Sunday, January 23, 2011

Harper Redux

To mark Prime Minister Stephen Harper's five years in office, I thought I would reprint a column he wrote 10 years ago in the National Citizens Coalition newsletter. (Italics are mine)

Tips for the Canadian Alliance
By Stephen Harper

Every major success enjoyed by conservatives in national politics in the past decade has resulted from the timely and unapologetic advancement of conservative ideals.

These ideals catalyzed the Reform party and gave the Canadian Alliance its initial momentum. Conservatives looking for a way forward should get their bearings by taking a look back.

Reform was the first national party to oppose the Meech Lake accord, especially the distinct society clause. It made an ever bigger impression on the public mind by helping to win the 1992 referendum battle against the Charlottetown Accord. The opposition to both accords was essentially grounded on the conservative principle of the equality of all citizens before the law – an ideal that gathered wide support in the referendum battle.

The next landmark was Reform’s Zero in Three Plan for eliminating the federal deficit in three years through spending cuts. Zero in Three became the crucial factor in the 1993 election that enabled the party to win 52 seats in the House of Commons.

This time, the conservative ideal of smaller government provided the foundation, a foundation initially derided by all the other parties but soon adopted by the Liberals as their own policy.

In 1995, Reform put out a new fiscal blueprint – the Taxpayer’s Budget advocating $25-billion in spending reductions and the elimination of the federal role in health and education through the transfer of tax points to the provinces.

Here was another conservative principle – decentralization. The success of Reform's down-sizing and decentralizing proposals came when Finance Minister Paul Martin borrowed heavily from Reform’s proposed spending reductions in early 1995. That same budget also combined federal transfers into an annual lump sum, reducing Ottawa’s control over provincial social programs.

Reform then shifted emphasis when it published its “20/20” paper after the Quebec referendum plan of October, 1995. That document merged Plan A – decentralization of powers not only to Quebec but all provinces – with Plan B – Canada’s pledge to defend its national interest against separatist threats.

Plan B was grounded in the conservative ideal of the rule of law, which the Liberals borrowed when they introduced the Clarity Act --- once again demonstrating how influential an opposition party can be against a rudderless government.

In 1998, the leadership of the party launched the United Alternative, shifting focus from policy to process. Internal strife grew and polling numbers fell as the party put its attention on how to win power rather than on what political power should be used for.

In the meantime, Alberta Treasurer Stockwell Day announced Alberta was moving to a single rate of provincial income tax. Positive reaction in conservative circles emboldened the United Alternative organizers to adopt the single-rate tax as the signature policy of the new Canadian Alliance.

Mr. Day’s bold tax-reform initiative also made possible his successful campaign for leadership of the Alliance. And while the media paid little attention, his campaign was marked by numerous policy speeches detailing his commitment to tax cuts, smaller government, decentralization, traditional social institutions and criminal justice reform.

Preston Manning, in contrast, spoke relatively little about policy during the campaign, preferring to emphasize his claim that only he could lead the party to victory in a general election. Mr. Day won a resounding victory, and Alliance polling numbers broke through Reform’s glass ceiling of 20%.

The Liberals responded with cunning – stealing the tax-cut agenda and catching the process-weary Alliance off guard by calling an early election.

During the election campaign, the Alliance policy messages got confused. Nonetheless, the party received 25.5% of the popular vote,  much better than the 19% Reform got in 1993 and 1997, and Canada got significant tax cuts as a result of the pressure the Alliance put on the Liberals.

This survey suggests that if conservatives hope to find a way out of their muddle, they have to refocus on policy. Factional strife and endless talk about who can win, rather than advancing the ideals they would pursue if they did win, will do little but drive the party’s supporters away.

This is not just a recipe for perpetual opposition. Provincial conservatives have used conservative ideology to win power in Alberta (smaller government), Ontario (tax cuts and welfare reform) and British Columbia (democratic reforms, lower taxes and the equality of citizens). At the national level, fiscal issues and free trade provided part of the foundations for conservative majorities in the 1980s.

Canadians need, and deserve, more than just an alternative, more than just strategic alliances. They need an alternative grounded in conservative ideals such as smaller government, lower taxes the equality of citizens, and the rule of law.

For if all we want is the exercise of power, we might as well join the Liberals.

Harper wrote this in 2001. Of course, if he had discussed such shockingly, radical and idealistic conservative ideas in 2011, certain Blogging Tories would be organizing a lynch mob! 

12 comments:

Anonymous said...

stop living in the past
the Prime Minister of Canada Stephen Harper represents ALL Canadians
he is the Government of Canada
I see him as a forward looking Prime Minister
it is time all Conservatives embrace a forward looking agenda
we can learn from the past but we need to move forward with a realistic approach to the problems facing us today such as an economic crisis of world wide origin
"yesterday is HISTORY
tomorrow is a mystery
today is a GIFT that is why we call it the present "
this is a saying I live by every day
we are blest that Prime Minister Harper is captain of our ship Canada may he be elected with a majority in the next election
fh

wilson said...

Thanks for posting PMSHs column, I really enjoyed it.

'.. conservative ideals such as smaller government, lower taxes the equality of citizens, and the rule of law...'

We are there on 2 out of 4,
and in 5 short years with a minority government.
Amazing.

THE OLD FELLOW said...

TO Anonymous
Harper does not represent All Canadains.
He was elected by maybe a majority of voters in one riding with what 30,000 votes. The conservatives repesent maybe 35% of Canadains.
That is not the past, thats now.
Get your facts straight.
A true conservative believes in Canada not power for themselves.

Ken S from Ramara said...

Harper has abandoned his core Conservative values in his pursuit of personal power. I just can't understand how the Conservative base, time and time again, hail his as a Hero of Conservatism! If I were a newcomer to Canada and researched the manifestos of the various political parties, I would have to conclude that Stephen Harper, based on his deeds and not his rhetoric, was a member of the Liberal Party of Canada. The Economic Action Plan was the theft of a key component of LPC platform. SH has become nothing more than the second coming of Jean Chretien. A political leader who uses the public purse to buy the support of key constituencies, to obtain absolute power, majorities in both the House and Senate would give him. In 2005 I voted for SH because of his words. In 2012 I will vigorously oppose the PM because of his lies and misdeeds!

johndoe124 said...

Makes me wonder which is better: Liberals in power acting like Conservatives or Conservatives in power acting like Liberals.

Anonymous said...

17 Votes is hardly a “lynch mob”. Moreover, 11 to 6 support you on BT, as would I.

Meanwhile we do not have a Conservative government, we have a minority co-op. Were it not for the Bloc distortion we would have a Conservative majority. There is no doubt that a majority Conservative government would be a lot more conservative than the minority we endure now.

nomdeblog

Anonymous said...

@Anon - Yes, Harper has to represent everyone, has to look forward, etc. etc. platitude platitude. Doesn't change the fact that he seems to have decided that principles were mostly too inconvenient for a politician sometime in 2002(admittedly, a lesson I can't blame him for taking from the 90s), and running with it.

@Wilson - Which two? Smaller government is a sick joke, lower taxes has happened, and equality of citizens and the rule of law haven't really changed in either direction.

@John - It's actually kind of a hard question. Occasionally Harper does something I really love, like when he told the people pushing the international bank tax to go pound sand, but most of the time I have this sinking suspicion that if 90s-era Chretien ran against him I wouldn't know which party to support.

Anonymous said...

I am flabergasted it is news to all Canadians
to learn our Prime Minister Harper is "not the Prime Minister of Canada"
what country do you live in" THE OLD FELLOW"
we may not vote in Prime Minister Harpers riding
but once he is asked by the GG he forms the Government of Canada and is the Prime Minister of ALL Canadians
fh

CanadianSense said...

Lynch mob? Almost sounds like Liberal fear mongering 101. Any chance of a purple dinosaur for effect?

Most of the BT bloggers I visit did NOT bother responding to the poll.

Harris Decima was correct to point out 2% of "fiscal" hardliners are not happy.

I wish them the best in their new venture. Paul Martin or Joe Clark are both available.

Anonymous said...

I wouldn't be part of any lynch mob you suggest of course but our media would be cheer leading it on though. (real conservative)

Anonymous said...

I'd take Paul Martin. He got the job done. Also, link to poll?

lance said...

"stop living in the past", Anon 9:43 said.

Yeah. Have you watched any of the CPC ads in the last two years where they use Iggy's words?

Stop living in the past, indeed.