Why Harper Should Love The Loopy Left
As in the Sherlock Holmes story of the dog that didn’t bark, what can be most interesting is what didn’t happen. So what hound didn’t howl during the first year of Stephen Harper’s Conservative majority government?
The hardcore right. All year long, the Conservative marching band stayed in lockstep behind the drum major.
Conservative pundits remained seated politely in the reviewing stand. And the conservative base cheered and clapped on the sidewalks. Oh, there was a little grumbling here and there, but it was barely noticeable and quickly forgotten, and there was nothing that could be called dissent or alienation. And not a whisper of rebellion against the man leading the parade.
Which is astonishing. For five long years, True Believers had consoled themselves by reciting a mantra. “He has to because it’s a minority,” they would say. “Wait until the majority.”
Stephen Harper accepted gay marriage and refused to even discuss abortion. “Wait until the majority,” social conservatives sighed. “Wait until the majority.”
He increased federal government spending 19 per cent even before embracing Keynesian stimulus spending with the fervour of a convert. He expanded the federal civil service by 13 per cent. He supported supply management, expanded regional development agencies, interfered with foreign investment and implemented a series of tax reforms that made economists cringe.
“Wait until the majority,” tearful fiscal conservatives whispered to themselves. “Wait until the majority.”
Then came the majority, and not much changed.
At the beginning of 2012, when the government was accused of trying to quietly roll back gay marriage, it responded with strong support of gay marriage in both word and legislative substance.
Last week, when a private member’s motion prompted accusations that the government was trying to quietly raise the abortion issue, the Conservative whip condemned the motion, declared the government would never do a thing to restrict abortion rights, and, for good measure, made a pro-choice speech as powerful and emphatic as any ever heard in the House of Commons.
Fiscal conservatives did a little better than social conservatives in the first year of the Harper majority, but the emphasis must be on the word “little.” The budget which had been touted as “transformational” was nothing of the kind. Yes, there were modest cuts, but orthodox Keynesianism calls for spending to be curtailed after a recession passes and the economy is moving up the business cycle, so there was nothing particularly radical about that. The simple truth is that the prime minister’s first budget with the free hand of a majority could have been delivered by a Liberal government led by John Manley or Paul Martin.
Conservatives know that, but don’t take my word for it. “I haven’t spoken to a single Conservative who’s satisfied with the budget Jim Flaherty brought down last month,” noted Paul Wells of Maclean’s.
So why haven’t we heard more of that disappointment in public? Where’s the alienation and dissent, the hint of rebellion in the ranks?
Why doesn’t that dog bark? There are many factors at work. For one, Stephen Harper essentially created his party and has managed it to ensure there are no Paul Martins with prominence and power of their own.
Other prime ministers, especially Conservatives, could not have dreamed of the control Harper has.
There’s also the sense that, however much Harper may compromise conservative principles he is, at heart, a conservative, and so he is cut far more slack than the young Stephen Harper and his Reform colleagues gave Brian Mulroney, who was never seen as “one of us.”
But there’s another factor at work. It’s seldom recognized. And it’s critical to keeping the right quiet.
It’s Stephen Harper’s leftist critics.
Last spring, Toronto Star columnist Heather Mallick described Canada after a Harper majority. “Guns on the streets, gated communities, rampant drug use, unlimited anonymous corporate political donations, no government safety standards for food and medicine, classrooms that resemble holding pens more than civilized safe rooms for the young to learn. -” Deep breath.
“Women’s rights would retreat, including abortion rights, access to medical advances and the right to go to court to protest inequality. Everything would be up for privatization, from roads, parks, and parking meters to schools and hospitals.” There’s more, but you get the idea.
Hardcore conservatives love hearing stuff like that. It means Stephen Harper is hated to the point of loopiness by people they loathe, and so they conclude that the prime minister must be doing something right. Even if they can’t identify what it is.
In this way, the more unhinged warriors of the left and right mirror and reinforce each other.
When Stephen Harper was in opposition, the left insisted he had a secret agenda he would implement if he ever took power.
The right hoped that was true.
Harper took power and there was no secret agenda. The left said that was only because he was restrained by minority government. “Wait until the majority,” they said. Nothing cheered up the right like hearing the words they whispered to themselves coming from the left.
Then came the majority. Still no secret agenda.
No matter. The zealots are sure it’s coming. Slowly. Very slowly.
“Stephen Harper is remaking the country,” Star columnist Thomas Walkom wrote after the budget was tabled. “It is not a convulsive remake. Like the prime minister himself, it is slow, relentless, inexorable.”
Evidence? There isn’t much. Or any. Now. But there will be. Just wait. It’s all part of his master strategy. He’s “boiling the frog,” the left insists. It’s incremental.
We won’t recognize the country when he’s done.
The right wipes away a tear, smiles and keeps marching in lockstep.