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Thursday, October 14, 2010

"a libertarian cul-de-sac"

Unintentionally funny:

According to Globe and Mail columnist Lawrence Martin, the trains run on time in Harperland, but all else is left to the tight-fisted control of its namesake.

Since Canada isn’t blessed with a resident king, queen, pope, imam (yet) or any role model except Don Cherry, the country’s leader – politically, economically, culturally and yes, even spiritually – is our Prime Minister, Stephen Harper, by name and by vocation. He has shifted the Conservative Party into a libertarian cul-de-sac that has prevented him from wining parliamentary majorities three times running.

Unlike quite a lot of people on the right-end of the blogsphere, I don't have an axe to grind against Peter C Newman. His 2004 memoirs are required reading for anyone interested in post-war Canadian history. The Secret Mulroney Tapes will be combed over for decades by historians. He is an important figure in Canadian media history. He is also a moderate statist. Not a preachy granola munching leftist, nothing so boring, but he likes his governments interventionist.

Back in 1970, Newman, ex-Liberal minister Walter Gordon and perennial U of T political economist Abraham Rotstein (one of my former professors), created the Committee for an Independent Canada. It was for a time very successful, helping to push for the creation of such Trudeau-era staples as FIRA and many of the CRTC's CanCon regulations.

The CIC's creed was economic nationalism. Canadian capitalism should be controlled by Canadians. With the perspective of four decades it sounds terribly parochial. Today we are less concerned with whether the Americans are buying up all our companies, and more with why our companies can't compete in international markets. That reason is economic nationalism. Sheltered by over a century of protective tariffs, and nationalist controls like FIRA, they have a hard time surviving outside the Canadian regulatory hothouse.

I write all this in an attempt to explain to you, our gentle readers, how an intelligent, educated journalist of nearly six decades experiences could possibly describe the current position of the Conservative Party as "libertarian." If an intellectual movement could sue for defamation, calling the Harper Tories "libertarian" would be a landmark case. If you're a libertarian. Where one stands, Sir Humphrey Appleby advised, depends on where one sits.

For a mid-century Trudeau-admiring Leftist, Stephen Harper probably does look like the second coming of Calvin Coolidge. The scary thing is that many Conservatives seem to agree with Newman's assessment. Harper has been denied his cherished majority because he is too "libertarian." Thinking like that has given us four years of Liberal-lite.


Posted by Richard Anderson on October 14, 2010 | Permalink


Newman uses the term "libertarian" as a cheap smear, in the same way that people used to smear Barry Goldwater as an "extremist". Note that nowhere does he define what he means by libertarian, nor does he offer one single example of what he would call a libertarian policy that is supposedly getting between Harper and a majority. I've never had much interest in the liberal statist writings of Peter Newman, and if I ever read a book by him, it will be too soon.

Posted by: Dennis | 2010-10-15 7:18:39 AM

Harper is highly authoritarian and in that respect perhaps the worst since Pearson, but likely some of the Conservatives in the party would like him to be even more authoritarian/conservative than he already is - i.e. less libertarian. It is almost impossible to overestimate just how extreme the views of some of the c/Conservatives are on things like terrorism, drugs and abortion.

Posted by: Mr. Smith | 2010-10-15 9:11:01 AM

Newman has always been the kind of Conservative that Liberals dream of, pretending to be inside the tent while urinating all over and around it. I remember Trudeau describing himself as libertarian, Gordon Campbell too. Maybe the Video Professor will announce that he is a libertarian next!

Posted by: John Chittick | 2010-10-15 9:47:33 AM

Thinking like that has given us four years of Liberal-lite.
At this point I'm wishing the Conservatives were Liberal-lite. As Mike Brock pointed out the other day, the federal Liberals at least managed to rein in the debt. Harper has — to put it mildly — not.

Given the choice between statist paternalists who reduce spending and statist paternalists who spend like there's no tomorrow, I know which one I'm picking.

Posted by: Bradley | 2010-10-15 11:16:10 AM

Also, why does the paragraph immediately following a blockquote look messed up?

Posted by: Bradley | 2010-10-15 12:19:55 PM

Let us be honest when we state that the federal Liberals at least managed to rein in the debt by keeping it in context. When you are a majority and have no opposition demanding more government spending and fighting to the death any proposal to defund programs, reigning in the debt is not that difficult to manage. As things stand it is impossible for anyone to know what the CPC would have done given the same context as the Liberals had.

Posted by: Alain | 2010-10-15 2:57:36 PM

And, who knows how much better off the country would be with a CPC MAJORITY?

I'm guessing much better.

Sure beats the alternatives.

Posted by: set you free | 2010-10-16 9:53:51 AM

I suspect the author of the Maclean's article would find the NDP too liberatian as well. Given his obvious promotion of all the cancon sacred cows paraded out, the author may even consider 100% state-ownership of everything, as well as 100% expropriation of income, to be not far enough. Perhaps the state should engineer a better Canadian with selective breeding and the proper nationalist education? All Harper has proven is that he, in the name of securing and keeping that majority, will promote and introduce even more sacred cows to appease all those at the trough. Harper is a socialist.

Posted by: AB Patriot | 2010-10-16 4:02:11 PM

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