Thursday, May 24, 2007

The Harper Criticisms

Olaf asks the million dollar question:
Often, you'll hear partisan critics hysterically declare this government the "most cynical in Canadian history". They're also simultaneously the most ideological and least principled government in Canadian history, and the most successful deceitful and disastrously incompetent - hey, who says you can't be contradictory to be consistent?

How can you criticize this government as an ideological menace, while simultaneously pointing to their lack of principle? On the surface, a complete contradiction, and the two statements aren't easily reconciled. The government as cynical manipulator, crafting policy to curry favor, suggests that there is no ideology, beyond the idea of retail politics.

I am guilty of arguing both criticisms, and I have thought of the strained logic. That tension is alleviated if you embrace the idea of circumstance. Ezra Levant, who is a conservative ideologue, recently argued that, while the government has abandoned some of its supposed principles, this was probably a temporary situation because "they are doing what they have to win a majority". The inference, this government is ideological at heart, but there is a recognition of electoral reality, and the first phase must secure unchecked power.

The present circumstance doesn't support a hard right agenda. There is no situation, wherein Stephen Harper can expand support if he adopts the ideological agenda, that his long paper trail supports. The Harper view is the minority view in Canada, which translates to a need to "reach out" to expand support. No one would argue that Harper doesn't have majority on the brain, he mentions it frequently, his strategists openly speak of the plan.

Ideology is on the back burner, electoral reality is primary, in the first phase. One has to wonder, why is that Harper is so consumed with a majority? Why can't the government operate effectively in a minority situation if it really is pragmatic at heart? The obsession tells us that there is more to see from this government, it has calculated it needs absolute power to effectively enact the agenda. Instead of governing, we have seen a perpetual campaign, wherein Conservatives have acted like "liberals", in many regards. There is little evidence of principle, because the only principle is the acquisition of power.

I don't believe that the current incarnation of Stephen Harper is the genuine article. We see hints of the ideologue, but it usually on the margins, and is quickly corrected if internal polling suggests a backlash (people will notice the lack of Bushisms and differing focus on the latest Afghan trip). Only when we see a majority will the government truly flower. Phase one, a cynical manipulation of electorate, acting as a mostly amoral corporation selling a brand. Phase two, unchecked control where the philosophy can take root.


Canadian Tar Heel said...

And I thought I was cynical. Tell us what you really think. Ha.

Jokes aside, I think that you've done a pretty good job of reconciling the prima facie contradiction. However, your argument remains mostly intuitive. Concrete examples would greatly enhance this decent post. (N.B.: I readily admit that this is a bit like the pot calling the kettle black on my part.)

Steve V said...

"Concrete examples would greatly enhance this decent post."

Hi Tarheel. I assume you mean the ideology part? Obviously, the paper trail, prior to forming a government, provides lots of evidence. I would point to the assault on the Wheat Board as precursor, the federal government initiated low profile talks with provinces to resist federal spending powers, the overtures to a hard right Bush administration, the Kelowna Accord, the "Canada is back" rhetoric within the confines of some militarism. Is that what you mean?

There is an intuitive component because the majority is theoretical, so you could argue Harper will never act as I suggest.

Holly Stick said...

You mean ideological actions like not just cutting funding to Status of Women Canada, but changing the SWC mandate to eliminate lobbying for women's equality? And cuts to museums, because they are Canadian culture and the Conservatives prefer American culture? And prancing around Afghanistan in the hope that Canadians are stupid enough to think Harper is a real he-man?

knb said...

I agree whole heartedly with you Steve.

Of course concrete examples are difficult, lest he show his hand.

The most concrete of course is his history. To assume that all of that has been abandoned, that his basic philosophy has changed, is to live in fantasy land.

Then we have 2 attempts at selling the public on their climate plan. It's an issue they don't believe in, but Canadians do, so, let's give them something that will have them believe we're serious, while we really do nothing. All the while protecting the Tar Sands. The cutting of the Court Challenges Program and the tactics used at committee so the opposition cannot do what they are there to do, are two more. The psuedo "get tough on crime" agenda, while protecting gun owners at all costs and giving amnesty to owners, so they don't have to register their guns.

The list is long, but not obvious. They couch their intent behind flashy announcements. The general public sees the announcement and thinks, "well that seems okay", not seeing the lie.

They are masters at it and that is what is so disturbing. For the opposition to expose it all without looking like they are whining, or imagining things is the problem, (as we saw during the last election). Love or hate Martin, believe me, he knew who Harper was.

Cerberus said...

Nice post.

I think there are two ways to look at it:

1. He is a moderate ideologue surrounded by more extreme ideologues who believe in his ability to deliver a majority or on certain campaign promises. So we see a lot of right wing driven policy with some specific major violations of core conservative principles.

2. He is less an ideologue than a power monger with some basic underlying but not overriding beliefs. He played up those underlying beliefs as though they were overriding beliefs in order to win power over the party and doesn't need them as much anymore to get to even more power over the country.

I'm more inclined to believe #1.

What is very interesting and very funny is that it is the true right wing Conservative supporters who, in order to convince themselves to stay loyal to an opportunistic power monger who abandons principle on whim, are now arguing that 'yes, there is a hidden agenda after all; keep supporting him for now and when he wins a majority the REAL agenda will unfold'.

Steve V said...


That is a good point, it is the right-wing that is arguing the "hidden agenda". Fear mongerers :)

Canadian Tar Heel said...

Hi Steve,

My intent was not to come off as overly critical. In fact, I sympathize with your view, and think that Ted's option #1 sounds like it fits well with your assessment.

Rather, I think that it would be good if we could point to particular writings of his, statements etc., so that we can attribute them directly to Harper as opposed to the party in general. The SCC case, Harper v. Canada, serves as a good example. These kinds of indicia cannot be attributed to anyone but him, and go rather far in exposing elements of his "vision" / ideology. Know what I mean?

knb said...

canadian tar heel, I presume you are a lawyer...your link and the term prima facie, in evidence.

The point remains however, how to articulate the truth to Canadians. No one is obviously going to read legal documents, they don't make for good ads frankly. So the dilemma remains.

What is the answer? It's more than intuition on Steve's part. Anyone who pays attention to this stuff, and isn't devoted to the "leader", see's it.

What's the answer?

How do we prove Harper is not who he seems to be? They failed in the States, re' Bush. Let's be smarter than that!

I should be clear here. I don't think Harper is Bush. I think Bush is an idiot who follows direction. I think Harper is of the same mind that give Bush direction, but Harper is the director.

Steve V said...


Harper is far more intelligent than Bush.


At this point, I just assume everyone is familar with Harper's history, so I just bypass the examples.

Canadian Tar Heel said...

Fair enough, Steve.

Stephen said...

Excellent articulation of the princpled vs ideology conundrum. I've thought about that one too. I think I'll link to this.

I can think of a few examples of the ideologue revealing himself: the environment, Kelowna, child care.

Steve V said...


Here is a new one.

knb said...

Steve: Harper is far more intelligent than Bush.

I thought that is what I said. I agree completely.

Tim Webster said...

canadian tar,
Thanks for the link to the court document. I will take a good look at it.

One thing I noticed, is the enormous economic and social benefits of fair competition. Unfortunately not everyone wants fair competition, instead they prefer corupting fair competition to win at all cost.

This is a little off topic. But Goverment that encorages coruption to force their personal agenda through, in the end only results in greater coruption which is a economic and social downfall. A simple obvious truth, which people don't get when emotions run high. When emotions run high, any means to an end is justified. In the process people lose sight of that the dishonorable means are really in fact the end and not the "honorable end they thought"

Steve V said...


Actually you did, my bad :)

Stephen said...

Yep, that one too.

Ti-Guy said...

Harper only comes off more intelligent than Bush because he doesn't live in the bubble of the American ruling class.

I don't consider Harper particularly bright or talented; nothing in his history points to anything that most of us would consider an achievement that measures well against any standards of excellence. That he's gotten this far is a testament to the power of the people who own him.

Olaf said...


Interesting post. Here is where it falls apart, however, in my opinion: you make it sound like once Harper has a majority, he'll have no desire to ever be elected again and is willing to have a legacy as the most hated Prime Minister in recent memory, just in order to implement a far right wing agenda which will ensure his ouster and his parties demolition the following election and the election of a left leaning Liberal government intent on reversing any conservative policies implemented by the Harper Trojan horse.

Right? Like imagine Harper had a majority, and began implementing whatever right wing agenda you think he is craving: abandoning the CHA, outlawing abortion, disallowing gay marriage, whatever. Do you really think that Harper thinks this will stick after he's gone, thus making it worth his villification? Harper won't ever be able to change the constitution without provincial (and likely the populations) say so, so any right wing nutter policies he implements would be legislative and thus can (and would) be easily reversed
by the following government.

Why is it that you assume he's just trying to do what Canadian's want now, and will be happy with doing the precise opposite (eg. America-lite, in your opinion, I assume) after a majority? Maybe he wants another majority after that. Would you be the guy 4 years into a Mulroney/Chretien-esque Harper government rehashing old Harper quotes from decades ago, saying "I know he hasn't done it yet, but trust me, after he wins the next election, the ideologue is going to rear it's ugly head"?

Where does it end, really?

Think about it: what would Harper get out of the whole venture? It makes no sense. There are pretty rigid parameters set by our political culture that no PM can cross without the most dire repercussions. I'm surprised at how "frightened" progressives get at the idea of a Harper majority, as if he'll have carte blanche to do whatever the hell he wants. If they would just realize the intangible but very real barriers which constrain the policy framework of any government even after they're elected, I bet their terror would soon dissipate.

Olaf said...

So do I win the argument?