The Vancouver Scrum

On the move!

Agh! You’re still here? My new site and weblog, is now up and running; new posts are building up over there, never to be mirrored here. Go! What are you waiting for? All the stuff worth keeping has been migrated over to the new server, and I don’t anticipate making any more posts here.

Bloggers and webmasters: Update your links! Simply replace with in your blogrolls or bookmarks to point to the new site. Old posts will remain on this server for as long as the people at Blogger/Google allow them to remain; unfortunately, I’m not going to bother to come up with any way of converting permalinks on this blog to their corresponding posts on the new site. Yes, I plead laziness. I also realize the irony of switching away from Blogger just it starts to add features that the demanding blog nerds insist upon.

Thanks for reading and linking, and see you over at!

—Ian King, December 13, 2004

Thursday, August 08, 2002

Why Harris won't run

Unabashed Mike Harris fan John Ibbitson explains in his column why recently departed Ontario Premier Mike Harris will not run for the leadership of the federal Progressive Conservatives.

As soon as Joe Clark announced that he was stepping down as federal Tory leader, there were suggestions that Mr. Harris should be drafted to replace Mr. Clark. Alberta Premier Ralph Klein has said that he would support the efforts of Mr. Harris, and Mr. Harris is popular with many Tories and Canadian Alliance members. However, Mr. Harris has suggested that he would only run for the leadership of a united right-wing federal party. However, Harris's recent troubles make him a much less atractive candidate than the true believers might think.

Ibbitson's known love of Mr. Harris explains why he lightly glosses over the former Premier's political troubles as "a tainted-water scandal and political drift." If only it were so simple. The Walkerton tragedy may have been largely the fault of two incompetent brothers, but Harris's government greatly reduced its oversight of water utilities from the previous norms, and the perception that remains is one of a government whose ideology trumped the safety of the water supply. Regardless of the facts, perception is reality in politics.

There are still unanswered questions about the role of Harris in the police killing of Native protestor Dudley George in Ipperwash Provincial Park. The question of whether Harris interfered in police actions at the protest where Mr. George was killed have not been answered, but there is enough circumstantial evidence for Harris's political opponents to tag him with the allegation of interfering with the police.

Was the Ontario government suffering from "political drift?" I don't think so. The Common Sense Revolution had been carried to (and some would argue beyond) its logical end. Indeed, the government was running out of programs to cut, and groups to bash. The only drift that they were dealing with was having to actually govern, having now re-made government in their image. The Tory membership showed its opinion at the recent leadership vote, when Ernie Eves, who said the the Revolution was over, and now was the time to govern wisely and carefuly, won the day. Mr Eves has shown himself to be much more moderate and conciliatory than Mr. Harris ever had been.

Polls suggest that Ontarians have tired of Mr. Harris's confrontational style in dealing with the federal government, civil servants, teachers, and all those who might have disagreed with him. At the time of Harris's resignation, the support for the provincial Liberals led by the uninspiring Dalton McGuinty was high enough to win a convincing majority. In June 2001, party support among decided or likely voters was 48% for the Liberals, 30% for the Tories, and 11% for the New Democrats.

In late June of this year, the polls indicated 37% of Ontarians would vote Liberal, 35% Torie led by Ernie Eves, and 15% NDP. The results are so close that they are within the +/- 3.1% margin of error.

This does not suggest that the man who led the Tories to two majority governments, each time with around 45% of the popular vote, would fare well in a federal election, leading a right-wing party in Ontario.

Another reason why Mr. Harris would have trouble in federal politics is history. If the Tories manage to keep a hold of power at Queen's Park, the voters in Ontario will likely vote Liberal federally. Since 1942, the parties in charge of Queen's Park and Ottawa have been different for all but 6 1/2 years of that 60-year span. Ontarians seem to like a little federal-provincial gridlock.

Also, to have success, Mr. Harris would have to appeal to a wide swath of voters outside Ontario. While he may be liked in Alberta and parts of British Columbia, this does not suggest enough support to win at the national level. Mr. Harris is not fond of losing, having only done so once before, as leader of the Tories in 1990 in Ontario, in an election that the Tories would not win. The fact that he would likely lose if he stood for election again on Ontario has oftern been suggested as part of the reson why he resigned as Premier in the first place.

John Ibbitson is right in that Mike Harris will not seek the leadership of the federal Progressive conservatives. He's only wrong about why Harris won't do so.

If I'm proven wrong, I'll gladly eat crow in this space. Send me your comments.

To find the poll data that I've cited, visit the Ipsos-Reid archives.
All Ontario polls cited are based on a sample of 1000 Ontario voters, and are accurate within +/- 3.1%, 19 times out of 20.
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