Opinion

Top Conservative? Harper More Like Failed Republican

With Senate moratorium, PM abandons party principles again.

By Bill Tieleman 28 Jul 2015 | TheTyee.ca

Bill Tieleman is a former NDP strategist whose clients include unions and businesses in the resource and public sector. Tieleman is a regular Tyee contributor who writes a column on B.C. politics every Tuesday in 24 Hours newspaper. E-mail him at weststar@telus.net or visit his blog.

"If Stephen Harper were a Republican in the United States, he'd be at the top of his party... He's the top conservative leader in the world." -- Weekly Standard executive editor Fred Barnes

Really?

Because after the prime minister's abandonment last week of yet another of Canadian Conservatives' holy grails -- an elected, equal and effective Senate -- Stephen Harper looks more like a failed Republican.

So much for the vaunted "Triple E" Senate that Harper and then-Reform Party leader Preston Manning campaigned very hard for in the 1990s.

Now Harper says he'll simply stop appointing Senators until the provinces agree to change or abolish the discredited institution.

But as Canada slides into economic recession with the budget possibly out of balance again after years of deficits and state-funded stimulation -- all Kryptonite to Conservative supermen -- it's clear little remains of their right wing ideology.

Party's over

Instead, Harper presides over a sad tarnished Tory-ism that can hardly inspire either economic or social conservatives, with an election mere months away.

Sure, the Conservative government can still beat up on unions, the public service, scientists, environmental groups, the judiciary and other annoying enemies to throw some red meat to the right wing base.

But when it comes to meaningful lasting change, the party is over.

And with New Democrats taking over Alberta's provincial government, it means the lights have been turned on to tell Conservatives to go home.

That's a good thing for Canadians who want a socially progressive approach that includes supporting a social safety net, a key role for government in keeping corporations accountable, protecting the environment and promoting international cooperation.

However for die-hard Conservatives, Harper's years in power can only be seen as a lost opportunity.

"I know the things that we stood for back then. They ain't happening now. It absolutely disappoints me," former Calgary Reform MP Jim Silye recently told The Tyee's Jeremy Nuttall.

Since Harper became prime minister in 2006, social conservatives have watched efforts to reverse same sex marriages abandoned; marijuana be sold openly in Vancouver dispensaries over vehement Tory objections; and the Supreme Court of Canada unanimously reject a prohibition on physician-assisted dying.

Fiscal conservatives are equally appalled that Canada's debt has risen by over 12 per cent from 2006 to 2014 or that seven budgets in nine years had deficits or that federal program spending as a proportion of gross domestic product has actually gone up under Harper.

Even worse, it was the Liberals under Prime Minister Jean Chretien and Finance Minister and later Prime Minister Paul Martin that ended years of Brian Mulroney Progressive Conservative deficit budgets and reduced national debt.

Kryptonite buffet?

The Conservatives would rightly point to the worldwide recession of 2008 and financial crisis as overwhelming reasons to use state spending and corporate bailouts -- like Canada's $9 billion to General Motors and Chrysler -- to avoid further economic collapse.

But that doesn't change the fact that conservatives have long argued against any government intervention in free markets and opposed stimulus budgets.

And so ditching ambitious plans to reform the Senate is merely the last course of an unappetizing buffet of policy reversals for Harper.

The remaining question is whether Conservative voters will experience electoral indigestion in October's federal election.  [Tyee]

Read more: Politics, Election 2015

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