No sooner had Stephen Harper concluded the his government wouldn’t respect the motion passed in the House banning the flagrant use of the notorious “ten percenters” than he flip-flopped yesterday, stating he agreed with the Liberal motion curtailing their use. He couldn’t let it go though without taking a shot at his main opposition, stating how he would be glad to see these Liberal advertisings fade off into the sunset. All opposition parties groaned at that because it was the sheer vitriolic language in the Conservative ten percenters that caused the mini-crisis in the first place. It’s ridiculous, but it’s the new normal.
What led to this hasty reversal in a period of only just a few hours? Think of the national anthem fiasco the PM found himself embroiled in directly following the Throne Speech a few weeks ago. Outrage was so intense that he had to kill the idea before it even got off the ground. All those Canadians who proudly sang “O Canada” just a few days previous during the Olympic Games suddenly had that patriotism blindsided by an odd governmental initiative.
Of this you can be sure: Conservatives poll everything. Private polls during the prorogation mess quickly showed the government, not only that it was on the wrong side of the issue, but that it was increasingly on the wrong side. In other words, it had the capacity to alter the balance by engaging a public that previously had been dormant. The Conservatives are still smarting over that, but they are smart enough to know that the public was about to take them to the woodshed.
There’s no way the ten percenter issue has that kind of clout, but it was registering on the polling radar screen, in the company of other issues like detainees, the anthem, and now the government’s foolish promotion of applying aid to women’s efforts around the world without providing access to birth control.
Put simply, it might be that the mood of Canadians is shifting ever so slightly. While the dangers to his reputation from prorogation proved compelling, it is likely that these series of lesser issues could combine to press the PM with stronger headwinds than he predicted.
What’s most fascinating about these events is their irrelevance to the government’s main strategy of dumbing down the political discourse in a way that disengages the public at large. Seemingly successful to date, the presence of new and emerging grumblings from the electorate has created some troubles for the Conservative agenda.
In other words, you are starting to matter. From prorogation and ten percenters, to anger over CIDA cuts and changes to the anthem, the grassroots have stirred enough to cause reversals in the government’s political designs. In such a light, the ten percenter victory is perhaps more important than we imagine, as citizens begin the slow process of filling up the public space the Harper government has increasingly vacated. It’s low-level turbulence, to be sure, but it’s a victory nonetheless – even if it’s only ten percent.