Is it just me or is there a big turn in the Canadian political tide?
By Link Byfield
There's something extraordinarily pleasant about a House of Commons controlled by the Conservatives.
These Conservatives, anyway.
After seventy years of constitutional derailment by sanctimonious Liberals and socialists, one feels an almost punitive glee in watching Stephen Harper humiliate all those parties which caused the wreck.
Canada joined the great global forced march into nanny-statism and misguided utopianism when it allowed the Liberals and CCF/NDP to ignore our constitutional checks and balances.
For the past three generations, individuals and whole regions have assumed the right to live off the efforts of others. Governments today must preserve everyone in a comfortable living, a feeling of equality, and the enduring delusion they're in good hands with all-state.
As Albert Dicey pointed out long ago, liberal democracies that take their constitutions seriously are invariably conservative. Those that don't aren't. They become tyrannies of irresponsible entitlement.
In the October 16 throne speech, Harper unloaded a list of conservative confidence measures: tax cuts, Senate reform, arctic defence, a four-year extension of the Afghanistan mission, restrictions on Ottawa's right to spend money in provincial jurisdictions, a hard line on crime, and the repudiation of Kyoto carbon targets.
Most of these are popular with voters, and the rest are merely uninteresting. But they are all anathema to the Liberals, NDP, Bloc and Greens.
The opposition parties, however, have been reduced to bringing amendments designed to fail, so as not to trigger an election they will all lose.
Something seems to have changed since the summer – something profound.
I think Andrew Coyne put it best in the National Post on October 19. Until now it has looked like Harper was moving to the middle, as all previous Conservative leaders have done.
He was buying into all the hullabaloo about global warming, appeasing Quebec, taxing energy trusts, and spending record amounts of money – all of which he had promised, or implied, or it was just assumed, he wouldn't do.
What none of us saw (at least I didn't) was that at a subtler level, Harper has been pulling the whole Canadian body-politic to the right.
Two years ago, Harper's current priority list still sounded "right-wing" to most Canadians, and to many "scary."
No longer. To most it sounds now like common sense. What sounds increasingly dated and bizarre are the ideological rants of the Liberal, NDP and Greens.
The Conservatives are polling at majority or near-majority levels in all regions but the Atlantic. Harper is far more trusted as a leader than anyone else.
Which raises a question. Is this the mere swinging of a pendulum, or the kind of epochal shift of national thinking that came with Wilfrid Laurier a century ago, and John A. Macdonald a half-century before that?
The answer to this question will depend, I think, on whether Harper succeeds with his most fundamental ideas for constitutional change.
These are to restrict the federal spending power and reform the Senate. At a less visible level, it also means ending federally-funded Charter activism in the courts by left-liberal interest groups.
Though of scant popular interest, these measures shift power within the country, and power-shifts create lasting change.
The skill, patience and determination with which Harper is pursuing it are impressive. If he keeps it up, he will make Canada – or allow it to become – a conservative country.
Link Byfield is an Alberta senator-elect and chairman of the Citizens Centre. The Centre promotes the principles of personal freedom and responsible government.
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