Hey look: Rights and Democracy and the bigger picture (featuring one of my trademark Harper-is-a-brain-in-a-jar bits)

From the print edition, this week’s column offers what may — may — be a coda to all this Rights and Democracy foofaraw (see Inkless passim, ad nauseam). Actually it probably won’t be. About two hours after I filed this column, which rather daringly assumed the fight was going out of the new board majority’s opponents, I got word that the Globe was breaking the news of the Saturday burglary at Rights and Democracy. (This morning’s Citizen contains a tribute to former R&D president Rémy Beauregard, written before the new board chairman put a gag order on his staff.)

But this column is about the bigger picture, which is that a government with a minority in the House and a shaky command on public opinion is still the government. And if it is patient and aware of all the many ways it can exert influence, very few of which will even be noticed by the Parliament Hill hivemind, it can shift a society. Not by revolution, not even really by evolution, but essentially by erosion. Which is the way mountains generally move.

In trying to take the measure of this change, it is asinine to reduce conservatism, as some of my colleagues like to do, to the single question of budget balance, a test Ronald Reagan would have failed utterly. Chantal Hébert got closer to the truth when she wrote a very good line early in Harper’s first mandate, to the effect that whereas a lot of Canadians like to claim they are socially progressive and fiscally conservative, Harper’s government does things the other way around: It is fiscally profligate and socially conservative. What Chantal didn’t add, because it wasn’t yet clear, was that this stance, so at odds with what Hill lifers are used to, works for Harper and is just popular enough to keep him in office, which is all the popularity he needs.