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.