The Age of Miracles has still not passed:
But the narrative of Stephen Harper as Big Brother, so beloved of certain commentators, is becoming increasingly anachronous.
Simply put, I think MPs on the government side of the House who have been around since 2004, 2006 or 2008 are thinking about their legacy and resolving that always voting at their party’s call, and never thinking for themselves at all, is not how they want to be remembered.
Or perhaps it is an understanding that no matter how hard they try, these backbenchers will never be rulers of the Queen's Navy. Ambition having dried up the trained seals now reflect. The years roll back and they remember, however dimly, why they got into politics. Think hard now. What was it again? Yes. That was it! I ran for the Conservative Party of Canada because I am, ahem, a conservative!
The Harper government is beginning to suffer from that rarests of all ailments in federal Conservative governments: Old Age. In the glory days of the Liberal Party it was a constant problem trying to renew the brand and keep the backbenchers from getting too antsy. It was certainly more of a problem than outwitting the Tories who, per their script, kept shooting at each other rather than at the Grits.
Time has passed and the new Harperized Conservative Party is the old Harperized Conservative Party. For six years the whip and the PMO could dangle the prospect of a cabinet seat or parliamentary secretary position in front of grumpy backbenchers. That simple trick, the political equivalent of dangling keys in front of a baby, ain't working any more. The majority of the caucus seems to have had their illusions stripped away. They reach political middle age and realize that they no longer have to give a damn.
This is one of the most dangerous periods in a government's life cycle, the moment the backbenchers lose their fear of the whips. Typically this comes when a party is approaching electoral disaster. MPs announce their retirements. A flurry of patronage appointments is made. Everyone is planning for the next stage. This is also the moment when old scores get settled. Backbenchers start making "gaffes" that are quite intentional. Embarrassing the party leader is a kind of going away present.
The Conservatives have the opposite problem, again something rare for the federal party: Arrogance. The caucus is taking a good long look at the Opposition benches and they are not afraid. The adding of new seats, mostly in the blue shaded parts of the country, in time for 2015 means that whatever happens in Quebec the Tories have a better than even chance of winning. Thomas Mulcair is the most formidable leader the party has faced since Papa Jean was shoved out by Paulie. Still it does not seem likely that the NDP will make too many inroads through the sprawlands of the 905.
The party today holds the strongest position since probably John A's time. The opposition divided and mostly inexperienced, the demographic winds blowing their way (older voters tend to lean Right) and a perennial global economic crisis that plays to the party and the leader's brand strength. In short the Tories are very comfortable. People who are comfortable begin to speak their minds openly and frankly. This is a new challenge that Stephen Harper has not faced since the earliest days of the Reform Party.
And they say Canadian politics is boring.