After a near decade-long conquest of Gaul, which many of the senators who would later stab him to death considered illegal, Julius Caesar crossed the Rubicon river on his way back to Rome with his one remaining legion. His intentional act of insurrection paved the way for the republic’s fall and for his own eventual assassination.
In the fifth season of Happy Days, The Fonz (Henry Winkler) jumps over a shark on water skis. The scene proved to be a similarly crucial tipping point for the show and is widely cited as the exact moment things began to go downhill.
While Stephen Harper is no Julius Caesar, despite his Napoleon complex, and Justin Trudeau is no Fonzie, despite adoring fans who genuinely believe he can turn on a jukebox by hitting it, both Harper and Trudeau may have each crossed their respective points of no return.
In Harper’s case, those in his cabinet and those in his caucus know that he intends neither to relinquish power nor to share it … ever. John Baird knew it and left. Jason Kenny knows it. Peter MacKay knows it. Lisa Raitt knows it. Everyone knows it. Even if no other cabinet ministers break ranks before the fall, it is far from inconceivable that other MPs might.
And then there are the voters, by whom one might be inclined to believe a steady and steep descent into authoritarianism would be most keenly felt. Here, however, one would be wrong. Conservative columnists have had quite a lot to say about it, to be sure, as have non-voting types and the other 60.4% of voters who voted for someone else in 2011; and yet, even as our government grinds harder and harder against the liberal-democratic fabric of our nation, the 24.2% of eligible voters who voted Tory last time remain, for the most part, unmoved.
According to Ekos tracking of federal vote intention, Liberals rode the wave of Trudeau mania from just before the leadership coronation to just about the time Canada went to war again, when both Liberal and NDP support took a synchronized nosedive as Canadians rallied around our fearless leader. By early last February, Harper’s rock’em sock’em Tories were polling at 35%, higher than the pre-Trudea era and higher than they were polling going into the 2011 election.
It may well have been this exact image Trudeau and his courtiers were looking at when they decided it best to sell out the rights of Canadians and human rights for perceived political gain. Here is where it gets interesting. Bill C-51, the Harper government’s sweeping overhaul of the reach and scope of Canada’s intelligence services, has been heavily publicized and continues to be deeply unpopular among civil libertarians on the left and the right, with thousands protesting it across the country and over 100,000 speaking out online in a joint petition organized by OpenMedia and Leadnow. The bill passed its third reading in the House of Commons with a vote of 183 to 96, thanks to the entirely unnecessary support of Justin Trudeau’s Liberals, setting off a firestorm of criticism, not only of the legislation and its implications for the rights of a whole range of Canadians but also of the Liberal leader’s unflinching and unapologetic support. As it turns out, supporting a draconian bill that could have just as easily passed without your help makes you come across as a bit draconian, but not in the imposing Dr. Doom kind of way, more like the spineless, hunchbacked henchman cowering behind the villain.
Meanwhile, in Alberta, in what any federal NDP supporter must concede was a result of regional conditions not directly related to dissatisfaction either with federal Conservatives or Liberals, Rachel Notley’s NDP won a stunning majority on Tuesday, interrupting 44 years of Progressive Conservative reign with four years of something new. If her government takes the moderate path she promised in Alberta, and all indications are that it will, there are a great many reasons to think that slowly but surely some former PC voters and Liberals in the province may begin to see the federal NDP as less of a threat to the interests of Albertans, offering a possible alternative to an increasingly far-removed and centralized Conservative government in Ottawa and the increasingly underhanded political gamesmanship on display by federal Liberals.
In another Ekos poll released yesterday, the spike in support for the federal NDP is unmistakeable and mirrors the surge of NDP support in the provincial campaign, though it is perhaps a pale reflection. Nonetheless, federal Conservative support in the province is hovering around its lowest level in recent history, and while a steep climb remains for the NDP in Alberta, Notley’s campaign has taught both Albertans and Canadians to expect the unexpected.
Looking at the bigger picture, while federal Liberals are once again poised to overtake the Conservatives, the NDP is rapidly closing the gap, up to 24.2% from well below 20% in February, putting them back within striking distance of the Liberals at 29.6%. What accounts for this shift? Likely not Alberta, since most Canadians only heard about that this week. More likely, it is largely a result of rising public discontent over a poorly defined ISIS mission combined with the inescapably mortifying spectacle surrounding the fraud, bribery, and breach of public trust trial of former Conservative and Harper-appointed senator Mike Duffy.
Will Canadians vote in another Conservative government in 2015? At the moment, all signs point to no. Far too many things are are far more likely to go wrong than to go right for Harper between now and October for him to maintain the stranglehold on power he has enjoyed since 2011. The real question is will Trudeau manage to keep up what many political commentators saw as unstoppable momentum? The answer to that, as we can see from the numbers, is no.