Megapundit: Stephen Harper and his "Marie Antoinette insouciance"

Must-reads: Greg Weston, John Ivison and Chantal Hébert recap election night.

If anyone’s happy about what went on last night, we haven’t found them.

The National Post‘s John Ivison says Stéphane Dion “has no ability to subject others to his will; no capacity for calculating the resistance and prejudice his ideas might generate; and, no sense of how to turn complicated events to his own advantage.” Sounds about right to us. In the past tense, it might make a fitting epitaph. Perhaps Winston Churchill could have sold the Green Shift to Canadians, Ivison suggests, but not Dion. (Trippy. We dreamed about Churchill pitching the Green Shift last night!)

On the bright side for the Liberals, Don Macpherson notes in the Montreal Gazette, “the distribution of seats in the next Parliament is such that the Conservatives can’t be defeated on a confidence vote until [they] are ready to do so.” As for the dark side… well, y’all know what the dark side is already, right?

Though there may be questions about how Harper “could not win a majority against such a weak Liberal leader,” The Globe and Mail‘s Jeffrey Simpson assures us there’ll be no shakeup atop the Conservative Party of Canada. Dion, however, “is finished.” And in a larger sense, we’re still pretty much in the wilderness: “expect more wheeling, dealing, negotiating, intra-party bickering and finger-pointing among the parties,” he advises, which is “the nature of minority governments”—and will continue to be so long as Quebeckers are determined to keep electing MPs who are uninterested in helping to govern the country.

The Calgary Herald‘s Don Martin suggests the “next time the prime minister advocates a Quebec-only policy or directs great gobs of political payola toward that province, he might face grinding-teeth objections from inside his western base.” He might also face “grumbles” that three shots at a majority is enough, that $300 million and the moral capital of a fixed election date law was too much to spend “for an election [in which] only three dozen seats changed hands,” and he may well want to flagellate himself “for alienating Quebec voters with needless arts cuts and tougher youth crime packages.” But with Dion now doomed and his party destined to bicker and borrow its way further into the mire, Martin says the Prime Minister can claim “a majority in political power if not in name.”

The Toronto Star‘s Chantal Hébert isn’t so sure it’s smooth sailing for Harper in his second mandate; there is, after all, the small matter of “steer[ing] the country through the first period of deep economic turmoil of the new century … within the straight jacket of the zero-deficit creed.” And creating a pan-Canadian caucus in hopes of eventually, finally achieving a majority isn’t going to be much easier with this crop of electees than with the last one—assuming Harper isn’t willing to just give up on Quebec entirely, that is.

Indeed, considering the “zero-deficit creed” and the Prime Minister’s commitment to “laissez-faire” economics, the Star‘s Thomas Walkom is quite sure he’ll soon be forced into unpopular spending cuts. “But what would he cut? He could trim back the estimated $18.1 billion being spent on the war in Afghanistan. But he’s already indicated that he’s loath to touch that,” Walkom muses. “Which leaves—what? Money slated for health? Infrastructure? Cities?”

“Last election, Harper blew a majority at the last minute by musing about closet Liberals in the public service and the courts who would constrain his government,” Randall Denley writes in the Ottawa Citizen. “This time, he did it again with his comments about the arts and youth crime”—and against a weakling of an opposition leader, to boot. Also, nobody likes him because he’s “an autocratic and unloveable figure with no real vision for the country,” and he’s not a “real leader.”

Nevertheless, Harper better name his cabinet quick, John Ivison advises in the Post, and find someone competent at foreign affairs to be “plunged into a series of high level international meetings, including an emergency gathering of G8 leaders, la Francophonie in Quebec City later this month and APEC in Peru in November.” Let’s see here, competent… com-pet-ent. Hmm. That’d be one of Jim Prentice or Lawrence Cannon, Ivison very logically concludes—and if he’s wrong, lord help us all.

“The NDP, the Bloc Québécois and the Liberals (in their leftist Dionista variant, at least) are all pro-Kyoto, down-the-line socially liberal, anti-American, weak on crime, culturally nationalistic, and fiscally redistributionist,” Jonathan Kay writes in the Post, and they all more or less envision a “a leftwing, hyper-environmentalist, multilateral, culture-subsidizing, prisoner-codling, Ameriphobic welfare state,” which is, he adds, “scary.” (Good gravy, is this Kay? Or has one of the Post‘s more cantankerous contributors been mis-bylined?) Why don’t they just admit they’re helpless against each other’s charms and kiss already?

But the Vancouver Sun‘s Daphne Bramham thinks Canada’s centre-left parties feature “simply too many divisions, too many egos and too little will to give up what each party has built”—even after what they build falls down and the rubble catches on fire, in the case of the Liberals—to unite any time soon. But in the meantime, she suggests our third consecutive minority parliament might take a page from Lester Pearson’s accomplished tenure and attempt to work together. “Minority governments provide one of the few opportunities in our first-past-the-post, winner-take-all system for members of Parliament to be more than nodding dogs,” she writes, “especially if they are in opposition.”

A new kind of Conservative government—perhaps one dedicated to “restoring democracy to Parliament and the broadly shared values that made Tories, the original Conservatives, progressive”—is a big ask, the Star‘s James Travers warns, for “a controlling Prime Minister who has occasionally been generous—the residential schools apology stands out—but more often pitiless in pursuing partisan advantage through public policy.” Still, he concedes, there’s no need his second mandate need be marred, like his first, “by wedge politics and policies that contributed, positively and negatively, to last night’s result.”

Terence Corcoran‘s conservatism isn’t keeping him warm at night these days. Writing in the Post, he describes the Harper/Flanagan brand of “incremental conservatism” as “the kind of conservatism that never arrives.” For every “increment forward on … telecom deregulation … or military spending” there have been corresponding “lurching fallbacks”—and as such, in Corcoran’s view, last night’s victory is “nothing to cheer about.” On the other hand, he says, with Washington rapidly turning pinko, Harper does have an “opportunity to distinguish himself” as an island of “moderation and conservatism.”

In the Gazette, L. Ian MacDonald gets out the scientific calculator and proves how unlikely it was heading into the election for Harper to win a majority in a Parliament with strong Bloc and NDP contingents. He suggests that it would have involved winning “67.5 per cent of [the] available seats”—or, put another way, “two competitive seats out of three.” But it’s rather odd to claim it was a near-impossible task on one hand and, on the other, insist the Quebec debacle was a “self-inflicted wound.” The Tories only finished 12 seats shy of a majority, after all—fewer than they were supposed to win in Quebec before they buggered it up.

Sun Media’s Greg Weston provides a few campaign “snapshots,” which combine to form a very effective recap of our 40th, and dreariest, election. If you want “anything close to a turning point,” he suggests Harper’s attempts “to look prime ministerial in the debates” as suitable candidates. Instead, Weston argues, “he looked like the cold fish most Canadians have come to expect.”

It’s not Barbara Yaffe‘s fault that her election-night recap in the Vancouver Sun is functionally identical to, like, 10 others we’ve read today. She just has the misfortune of us reading it after all the others, and we’re too tired and cranky to judge it rationally. But we did like the idea that Harper’s “comment about buying bargain-priced stocks … betrayed a Marie Antoinette insouciance regarding the global financial meltdown.” Jeepers, can’t a guy give drop-dead obvious financial advice on television anymore?

“We didn’t have a serious discussion about climate change because Canadians didn’t demand it. We didn’t reward those who wanted to talk about it. We didn’t punish those who changed the subject,” Dan Gardner writes, elegiacally—that’s for you, Rex Murphy—in the Citizen. “We shrugged—all of us, media and public alike—and talked about pooping puffins instead.” And we should all be very, very ashamed of ourselves.