Saturday, October 11, 2008

Canada's conservative experiment

The legality of Canada’s October 14 election called by Prime Minister Stephen Harper was referred to the Federal Court but the court ruled it did not have time to intercede before the federal election. When Parliament passed Harper's fixed election date legislation last year, MPs were assured he would not break his own law.

Harper wanted to transform Canada into a loose confederation of autonomous provinces with the federal government limited to foreign affairs, defence and an arbitration role among the provinces. He even suggested there should be a firewall around Alberta, his preferred province.

Harper had the vision of majority government in his sights, the opportunity to advance his ideological dreams. In politics, as with many other pursuits, timing and anticipation are crucial and Harper might well have missed both this time. The world is increasingly weary of ideology, preferring tangible results instead.

As E-Day draws near Canadian voters might be recognizing another side of the Harper agenda. Harper's view has been that Canada's social programs are overblown and “humiliatingly socialist”. Even the strictures of minority government haven’t dampened the efforts though.

Having reduced the GST a couple of points and ramped up the Afghanistan commitment Harper is now reducing social programs on the basis of – “We can no longer afford it…” Harper might have learned the lesson from his guru buddy John Howard; there is only so much you can take from social expectations and Canada is not the US where expectations are low.

Howard tightened social fiscal policy, and in the end it cost him government. People in Australia and Canada have an expectation of key social support – things like education, health care and pensions. No amount of ideology is going to replace social demand, and this latest credit crisis is likely to bring that fact home stronger than ever.


abi said...

I never understood why a socially-liberal country like Canada voted for so many conservatives and ended up with a Harper. And after watching how conservative ideology has done so much damage in the US recently, I don't understand why Canadian conservatives are expected to retain a majority in the election.

The US has more people without health insurance than the entire population of Canada. Is that really the direction Canadians want their country to go in?

Cart said...

Abi, remember Australia returned Howard for over a decade. Bloody frustrating fighting the right constantly. They can and do destroy social infrastructure through fiscal strangulation, but there is a limit how far they can undermine real expectations.
But there have been a growing number joining the acquisitive dream, then getting prematurely protective of what they might acquire. Seems to me they watch the squirrels too bloody closely. It is still a minority though, with the centre left, spread across four parties, making up the real, if splintered, majority.

Kvatch said...

Perhaps this is a Canadian version of 'shock and awe'?

Cart said...

Shock and awe envy? That is a worry.