities for Canadian politics.

Manning should be recognized for this: like another leader, he never got to see what he most made possible.

Then there's the story of Stephen Harper himself.  He has done political wizardry here.  From the rocky and unstable platform of successive minority governments, he has not only held on; he has the majority.  It was in his moment that the Bloc Quebecois self-immolated, vanished in a puff of smoke of its own irrelevancy.  He has 70 plus seats in Ontario, which just over a decade ago – three times - elected at least 100 Liberals.  Harper has pursued the party of giants like Pearson and Trudeau into near oblivion.

He's almost an anti-Obama.  He excites real animosity.  He has an almost Mulroney-esque capacity for exciting oversized anger – even contempt - from his opponents.  But for all the scorn he has had to take, from those who like to think him just dumb and mean – he's out-manoeuvered all the 'smarter' people in the room.

With little of the politician's gifts – neither Trudeau's charisma - Chrétien’s folksy impersonations – Layton's "ordinary guy" approach – it is the reserved and stern Harper who has the majority, and representation from coast to coast to coast.

But Harper's larger achievement builds on Manning's.  His arrival at majority fulfills that pledge of the early days – remember: "the West wants in."  The West is not only "in" and at the table.  It owns the table.  That's a real accomplishment.  The dissatisfactions of the Western provinces were a real and dangerous fault line in this country.

None of the other stories of Monday night – however fascinating and dramatic – are as significant.

On two fronts – Quebec and the West – the dynamics of alienation and separatism have been very severely checked.  And the least "natural" politician of a generation, Stephen Harper, is now its most successful.  Whether you support him or not – that's really impressive.

For The National, I’m Rex Murphy.