The fact is that, over the past three months, Harper’s agenda has featured more so-called distractions than anything else.
Creaky wheels in the PMO and in the cabinet; cracks in caucus solidarity and public opinion turbulence have become hallmarks of the ongoing federal season.
Finance Minister Jim Flaherty’s 2013 budget played to tepid reviews. He has been battling a painful illness. In the lead-up to a mid-term shuffle there has been unprecedented speculation as to his future role in the government.
For different reasons, outgoing Bank of Canada governor Mark Carney and former PMO chief of staff Nigel Wright — who both played strategic roles on Harper’s economic watch — are simultaneously out of the picture.
For the first time since Harper became leader, some elements of the religious right have waged open war on his leadership. That comes on the heels of a public collision between the prime minister’s parliamentary lieutenants and the social conservative wing of his caucus over the abortion issue. That clash has morphed into a larger internal battle over the democratic rights of government MPs.
An early attempt to clip the wings of Justin Trudeau seems to have backfired. Polls suggest that the latest Liberal leader is less vulnerable to the black magic of Conservative spin doctors than his predecessors.
In yet another first, the prime minister lost a seat to a byelection earlier this month and, in the process, his only Newfoundland-and-Labrador minister. Peter Penashue had initially resigned over 2011 election spending violations.
On the same general theme, a federal court judge found that fraudulent phone calls to non-Conservative voters in the last election were part of a systemic attempt to prevent them from voting. While last week’s ruling did not point the finger at the Conservatives, it did conclude that whoever was behind the manoeuvre accessed the party’s data bank.
If there ever was a time when the government needed to change the channel it would be now, but Harper does not have a lot of alternative programming to offer.