Saturday, January 14, 2006

Globe & Mail: 1 1/2 Thumbs Up For Harper

The Globe and Mail has given Stephen Harper and the Conservatives a grudging endorsement, much as it did to Paul Martin and the Liberals in 2004, both of which amounted to the same thing: we don't like him that much, but he can't do any real harm:

The argument against change essentially amounts to this: better the devil you know than the new devil. After all, the devil you know has been mediocre, not disastrous, and lies closer to that ephemeral Canadian consensus sometimes called values. Many on the centre-left of the political spectrum remain not unreasonably suspicious of Mr. Harper's election-hour shift to the political centre. They continue to think the erstwhile neoconservative harbours a hidden agenda.

Then again, Mr. Martin himself has shifted all over the map in recent years — on ballistic missile defence, on same-sex marriage, on the Clarity Act. In the run-up to the election in June of 2004, we wrote: “We wish Mr. Martin had afforded himself the opportunity of an 18-month tryout before going to the polls. Now the voters have the opportunity to impose a probationary period themselves.”

Mr. Martin did not pass that 18-month probation. He doesn't deserve the public's opprobrium, or an electoral wipeout, but neither has he earned the right to a fifth Liberal term. A spell out of power would give the Liberals the time they so clearly need to renew themselves.


There is greater reason to feel comfortable with Mr. Harper today. He has shown himself to be an intelligent man and one, in this campaign at least, who has learned to master his emotions. He has gained control of a party inclined to fly off in all directions, moved it to the centre and proposed a reasonable if imperfect governing platform. His targeted tax measures are measured, his defence policies are sound, and his approach to waiting times is worth experimenting with.


It is hard to endorse him and his party unreservedly. We worry about his seeming indifference to the need for a strong central government in a country so replete with runaway centrifugal forces. We worry about him teaming up with the Bloc Québécois to weaken the federal government's tax-raising capacity and its advocacy of national programs. We worry that he might have to strike retrograde compromises with social conservatives in the party's midst. We worry that he may prove heavy-handed in wielding the considerable powers of a prime minister.

But we also know that public opinion in an information-enriched society provides a natural check on immoderate policies and behaviour. Political parties are in the business of currying public favour; a governing party, even an unnatural one, will not stray too far, too frequently, from the social consensus. The dynamic of democratic change keeps competitors for power within reasonable bounds. So it will be for Mr. Harper and his Conservatives.

This editorial is a signal to the middle to upper-middle class voters of Toronto and area: it's all right to come out of the closet and vote Tory, because it's become acceptable to enlightened opinion.

It is not the full-throated roaring endorsement we would all like, but Toronto-area voters need to be spoken to in soothing tones.

It's still better than what the Star will say.

1 comment:

CuriosityKilledTheCat said...

Come now, has the leopard changed its spots?

Interesting article in today’s Toronto Star by David Crane, which summarizes the discomfort felt by many at Harper’s apparent “evolution” (as Harper describes it). Some extracts follow (my capitalization):

“Crane: Has Harper really moved left?
Jan. 20, 2006. 07:48 AM

.... Yet big questions remain about what a Harper government would be like. Has Harper really changed from a right-wing ideologue to a middle-of-the-road Conservative? IS THE NEW HARPER MORE THAN SKIN DEEP? OR IS HIS CAMPAIGN SIMPLY AN EXPEDIENT RESPONSE TO INTENSIVE CONSERVATIVE POLLING?

Harper's history is of a strong believer in small government and especially a weak national government, devolution of power to the provinces, as well as being a social conservative seemingly more in tune with the religious right than mainstream Canadian values.

In a telling profile by Marci McDonald in Walrus magazine of members of the so-called Calgary School, a group of Alberta academics who have an almost pathological dislike of both the federal government and Ontario, Harper's neoconservative credentials as part of that group are spelled out. THE ARTICLE QUOTES TED BYFIELD, A LEADING VOICE OF A QUASI-SEPARATIST WESTERN CANADA AND HARPER SUPPORTER AS SAYING AFTER THE 2004 ELECTION, "THE ISSUE NOW IS: HOW DO WE FOOL THE WORLD INTO THINKING WE'RE MOVING TO THE LEFT WHEN WE'RE NOT."

On Canada-U.S. relations, he says he would "demand" the United States repay the duties on Canadian softwood that it illegally collected. But what does that mean? Harper has said he would have supported the U.S.-led invasion and occupation of Iraq, has talked of a customs union with the United States, shares the Bush administration's opposition to the Kyoto accord and other strong action to deal with climate change, and would review Canada's position on ballistic missile defence.

On the big issue of the fiscal structure of Canada — the division of spending and taxing powers of the federal and provincial governments — Harper believes in reducing the role of Ottawa and handing over powers and revenue to the provinces. He calls this correcting the "fiscal imbalance" but is vague on what this would mean.
The danger is that it could end up meaning a much weaker national government able to act on behalf of all Canadians.

The single most damaging promise he has made is to replace Canada's initiative on early childhood development and replace it with a family allowance of $100 a month for every child under 6. Harper's plan is based on the idea that women should stay at home and not work, since they are the main beneficiaries of his proposal, while early childhood development is about ensuring youngsters are ready to learn when they enter the school system.

In many respects we are entering uncharted territory. It would be easier if we knew which is the real Stephen Harper.”