Has Harper sold out?

Critics are wondering whether the PM has strayed too far from his conservative principles


As he prepares to table a $34-billion deficit, some critics are wondering whether Stephen Harper has strayed too far from his conservative principles. From fixed election dates to Senate appointments to patronage and now fiscal policy, the Prime Minister is looking less and less like the ideologue of old. “”Opposition is utopia,” says one Conservative. “Government is messy. It’s constantly a question of scorekeeping as to what you have to trade off to accomplish whatever your overall goal is.”

The Toronto Star

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Has Harper sold out?

  1. Yes

  2. Harper has principles?

  3. I don’t know if sold out is correct word, but he’s definitely not an ideologue anymore.

    I understand that Harper has a plan to make Cons more palatable to people over the long term in order to lessen the strangle hold Libs seem to have over electorate. Which is fair enough but Con controversies always seem to occur because they are adrift ideologically and there is no discernable rhyme or reason for what Cons are proposing from day to day.

    What bothers me most about Cons at the moment is that they aren’t doing/saying anything that is advancing conservatism. They are governing like Libs-lite but you rarely hear con arguments being made or explanations being offered. It is like they are embarrassed about con ideology and I don’t see the point of governing like Libs if they aren’t doing anything to advance conservatism at the same time.

    The second thing that bothers me about Cons is that they have abandoned some first principles and that’s not good. They have done nothing about Sec 13. and a Con government that doesn’t care about free speech can not be described as con.

    And tomorrow’s budget is another example – maybe there is argument to made that government should do some things to help out during recession – but Cons are proposing massive deficits while making no attempt to lessen them. I have not read one word about reducing some expenditures in other areas to try and mitigate deficit. It’s just spend, spend, spend with no attempt at balancing budget.

    • Harper hopes to change the country incrementally. So far it’s not workng. I’d say the country is changing him, thus he stands for nothing anymore. And i don’t believe it will be simply a matter of popping up one day, like a jack in he box, and yell, ” SURPRISE! i’m really a con after all!” He’s spending his creditability like a drunken sailor. But then again partiisans will swollow any amount of guff in order to see their cherished political illusions take form. The great mass of ordinary Canadians don’t have so much invested in the specifics of issues, but do have a pretty good nose for cant and political aggrandizement. I’d say Sh’s beginning to niff;

      • It is the age old dilemma of whether to move to the centre or bring the centre to you. I find the Cons have moved too far to the centre and not done nearly enough to bring centre to them.

        And it’s very disappointing because what’s the point of behaving like Libs if the Cons aren’t doing anything to advance conservatism at the same time. In fact, I think they are doing harm to the Con brand with this cast of characters who don’t seem to stand for anything.

        • I’d sympathize if i were a con. That said i would say that it’s the lust for power that’s the problem. Power used wisely that advances a set of ideals or principles you believe in ie., a vision is the ideal, much more difficult with a minority of course. Perhaps that’s SH’s principle failing, his inability to work with others in a way that does advance his princples. Personally i think Manning did more to change the country by forcing the libs to focus on balancing the books in the 90’s. Maybe all that lack of principle the libs are always accused of is simply the real- world outcome of making the decisions instead of having the luxury of simply opposing? Any how SH has discovered that political theory and real world governance don’t always intersect in ways that are predictable, or even rational.

        • Part of the problem is that Harper is more or less an Chicago-school-style neocon in a country where the right-wing is a mixture of prairie Reform libertarianism and southern Ontario Toryism. While neoconservativism & libertarianism may both be technically be “right-wing”, they are ideologically opposite. Neocons believe the government’s job is to keep the rich rich and the poor poor, while libertarians believe the government’s job is to get out of the way and let people develop according to their individual merit. Ontario Tories are somewhere in between. They believe in class-based merit and a certain amount of elitism, but recognize that all classes have certain rights and that hard-working individuals can break the boundaries of class. They will tolerate a lot more corruption in the upper classes than Reformers, but there are limits that can’t be surpassed.

          As a prairie small-p progressive, it’s been pretty hard for me to understand the Great-Lakes centrist attitude in Canadian politics. Both the PC’s & Liberals were characteristically Tory, not “liberal” as the word is defined in any political science textbook. Southern Ontario still has a certain amount of lingering Victorian mindset. It’s been tempered by a century of pragmatism, but there’s a distinct sense of hierarchy in society we don’t have in the west. In a lot of ways I have more in common with Reformers than with centre-lefters from other locations. We both tend to agree with what we’d like society to look like — flat, with little class differentiation — although we disagree on how best to accomplish it.

          I don’t think Harper has a clue about the southern Ontario mindset. Ontario conservatives believe strongly in social mobility & respect people who achieve it, but the paths to upwards mobility are more defined. Going to the right schools is far more important than in the prairies, while clawing your way to the top, the preferred method of social advancement in the prairies, is frowned upon. A sense of propriety is required. It’s a much older culture than on the prairies, and has more ties to tradition.

          I also think Harper has the same problem with southern Ontario that Martin did. They want a strong party, not just a party with a strong leader. While it may be normal in the prairies to vote for a party & Prime Minister (& not even know who your local MP is), in Ontario a lot of people want a strong candidate in their riding. Both Martin & Harper were insecure having strong individual MP’s in their party and have done their best to prevent any development. Southern Ontario will punish a party for this. Why do you think we have a minority government? We have five national parties with leaders & few individual candidates. The Liberals are starting to play nice with each other and even with other parties, and, surprise, their ratings are rising. The hierarchical nature of southern Ontario accords a certain amount of respect for all politicians of all parties, and trying to destroy another party instead of beating it at the polls just doesn’t play. Harper was raised in the bloodsport that is Prairie politics, where, unless you’re the NDP, if a party loses an election, it’s finished forever.

          Liberals, want some advice on attracting rural prairie voters? Lie to them. They expect it. No federal government is going to represent them, and they know it. The Cons have been doing it for the last couple of decades. They know they’re being lied to, but for once, they’re not being ignored. These people cheer for the Maple Leafs, for God’s sake. They can take disappointment.

          • I got savaged on another thread for suggesting Don Newman was too simplistic in his recipe for reforming politics. Your comment demonstrates just how complex one facet of the whole is by itself.

            What are parties? Who do they represent? What are the divisions in our society? What are the political identities in our society? In my opinion, regional identification is the most durable identifier we have. Class is largely dulled beyond recognition. Government has addressed the major social program needs, dulling ideology to a large degree from the typical left right perspective.

            As you say, what we knew as Tory and Liberal has been periodically turned on its ear. We have a vague branding notion of what it means when you use one of those labels, but free trade is one example where their historical positions flip flopped. The Liberals came back to their historical posiiton under Chretien. Now the Conservatives are apparently about to do the same thing in reverse, turning their backs on fiscal prudence and putting out a Keynsian budget. The NDP had to govern like Tories in Ontario to survive. Ideology is largely dead; what works economically/politically is always going to be somewhere in the middle.

    • I agree with jwl. Much to my chagrin, it seems that in order to stay in power, the governments must heel to an unsophisticated electorate, many who have been on an entitled and ‘gimme’ dole for a long time. Governments are so far left, that it’s amazing that some do not drop off the table forever.
      Obviously we cannot spend our way out of this mess. The governments are promising and encouraging more of the very things that got us into this mess in the first place; spending beyond our means.
      This dire economic situation cannot reasonably be expected to improve until we firmly grasp the difference between our ‘wants’ and our ‘needs.’ The special interest groups must be the first to feel the cutting edge of the axe. In other words, if government spending is not in the interest of ALL Canadians (or potentially so), then it must be aborted and replaced with more sound or reasonable financial expenditures.
      HUGE savings can be made in government spending by ‘eliminating all spending to special interest groups.’ These groups serve no one but their own greedy desires and therefore must be completely removed from the public trough. Government spending instead must focus on infrastructure, health, education, defense, and our environment.
      However, will the opposition parties allow Harper to proceed with the necessary changes? We already know the answer; just look at the promise of a coup in last month’s fiasco.
      Like others, I’m disappointed and dislike the about-face in many important decisions but what else can Harper do with a minority government?

  4. He’ll always be an idealogue. But he’s decided not to follow his own principles because citizen’s wouldn’t be comfortable with them. Those who dislike him personally (of which I do not count myself one, though I feel he is not up to the job of PM), probably console themselves knowing how much he must hate himself for pursuing the policies he does.

  5. Yes

  6. Stephen Harper (MP, L of O & PM) never passed a mirror he did not like ……. and that ladies and gentlemen sums it all up. The really sad part is that the MSM never did ethier. Well perhaps Mike Duffy, he got it????????

  7. He hasn’t. It’s the realities of governing. I sincerely hope it’s not the same people now complaining about him selling out and having no principles, who were complaining before that he was a rigid ideologue, but I suspect there are many who would fit in that category.

    It doesn’t take a genius to recognize that you cannot reform the Senate when you are unable to get a Senate reform bill through the Senate! The appointment freeze tactic’s basic premise was that the Liberals in the Senate would be shamed into acting. But there is no shaming them. It doesn’t/didn’t work.

    As for the Supreme Court appointment, it had to be filled lest the Supremes go another session one person down, meaning that one current Supreme would have to sit out on each case. The House was not in session long enough before the games started, to be able to address it (and no, the extra 4 days in December pre-empted by prorogation wouldn’t have made an ounce of difference).

    As for deficit spending, let’s keep this in perspective. We’re talking about a deficit that is just slightly over 2% of GDP. This is not the $38 billion, 8.2% of GDP monster that Trudeau left Mulroney (our biggest ever peacetime deficit) in 1984. If Obama’s stimulus package goes through, the U.S. might be running a deficit that is 16% of their GDP!!!! The equivalent here would be a $256 billion deficit (!!!)… so let’s all take a valium, realize that this is what is called for in recessionary times, that as long as most of the stimulus is for one-off measures and mostly capital infrastructure projects, that it will not impact our operating account status, and that once the economy regains its legs, we will again be in a surplus situation.

    Let’s all remember that the two policies that have Canada in the most envious position within the G7 vis-a-vis this global meltdown were put forward and advanced by Stephen Harper as a Reform MP. Those were the slaying of the deficit (Reform’s “Zero in Three” policy from their 1993 platform was devised by Harper), and the Clarity Act (again, Dion and Chretien, as acknowledged by no less an authority than Chantal Hebert, stole heavily from the policy put forward initially by Stephen Harper).

    Does anyone in their right mind truly believe that if the Liberals didn’t have a divided right opposition, or had a strong left-wing opposition, that they would’ve tackled the deficit in the manner that they did? One of Chretien’s slogans during 1993 was “Zero deficit means zero hope!” for God’s sakes! Reform provided them the perfect cover to follow through with those cutbacks, as they were able to say to the public that “there would’ve be more cutting with them”. There was a great example of a forceful and principled opposition bending the government agenda towards their policies. The big tax cut package just before the 2000 election was called was designed to cut the legs out of the fledgling Alliance, which it did. But at a cost of implementing policies very much in keeping with that party.

    Funny I don’t recall people saying Chretien or Martin sold out.

    • Certainly reform policies at the day made it safer for Chretien to pursue the right leaning policies he did (although imagine the disaster if he had actually done what Preston Manning actually advised!) But since Liberals did it Liberals get the credit. Too bad, conservatives!

    • KRB
      I support the notion that principled opposition keeps our system honest. But sorry to upset yr twofer SH. As i recall SH ‘s version of the clarity act was so extreme and partisan that Chretien was well advised to pick and choose from it; credit, certainly, Captain Canada no!. In the interests of informed partisanship i see you failed to mention that Mulroney didn’t quite tackle that Trudeau deficit. No doubt he had his excuses too, they all do!

    • Preston Manning wasn’t in politics to take credit for anything, and he didn’t want to be PM. His strategy was to “wag the dog” by stealing enough votes so that the Liberals would steal Reform ideas, and he was successful at that. Same thing with Ed Broadbent back in the day. Both believed you could achieve real change by scaring the people in power, but not by actually being in power.

  8. Let me see if I understand the not so subtle attempt at partisan hype. If a LPC leader focuses on the voters towards the middle of the spectrum then it’s a strategic move to garner support from the center … however if Harper and the CPC loosen their idealogical principles and move to the center then it’s = selling out. Okay I will break it down down for those who are politically challenged. All of what we are experiencing was decided at the last G8 and 20 meetings when and I emphasize all members agreed to an approx 3% of GDP stimulous and all everywhere agreed it was the right thing to do. Therefore I would say anyone who is surprised, upset, confused or anything else is just not paying attention but then again attention span seems to be an underated feature nowadays. Of course this is to be expected. What is particulary fascinating right now is to watch the frustrated left wing nuts moan, groan and gnash their teeth wondering why the Igster’s personal numbers go up when he distances himself from the mickey mouse coalition idea and Layton’s numbers go down the more he builds it up (DUH!) if you want to check out an example of how they play out see Iceland’s coalition as an example. I am looking forward to this session in the HOC as I hope it will be productive and not full of Dion’s only strategy which was a contant barrage of what did the PM know? when did he know what he didn’t or did know? and if he didn’t know it then what didn’t he no know it or wait a sec what was that again? (the guy was worse than Joe Clark – the constant stream of non issue pseudo scandals was an example of one of the poorest attempts at an opposition leader opposing the gov’t that I have ever seen and produced only one thing = Iggy in faster than expected. Now we can let the games begin!!!!

    • The key difference is that Liberals, as a centrist party, should be pitching to the centre. The CPC is ostensibly conservative. They are selling out because they are not pursuing policies supported by their base.

      • Wayne, your comment, I’m tempted to click report abuse.

        Anyways… Harper, um, Omar Khadr flop flip is next.

    • And the other key difference is that immediately after those G8 and G20 meetings was when Flaherty put forward the FU to Canada that gave nothing of the sort.

      Only when threatened with political death by the other parties do the conservatives turn to doing what they said would be the best course for everybody. That should say something.

    • For once I’ve gotta agree with Wayne. (Feeling cold, Beelzebub?) He even used punctuation this time.

  9. I cannot think of one policy promise from 2005 that Harper has maintained until 2009. Late term Abortion? Nope. Gun registry? Nope. Gay Marriage? Nope. The Senate, fixed election dates, accountability? Nope, nope, nope.

    The Conservatives always criticized the Liberals as operating without principle. The CPC, after a mere 2.5 years in power has demonstrated that their principles are not only expendable, but they are willing to trade virtually any policy for a few percentage points in the polls in a key region.

    • Ok, don’t be silly now. Harper never made any promise re: late-term abortions … he explicitly said that abortion would not be debated. Gun registry? Well, he realizes he doesn’t have the numbers there, so he knows it can’t be done in these Parliaments. Gay Marriage? He explicitly stated in the 05/06 campaign that Parliament would hold another vote, which THEY DID! Accountability? You do know that the first bill ever passed by the Conservatives was the Accountability Act, with help from the NDP? People may complain there are still holes, but we’re farther along there than before. The fixed election dates law was more a “political” law … its first clause made the second pretty much advisory (the first clause said the GG-in-Council’s powers were not restricted in any way). From reading it, it’s aimed at majority governments, as those are the type that would stand to lose the most politically if a snap election call was made (although voters are pretty good at delivering rebukes on their own – see David Peterson in 1990).

      You can’t think of one promise? How about the GST cuts, the Chinese head tax apology, Age of Consent law, Universal Child Care Benefit, Hep C compensation broadened, Child sports tax credit, Lobbying Act, …, there are many more here. Just because you do not wish to see and acknowledge the accomplishments of Canada’s government of the last three years (as of Feb. 6th), doesn’t mean they don’t exist.

      • Stop lying about the Fixed Election Act. I hate it how people such as you constantly parrot these lies without even having the slightest clue what you’re talking about.

        If you had actually read it, you’d know it references that the *first* of the elections to be held under it was to be on October 19th, 2009 barring the opposition losing confidence in the House.

        The ONLY way that clause could exist is if the act was aimed directly at the minority government that was in power at the time. That’s it. No other interpretation makes sense other than that the conservative party is completely incompetent at drafting legislation.. you know.. their job. There was no majority government in power before October 19th 2009, so why in hell would the Act refer to that date if it was only meant to apply to majority governments, hm?

        Saying it was meant to apply to majority government’s only is complete and utter tripe. It’s a lie floated by Harper and parroted ceaselessly since then by the ignorant. It’s not what the conservatives in the house claimed at the time, it’s not what the text of the bill said should happen, and it’s simply not true. Stop lying and try the facts for a change.

  10. It seems Conservatives get their most conservative governments when the Liberals are in power. I don’t think Mulroney would have done what Chretien/Martin did. I imagine Conservative governments will always face a strong pull to the left, with the abyss that exists to the right. Perhaps Canadian conservatism was better served by a Reform/PC dichotomy. We just needed a better electoral system.

    • Mulroney actually did a lot to tackle the deficit, but because he wasn’t in office at the end of the task (i.e. zero deficit), his part in its conquest is overshadowed.

      Mulroney gets a bad rap on the debt. I don’t know if it’s human nature or what, but people like to deal in the absolute numbers, and they have the mistaken belief that all governments start from and with the same set of circumstances (the proverbial “blank slate”). But of course that is not the case. What Mulroney inherited from the Liberals was a dog’s breakfast, the worst fiscal situation Canada has EVER faced during peacetime. The deficit was at 8.2% of GDP, it’s highest ever in peacetime, we were only collecting 97 cents for every dollar of program expenditure, meaning we were in deficit even before having to service the debt!!! We were in fiscal as well as operating deficit. Mulroney corrected the latter by raising taxes, bringing in Free Trade and the GST. Mulroney had us down to deficits of just over 4%-of-GDP, but those best laid plans were thrown off by the 1991 recession, during which the deficit again spiked up over 5%-of-GDP. Surely those facts are easily grasped by the great majority of people out there, who are reasonable and non-partisan (or who at least can call a spade a spade). So without that recession, Mulroney would have got us halfway to a zero deficit or beyond, and truly, the effort required to go from 8.2% to 4.3% was a lot tougher than the trip from 5.2% to 0%, because the virtuous upward spiral had by then replaced the vicious downward one in which Mulroney came to power in. Over his entire 9 years in office, Mulroney was in operating surplus (i.e. revenues minus program expenditures, not including debt servicing charges). With the growth in GST revenues, we were in time posting operating surpluses in the $30-40 billion range, which allowed us to slay the fiscal deficit.

      But don’t take my word for it. Take his.

      It was the Conservatives who took power in 1984, many recall, who, in the nine years that followed, ran the debt up to more than $500 billion. But the truth is that the relentless rise in the debt that has all but consumed federal politics for the past decade or more was set in motion during the Trudeau years. By the last days of the ancien regime, its momentum was unstoppable.

      • So Trudeau wasn’t a good manager of our finances [ not many govts around the worldin the 70s, early 80s were, not an excuse just context] He has to wear that. In the end it’s not what we remember him for anyway. As for ly’n Brian, that’s just it. The gst is a good example. He claimed at the time it would be revenue neutral – fair enough. But now he brags that he set the ball in motion [ debt reduction] by introducing the gst. That’s Brian’s trouble to this day. He’s not, nor ever was a good liar. In the end maybe PET just lied with more style and a little less often.

  11. As of tomorrow, I will not longer be supporting the Conservative Party of Canada. This budget is fiscally reckless, ideologically socialist, and an insult to every person who voted for Harper on October 15, 2008.

    • That’s good for you, you said that you used to vote NDP, nuff said.

      You’ve never been a Conservative, never could and never will be.

      • Bruce,

        I really want you to tell me what makes YOU a real conservative. Because this budget is an NDP budget. And I’m not a conservative?

  12. If Harper has any principles left, he’s doing a good job hiding them.

    When Reagan was faced with an intransigent Air Traffic Controllers union in 1981, he fired the whole works.

    Now examine Harper’s response to the Ottawa bus strike, which falls under federal legislation.

    Crickets chirping. A loon cries. Waves lap softly upon the shore. Off in the distance, Rona Ambrose says something or other.

    As wobbly as McGuinty is on most issues, I’ll give him full credit for the way he deals with unions. Toronto Transit workers never even had a chance to set up pickets. He’s now acting to force the York dorks back to work, and making bloody fools out of the provincial NDP in the process (never a difficult task). Granted, he should have done it in September, but at least he’s doing it. I voted for John Tory the last time, out of reflex rather than enthusiasm. But for all his warts, if McGuinty faces Tory again – and it looks like he will now that Tory finally coerced himself into a by-election – I’m voting for Dalty.

    If Ignatieff were half as smart as they say he is, he’d learn something from Dalton, and demand an immediate end to the Ottawa bus strike as well. He’d instantly score himself a half-dozen seats in the NCR that are now solidly Conservative. Not bad for just opening his mouth. In fact, I’m baffles as to why Iggy has left such low hanging fruit rot on the branch. A half dozen seats for crying out loud!! That could determine the next election. And he doesn’t even have to do anything – he’s in Opposition. Just demand an end to the strike, and condemn Harper for not following Dalty’s example.

    • Reagan was allowed to fire the workers because the strike was illegal. Neither the OC Transpo or York strikes are illegal so throwing around Reagan’s name like he would somehow show the unions who’s boss is ridiculous. The only card the provincial or federal governments have is to legislate the union back to work which would mean the two parties end up in binding arbitration (something that may very well favour the union). A conservative would stand aside and let the city and the university deal with its own negotiations and only legislate the union back to work if the city or the university asks them to. In the case of the OC Transpo strike, the city haven’t asked the feds to legislate the union back so why should Harper interfere when he may very well end up helping the union? I find it mildly amusing that Harper is being criticized on a thread titled “Has Harper sold out?” for an action that is actually conservative.

    • Help, please. What makes a city bus strike a federal matter? Other than, you know, health and education and social housing and grants to municipalities and just about every other provincial matter somehow becoming a federal mater, I mean.

      • OC Transpo runs buses in both Ontario and Quebec.

        • Thanks, sbt. OC Transpo doing one little loop in Gatineau and the Outaouais service doing one little loop in front of Parliament Hill is a dumb reason, to me anyways, that the feds should have any say.

          I had thought it had something to do with the “Welcome to Canada’s National Capital Region” road sign out in the middle of absolutely nowhere: does the NCC really regulate every manhole cover and municipal garbage can for a 100-km radius around Parliament Hill, I wonder…

  13. SBT, you might well be right about that. I know legislating them back to work was fraught with legal problems. If anything, that shows how badly we need some labour reforms in this country. No damn way should public service union strikes be allowed in the first place.

  14. I love how all the CPC sycophants will bend over backwards to apologize for their benevolent leader. How a few short years in power corrupts all ethics and ideals.

    • To be fair, it’s a human condition. Nobody is immune. Conservatives do the angry man denial so well though!

    • Well, duh, isn’t that what sycophants do? To quote a mutual friend, “You could look it up.”

      This small-c conservative, FTR, is really not liking what he is seeing, and is only very marginally helped by the notion that the other guys would be makiing a bigger mess of things. That last argument is becoming harder and harder to defend.

      • “and is only very marginally helped by the notion that the other guys would be makiing a bigger mess of things.’


        I am with you. I also finds it helps my mood if I look to the US stimulus package and I can think to myself at least there is no Pelosi here arguing that spending tens of millions $$$ on contraceptives will stimulate the economy.

  15. They are continuing in a long tradition of politicians doing exactly the opposite of what they promise. Harper and Flaherty are just aping George “Kindler Gentler” Bush, Tony Blair and Clinton who went all corporate and militaristic when most of us were expecting, well something else.

    What’s the opposite of Hope and Change? I’ll throw it in with the rest of my disgruntlement on Budget Opposite Day.