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.