Conrad Black: Harper’s future is an opportunity waiting to be grasped
Posted: October 18, 2008, 9:33 AM by Kelly McParland in National Post
Stephen Harper has been rather unfairly panned for calling a mid-term election to try to get a parliamentary majority and falling short. But the government gained 17 MPs, extended its lead over the official opposition from 32 MPs to 67, and should be safe for four years. It would then become only the second two-term Conservative government since that of Sir John Macdonald, who died in office in 1891. I discount Sir Robert Borden because he was effectively leading a war-time coalition in 1917.
It was only five years ago that Mr. Harper reunited the Western, conservative, populist Reformers with the detritus of Joe Clark’s red Tories. Even though the unofficial opposition holds 87 constituencies, an insignificant change from the last Parliament, Harper has safeguarded his great achievement in reviving the two-party system for the first time since before the First World War, apart from a few years of Mulroney before the old Progressive Conservative party disintegrated.
For most of the twentieth century, the Liberals sold Quebec the theory that only they could make federalism work for French Canadians, and sold the rest of the country the claim that only they could keep Quebec in Canada. This stance was modeled by Mackenzie King on the success of the U.S. Democratic party between Jefferson and Buchanon and Franklin D. Roosevelt to Lyndon Johnson, when they ran in the South as the party that would make the Union work for the South, and in the North as the party that would keep the South in the Union before the Civil War, and end the South’s alienation as the war receded.
These political gymnastics are artistic, and the architects of them were political leaders of great virtuosity. But they are unstable arrangements, encourage the intellectual corruption of invulnerable incumbency and tend to elevate regional or non-governmental entities to the real opposition. This strains the political system: the terrible civil war in the United States, and a century of ensuing bitterness; and in Canada, the prolonged struggle with the Quebec separatists and other militant regionalists.
Harper did not know where the economy could go and wasn’t certain that the Liberals would not replace the unfeasible Stéphane Dion with Michael Ignatieff or Bob Rae before a normally timed election, so an election call was prudent, like Mackenzie King dissolving Parliament for elections before the blitzkrieg in 1940.
While Harper’s government has not been particularly ideologically conservative by U.S. standards, it has achieved a considerable feat in retaining office despite the fact that about 60% of the voters are perceptibly to the left of it.
The big loser should be the Quebec nationalists, at last. The province, which has voted with feline tactical agility since the piping days of the so-called United Province of Canada (1840-1867), finally missed the bus. In 1958, Quebec elected fifty Progressive Conservative MPs, but that was organized by Duplessis to settle twenty-year-old scores with the Liberals and Quebec was in step with the country, as John Diefenbaker won an immense landslide.
Now it is time to demonstrate that Quebec doesn’t hold the balance of power in Canada any more, that its forty-year secessionist chicken game is over and that the Bloc Québécois’ fifty MPs are a self-inflicted deprivation to that notoriously patronage-addicted province.
Since the other parties are all to the left of the Conservatives, the goal should be constructive, innovative, conservative policy that bleeds votes from the traditional centre-left and aggravates the contest between the other parties for a shrinking centre-left pie.
Harper has debunked the nonsense about leading a “harsh” government. He has a mandate and a rare opportunity to reduce taxes creatively and encourage a blended medical care system, with a private sector component complementing universal care.
To be successful, though, Harper must be his country’s nationalist leader. Great modern conservative icons have been enlightened nationalists: Macdonald, Disraeli, Churchill, Thatcher, Bismarck, Adenauer, de Gaulle, Washington, Lincoln, Theodore Roosevelt, Eisenhower, Nixon and Reagan, were all moderate conservatives by their lights, who personified progressive and successful nationalism in their times and countries.
Brian Mulroney recognized, but most of his countrymen did not, that Canada’s maximum influence in the world lay in having the ear of the contemporary U.S. presidents (Reagan, Bush Sr., and Clinton). What Canadian does not now regret that Canada did not build the ten nuclear submarines that Mulroney proposed, to assert sovereignty in the Arctic, a proposal more vigorously opposed by the Americans than the Russians? No Canadian, much less its government or media, should be pro-American or anti-American. The United States has many faces, some magnificent and some repulsive, most unexceptionable, but no sane person could dispute that it is a great nation.
In the same measure that Canadian conservatives are not, as they long were, a hodge-podge of groups who did not happen to be Liberals, Canada is not, as it once was, a string of communities that did not happen to be American. Canada’s legitimate interests do not naturally affront those of any other country. All international organizations, from the IMF and GATT to NATO and the UN, are desperately in need of reform. Canada’s voice would be heard in those councils.
Canadians seem not much to have warmed to Stephen Harper’s personality, but they didn’t warm to W.L. Mackenzie King either, and he was prime minister for 22 years, despite losing his own constituency four times and representing three different provinces in Parliament. Stephen Harper can lead Canadians over this last hurdle to a confident national identity, no longer defining themselves in relation to another country, but a great nation in itself, contributing the best of its own personality to the world. He would then be a very important prime minister.Tags: black, conrad, harper