If you know the enemy and know yourself, you need not fear the result of a hundred battles. - Sun Tzu
What is dancing around inside the new PM's head these days? I dare not venture on the specifics, but I'd be willing to bet that the overall theme is not how to set up for the upcoming Parliament but rather how to win the next election.
With their main rivals in disarray at the top and separation likely on the backburner for the time being, the playing field really is theirs. I have suggested previously that one option for Harper is to come out of the blocks with a few bones for his right-wing social base before settling into the rhythm of governing. This is possible given that the opposition, specifically the Liberals, are unlikely to want a quick election before, say, next November to February.
This could be done relatively cheaply, in Parliamentary terms, by offering up a few free votes on social issues like gay marriage. Such free votes would not threaten a minority government and would likely lose, with the BQ, NDP, and likely large parts of the Liberal caucus voting against the move. Harper could then walk away saying "I tried", and move on.
That this might be a dangerous game to play come election time is obvious. Regardless of how effective and clean a government he runs after such a vote, when the writ is dropped the fear-mongering that the Liberals effectively used in 2004 and ineffectively in 2006 might well work.
I had written this off as a possiblity based on the possible dangers come the following election. However, in a conversation last night my buddy Dan said something to the effect that "a 50 or 60 seat NDP caucus might well be Stephen Harper's dream". And this line kept me up half the bloody night. Thanks, Dan.
The Liberal party is an odd amalgam of high-finance and social spending - banks and welfare; a blend that has solidified their position in the centre of the Canadian political spectrum. It is what has made them the "natural governing party of Canada" for lo these many years.
It is easy to make the mistake and think that this is the way that it has always been or always will be. Indeed, in order for the Conservatives to experience long-term electoral success, they are going to attempt to change this very political spectrum. They could do that in two ways. First, they could try to rebrand themselves into the centre and replace the Liberals. They did this in this past campaign and to some extent it worked. Like electoral Jedi mind tricks, childcare and GST cuts played on the middle-class Canadian voter. The second option is to simply try to cut the Liberal party in half along the monetary and social meridian that runs through its centre.
As I said, Plan A worked to some extent in the previous election campaign. However, I have to believe that, unlike the Liberal Party, the Conservatives have a plan for the country and the plan is not to steer a middle course. You might, like Paul Martin did during the campaign, call it an evil sinister scheme, or you might call it like it is - a vision of Canada that you might not share. (The Conservatives have been quite cagey about this scheme, but I think the election results indicate that Canadians believe they have a vision for the country and the Liberals and NDP did not. What it is, I don't know, and thinking about it gives me the willies, but that's just me.) In any case, I think that the idealogues in the Conservative Party are not going to steer a middle path for very long and that leaves Plan B - to tear apart the Liberal Party.
It often seems to be the case that, just like in the comic books, the things that make us strong also are our greatest weaknesses. So it is with the Liberals. I don't think that it will be a single vote or issue that suddenly rends party support, rather it could seep away in a change in environment within the party brought on by a series of divisive issues. Issues like gay marriage might well split party support and cleave off portions of it to the NDP, whereas tax cuts and other moves might pull some support from the other side into the Tory caucus.
Of course there is the "reality trap". If there is a genius to the Bush Administration (and I mean Administration, not Bush) it is their understanding that reality can be imposed. They have sliced up the country using wedge issues and a nation that really is quite liberal by modern political standards continually votes in right-wing nutbars. They have mobilized their country into a perpetual war footing by inflaming a single event. The reality trap appears when your imposed reality, say a useful, profitable, and on-going struggle with a now well-known battle tactic, runs into an immovable and real object, say a chaotic and despotic Mid-East country.
Like Bush's army in Iraq, the Harper Conservatives may find out that reality usually wins these battles, and the reality here is that Canada is a centrist fiscal, tax, and social policy. It will be interesting to see how much to the right the Conservatives will be able to pull the electorate before it snaps back.