What Stephen Harper was writing in 1997 - Macleans.ca

What Stephen Harper was writing in 1997

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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.