After many years of trying, Stephen Harper finally ousted the Liberals from government in early 2006. Even though he won a minority only, it was a good start.
Small-c conservatives, and anyone subscribing to common sense, were thrilled: the corrupt and wasteful Liberals, as well as their social-engineering apparatus, were gone.
But not long into Harper’s first term, critical voices started to be heard. “Where are the conservative policies?” they’d say, and just as quickly Harper came to be known as a “Liberal Lite”.
Easy does it, was the party’s response. In a minority government that could be brought down any moment by the opposition, or the left-wing media and elites, conservative thinking had to be inserted incrementally.
When Harper won a bigger minority two years later, there was more of the “Liberal Lite” stuff. Fair enough, he’d managed to face down the left-wing opposition parties that had attempted a coup d’état, but surely more could be done – or so small-c conservatives thought.
At the height of the global economic crisis, Harper managed to disappoint many, if not most, small-c conservatives and common-sense thinkers in Canada when he decided to base his economic policy on flawed, leftist, Keynesianism. Thus, Canadians, although they didn’t need it at all, because the Canadian economy was really fine for the most part, were treated to the same ill-conceived “stimulus spending” that has wrecked the American economy for generations to come.
Harper, who’d already shown himself to be a big spender, having driven up public spending to unprecedented levels even during his first term, kept expanding the federal deficit by emulating his counterpart in the US, Barack Obama.
In 2011, Harper finally won his long-sought majority, and small-c conservatives and common-sense thinkers were hoping that he was finally finished with his “incremental” approach to conservatism.
Yet, here we are, a year later, and the general consensus is that the first full year of Harper’s majority wasn’t all that conservative either. In fact, most analysts agree, except for one or two policies (tough on crime, abolition of the federal gun registry), anything “Majority Harper” has done could have easily been done by a Liberal government.
If a solid majority government isn’t enough for Harper to turn deep-conservative-blue, so the thinking goes, especially in a country where the overwhelming majority of people see the world through conservative glasses (including majority support for bringing back capital punishment), then there’s no chance whatsoever that Harper will ever be anything but a “wannabe Liberal”.
This explains why “Majority Harper” has been declining in popularity and support faster and more substantially than “Minority Harper” ever did, because now even his support among conservative voters is eroding. During his two minority governments, it would have been unthinkable for the Conservative Party to find itself in a statistical tie with the NDP, of all parties.
Light-blue, or pinko, Tories have never fared well – witness UK prime minister David Cameron’s troubles. But true-blue conservative leaders who weren’t afraid to show their true colours – Ronald Reagan, Margaret Thatcher – were not only extremely popular, but have also been elevated to the realm of legend in later years.
Unless Harper changes his approach drastically between now and 2015, he will go down in history as nothing but a footnote, despite some of his, admittedly remarkable accomplishments.
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