What Stephen Harper was writing in 1997


Terry Milewski digs up an essay penned by Stephen Harper and Tom Flanagan around the same time the former was saying things like this. It sketches a potential Reform-Progressive Conservative “alliance”—as opposed to a merger—and then turns to the question of Quebec.

If Quebec stays in Confederation, the Bloc will either disintegrate or become an autonomist party, participating in federal politics as a representative of Quebec’s specific interests. Philosophically, it is logical for liberals to offer Quebec money and privileged treatment, while conservatives find it easier to offer autonomy and enhanced jurisdiction. On that basis, a strategic alliance of Quebec nationalists with conservatives outside Quebec might become possible, and it might be enough to sustain a government.

None of this will be easy or even likely. But experience shows that a monolithic conservative party is unworkable; so conservatives who are unhappy with a one-party-plus system featuring the Liberals as the perpetual governing party may have little choice but to construct an alliance, at least of the two anglophone sisters, and perhaps ultimately including a third sister. An alliance would face many difficulties, to be sure, but it would also have two great advantages. It would reflect the regional and cultural character of Canadian society, and it would give that character an institutional expression. Also, it would allow leaders of the regional parties to defend necessary compromises as precisely that — necessary compromises. In a single national party, compromises have to be defended as party policy, which tends to drive dissenters out of the fold.

Mr. Harper and Mr. Flanagan then concluded with an ode to political cooperation, including mention of the “coalition governments” that exist in Europe.

In today’s democratic societies, organizations share power. Corporations, churches, universities, hospitals, even public sector bureaucracies make decisions through consultation, committees and consensus-building techniques. Only in politics do we still entrust power to a single faction expected to prevail every time over the opposition by sheer force of numbers. Even more anachronistically, we persist in structuring the governing team like a military regiment under a single commander with almost total power to appoint, discipline and expel subordinates.

Among major democracies, only Great Britain so ruthlessly concentrates power. In the United States, President Clinton cannot govern without making concessions to the Republicans in Congress. In Germany, Chancellor Kohl needs to keep the support not only of the CSU but of the Free Democrats. In France, the presidency and the national assembly are often controlled by different party coalitions. In most of the rest of Europe, proportional representation ensures that coalition governments routinely form cabinets. In Australia, the Liberal prime minister needs the National Party for a majority in the House of Representatives and, often, the support of additional parties to get legislation through the Senate. In New Zealand, which used to have a Canadian-style system of concentrated power, the voters rebelled against alternating Labour party and National party dictatorships: electoral reform now ensures coalition cabinets.

Many of Canada’s problems stem from a winner-take-all style of politics that allows governments in Ottawa to impose measures abhorred by large areas of the country. The political system still reverberates from shock waves from Pierre Trudeau’s imposition of the National Energy Program upon the West and the Charter of Rights and Freedoms upon Quebec. Modernizing Canadian politics would not only be good for conservatism, it might be the key to Canada’s survival as a nation.



What Stephen Harper was writing in 1997

  1. I kind of like the old Stephen Harper; more than the current Stephen Harper, anyway.

  2. So we now know that in addition to deceitful, incompetent and destructive, this regime is also totally hypocritical.
    In addition to wasting my time debating the chets of the world on this board I am actively working against Harper in this election.*
    Are you?
    * (I joined the Catch 22 Campaign that is registered with Elections Canada.)

  3. Many of Canada's problems stem from a winner-take-all style of politics that allows governments in Ottawa to impose measures abhorred by large areas of the country.

    I don't know whether to laugh or cry.

  4. Neither: Get active this election! (apologies if you already are active)

  5. So clearly they understood the path and chose the dark side.

  6. A careful read of this (and other articles from the same era), I think provides some insight into the mindset of Tom Flanagan. While he has to be pleased that his side has been winning lately, he also must be dismayed at how they are behaving now that they are winning. It is a little like supporting an elegant, talented hockey team for years, suffering each time they lose in the playoffs to a less talented, but nasty and physical team. After years upon years of complaining about the state of the game, your team is finally a winner, but now all the worst goons in the league wear your uniform.

  7. wow…. this guy is a Chameleon….

  8. What did you learn about in school yesterday: sharing

    What did you learn about in school today: power

    What will you teach in school tomorrow: That the evil coalition is plotting together to steal power

  9. Well said.

    I wonder if Stockwell Day was beginning to feel the same way.

  10. Well, old woman that I am, can't imagine that Jean Béliveau would ever become a goon. Harper was a goon then and remains a goon today.

  11. Don`t forget this essay was wrote in the middle of the Chretien era, where the Liberals had little representation from the West and pretty much treated the West as their cash cow. Previous to this time the Mulroney and Trudeau governments also had their times when they took the West for granted while concentrating their efforts in Quebec and Ontario.

    I know you have your issues with Harper, but other than allowing the oil sands and mining and potash to continue to produce and supply massive royalties and taxes to the Canadian treasury, I don`t know how Harper has favoured the West, where his base is, at the expense of the rest of the country.

    As for your tendency to laugh and cry, I`m sure there is some medication you can take for that.

  12. "Modernizing Canadian politics would not only be good for conservatism, it might be the key to Canada's survival as a nation."

    Ahhh, Steve just wants to make sure the country stays together. What a mensch.

  13. I never, never thought I would use the word "principled" to describe Tom Flanagan, but the man certainly seems less hypocritical than those he has inspired.

  14. Strength down Centre comes easier if you have the right assist on the left wing.

    [youtube BZnTwmabOxA http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BZnTwmabOxA youtube]

    That said (or embedded I guess), two things to note:
    1) They sure don't make goons like they used to.
    2) This being Canada, shouldn't anyone wanted to be PM learn how to skate?

  15. So when he replaced the brown lego hair with grey lego hair, that's when things went wrong?

  16. One more thing to note Stewart—If you listen to Danny Gallivan`s audio around the 24 second mark you will hear him mention Harper`s name—-could be Harper was there and started the whole fight.

  17. I, on the other hand, am unimpressed with both. Look, I know that it has almost become a shibboleth for political junkies like ourselves to trash the electoral system and other institutions of our political system, but I can't get on board. There is nothing wrong with our political institutions. That nonsense Harper spouts up there about the NEP and the Charter is typical of the arguments about why reform is supposedly necessary. It apparently does not occur to him that the Liberals and NDP won a majority of the popular vote in 1980, and the NDP supported the NEP, while of course the Liberals would have threatened an election over the Charter to make one of the opposition parties fall into line.

    So I'm happy he has learned the value of our political system, right? No, he's still trying to undermine it with his ill-thought-out attempts at Senate reform, not to mention bluffing/howling his way around losing confidence in 2008.

  18. Well…out there….it seems you have been given two choices………..get involved or take medication…..

  19. Ouch….it really, really must have hurt Mr.Milewski when Ignatieff told him publically on day one of the campaign to not tow the Conservative line. His CBC bosses must not have been happy when the reporter came home after that rally!

    Repent, Terry; pay for your sins. Keep digging into a one sided story.

  20. I just happen to dug up a cbc memos, dated March 25, and timed at 6:00 pm and onward, which say:

    "Terry, we told you not to confront Ignatieff on the coalition confusion – signed: the bosses"

    "But bosses, I am a journalist first and foremost and I had to ask the question. I mean, Ignatieff has been out of country for a long time, and Canada is curious as to where the Liberal leader stands on giving the BQ the balance of power within this federation of ours"

    "Nonesense, Terry. We've told you not to ask Ignatieff any questions which may be uncomfortable for the guy. Ignatieff's counting on it. We here at cbc don't care about who holds the balance of power, be they separatists or not. Go do some digging, Terry. Dig up whatever you can on Harper. Ignatieff was out of country in any case, so nothing Canadian to find there. And have a talk with Keith Boag, will you. He's got it. He knows how to revise Canadian history our way – signed: the bosses. "

  21. So what's changed, other than the party that's treating the west as its cash cow?

  22. Whiny FV that someone dare ask questions of his glorious so-called leader. Ignatieff is facing 20x the questions that Harper is deigning to face, and you've got the temerity (or duncity) to suggest the media is playing unfair. If you're given just one question to ask, it better be a good one, and the serious journalists not lining up for a senate seat are going to put their best one forward. REally, after all the media has done for Harper over the last four years, this whiny 'leftwing media' bullet left the chamber long ago…

  23. Ignatieff has resided in Canada since 2005 and has been in the House for most of that time. Give the "just arrived" meme a rest. It's no longer accurate.

  24. Think before you type !

  25. Simply put – Power Corrupts. If Canadian Democracy is to survive and flourish, we need a form of Proportional Representation. Most of the world’s democracies have it. Progressives, who can rise above partisanship, have know this for a while. First Past the Post ‘winner take all’ lays the groundwork for entitlement & secrecy. It also contributes to voter apathy. Time to take courage & embrace change.

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