Saturday, October 17, 2015

More thoughts on Stephen Harper and the Canadian election 2015

When push comes to shove I have found that most opponents of Stephen Harper (at least those at the center of the Canadian political spectrum) can rarely put their finger on the specifics of his policies that they don't agree with. Most (and I have spoken to many) simply tell me that they believe its time for a change and that there is 'something' about the man that they don't like.

Fair enough. One is not obliged to like everyone (I know that there are several individuals who initiate a gag reflex in me) but change often carries with it a double-edged sword.Change can be negative and one should be careful for what one wishes as there is always the risk of getting it.

Despite the rhetoric to the contrary, Canadians are still well respected throughout the world. The country boasts a strong education system, solid healthcare (although not perfect), a high level of economic freedom and is still regarded in survey after survey as one of the best places in the world to live. Everyday I thank my good fortune for having immigrated to this country.

In addition the recent budget showed a worthwhile surplus and while the Canadian dollar is relativity low compared to the greenback I don’t believe that Harper and co. have much control of this - just as Jean Chretien and the Liberals were not to blame for the low loonie during the late 90s. Such a value is a consequence of a global free currency market. On the flip side at least it encourages export of Canadian produced goods and resources.

Now it is true that all is not perfect but then again when has it ever been? The Pierre Trudeau years were rocked by economic mismanagement, regional fighting and a constitutional crisis that almost brought the country to its knees. The same (although somewhat to a lesser extent) personified the era of the pseudo-Conservative Brian Mulroney.

Jean Chretien’s tenure in office saw us waiting anxiously into the wee hours of the night, wondering if we would wake up in a united Canada after the closeness of the Quebec referendum (Thank G-d for the island vote). Many are quick to forget this, just as they overlook the sponsorship scandal, the helicopter boondoggle, the Suharto debacle, the kick backs to Shawinigan and other all too frequent low points that coloured the Liberal years.

Stephen Harper is not some kind of reactionary. His economic policies are no different on a grand scale from either Mulcair or Trudeau Jnr. and he is essentially a Neo-Keynesian in outlook (albeit with a smattering of Freddy Hayek thrown in for good measure). In short he is not a Canadian supply-sider and while he has used economic incentive (such as tax refunds) to stimulate growth he is certainly falls far from the mark in being a Milton Friedman caricature . In fact on many an economic issue he is not all to different from....dare I say it.… Hillary Clinton.

One could of course argue that Harper is a bit aloof and he certainly is not in any danger of winning a personality contest but why should that be the guideline for a PM? The country needs leadership and commitment to principles – not Canadian Idol points. Looking good in boxer shorts is not a requirement. Nor is the politics of class warfare that seem great in speech but are very divisive in practice and all too often define Liberal politics (at least on the surface).

Yes Harper runs a tight caucus but so did Jean Chretien. I will never forget how John Nunziata was shepherded out of the Grits for having the temerity to question Chretien’s about-face on the GST which he had originally opposed during the Mulroney years. Sheila Copps also stepped on some toes over the same issue.

Unfortunately this is how politics works in Canada especially when one has a merging of the executive and the legislative arms in the construct of a majority government. The alternative can be worse. Mulroney ran more of a loose caucus and paid the price in seeing his party splinter along several fault lines (I suspect the same would happen under Mulcair in the unlikelihood of the NDP taking power, as his support comes from several disparate factions)

Now this is not to say that I am completely taken by Harper. I for one would have liked to have seen more positive changes to the nature of our Senate (an elected body is necessary) and greater tax reduction initiatives under his tenure (not just the smoke and mirrors that all three parties advocate). I would have also opted to see a sell off of the CBC and less big government spending overall. Welfare reform, especially designed to curb the abusers is most welcome, but was sadly pushed to the sidelines.

Nevetheless the PM did great work with the income splitting initiative and this he should be commended. He also stood firm in not pandering to the demands of social conservatives and thereby avoided giving life to the now failed ‘Hidden Agenda’ argument that the Left shrieked about before Harper took office.

However what I most like about the PM is that he actually believes in Canadian exceptionality. He understands that Canada is a society that has been built on the fundamentals of western liberal thought and has certain non-negotiable hallmarks that define it as a consequence of its history. He does not need to compromise to placate some moral relativism. He realizes, that even though our nation is driven by an expanding immigration base, we will only survive as a people if we have key principles that rise and take precedence over all else. This is not to say that we don’t celebrate our distinct cultural differences, but that when they clash with values that define the essence of what Canada is we must go with the standards that have made our great nation the entity that it is. I therefore applaud him for making this front and center of his policy in office and wish him well on October 19th.
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