Conclusive word today that the Prime Minister plans to appoint a passel of new senators sometime soon raises the question of what’s left of the original Stephen Harper.
I would argue that five categories of conviction seemed to define Harper at various points before he became prime minister, and he’s now a changed man on all of them:
1. He applied a critique to the functioning of Parliament that was reformist in the Albertan style. The Hill needed to be changed, and change would start with an elected Senate. Now, that commitment is, at the very least, attenuated.
2. On the closely related subject of provincial status within the federation, he believed in strict equality of the provinces. But he bent nearly to the breaking point on that one back when he approved of then prime minister Paul Martin’s “asymmetrical” 2004 health care accord. His biographer, William Johnson, said that shift showed that Harper was “willing to go a long way to curry favour” to win Quebec votes.
3. When it came to hard decisions in foreign policy, and especially concerning foreign wars, he was resolutely for standing, as he once said, with “our British and American allies,” and against being buffeted by public opinion. His decision to pull out of Afghanistan in 2011, presumably leaving the U.S. and British there to carry an even heavier burden, seems to leave that doctrine shredded.
4. His free-market economic ideas, I heard him say in 2004, meant getting Ottawa “out entirely” of the “corporate welfare and industrial subsidy” business. But his government has maintained, for example, aerospace and defence subsidies, and Finance Minister Jim Flaherty says an auto package is “obviously” going to happen. So much for what Harper suggested was his bedrock economic-policy tenet.
Back in April 1998, when he was president of the National Citizens Coalition, Harper said he had come around to respecting the old Progressive Conservative “penchant for incremental change and strong sense of honourable compromise.” Perhaps I should have included this as a sixth core conviction of his, maybe the last one standing.