Why Steven Harper is going to remain Prime Minister for a long while.

Well it’s been a week and I am slowly coming out of my stunned state.
Here’s what I’ve been thinking about the results.

The Liberals would be fools to rush into a leadership campaign. They need to sit down and think about what, if any, is the purpose of their party. Do they have any big ideas about the direction of the country. Do they have anything to offer Canadians beyond individual tax breaks and some vague notion of an Educational Passport?
Personally, I do not see the imminent demise of the Liberal Party. That’s partly because I also don’t see the Orange Revolution as anything of the sort.

The NDP were the recipients of some immediate discontent in Quebec. They will struggle with fulfilling Quebec’s nationalist tendencies while trying to hold onto their centralist instincts. Quebeckers are good at moving around their allegiances to garner advantage where they see it. I don’t think the NDP seats in Quebec are a longterm change but a one-time event.

If that is true, then given their very modest improvement in popularity (only at the expense of the Liberals) in the rest of Canada, then I don’t see Canada becoming, like Britain post war (at least until this past election) a two party system of Conservatives and NDP.
I think if the Liberals can manage to retool then they will eventually get back in the game at the expense of the NDP.

And while I was, and am, excited about a large NDP opposition, let us not forget that it was the NDP that brought us the demise of the Kelowna Accord and a national day care program by oppourtunistically bringing down the Paul Martin minority government, thereby setting the framework for the subsequent Harper victory.

I understand that the NDP has its own goals but their complete ignoring of the Conservative majority to toot their own horn is appalling to me.

What I find worrisome, of course, is the Conservatives. Harper has proven himself resilient and smart in his relentless pursuit of power. He is profoundly conservative. But he understands that, aside from his base, the rest of Canada (about 65% to 70% of us) is not.

His goals are longterm. He will not immediately enact some hidden agenda. I think those who accuse him of this do not understand the nature of the Harper plan. He knows that he must slowly drag Canadians along the path to less government and a more conservative (ie: individualistic) ideology.

He has so far successfully framed social services in terms of individuals rather than government. Where the NDP and Liberals have, in the past, supported a national daycare program, Harper has given tax incentives to families to find their own daycare arrangements. And the NDP and Liberals have, by and large, accepted this new re-framing of policy and gone along with their own incentives.

Where the Kelowna accord was a government to ‘government’ relationship, Harper prefers individual business enterprise to aid Aboriginal populations.
Where once the Liberals had a national education policy and approach, we now have an Educational Passport, based on a individual’s journey through life.
Instead of systemic antipoverty policies we have the Family Pack.

Harper has given government programs and policy a bad name and the opposition has accepted the rhetoric and are now battling the Conservatives on their own turf. That’s not a winning game plan. The rule maker is the favoured player on this battleground.
Harper does not have to bring in a conservative revolution. He just has to change some of the rules of the game and force others to play by them.

He will change party finance rules and help to castrate the opposition.
He will commit to buying fighter jets and thereby hamstring government finances in the process.
He will change the justice system to incarcerate ever increasing numbers of Canadians. In doing so he will further hamstring finances by a huge increase in jail costs. He has already convinced Canadians that criminals are a serious threat to our wellbeing.
The opposition will be seen as soft on crime if they oppose (as we saw in the election—what we also saw was the NDP themselves trying to get into the ‘tough on crime’ ballgame).

If the NDP and Liberals follow the paths they have started to go down by accepting Harper’s rhetoric and trying simply to play to the left of him in the same game, then Harper will have succeeded in changing Canada and will have succeeded in placing the Conservative Party at the centre of government for quite a while.

Politicians like Harper and Rob Ford in Toronto are small thinkers in the truest sense of the word. They are anti government and so see it as lessening and getting smaller. Now that may seem strange because Harper has brought in the largest budget and has the largest government in Canadian history. But that is only because he has crassly sought to buy votes. Of course with his tax cuts he will lead us all into deficit as well. In his world vision, government is small except for enormous budgets for the criminal justice system and defense, the latter because these new conservatives are fear mongers and see only the worst in people.

What the opposition needs to do is get back to a vision, a grand scheme, a purpose. I think what Canadians are looking for is a game plan, something to grab onto for a better life. What the Left has failed to do is connect to Canadian’s concerns and needs. It really isn’t getting us anywhere to decry Harpers malicious personality or the stupidity of those voting for him (many of the same people we hope to attract). Instead of putting down those who vote Conservative, let’s try to relate to what Canadians are really looking for.

I remember when Mike Harris campaigned on stopping all those welfare bums from taking advantage of the welfare system…his ‘work for welfare’ plan. It was the same type of gravy train argument (tangentially) that Rob Ford ran on. I also remember the NDP, Bob Rae as leader, saying that ‘no one would be on welfare if they didn’t have to be’. Well, the Left may deny welfare abuse but most regular Canadians know it exists. That doesn’t excuse the Right for going after poor people en masse but when everyone knows something to be true the Left cannot deny it. The reason the Left jumps to those statements is because, in their honest desire to defend the current social service system against attacks from the Right, they inappropriately defend it exactly as it is. Instead, they should offer some kind of reform to make it more efficient, or better yet, to help people get off it…but in a progressive way.

This outright denial of what everyone knows to be reality only does a disservice. There are defenses of of the social welfare system that acknowledges that some people take advantage of it.

This is just one small example. But when I heard the NDP’s reply to the outrageous Mike Harris/Conservative attacks of the system, I knew we were in trouble. They posited nothing new or innovative, simply a defense of the current state of the world. That is not good enough. The Left has to come up with some new and positive ideas and not simply resort to a reactionary defense of an unchanging system. The Conservatives have turned the tables on us and we are not up to the task of responding.

Until someone articulates a progressive vision based on reality and that speaks to people’s desires and goals Canadians will continue to vote for the party promising more take home income and stability.

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