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Wednesday, January 19, 2011

The Partisan Mind

In a recent article for the Globe, Gerry Nicholls gave a bit of insight into the mind of his former boss:

To be blunt, Mr. Harper’s ultimate strategic goal really isn’t to win a majority government – it’s to eradicate the Liberal Party as a viable political force.

Sound overly dramatic? Well, consider the well-documented ruthlessness of Mr. Harper’s political style. Consider, too, that he’s a master tactician who likes to concoct long-term strategies. And, finally, consider the fact that he just doesn’t like Liberals. It all adds up to a prime minister who’s capable, willing and able to take out Canada’s “natural governing party.”

Indeed, his desire to eliminate the Liberals is something he and I discussed way back in the days when we worked together at the National Citizens Coalition. His theory, as explained to me, was that conservatism would be better served in this country if Canada had a two-party system, one that pitted right against left, free enterprise against socialism, Conservatives against New Democrats.

He hates Liberals. He was once one himself, in his wild and crazy youth (relatively speaking). Harper's Damascus moment came with the National Energy Program, a bit of disastrous central planning, that also completed the conversion of the West into dark blue territory on Canada's political map. At some level he wants revenge. That may sound a wee too B-movie script for you. Consider, however, not only Gerry's comments above, but Harper's view of the NDP:

Let's take the New Democratic Party, the NDP, which won 21 seats. The NDP could be described as basically a party of liberal Democrats, but it's actually worse than that, I have to say. And forgive me jesting again, but the NDP is kind of proof that the Devil lives and interferes in the affairs of men.

This party believes not just in large government and in massive redistributive programs, it's explicitly socialist. On social value issues, it believes the opposite on just about everything that anybody in this room believes. I think that's a pretty safe bet on all social-value kinds of questions.

Some people point out that there is a small element of clergy in the NDP. Yes, this is true. But these are clergy who, while very committed to the church, believe that it made a historic error in adopting Christian theology.

The NDP is also explicitly a branch of the Canadian Labour Congress, which is by far our largest labour group, and explicitly radical.

That's from Harper's famous "northern European welfare state" speech. While he has given every indication of having abandoned - or at least neglected - many of the values he espoused in that speech, there is little evidence of him having lost his partisan zeal. He likes to win and he hates Liberals and NDPers. So does Publius. So do most of you reading this post. How we go about expressing that "hatred," or more importantly how we go about moving Canada away from the pernicious policies of the last two generations, is the issue.

In a recent interview the Prime Minister granted, we see two interesting glimpses into his thinking. The first is Harper the hardball tactician:

Still, he had a warning if the next election produces a third Conservative minority.

“I’ve worked as best I can, and if we ever received another such mandate, I’d be proud to undertake those responsibilities for the Canadian people. I don’t think the other parties will accept that, though. I think what we’ve seen is that it’s pretty clear that next time, if there’s not a Conservative majority, the other parties will form a different government.”

“Last time they waited to long and it was too late. Next time they will do it right out of the gate.”
How quickly would that be? Mr. Harper is adamant.

“The day after,” he said. “They will deny it every day of the campaign. The day after, they will do it.”

That's fear mongering at its finest. It's also desperation at its most obvious. The PM has no interest in being a three-time silver medalist. He knows very well that talk of a Coalition scares his base senseless, so much so they will gladly forget his many betrayals. Better the pragmatist you know than the very incarnation of the political devil. Coalition talk may also scare some Blue Liberals loose.

Personally, I'm all for the Coalition. It would destroy at least two of the opposition parties for decades to come. It would be Canada's Jimmy Carter moment. Blue Liberals would be running for the exits the second after its announcement. Thing is that it will never happen. Michael Ignatieff and his team are many things, most notably political amateurs who would botch a high school election campaign, they are not, however, suicidally stupid.

Stephane Dion was suicidally stupid - and a dead-leader walking as well - and so signed the Coalition deal. Lord Iggy too signed the deal, as did Bob Rae. They did so to prevent civil war within the Liberal Party. The speed with which they then dispatched Stephane Dion to oblivion, rather than wait for a leadership convention planned months later, and the subsequent speed with which they disavowed the Coalition, shows their actual level of commitment to the deal.

If Michael Ignatieff had wanted to be Prime Minister in January of 2009, he could have been. The office was his for the taking. All he had to do was stick to the Coalition deal as planned the previous month. Why didn't he? For the same reason he initially backed the deal, to prevent a Grit Civil War.

As Coalition Prime Minister, Iggy would have been in office for days, perhaps hours, before a backbench revolt would have forced him out. The Blue Liberals, who are the party's foot soldiers and financial backbone would not then, and would not now, tolerate Jack Layton or Giles Duceppe in the cabinet.

The Coalition was an act of momentary desperation. It's resurrection would be the greatest mistake in Canadian political history. It lives now only in the dreams of fanatical Harper-haters on the Far Left, and Tory spin doctors' press releases.

The other glimpse of Harper's mind at work comes here:

On health care, he rejected the notion put forward by some, such as former Conservative prime minister Brian Mulroney, that there should be a national task force to examine whether the system is financially sustainable. He said there have already been a lot of task forces to study medicare, noting it’s primarily a provincial responsibility and stressing that Canadians are committed to a system of “universal health insurance.”

Note the language. It's Canadians that are committed to universal health insurance. A true believer in Medicare would have, in answer to the question, been singing odes to the memory of Tommy Douglas. Not a through-gritted-teeth admission of the Medicare Myth's iron hold on the Canadian psyche. It was a kind of shrug of the shoulders to the conservatives in the audience. "Look, I know it's stupid, but what can I do about it?"

That's Harper's basic argument to the grassroots: "Yeah, it's bullshit, but it's politics in a northern European welfare state. Better me running things than anyone else."

He's got a point. He's the best man for the job. Unfortunately the job seems to be that of leader of the Liberal Party, not conservative Prime Minister of Canada. If Harper ever does realize his dream of destroying the Liberal Party - or at least making it an irrelevant urban rump - he will still have failed in his initial goal. You do not destroy the Liberal Party by replacing it in all but name.

Let me conclude with a personal story. I read Harper's "northern European welfare state" speech when I was in high school, many moons ago now. Reading it then was an enormous sense of relief. Finally, someone in a position of influence in this country, "gets it."

Hope is almost everything. Harper was our hope. Not perfect, not charismatic, not a northern Reagan or colonial Thatcher, but hope nevertheless. His base - and it really is his base, not the party's - still clings to that hope. They have no reason to. If the goal is to be better than the alternative, there he sits, in all his bland and badly coiffed glory. If the goal is freedom, hope is somewhere else now.


Posted by Richard Anderson on January 19, 2011 | Permalink


Good post.

Ironic that a guy from Toronto wants "revenge" for the NEP....not that I am in any way defending the NEP, but as a life long Ontarian, its not usually my fellow Ontarians that rant about the NEP 30 years after its demise...

Your last sentence sums it up. Even as a former NDPer, I thought at least Harper in gov't would mean change. Instead, we get the Liberal Party, with all their bully tactics, secrecy and culture of entitlement, except with blue ties instead of red.

Posted by: Mike | 2011-01-19 8:40:27 AM

I can't help but think that if it wasn't for Stephen Harper, no one in the country would know/care who Gerry Nicholls is.

I'm all for criticism, but Nicholls never strays too far from the one subject. IMO, he's beginning to sound like a disgruntled castaway from a broken relationship.

Posted by: Leigh Patrick Sullivan | 2011-01-19 9:21:36 AM

Whether by accident or plan, Harper has indeed made life difficult for the Liberals. He occupies turf that only the most radical left would deny as centre-left, leaving the "blue Libs" with no real home. If successful, how long would it take for the former Libs to re-unite under a Social Democrat label after the Blue Libs tired of Harper's capitalizing on a potential future majority while the former Left-Libs perhaps tired of acting-out as mouthpieces for big Labour under the NDP.

IMHO, I think the conservative / libertarian base isn't strong enough to be effective regardless of political engineering. Sun News could be potentially more important in building the base than anything else that comes to mind. A few years of the "Kate Macmillan Show" and or "Politics with Publius" would be a good start.

Posted by: John Chittick | 2011-01-19 11:33:46 AM

Stephen Harper in an interview with the CBC recently stated "I will change this country so Liberals won't recognize it" That is a fair threat!

There are 5 western Premiers in a club in Portland waiting to fulfill Harper's dream and, they seem to have no regard for Canada as they embark!


Posted by: cyberclark | 2011-01-19 3:59:29 PM

The National Energy Program NEP, gained notoriety through ignorance and the relatively poor communication of that age.

The NEP was not forced on Alberta, Premier Laugheed agreed to it. The design of the program was to increase Canadian ownership in our resources. And, to this point it worked and that, is why oil type, mostly of the US vintage didn't like it and brought their wealth forward to fight it.

The NEP was well under way and the economy crashed, not unlike we have now. Interest rates were allowed to go to 25% and inflation was running greater than 25%. In this atmosphere people mortgaged their homes to start new business in the oil industry. Pie is the sky! Get rich fast!

Commodities tanked. Oil dropped to 10 dollars a barrel when considered in today's money. People went bankrupt and, it had absolutely nothing to do with the NEP! Like now, it was a world problem; not just Alberta.

The NEP bad thing was debunked years ago I am surprised it still shows up as a hate Liberals where ever they are tool. Get over it!

After the NEP was in

Posted by: cyberclark | 2011-01-19 4:06:38 PM

John; how can you possibly place a strident right wing party like our Federal Conservatives as any where close to center? It is just now so!

When you get a Premier on TV saying he is going to change Canada to purely Republican Values, you know we have a problem!

As far as causing trouble for the Liberals, I don't think so. He is still treading water! Iggy has thrown away the Liberal Red Book and has done nothing to replace it. Suicide is what I call it.

Word has it he is waiting for an election to reveal himself and when that happens it will all be over. Breaks my heart!

With Harper and wall to wall conservatives in the west our country is in jeopardy!

Consider too it is the people who didn't think it worth while to vote that put the Conservatives in office; not the minimum that voted for them.

Posted by: cyberclark | 2011-01-19 4:13:58 PM


Only in an alternative universe where the left-right continuum is defined by the CBC can anyone call the leviathan maintenance crew of Harper's Conservatives right wing. I guess if the centre is split between Elizabeth May and the Video Professor, than Harper and Iggy are both right wing! You have just made my point on why Sun News is needed.

Posted by: John Chittick | 2011-01-19 4:37:47 PM

Have to wonder based on the comments if "cyberclark" is not the same as "jeff franklin".

Posted by: Alain | 2011-01-19 6:41:43 PM

Cyberclark, you idiot, Lougheed did not agree to the NEP. What fucking rock were you born under? Lougheed turned off the taps on the interprovincial pipeline system, until the federal government relented, and ended the program.

Alain- I think you're right. Cyber has about the same grasp of historical facts as Franklin.

Posted by: dp | 2011-01-19 11:46:00 PM

John- I threw up in my mouth a little bit when I read "The Kate McMillan Show". I can't think of a better way to mobilize the liberal machine. She and Heather Mallick are two sides of the same coin.

Posted by: dp | 2011-01-19 11:49:32 PM

The "conservative" tent covers a diverse group and her Blog site blows this one away in terms of traffic. Just as Fox News has libertarians to liberals and everything in between, no one is happy with everyone in the tent. For Sun News to be a commercial success it has to indulge in populist and somewhat trashy content and I'm not referring to Kate when I say that.

Posted by: John Chittick | 2011-01-20 9:33:31 AM

John- Kate's website get's all those hits from fewer than 100 people, with nothing better to do than comment on the same subject over and over. I don't think that translates into a good formula for a national broadcast.

Posted by: dp | 2011-01-20 9:46:07 AM


I doubt her traffic is anywhere near that level but if so, it's still significantly higher than the Shotgun which might just as well be called Publius' Post and I don't mean that as a negative. When she links to other sites she can move hits into the 4 digits which tells me there are a lot more visitors than commenters. In any event my original point was a throw away which was meant to underscore the need to build the base not to highlight the animosity within.

Publius or whoever is moderating could probably enlighten us as to how many unique visitors frequent this site.

Posted by: John Chittick | 2011-01-20 11:12:55 AM

John- Sorry, I got off on a tangent.

Posted by: dp | 2011-01-20 11:33:33 AM

John- on that subject of web hits, I did see a post on SDA with stats on how much time each poster spent on the site, and how many times they hit the site. It was only a list of those who left comments. I suppose the key to having strangers directed to your site is the use of key/controversial/popular words in the thread titles. SDA does a good job of brokering other opinion sites to curious bloggers. Not much original content, but a knack for finding interesting links.

Posted by: dp | 2011-01-20 12:03:13 PM

@dp You can't reinvent history! Laugheed did agree to the plan. This in fact ushered in the mulit billion dollar Federal Liberal investment in the tar sands that go them up and running!.

There was never, ever any threat of turning off taps, you pulled that out of the sky!

Posted by: cyberclark | 2011-01-20 12:26:29 PM

Great Canadian Oil Sands and Syncrude were established and operating at least a half dozen years before the NEP. Are you still in that alternative universe, Cyber?

Posted by: John Chittick | 2011-01-20 12:58:58 PM

The NEP created much more chaos in the oil patch than low oil prices ever did. Low prices have little effect on the production end of things. It's the exploration side(drilling rigs, construction companies, surveyors, seismic crews) that suffer the most. When Lougheed implemented the slowdown of production, in order to starve the East of cheap Alberta oil, it hit the production people as hard as the exploration people. That was why we had a double whammy in 1981.

Cyberquack, you obviously have no first hand knowledge of those dark days. I was living in Grande Prairie, in a new house. I had a mortgage that made Tony Soprano's crew look like the Salvation Army. I was working for Dome Petroleum. Peter Lougheed put in place a bailout that even a redneck like myself was grateful for. The AB Heritage Plan subsidized my mortgage all the way down to 12%. You think I wasn't listening to, and watching every word out of every politician's mouth every day?

Posted by: dp | 2011-01-20 3:12:25 PM

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