Sunday, January 15, 2006

Stebill Hardavis

Toronto Star readers woke up this morning to a big front-page picture of Stephen Harper tinted red asking "Is He Redder Than You Think?"

The related article claims that Harper has transformed himself into the very model of Ontario's favourite Tory statesman.

Yes, that's right, Stephen Harper has become Bill Davis:

As the Conservatives have swept higher in the polls, with the prospect of winning grown suddenly very real, those around leader Stephen Harper have started saying something previously unimaginable.

No, it's not the likelihood of a majority government, nor talk of a transition team —Harper's big mistake in the last election. Nor does it have anything to do with who might fill which cabinet post.

The words that have crept into senior Conservative parlance are more subtle than that, a beguiling allusion dropped so easily into conversation it might pass unnoticed at first: Stephen Harper, late of the Reform party and the right-wing National Citizens Coalition, is really just like — wait for it — "Bill Davis."

"I think Harper probably is closer to a traditional Progressive Conservative," says one senior Conservative. "I actually think he's more in the tradition of a Bill Davis."


This new Harper, insists one Conservative, is actually closer to the real Harper, the one lost amid compounding Liberal attacks in the last election. "He's not trying to be Mr. Charisma or Mr. Warmth, because he really isn't. But he's a decent guy and he's smart and he'll work damn hard, and the fact that he's got the party right-side up and unified is not a small accomplishment."

He certainly looks more comfortable in his own skin this time out, agrees Nelson Wiseman, associate professor of political science at the University of Toronto. "I think he made peace with himself before this election, because he got so badly mauled (last) spring when he was over the top and telling Martin his government was going down the toilet, which seemed too strong and strident."

Perhaps this is the price of power in Canada: to become as mild and inoffensive as possible in manner, to offer change, but not too much change, to promote a dogmatic and inflexible centrism.

The problem, of course, is that the centre invariably shifts to whomever defines it. The Liberals took hard-core statism and moral relativism--far removed from anything that could be defined as classically liberal or even classically red tory--held fast to it, and made it the centre.

The Conservatives have the opportunity to move the centre again, as the right did in the United States and Britain, back to the right. Perhaps the party will do so. But it will all the courage of its members' convictions, in the face of unrelenting hostility.

Is Stephen Harper's transformation into Bill Davis one of style, with conservative ideals expressed in a positive and friendly manner, or of substance?

We will know more, hopefully, throughout 2006.

1 comment:

CuriosityKilledTheCat said...

The Conversion of Stephen Harper:

To change from voting Liberal to voting Conservative on Monday would mean accepting that Stephen Harper had undergone a conversion from the rightwing Saul of Canadian politics, to the middle-of-the-road Paul. Voters asked to believe this conversion need to satisfy themselves that the Harper who stood in front of a gathering of neocons in the USA in 1997 and lauded them as examples to be followed, praised their philosophy, denigrated Maritimers, decried Canada as a welfare state not to be emulated, has, in the course of the past 18 months, suddenly seen the light, and changed.

How credible is this Harper conversion? Well, let the man speak for himself: he said he has become more realistic, but his fundamental beliefs have not changed. Oh, and his comments were really in jest.

If so, how much stock can a voter place today on his program, on his statements that there will not be serious cuts, that he will not introduce legislation to take away rights entrenched by the Supreme Court? What assurance does a voter have that Harper will not turn around in six months time and tell the country: Sorry, folks – I was only joking when I said those things ....

Sorry, Mr Harper, I for one do not believe a leopard can change its spots. Not even a very smart leopard. But I do believe a leopard just might dress up in sheep’s clothing ...