Six weeks ago, when the federal election was called, not even the most hopeful Conservatives could have seen this coming.
Prime Minister Stephen Harper has long dreamed of changing Canada’s political landscape into two distinct factions: his party on the centre-right and the New Democratic Party on the left.
That’s the way politics have been played in the United States for generations, and it has become the norm throughout Europe.
To win and hold power in this system, you can never stray too far from the middle.
That’s a welcome prospect for most Canadians.
But it’s safe to say that not even Harper envisioned it happening so soon. The total collapse of the Bloc Quebecois, the New Democratic Party becoming the official Opposition and the rout of the Liberals that cost Michael Ignatieff his own seat were off the charts when the election campaign began in March.
If Harper didn’t envision a 167-seat majority government, he will quickly move to consolidate it.
He will kick the smaller parties while they are down by ending public subsidies based on the number of votes they receive in future federal elections.
That will make the Conservatives’ excellent fundraising arm even more productive, while limiting new parties like the Greens from building on the success of Elizabeth May winning the first parliamentary Green Party seat.
Harper’s win was not only great for the Conservatives, it holds great promise for the West.
We are at the heart of resource extraction that will drive the national economy for the next generation.
Now, Westerners will control the levers of power in Ottawa for the next four years.
Harper has a team of seasoned parliamentarians to lead an effective government.
Meanwhile, the Liberals are decimated and the New Democrats are woefully inexperienced.
Going forward, Harper’s No. 1 task is stewarding the economy. As an economist by training, Harper has the education, experience and instincts to lead effectively on this front.
It’s a huge task. While economists will tell you that all the jobs lost in the economy have been recovered, that number is highly deceptive.
Some of the most stable, high-paying manufacturing jobs of the last generation have been lost, probably forever.
Many have been replaced with low-paying and self-employment jobs that offer few benefits and no pensions.
Additionally, the Canadian economy must create 25,000 new jobs every month just to account for population and workforce growth to keep the unemployment rate flat.
With 1.4 million Canadians on the official unemployment rolls and millions more underemployed, it will take tremendous leadership on Harper’s part to accelerate economic growth while ratcheting down the federal deficit to zero by 2015.
The corporate tax cuts he has promised will help.
New programs to enhance worker productivity will be critical.
So will infrastructure to speed the flow of goods to markets and research to help create the next-generation economy. But those are complex, expensive and long-term goals.
Hundreds of jobs for new jail guards are not what Canada needs right now.
We do need more federal help to fund provincial judges, prosecutors and courtrooms.
An Advocate story last week detailed how fatality reviews for people who died almost four years ago have been repeatedly stalled for lack of resources to properly probe their deaths.
Lessons learned from fatality reviews can help prevent repeat tragedies. We need that more than we need warehouses for criminals whose conduct is driven by drug addiction.
Another thing we don’t need is multibillion-dollar expenditures for new-generation fighter jets.
They are horrendously expensive to build and maintain. Fighter jets have rarely been needed to defend Canada for more than half a century.
Their presumptive new role to assert Canadian sovereignty in the Arctic is both dubious and outrageously expensive.
Harper needs to focus tightly on real Canadian needs.
As surprising and decisive as the election result is, the prime minister can’t lose sight of the fact that less than one in four Canadians backed him. Only 61 per cent of eligible Canadian voters cast ballots on Monday and less than 40 per cent of them voted for Conservative candidates.
Nor can Harper forget that even strong majority mandates are impermanent.
In 1984, Brian Mulroney led his Progressive Conservative Party to the largest majority victory in Canadian history. He captured 211 seats, while reducing the Liberal count to 40 seats from 147 the previous time out.
Less than a decade later, the Tories were reduced to two lonely seats in the House of Commons.
If Harper and his acolytes hope to avoid that fate, they must check their egos, listen to all Canadians and lead from just right of centre.
Joe McLaughlin is the retired former managing editor of the Red Deer Advocate.