Now we are six
Is there something unlucky about six in Canadian politics? The federal Conservative government marked its sixth-year anniversary in the past few weeks... the sixth anniversary of its election victory in January and six years since its swearing-in on Feb. 6, 2006.
A couple of years ago, I had dinner with a seasoned political type, no friend of the Harper government, who said he thought it would take six years in power for the Conservatives to start wearing out their welcome. I said something like "you know this means they'll get another mandate." This wasn't his preference. He shrugged and agreed.
But that number six has been much in my mind as we move past the anniversaries of late. Also, I've been deep in the history pages as I'm doing this book thing (hence the infrequent blogging... sorry.)
The six-year mark wasn't kind to Brian Mulroney. Six years after he gained power in 1984, his Meech Lake constitutional accord came crashing down, he introduced the GST, the Bloc Quebecois and the Reform Party became full-fledged challenges, and the seeds of Mulroney''s defeat were sown by 1990. Mulroney's Conservatives were devastated in the 1993 election and never really recovered -- needing to merge with the Canadian Alliance to come back to power.
Six years after Chretien won his majority in late 1993, things were souring in 1999-2000 too. His real opposition, within his own caucus, had grown restive waiting for Paul Martin's succession and Chretien was starting to be known as the "friendly dictator." The Liberals went on a slow vote decline starting in 2000, from which it's still not clear they'll recover.
It strikes me that when governments go bad, whether at six years or another point, it's when they start to confuse "us" and "them." Mulroney paid too much attention to his "us" -- his caucus and his damn-the-public-opinion plans, and didn't realize the size of the "them" against him. Chretien thought all Liberals were "us" and realized that many had started to identify themselves as "them," against him.
The current Conservative government, under Harper, has always played that us-versus-them calculation to its advantage. It divided the world into friends and enemies and though it seemed a bit small of them (they won, after all) it worked. But I'm not sure it's got the calculation right these days. Maybe it's unlucky 6.
Harper went to Davos, to talk about what he was going to do about the pensions of "them," and has been in a scramble since to define who those people are. I'm pretty sure those imminent pensioners thought they were on the Harper "us" team. His government keeps defining its enemies -- the "them" -- as child pornographers, Hitler sympathizers, foreign radicals, etc., in a manner that seems designed to make sure that the Harper government's "us" looks rather miniature. In fact, it's starting to look like a very tiny, puzzlingly aggrieved group. (What are they mad at, anyway?) Are there any Canadians out there with whom this government would like to make a new acquaintance, perhaps be new friends? If not, are the Conservatives absolutely sure that their old friends -- the "us" -- are still with them? Certainly there are signs that may not be the case.
Oh... That poem I'm referring to in the headline and illustration here? It's from A.A. Milne, in a collection of children's poems, circa 1927, and I'll leave it to you to find the political parallels. All I'll say is that kids and governments don't stay six forever.
When I was one I had just begun
When I was two I was nearly new
When I was three I was hardly me
When I was four I was not much more
When I was five I was just alive
But now I am six, I'm as clever as clever;
So I think I'll be six now for ever and ever.