After a lot of noise, Stephen Harper is still firmly in control - Metro US

After a lot of noise, Stephen Harper is still firmly in control

The recession never became a depression. We didn’t have an election. Another Liberal leader was eaten alive. The Harper machine solidified its grip. The hope of never again going into deficit died a mighty death.

But the year couldn’t compare to the hurly-burly of 2008, which featured the re-election of the Conservatives and their subsequent brush with death when a coalition almost ousted them. In 2009, we had lots of noise, lots of election threats, but no big change in the political standings.

There was some expectation that the ideological transition in the United States would trigger a liberal trend north of the border, but the Obama effect never came to pass. The young in this country stayed turned off and tuned out of politics, which depressingly has become a game for only the middle-aged and old folk.

The year began auspiciously for Michael Ignatieff, who replaced the wobbly Stéphane Dion. For the first half of 2009 he appeared capable of unseating Stephen Harper. But the tide began to turn against him when he put in a listless summer. He then made the disastrous mistake of trying to force an election without giving the voter any compelling reason, in terms of new policy initiatives, for doing so. His support level collapsed to levels Dion had not even reached.

The Conservatives, meanwhile, became heavy-spending Keynesians, combatting the recession with old-time liberal religion. Recessions usually give life to the political left, but the Greens were unable to increase their support while the NDP made few gains.

Harper maintained his image as a shrewd and crude political strategist, using every trick to smear his rivals and block them from legitimate avenues of inquiry. He then turned the tables on his image as a cold, calculating leader by taking to the stage to perform a piano-and-song rendition of a Beatles number. It was a media sensation.

By year’s end, problems were accumulating for the Conservatives. Their inaction on global warming was denounced at home and abroad. The Af­ghanistan detainees affair saw them trying to fight off charges of a coverup. And having promised no deficits 13 months earlier, their books were now forecasting a whopping deficit of $60 billion.

Nevertheless, with the Opposition Liberals still appearing rather hapless, the Conservatives were well in command to begin their fifth year as a minority government. Minorities aren’t supposed to last so long. Stephen Harper was defying the odds.

Lawrence Martin is a journalist and author of 10 books who writes about national affairs from Ottawa.

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