Resisting the pull of cynicism since 1969.

Sunday, October 21, 2007

What makes for an effective opposition in a minority parliament?

Last winter after their leadership convention, the Liberals were filled with bluster. Every action they took dared Harper to call an election. After a while, people started accusing them of blindly knee-jerking to oppose everything Harper proposed--but their high polling numbers and the smell of power continued to compel them.

The NDP, on the other hand, tried something different. Instead of simply ranting about the Conservatives' bad Clean Air Act, they demanded that Harper send it to an all-party committee. The Liberals ranted and raved, accusing the NDP of "propping up the Tories," but I supported what the NDP was doing then--in contrast with the way the Liberals were behaving, they showed evidence of actually understanding how minority parliaments were supposed to work. And even though the resulting legislation was deep-sixed when the Conservatives prorogued parliament, I'm still glad they tried.

See, an effective opposition in a majority parliament is about making strong arguments against what the government is doing in order to make sure those opposing perspectives remain a current part of the national discourse. But in a minority parliament, an effective opposition is about using your leverage and your powers of persuasion to moderate the government, to make its legislation a little more palatable to you before it passes. And while the NDP may have been doing this last winter, nobody is playing that role at all so far in the current session.

Granted, when the Liberals decided to prop up the government by not voting down the Throne Speech, they paid lipservice to the "we want to make parliament work" meme. But the way for an opposition party to "make parliament work" in a minority government situation is to do the negotiating necessary to create joint opposition amendments that the government might be able to tolerate. The Liberals won't touch that with a ten-foot pole. Because they're not willing to share the spotlight with anyone, they would rather give up entirely on trying to be a strong opposition force and simply give Harper a free pass until the next election.

On the other hand, the NDP and the Bloc aren't doing much better. The Conservatives clearly want to govern, but given the reaction of the NDP and the Bloc to the Throne Speech, those parties are just as clearly willing to go to an election now if it comes to that. But instead of using the leverage that comes with that position to exert appropriate pressure on the Conservatives, they've taken on the Liberals' former role of knee-jerking into blustery "Harper bad" stances. With the NDP and the Bloc behaving like the opposition is supposed to behave in a majority government, and the Liberals acting like they're part of that majority government, all three opposition parties are essentially giving the Conservatives the single-party majority they've been coveting.


[Update: One request. Can we go with individual opinions only in the comments, please? I mean seriously, if you can't refrain from hyperpartisanship, it's not like there aren't plenty of other posts you can comment on instead.]

48 comments:

catherine said...

I am so opposed to almost everything Harper does and wants, and feel it is changing Canada in a negative way, that the main question in my opinion is: exactly what strategy will lead to Harper not being Prime Minister in the shortest amount of time? I don't know the answer, but that is what I consider a worthy goal and achieving it will likely require something different than what one would usually want to do in working with a generic minority government.

Idealistic Pragmatist said...

catherine,

The fact is, the country wants Harper to be Prime Minister right now. Those are the cards we have been dealt. So far, though, we can be grateful they also seem to want him to govern with strong checks by the opposition. In a purely pragmatic sense, what's more likely to provide those checks--sober combined-opposition attempts to moderate his legislation, or two parties futilely trying to goad Harper into calling an election while another party lets him pass everything with no changes? I think you know the answer as well as I do.

The real problem is that every single one of our parties is only looking after their own hides right now. It disgusts me. And you can't even fault them for it, either--it's what Canadians have come to expect in this completely ridiculous political culture. In the end we're all to blame.

catherine said...

Perhaps you are correct, but I actually have difficulty believing it. Canada has been a secular country which believes in strong social programs, progressive taxes, equality for women, good citizenship globally, a reasoned (rather than knee-jerk) reaction to crime and drugs, etc, etc. I can't believe we have really changed so quickly. All of the above and more will be jeopardized while Harper rules, no matter how the opposition tries to play it. One can try to soften it, but meanwhile Harper has the wealthiest party with the most sophisticated data, imported advisors, a silent but steady evangelical movement behind him, and a press/media which has substantial empathy (the Sun series, Post, Global,...). What worked well in the US will work here with time. My advice to all the opposition parties is to get their acts together, get election ready, and bring this government down as soon as they feel they have a fighting chance.

Anyway, sorry to hijack your thread. You asked for nonpartisan, and although I have never belonged to any party and vote for a variety of parties according to the current situation, I have never and will never vote for the new Conservatives, so I guess I am partisan in that way.

Idealistic Pragmatist said...

catherine,

I actually asked for "not hyperpartisan," and you're fine on that front. (Although it's a crying shame that "not hyperpartisan" necessarily translates to "non-partisan" these days.)

As for evidence that most Canadians want Harper to govern, I'd say to look at the fact that he's been continuously polling in minority government territory since being elected, combined with the fact that he's the party leader with the strongest support for "best prime minister." It's not what I'd want, either, but the evidence is staring us in the face.

From those same polls, though, it's pretty clear that the public isn't interested in giving him the carte blanche that comes with a majority. And right now it's got to be up to the other parties to make sure he doesn't get exactly that by default.

Greg said...

I sort of agree with you and sort of disagree, IP. I agree the NDP has taken up the opposition mode, but given the way the Tories are behaving it is unlikely they are interested in cooperative ventures with the party. What choice do they have at this point? Harper's idea of cooperation from other parties is "Do what you are told". I don't blame Layton for not being excited by that prospect.

Greg said...

Also, last winter Harper wasn't ready for an election, so he had a reason to listen to NDP offers. Now he wants an election so he has no incentive to listen to anyone.

Idealistic Pragmatist said...

Greg,

Harper's not going to listen overtures from the NDP alone, you're absolutely right. But all evidence points to him wanting to govern, not go to the polls. So if a unified opposition were to come to him and offer him some amendments that would turn his legislation into something everyone can live with (in good faith, now, not as a trick), he could well go for it.

What it comes down to is this: we can all be sure that the current status quo in the opposition will not accomplish the defeat or even the moderation of Harper's agenda. And that makes the entire parliament about each party's individual party strategy right now instead of about doing what best reflects what Canadians want. That's just not on.

Greg said...

I don't want to sound overly partisan, but a) the opposition parties hate each other as much as they hate the Tories and b)cooperation helps the Liberals most of all because it gives them time to regroup and also to take "credit" for parliament working (and we both know they will). I think it is fair to ask if the NDP and Bloc should put their own interests at risk in order to help out the Liberals? What you are suggesting isn't wrong, but given the electoral system cooperation is a high risk strategy.

Idealistic Pragmatist said...

Greg,

Cooperation isn't a strategy. It's the way things are supposed to work in a minority parliament. That's the whole point.

Do we want the parliament we voted for to represent our interests, or to serve as a set of self-interested strategists who get off on bickering with each other? (Because if it's the latter, the blogosphere can serve that purpose a lot more cheaply.)

Kenn Chaplin said...

"We want to make Parliament work."
--Jack Layton in the first sitting of the Harper government

"The Conservatives no longer have the moral authority to govern."

--Stephane Dion in the first sitting of the Harper government.

"We want to make Parliament work."

--Stephane Dion nowadays

"This government is going in the wrong direction."

--Jack Layton's talking point since the Throne Speech.

Idealistic Pragmatist said...

Kenn,

Exactly. The only difference being that the NDP actually did try to make parliament work in the last session, while the Liberals have so far shown no signs of even attempting to do that.

The Jurist said...

IP: While cooperation is well and good when it's possible, the NDP also can't ignore the stance the Cons have taken in refusing to listen to the opposition - both before the throne speech and after.

And it's not as if the NDP isn't trying to reach agreement where that's reasonably possible: see their eminently sensible suggestion that the major part of their crime bill which hasn't received any opposition review should at least be subject to something other than a take-it-or-leave-it confidence vote, while the rest of the elements go forward. But when the Cons respond by threatening that dangerous offenders would then be "the hill (the opposition) wants to die on", what's left to do but oppose?

Idealistic Pragmatist said...

Jurist,

You're missing my point. I'm not asking for the NDP (or any one of the opposition parties) to go to the Conservatives alone. I'm asking for the NDP (or anyone at all) to do the hard work necessary to marshall the combined force of the opposition, and use that force to push forward amendments in areas where the three opposition parties already agree. Serious amendments that are about serious attempts to make good minority-parliament legislation with compromises on both sides, not traps to make the Conservatives look bad.

I at least want to see somebody trying that. If they try it and the Conservatives remain obstinate, then Harper can wear that. But I'm terribly disappointed that nobody's bothering to try. And while I may be the only partisan who feels that way, I'm sure I'm not the only Canadian who does.

Ryan said...

Thank God, IP. Always the voice of sanity. Keep it up.

Though, if I'm not mistaken, haven't the Liberals voted with the Conservatives more often than the NDP in the last parliamentary session? Albeit with little or no attempt to amend questionable bills?

Greg said...

Do we want the parliament we voted for to represent our interests, or to serve as a set of self-interested strategists who get off on bickering with each other? (Because if it's the latter, the blogosphere can serve that purpose a lot more cheaply.

Obviously, the former. But I don't think that is how it will play out. The latter will prevail because of the electoral system and as a result, the Parties' self interest are stronger than any desire to work together. That said, I would hope that Layton would at least try to move positive legislation forward. I just don't think he will.

Idealistic Pragmatist said...

Ryan,

I'm not sure how this is relevant to this post, but: yes, it is true that the Liberals voted with the Tories more often than the NDP did in the last parliamentary session.

Greg,

Single-party minority governments are as close as we're going to get under first-past-the-post to a situation where real cooperation between parties is demanded. As long as our parliamentarians refuse to even try to make that work, they're falling down on the job and granting Harper a majority by default.

Anonymous said...

Nobody's bothering to try to marshall the forces of the opposition right now because the Liberals have no force to marshall.

The party has shown that it is in no shape, nor has any desire, for an election. The NDP and the Bloc are acting like they're the opposition in a majority government because until the Liberals get the stones and their act together enough to be willing to go to the polls, that's exactly where we're sitting.

That's also why Harper's on his "Everything is a confidence motion" kick right now, because he knows as well as everybody else that the Liberals don't want an election, so this is his best chance to hammer through key conservative points.

Basically, until the Liberals feel that a campaign won't cost them seats, they're going to be giving the conservatives their unelected majority.

Idealistic Pragmatist said...

anon,

Perhaps. But wouldn't it make sense to at least make the effort to join forces in areas where they agree? Then, if the Liberals refused to cooperate, their words of "we want to make parliament work" would be revealed as a lie.

Anonymous said...

>But all evidence points to him wanting to govern, not go to the polls.

He has given the opposition parties several opportunities - provocations, really - to trigger either an election or an alternate governing coalition (if the G-G asked one of the leaders - most likely Dion - to put the confidence of the House to a test). There is ample evidence that he is willing to go to an election but won't call one himself because of his own fixed election date.

However, Harper has also twice gone to the effort - and eaten the negative PR blowback - to make sure the parliamentary arithmetic allows CPC+NDP to command a bare majority in Parliament. The NDP have more power in this Parliament than they've had in most.

Ben said...

However, Harper has also twice gone to the effort - and eaten the negative PR blowback - to make sure the parliamentary arithmetic allows CPC+NDP to command a bare majority in Parliament.

Hadn't thought about it that way, but yes, he has.

I'd say it depends on what the opposition wants. If there are substantial, reasonable amendments to legislation (like the NDP on the crime bills in the spring) which are not grandstanding, I suspect that things can be worked out. If it's political grandstanding, well, that's when you end up with parliamentary cat-and-mouse games. (You delay passage in the Senate, I raise with a prorogation and an omnibus bill with confidence attached. Etc.)

Sometimes, the opposition and the government are just so far apart (Afghanistan, for instance, or childcare), that compromise just isn't possible.

Opposition is tough.

Idealistic Pragmatist said...

Ben,

Sometimes, the opposition and the government are just so far apart (Afghanistan, for instance, or childcare), that compromise just isn't possible.

Sure, at which point there's an impasse. But a lot of the time they're just not (especially the Conservatives and the Liberals), and they're just pretending to be because that's what's expected in our political culture.

Ben said...

Well, in that situation, you end up with an impasse.

Which isn't always a bad thing. For a small government type like myself, sometimes that's a feature, not a bug. :-)

Politicians will be politicians, the first job of a statesman is to win office, and add any other political bromide you like.

***

But all the shouting and posturing aside, I think we're going to see a decent amount of legislation going through in the next session, if it doesn't get to such a situation that we have to go to the polls... I bet that crime bill will finally get through the House and the Senate, the security certificate legislation was re-introduced, spending power legislation will probably go through, and I suspect that there'll be something to do with the economic union (otherwise known as Harper playing Trudeau and slapping the premiers around again).

That said, I wonder how the next budget can possibly pass. Maybe the Liberals will sit down again.

Josh Gould said...

I admit that I take a certain (partisan) appreciation of seeing the Liberals in this position, particularly after enduring a year or more of partisan Liberals falsely accusing Layton and the NDP of "propping up" Harper's government.

That being said, I don't really disagree. I want things to "get done", but there is enough about this government that I dislike that I wouldn't mind seeing it go down soon. On the condition that it actually results in Harper making a discreet exit from 24 Sussex, of course.

Given current realities, I don't see that happening, and the Liberals will have to a) figure out what they stand for and b) articulate it well before that happens. In the meantime, I don't think that Layton will remain as combative indefinitely, and for now he's doing quite well as Leader of the Opposition.

Concerning the budget, Ben, five months is an eternity in politics. But I don't really see how it'll pass this time either. It will probably depend on what state the Liberals are in.

Ryan said...

I agree with Josh. Anyway, why it's relevant to the current conversation is that, exactly as Josh said, the Liberals have actually been propping up the Conservatives. As far as "making government work" the Liberals have assisted so much that it's difficult to classify them as an opposition party, whereas the NDP has been in the opposition role. Just echoing your point, but I wasn't sure if the Liberals had voted with the Conservatives or not.

Thanks for the valuable information :)

Ryan said...

Sorry, the last post was worded wrong. Josh didn't say the Liberals were propping up the Conservatives, I was.

Ben said...

It's clear.

Of course, the opposition has to be careful. If they don't manage things right (from their perspective), we could end up with a Conservative majority. (Which I'm happy with, of course.)

As Duffy ended his show tonight promising more from "As the Liberal Party Turns", I'll just say that things are staying interesting.

Jack Layton has a chance that no NDP leader has had since Ed Broadbent in '87-'88.

Raphael Alexander said...

A solid assessment of the situation I would say. But I would argue the NDP have less to lose than the Liberals in an election, and thus it's easier for Layton to be principled than it is Stephane Dion. Nevertheless, it is fair to say that Layton has increased his profile in light of the Throne Speech. Certainly if the opposition want to maintain a minority government, they need to unify their commonalities in order to defeat Harper. As you say, however, the Liberals may not be willing to accept they have gone from a majority government, to a minority government, to the opposition, to being in danger of being irrelevant.

Raphael Alexander said...

Canada has been a secular country which believes in strong social programs, progressive taxes, equality for women, good citizenship globally, a reasoned (rather than knee-jerk) reaction to crime and drugs, etc, etc.

Are you sure? Or are you projecting what you believe Canadians are? I think Canada believes in secularism, as evidenced by Tory's defeat on faith-based funding, but they are also strong on values. Social programs, women's advancement, immigration, are all on the radar, but foremost is the concern of tax-and-spend governments which use massive surpluses in order to achieve whatever they desire without being honest to the fiscal responsibilities of the nation.

I think your concerns remain largely invalid. If Canadians are willing to trust Harper with a majority government, and he begins slaughtering some sacred Canadian cows, his head will roll in the next election. The checks and balances will continue to work, as they always have.

catherine said...

Raphael Alexander, I am not suggesting that Harper will make some dramatic move that will change Canada overnight. I agree his head would roll.

The National Post has been running a number of columns in the past week or so on Harper's government. The Post and their readers are very supportive of Harper, although some worry that Harper is moving too slowly. It is interesting to read the different perspectives and debates. In the end, most agree that the Liberals have molded Canadian values over decades and it will take time for Harper to remold them and make Canada a recognizable conservative country. I don't see Canadian values as an undesirable, molded state, so I don't agree with them. However, I do understand and appreciate their goal. I do agree with them that the longer the Conservatives are in power, the more successful they will be.

BTW, they are not talking about shifting Canadians to accept fiscal responsibility, they are talking Thatcher-Reagan-Harris shifts.

catherine said...

I should clarify the Thatcher-Reagan-Harris comment. While some Conservatives want Harper to make the changes as quickly as those three, more thoughtful ones recognize that those three were elected in an atmosphere of disillusionment with left-leaning values and argue that Harper will need to talk longer to achieve the same results.

Ben said...

Re Conservatives and quickness of reforms -- I think that the broad thinking among the leadership of the party is that, well, this is an educative process. People will only be led to where they are willing to go, and if one wants a strong party of the centre-right over the long term -- and this is Harper's goal -- then any movement must be incremental. That's the essence of democratic discourse.

Consider it a sort of classical liberal Fabian movement.

I mean, really, Tom Flanagan just wrote a book about it. (A very good read, incidentally.) It's in plain view.

***

Now, how do you folks on the other side argue against that kind of stuff? I think the "hidden agenda" argument has been played out -- but do feel free to try it again. ;-)

I suspect a positive agenda for the country's future is the way to go, but seeing as I'm with the Fabian-style classical liberals, I can't envision it. (Necessarily. ;-))

For people on the actual political left, as opposed to the Liberal Party, it might be worth doing the sort of soul-searching that Robert Reich is doing. Figure out what you see the state's ultimate role as provider is, and then come up with some quick, easily saleable elements for an election platform.

In other words: incrementalism, but the other way, towards your own endpoint.

If you haven't got an endpoint to head towards, but just a mushy sort of status quo -- well then, it's time to get cracking!

catherine said...

mBen, I partially agree this is out in the open, but still see a lot of people who think nothing is changing or even that nothing much will change. The National Post typically tries to characterize Harper's government as "centrist", perhaps because they feel to openly acknowledge this incremental approach to conservatism will scare people off. There is quite a mixed message going on.

Personally, I think it is a tough sell if it is too out in the open. To openly say that Canadians right now are not conservative enough and Harper will help move us incrementally to a more conservative position, in a relatively painless way...well, why would the majority ever support that?

Idealistic Pragmatist said...

Ben,

Right--it's not a hidden agenda for changing Canada into a conservative country through incremental changes, it's a right out in the open agenda. The fundamental concern, though, is still the same, though: Harper doesn't like Canada and its values the way they are and wants those things to be different.

That's frankly disconcerting to a lot of us. I mean, take me: I chose Canada. I lived in lots of different places, but finally I looked at Canada and said: this is where I want to hang my hat for the rest of my life. Will I still feel that way if Harper gets to realize his out-in-the-open agenda? No clue. And that makes me nervous.

Now, do I think this is a sufficient reason to vote Liberal "to stop Harper?" No way, no how. I spent most of my life in a country that only provided me with a choice between two big-tent options that didn't come close to encompassing my views, and it's frankly the thing that made me want to leave. There's nothing I value more than a full spectrum of political choices, and now that I finally have the much-coveted chance to do so, I will always vote for the party whose policies I most agree with. But that doesn't mean I don't find Harper's whole "out in the open agenda" incredibly disconcerting.

Of course, for me, the whole muddle is made easier by living in a riding where the best chance of exercising your vote to stop a Conservative means voting NDP, though. :-)

Ben said...

Catherine --

Why, it can happen in the very same way the population came to support the left in Britain. (Or Canada, for that matter.)

There's a huge difference between what a person would do in a country given a tabula rasa and what he or she would do over a given mandate with a given electorate. The part of the electorate that is sophisticated enough to think about long-term implications is also sophisticated enough to understand that.

***

If this disturbs you, well, just think how opponents of the political Left have felt for the last half-century -- it's the very same tactic. (!)

But insofar as "centrism" goes -- as it isn't an ideology, just a style -- Harper is centrist. He's not pushing for big reforms. He's just managing things, providing a tiny dose of conservatism in a few areas.

The argument the Conservatives marshall is that this is good government. The counter-argument to that is... I'm guessing, good government in a slightly different direction. Yours.

Or you can try to bring things to a head and try to call out Harper on where he sees the country in 30 years, like Paul Martin did in 2004. (To a lesser degree in 2006.) It's a bold play, and... well, it could work. I don't pretend to know how the Canadian electorate would react to a match thrown down the mineshaft like that.

But that's why campaigns are so much fun to watch, right? :-)

Ben said...

IP --

Harper likes Canada just fine. He just likes a different one than you do. It's a big country, and it has a long history.

Where these clash is where we fight our campaigns.

Can't freeze things. We couldn't freeze them before the 1960s, and we can't freeze them now.

Idealistic Pragmatist said...

Ben,

I said "Harper doesn't like Canada and its values the way they are." Not "Harper doesn't like Canada." Please don't put words into my mouth that I didn't write.

Ben said...

IP -- Ah, now there is the semantic difference that we're going to be tripping over all next session (and next campaign).

What are "Canadian values"? I think that the PM would say that they're actually a lot closer to his than they are to what the previous government and the press painted them as being.

***

Actually, now that I think of it, perhaps that is the big throw-down question that the next election could be fought on, if the opposition thinks it can call out Harper as being inherently different than the larger Canadian electorate -- "What are Canadian values?"

It won for McGuinty over Tory in Ontario, in a certain sense. Ontarian values apparently do not include fully-funded parochial schools.

Could it win for a Dion or a Layton over Harper? It might be worth fighting an election on it to find out.

We haven't had a good "choice" election since the Free Trade election in 1988.

Idealistic Pragmatist said...

Ben,

"What are Canadian values?"

That's hardly a question a six-week election campaign can answer, especially given all of the strategies that our voting system makes necessary. But if you're really interested, there's plenty of academic research being done on the subject.

catherine said...

What are Canadian values is a good question, but one which is likely to be answered in a glib and unrevealing way. Harper stood up for what he called Canadian values in the 2006 election:

The platform is based on the values of integrity, family, respect for work, achievement, and commitment to a strong and free Canada.

“These are the values in which our plan is rooted," said Mr. Harper. “Values which matter to me, values which I believe matter to all Canadians, values which have endured and will endure."


A lot of these words are used in the US as code words: family values = social conservatism, strong and free = military spending and neoconservative foreign policy.

Integrity: sounds good but what does it mean? Income trusts, Atlantic accord, Canadian lumber sellout, campaign spending....doesn't take long to undercut that word.

Personally, I would love to see an election fought on real values, but the sound-bites, code words and framing would seem to make that
impossible.

Ben said...

Catherine --

This is true. Actually, in the last days of the '05-'06 campaign, you can see how Paul Martin tried that tack. (It flopped.)

But is it not the task of political campaigners and staffers -- when we are, in fact, being pragmatic idealists, or idealistic pragmatists (take a bow, IP!) -- to break down the highest arguments we have into little bite-lets that will galvanize our fellow citizens?

Or am I being too terribly idealistic?

Ben said...

IP --

I have a suspicion that I may disagree with a few of those academics. ;-) But if you could e-mail me the titles of one or two of the more interesting ones, I'd be happy to have a look. (I just found out that I can get access to my old grad school library again, for stacks access if not for borrowing privileges.)

[Fire & Ice was interesting as a snapshot view. Pierre Berton's book of letters to his friend "Sam" was very good -- though given that Berton was a guy who thought that Trudeau was too far to the right... ;-)]

Anyway. I'll quiet down for the moment, as one should probably leave questions of opposing to those who actually oppose. But I just found this post & thread fascinating, as I see it as a sort of reverse Buckley. (Women and men of the left now seeking to protect what they see as their country's heritage, etc.)

catherine said...

Idealistic? To say one is pro-family, instead of saying one doesn't support equality for women or affordable and accessible daycare as Harper has shown the case to be? To say respect for work, instead of? what does that mean? certainly not that one supports a good minimum wage as it turns out. Perhaps that one doesn't support social assistance programs?

I wouldn't call this being idealistic. I don't know much about Dion but I have heard that he has trouble coming up with single phrases that capture what he believes or even wanting to repeat such phrases. Perhaps this will be the death of him in politics, but I wouldn't call that reality idealistic.

Ben said...

Catherine --

I'll avoid hijacking the discussion into one of the merits of the '06 campaign platforms, as sorely as I am tempted. ;-) (Take all responses about the individual vs. the state as said, then rejected -- this is something we just won't agree on.)

But there's your task, then. How do you boil down your principles into a simple and coherent election platform that can capture a significant plurality of the electorate (say, 42%) in the city and suburbs?

catherine said...

Ben, I'm not the one to ask because sound-bites don't capture me. The fact that Harper has "family values" and "respect for work" in his platform summary, whereas Layton has "economic security for working families", and Dion doesn't mention either "work" or "families" in his, doesn't in itself mean much one way or another to me, except for the fact that Harper's turns me off because I spent years living in the US and "family values" grates on my ears.

Rumor said...

IP - totally unrelated to current discussion: Thanks for tipping me off to pay more attention to the Tiger in Exile. He's quite good.

I still don't see anything worthwhile in Wudrick, but you clearly do, so I'll continue to give him a chance. ;)

Ryan said...

Wow... this turned into a real firestorm...

I would conjecture that one should define Canadian values via negativa. They are not Harper's. Harper once said that Canadians don't share his Conservative values. He's admitted it himself.

If Harper wins even 40%, which I'm doubting, that still leaves at least 60% of Canadians that don't want Harper. What do the rest of the parties agree on? Some amount of social investment, whether left or centrist.

So what is the Conservative alternative then? Lower taxes, as stressed in the throne speech? If Canada is such a "northern European welfare state" as Harper described it at one point, it means it will take a lot of dismantling to transform, whether it be immediate or gradual. It is far from a northern European welfare state in spending and social programs, therefore he can't be a centrist. He's right wing.

Fortunately for the left, if Harper is just planning on simply being a "better manager" than the Liberals, his party will implode like Mulroney's did. If he doesn't go right wing enough economically he'll alienate the neo-Conservative/Libertarian wing of the party. If he doesn't go far enough on abortion, women's rights, gay marriage etc., there could very well be another Reform party out in a matter of time. If he doesn't go far enough to appease Quebec nationalists, they'll get up and go, and ironically appeasing Quebec nationalists means alienating westerners. That leaves the Red Tories, which are by far the minority. If he can't be centrist enough, he'll alienate other Canadians. He can't balance the conflicting voices in the Conservative party forever.

Maybe Harper is banking on Canadians turning to Conservativism when he "shows" them how good life can be. Something which could also be comforting for those of us on the left, since we believe that for the vast majority of people, history has taught otherwise.

www.harperindex.ca

Ryan said...

Sorry I meant to actually make a point somewhere in the area of:

If Harper wins even 40%, which I'm doubting, that still leaves at least 60% of Canadians that don't want Harper. What do the rest of the parties agree on? Some amount of social investment, whether left or centrist.

I meant to say that since the other parties share social liberalism and a strong role for the state in the economy, one could define that as a Canadian value.

Anonymous said...

>Harper doesn't like Canada and its values the way they are and wants those things to be different.

That is also the summary of the positions of all the other major parties. Otherwise, I would expect to find one of them defending a very close approximation of the status quo.

If only 30% of the country would support a less centrist Harper, that still presents a real ethical problem for the other 70%, who are prone to claim the virtue of respecting the wishes of minorities to express their values. The federal government should not be developing and imposing policies derived from anyone's parochial view of "Canadian Values". The provinces should be the highest level of expression of social and value politics, because the inherent right to mobility is respected within Canada but not, for the most part, between nations - one is not simply free to live wherever one chooses in the world.