Inside Harper’s big blue tent

Canada’s conservatives are more united than ever

Inside harper’s big blue tent

Adrian Wyld/CP

They are incorrigible, these Harper Conservatives. Sooner or later, they’ll wind up right in your own backyard.

Mr. Robert Ford, of the Toronto suburb of Etobicoke, Ont., made that startling discovery on Aug. 2, when 700 federal Conservatives showed up for a garden party on his mother’s property. To Ford’s apparent surprise, one of his guests was Stephen Harper.

Ford recovered quickly, for he is the mayor of Toronto and these folks were, in fact, his invited guests. “My new fishing buddy,” Ford called Harper. They swapped tales about Ford’s prowess in landing a 39-cm smallmouth bass. Harper took the microphone and spoke briefly. He said Ford didn’t live up to his reputation because he refused to kill and eat the fish, although, to be honest, Ford never really struck me as a seafood lover. Harper said Ford did “something very important” by “cleaning up the NDP mess here in Toronto.” Since Harper is, by his account, cleaning up “the left-wing mess federally,” it was up to Ontarians to “complete the hat trick” by electing Conservative Tim Hudak as the province’s new premier this fall.

There was brief speculation to the effect that Harper was hurting Hudak’s chances by conjuring the spectre of monolithic conservative leadership at every level of government for millions of Torontonians. We’ll see. My own hunch is that Harper’s endorsement will weigh little in the balance either way. But let’s not get ahead of ourselves. It’s significant enough that the mayor of Canada’s largest city is now an ex officio member of Harper’s team. How did that happen? What does it presage?

Ford, of course, endorsed Harper three days before the May 2 federal election. This was a surprise to the Toronto mayor’s own staff, who have learned to be flexible. Ford had decided he wouldn’t endorse any federal party. His helpers communicated this decision. Then he un-decided. He just liked the cut of Harper’s jib. He trusts his instincts. A fish-friendly fishing friendship was born.

Now here’s the thing: there was a time when a Calgarian prime minister would be a surprising sight in a Toronto mayor’s backyard. Western conservatives have sometimes viewed the rest of the country as hostile territory. Harper once did himself. “Westerners, but especially Albertans, founded the Reform/Alliance to get ‘in’ to Canada,” he wrote after the 2000 election. “The rest of the country has responded by telling us in no uncertain terms that we do not share their ‘Canadian values.’ Fine. Let us build a society on Alberta values.”

But now the Alberta-Toronto cleavage in Canadian conservatism is pretty obviously a lot less salient than it used to be. A lot of my Toronto friends prefer to believe that’s because Rob Ford isn’t really a Torontonian; he’s just some kind of lunatic galoot who sneaked into City Hall through accident or consumer fraud. But I suspect that underestimates his genuine appeal to (a little less than half of) the people of Canada’s largest city.

Most Torontonians are like most people everywhere. They’re just trying to get through their day. To many, Ford doesn’t look like the enemy. Neither does Harper. And Canada’s small-c conservatives, who spent almost 20 years splitting into factions because they came from different regions or had discrete political philosophies, are much less likely to divide along those old lines than they once were.

Some research from across the border may be germane here. In May, the Pew Research Center for the People and the Press released a survey of Americans’ political allegiances, as it does every four years. “The most visible shift in the political landscape since Pew Research’s previous political typology in early 2005 is the emergence of a single bloc of across-the-board conservatives,” the Pew report said. “The long-standing divide between economic, pro-business conservatives and social conservatives has blurred.”

I ran the Pew study past a senior Canadian Conservative strategist, who told me it matches his own hunches about the state of conservatism in Canada. (His conclusion that Canadian conservatives are strong and united is obviously self-serving. Sue me.) “It seems there is less of a divide between Red Tories and Reform-Alliance conservatives than there was previously.” Harper’s careful populism, less Gucci-fuelled, less obsessed with Quebec and the affections of U.S. Republicans than Brian Mulroney’s was, seems to be better so far at keeping everyone in the tent.

Conservative staffers on Parliament Hill can, on close inspection, be divided into factions. I know gay libertarians, pip-pip high Anglicans nostalgic for the British Empire, new Canadians who learned their social conservatism in the old country, daily visitors to Mass and Red Tories whose only reason for not being Liberals is that Dad was a Tory and the Liberals don’t smell like success these days. But the distinctions are not obvious, because on most days every faction can find something this government has done that they can feel good about.

Harper and his former strategist Tom Flanagan used to write a lot about uniting the “three sisters” of Canadian conservatism: prairie populism, Upper Canadian Tory traditionalism and Quebec nationalism. In the early going, the rebuilt Conservative coalition looked like a bit of a Frankenstein’s monster. But compare with the last attempt, Mulroney’s. Five and a half years after Mulroney became prime minister, his coalition was collapsing as Reform and the Bloc Québécois rose. Five and a half years in, Harper’s coalition is still coming together.




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Inside Harper’s big blue tent

  1. I used to be a lefty liberal – NDP type after all that socialistic brainwashing from university profs and the predominate liberal media.  Now in my mid-sixties I have seen the light.
    All those years (50 plus) of liberal justice and social programs have not improved things a bit. In fact they are worse. Here in Winnipeg, crime is rampant. The food banks have grown and are larger than ever.  Hand-outs and not being held accountable are never the answer in the long run.

    • “I have seen the light”

      Have you thought about the possibility that it could be senility?

      • Must be senility…I am in my mid-sixties and have never been more firm in my “lefty” opinions as I am now, facing a new dark age.

        • From your picture you look like you’re in your twenties or thirties.

          The leftist age.

          The foolish age.

          • Thank you, but I am over sixty, so that shows you need a pair of glasses. Sixty, the age of wisdom, the age of sticking to your convictions.

    • A conversion on the Road to Damascus.  There is hope.

    • Would you prefer the previously standard alternative of mandatory workhouses as the solution for unemployment and destitution?

    • You’ve clearly lost perspective if you think we haven’t greatly advanced the standard of living and equality over the past fifty years, or that poverty and crime aren’t related and dependent on factors such as the on-going recession that’s devastating our largest trading partner to the south, or the massive cities people now live in compared to fifty years ago, which has more to do with capitalism and technology than anything else.

      I was watching the first season of Mad Men last night and I was utterly floored. I’d forgotten how truly messed up our attitudes and behaviours were back then, and only in the light of today’s more egalitarian perspective does it become obvious how twisted some of those views were.

      I’m happy to live in modern society where every man and woman is my equal and we don’t shy away from today’s problems or shrink back into the delusion of golden days that never actually existed in any real form to begin with.

    • Bandit, the last thirty years have been drifting steadily to the right, and it’s over those years that conditions for the middle class have steadily eroded – driving up the demand on foodbanks and increasing the population of mental incompetents who have nowhere to go but the street. I could go on, but you get the picture.

      Canada has never had a socialist government, and since Trudeau the Liberal party has been strongly influenced by free-market principles, and has implemented a program based on trickle-down economic theory that has proven itself disastrous, most remarkably in the United States.

      I’m in my early sixties and have followed the news media conversation closely enough over these years to see that the mainstream media has slipped to the right and embraced conservative economic principles that thirty years ago would have been considered far right wing. Even the ‘leftist’ media, for example the CBC, has in its naive attempt to be objective taken a centre-right position. 

      I sympathize with your dismay at our social and economic condition, but you have mis-identified the political context of its decay.

  2. This reads like damnation of the Conservatives by faint praise.

  3. Get use to it Komarade Wells………………

  4. I suspect Harper will rue the day he allowed this picture to be taken showing Rob Ford with his arm on his shoulder.  The Doug and Rob silliness in Toronto is bound to have a negative impact on Harper’s electoral fortunes. 

    • You lefties just can’t get your head around the fact FORD WON!!!!

      and HARPER WON !!!!!!!!!

      • So I guess you are acknowledging that they both will go down in flames come the next election cycle.  By the way, you have no idea whether I am a leftie or a rightie, but your comments suggest a juvenile intellect.   

        • Anyone who follows the blogs on Macleans knows full well your political leanings.  You have not been shy when expressing your disdain of Mr. Harper and all things Conservative.

          • There is a huge difference between distain of Mr Harper, which millions do have, and distain of all things Conservative.  I have plenty of the first and none of the latter, particularly when it had Progressive in front of it.  There is no comparison between the pricinpals of Robert Stanfield or Joe Clark for example and the Reform / Alliance radicalism and christian fundamentalism brought to us by the political tag team of Manning, Day and Harper and now personified by the Ford brothers.  I had a lot of respect for the former and none whatever for the latter.  But I never resort to referring to them as “righties” or other such juvenile nonsense.

          • disdain! not distain

            Also, are the Ford Brothers Christian Fundamentalists?

          • Yes, it was easy to like Joe Clark and Robert Stanfield if you were a Liberal because they were both unsuccessful Tories.  As for the radicalism and christian fundamentalism backed Reform/Allliance party that was “brought to you by the political tag team of Manning, Day and Harper”…..I hate to break it to you but the reason that the party soared in popularity was that many in west felt disinfranchised and marginalized by all three Canadian national political parties.  You may have not spent much time in Alberta but we aren’t any more religous than any place else. 
            When I commented on your disdain for the Prime Minister and Conservatives, I was discussing the current party of course.  As far as I know, an online Macleans did not exist prior to Stephen Harper taking over leadership.

          • Robert Stanfield, Joe Clark, and Tommy Douglas were not religious bigots like you, Sunshine

          • TSYM Standield, Clark and Douglas were certainly not bigots and neither am I.  Manning,Day and Harper state adherence to fundamentalist christian religions on their ploitical resumes and use this frequently in thier political discourse.  If my mentioning that fact that they are christian fundmentalists makes me a bigot in your mind, then I guess that makes them bigiots too. 

            healthcareinsider

            Clark and Stanfield were NOT unsuccessful Tories.  They both held senior government positions and both contributed far more to Canadian society that the people around the current cabinet table can hope to if they live to be one hundred.  The reason they were successful is that they spent their time working to improve the country, whereas the current crowd just works to get elected. 

      • You do know they weren’t elected for life, don’t you?

        • I’m sorry Jan but unfortunately the “coaster” doesn’t have a reply option on his thread…….
           
          Sunshine Coaster….By “senior government positions” are you referring to Mr. Stanfield’s 7 years as leader of the opposition and Joe Clark’s 6 months as Prime Minister?  Or are you referring to Mr. Standfields 4 terms as Premier of Nova Scotia? 
          As for bemoaning the state of our “current crowd”, none of them could teach Pierre Trudeau anything about grasping and holding onto power….and while we are discussing Pierre and some of our other distinguished former leaders, why does no one make mention of the fact that they were strong Catholics who held Catholic views that do not condone arbortion and that embrace creationism.  Are we so used to having Catholic leaders that we don’t worry that they will let their religous beliefs interfere in their governing but give us a born again Christian and we are overflowing with suspicion.

          Thank you, Jan.

          • Thank you for contracidting your claim that Clark and Stanfield were not successful conservative poltiicians.  I would add that Clark also held several very important cabinet positions for about a decade.  Your claim that all Trudeau did was grasp and hold into power is ludicrous if you’ve read any of the comments from conservative supporters on this board.  They consistently complain about all the activist legislation that Trudeau’s governments enacted and blame him for all ills since.  He must have been doing somehting other than campaigning for election or these comments would not appear.  Many claim that Trudeau would have enjoyed a far longer term in office if he had concentrated more on getting elected and less on public policy. 

            Yes these Liberal leader were Catholics, but they all made very public statements that made it clear they believed in a separation between personal faith and public policy.  They were all criticized by church leaders for doing so and in a coupleof cases threatened with excommunication.  I think they all believed in a very solid line between church and state.  The political tag team of Manning, Day and Harper make no bones about their ambition to bring fundamental christianity into the public policy realm.  How else to explain a creationist as Science Minister and Canada’s current policy on Israel. The Manning Centre for Building Democracy states right on their web page their objective of basing policy on religious belief and it is a thinnly veiled vehicle to allow some very wealthy christian fundamentalists to fund his effort to bring church and state closer together. 

            I have no problem with any type of relious beliefs Catholic, born again christians or many others.  But I think all of them should make it clear that Canadian public policy should be designed for and by all Canadians, not religious leaders of any stripe. 

          • You and I obviously measure success differently.  Being a leader of the opposition for 7 years without getting elected to Prime Minister is not particularly successful in my books and being a minister after being “demoted” from leader of the party because you couldn’t keep your job as Prime Minister for more than 6 months does not spell success for me either.
            Now onto the question of what the Catholic leaders believed or didn’t believe and what our current leaders believe or don’t believe regarding the separation between church and state.  Admit it – it is all supposition on your part that anyone in office, now or in the past, has EVER let their own personal religous beliefs shape their approach to public policy.  What proof do you have to offer that Harper and his team have let their religous beliefs shape their choices for the country….on the gay marriage debate; abortion; capital punishment?  As for the Minister of Science, he is free to believe what he wants to but is he stopping geneticists from doing work…because as you know Charles Darwin is the father of the theory of evolution and genetics?  Are you honestly so deluded as to believe that this “christian” schools don’t teach Darwin and science?  How do you think these children make it through university?   You honestly believe there aren’t physicians and scientists who belong to fundamental Christian churches?
            Lastly, about Trudeau….the guy could not have been in office much longer.   Wasn’t he there almost a decade and a half?
            He could have possibly stayed longer if he hadn’t insisted on being so arrogant as to “flip the bird” to the citizens of Canada. 

  5. “Sooner or later, they’ll wind up right in your own backyard.”

    Luckily, I do not have a back yard.  So they will have to hang out elsewhere, like maybe in Alberta…the farther away the better.

    • This comment was deleted.

      • The only thing you are achieving by resorting to an ad hominem is demonstrating your complete ignorance of the process of civilized discussions.  

        • Alsandor, you admonish denisp for making a degrading remark to you when in fact he was just responding to your degrading comment about my home province, Alberta.  He who lives in glass houses……

          • I believe you suffer from what’s called a thin hide, seeing offense where none was given.  The suggestion was that they would find a sympathetic ear in Alberta but none in my back yard.  I hardly see where that constitutes a “degrading remark”.  denisp’s comment on the other hand is a personal insult with no bearing on the topic at hand (and the sign of a desperate person who has nothing to add to the discussion).  It’s called an argumentum ad hominem (look it up). I suggest you learn to identify these as there are many coming from dexters with computers. 

          • It isn’t Alberta’s fault you are flat broke. Suck it up!

          • Non sequiturs abound…what next, the price of tea in China?

          • Actually, an “argumentum ad hominem” occurs when a person tries to undermine the argument of the speaker by launching a personal attack on the speaker.   While denisp’s comment was clearly an attack on you, it was only that… an attack.  He did not try to undermine your argument as you yourself admitted you do not have a backyard.
            There is fascinating article on google about how people on the internet misuse the term “ad hominem”.  It mentioned in the article that they are usually people who are overly sensitive to criticism.  I wonder if they are people with a “thin hide”?

          • hci, you miss the point.  An argumentum ad hominem undermines the point under discussion by reducing the comment to a personal attack.  The old example is “oh, and when did you stop beating your wife?”

            It has no bearing on the topic under discussion, it needn’t even be true (as is the case with denisp’s comment), just insulting.  That is not an argument, it is a failure to produce a proper response.

            I am done wit this.  I have said what I have to say.  Conclude from it what you will.

          • I find it funny to see that even healthcareinsider thinks of it as disparaging to suggest that Harper and Ford would find a welcome place in Alberta.

  6. The NDP have been doctrinaire – and in provincial examples failures at that,  the Liberals have been corrupt and crooked and sucked up to Quebec in olden days and only interested in so-called Central Canada. , the Bloc is Quebec, the Greens are nowhere.   I think what is operating is common sense.  Now if Harper had not been sucked into  that international Keynesian argument about stimulus . . . .(he was against it on economic grounds as he should have been).  The help to the auto sector was a no-brainer; no help, the US firms would vacate Canada – and they are at least paying it back. And I guess we did get some infrastructure work done.

    Wityh the demographic moving the baby hump into old age it could be that the Cons ARE now the natural governing party.

    • Harper compromises when he thinks he needs to — 2008-09 was one of those times.

      If you’re a libertarian, he’ll drive you nuts, because he’ll never go as far as perhaps he should — but he’s a politician, and his first task is to stay in step with public opinion.

      He DID kill the international bank tax, and was a strong voice for austerity afterwards.  So there’s that.

    • I think we should wait for a few more AG’s reports before we conclude that.

      • AG on what? Infrastructure?  Stimulus? GM Loan??

  7. As a former Conservative voter I can see the perceived benefits and ideological promises of conservativism. However, I really think that ultimately it is flawed and unsustainable. For me personally, the idea that competition and profit motive are contradictory to our natural world, which is both benevolent and symbiotic, and since we can’t eat money, nature always wins. Ultimately, for me, it really is scarcity and selfishness versus benevolence and symbiosis. So, I think that Harper and his brand of conservativism will do just fine as long as we remain convinced that we can, without limit, exploit resources for profit and we deny our true symbiotic relationship to each other. But as resources deplete and the coming environmental crisis truely sets in I don’t believe it will be money we’ll be wishing we had more of. One of the only things I have ever appreciated from the vatican is when the last Pope said that ‘the self’ and ‘the market’ are the two great false idols of our time.

    • The natural world is Benevolent?  What planet are you from? Symbiotic perhaps if eat or be eaten is what you meant by natural.

    • James are we talking about the vatican that makes over 50 billion dollars per year from church coffers….that vatican? 
      In reading your comments about how under Harper our resources will be exploited, etc., I am wondering how that is any different than things were under Liberal governments.  The truth is that Canadians have a very high standard of living and expect that to continue.  We want expensive houses, cars and vacations and of course free healthcare on demand.  People talk about their principles and they want to uphold them as long as they don’t have to pay out of pocket and give up any part of their lifestyle.  We are like Al Gore.  We will admit to some inconveient truths but we don’t really want to live in inconvenient homes and take the bus.
      I work with disadvantaged people who are impovrished because they are too ill to work.  However, on occasion there are opportunities for rehabilitation and an opportunity for them to earn some sort of living.  I can tell you that people are happier when they get the opportunity to better themselves through an education and/or working.   I believe your comment about the world being benevolent and symbiotic but I do believe that denying people their potentional is at all caring or wise. 

      • Exactly, so you must be anti Harper then. Since taking office, the mighty conservative has INCREASED the national debt by over 100billion dollars (20%). All of those costs will be paid by your childeren and thier children. All this so that baby boomers can pretend that taxes are down.

        The only thing worse then a tax and spend liberal is a borrow and spend conservative.

        Harper is meerly delaying the day of reconing, when our dutch disease in Ontario and the toxic sludge pit that Northern Alberta is turning into. As a health care insider, you must be very concerned about the Athabasca and the hundreds of litres of toxic talings pond sludge leaking in every day? I hope your children live downstream.

        Do you really want a governement that sanitizes all of its communications like a 3 world despot so that they can pretend that everything is under control? Bush tired this and single handedly bankrupted the United States with his 6 trillion in spending and undeserved tax cuts for the wealthy.

  8. And the coalition that comes together, stays together…

  9. backness – you are so right.  It was difficult to see a conservative government use the same tactic as every other government in the developed world to deal with the global economic crisis.  I am quite certain that if Harper would have had a majority government at the time, he would not have behaved as a Liberal or NDP would have but we will never know that for certain.
    As for dutch disease…in my opinion our manufacturing sector is suffering for the same reason that manufacturers in every developed country are….we cannot compete with companies in third world countries that pay their employees almost nothing.  Even if the Canadian dollar were to drop back down to 85 cents, we still cannot compete with China unless we make something that they cannot offer that is an excellent value for the money. 
    Now onto our “toxic sludge pit” – I take it you are discussing Fort McMurray.  Have you ever been?  I have family who have lived there for 50 years.   The ground at the oil sands is soil saturated with oil – it will never be good for anything.  Do we leave it in the ground and pretend it doesn’t exist?  Believe me, I know about the sludge ponds.  I think it would be safe to say that no area in North America is under more scrutiny from environmental groups than the oilsands….if a duck dies, the ripple is heard around the western world.  In fact, I recall British Petroleum calling the oil in the oilsands “dirty”….course that was before they had that little accident in the gulf.   Yes, there have been some environmental problems but the level of scrutiny ensures that the press are constantly hounding the Alberta government to fix the problems.  We had the same issues with pulp and paper mills but there was no publicity.  
    So, I ask my question of you….do you leave the oil there or do you use the proceeds to make life better for the poor citizens of your country?  It is like when India made those cheap cars and environmentalists were bemoaning the added greenhouse gases but meanwhile countless people were dying from motorcycle accidents because they were tripling up on the bikes…..
    As to your last comment about the Prime Minister’s communication skills or lack thereof, I have to tell you that as an Albertan, I don’t have an issue with it.  Our province’s vote never counted for years and the Liberal Prime Ministers treated us with barely disguished disdain.  So we should take umbridge with a leader who manages the press?
    As for comparing Harper to George W., I don’t see it.  I think Canadian politics is quite different than the US. 

    • Really? Harper had started to spend your kids money long before the recession.

      Check you numbers. The books were ballanced before he took office. He’s doubled the cost of correctional services, and it will double again. (1 billion to 2 and it will be 4 by the time he is done). Take away the 3 billion in GST per year, the 3 billion in corporate tax cuts and you start to see where our money is going. Not to mention in the same time period, he hired 40k civil servants all so that he could fake his job numbers.

      I’m glad you live in alberta, you can enjoy the toxic athabasca. Although, as you seem to sugest, am not against the development of the oil sands, I just think that we should have some oversight.

      So trade jobs in Ontario, to kill the environment in Alberta, to make billionaire oil men more money. Great vision for the future.

      P.S. comodities are just a hiding place for the super rich’s assets at the moment. When they crash and you can’t give them away, we’ll see how happy you are with the grad wizard economist.

      • Well if there is hope for Lake Ontario, then I guess there is always hope for the Athabasca River and as for those “billionaire oil men” in Alberta, I think you exaggerate their financial worth.  However, some of them such as men like the recently deceased Harley Hotchkiss give away more money than they keep.
        As for your ongoing contention that Alberta’s oil is causing Ontario’s misfortunes….I don’t buy it.  How can any company afford to produce goods when the workers are making $80.00 per hour in wages and benefits such as they were at GM, Chrysler and Ford?  No wonder they could not remain competetive.  A top end nurse in Quebec makes $31.89 per hour and has years of education and countless responsibilities.
        I will not deny that Harper spent money but he was leading a minority government and had to appease the socialists in the house.
        Finally, I am happy I live in Alberta.  We are 5th generation Canadians – the first generation lived in Ontario.  The 2nd generation came to Alberta to ranch and we have been here ever since.  I have visited the beautiful province of Ontario.  I would never demean it.

  10. the harper/ford team: doing wonders for the Ontario election!

    Keep it up boys, I don’t want to see hudak in power either!

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