Conservative Party In Danger Of Losing Majority In Canada, But Outcome Still In Doubt

If pre-election polling is to be believed, Stephan Harper and Canada's Conservative Party seem likely to lose power after Monday's elections, but there are several reasons why this may not end up being the case.

Ottawa Shooting 20141022

With Canadians set to head to the polls on Monday, things aren’t looking so good for Prime Minister Stephen Harper and his Conservative Party, but it seems unlikely that any part will be able to grab a Parliamentary majority outright:

TORONTO — Stephen Harper did not get to be prime minister of Canada by persuading most of the country’s voters to put him in office, and that is not how he intends to keep the job in the general elections on Monday.

Thanks to a splintered opposition, Mr. Harper and his Conservative Party have prevailed in three straight elections and held power for nine years without ever winning more than 40 percent of the vote.

“A national election is not a popularity contest,” Mr. Harper said in August, when he moved to dissolve Parliament.

With that first tactical strike, Mr. Harper opened Canada’s longest official federal campaign season in at least a century, an absorbing and at times strikingly vitriolic spectacle of political calculation. In broad strokes, Mr. Harper said his re-election would bring “stability, not risk.” The main opposition groups, the New Democratic Party and the Liberal Party, say they will restore Canadian traditions of progressive liberalism and roll back what they see as the Harper era’s bellicose posture in foreign affairs.

Another dynamic: After nine years in power, the Conservatives have worn out many voters, with about 70 percent of Canadians saying they want change in published polls and internal party polls.

One possible measure of how threatened Mr. Harper feels late in the racewas the appearance at a party rally last week of Rob Ford, the former Toronto mayor notorious for using crack cocaine, public drunkenness and other offenses to polite society. Now a city councilor, Mr. Ford remains popular in parts of Toronto, but associating with him could cost Mr. Harper among socially conservative immigrants in the suburbs who strongly backed the Conservative Party four years ago.

Retail-level politics is now conducted in a dozen or so languages, as candidates try to reach voters at festivals and supermarkets, in community centers and on doorsteps. Nearly half of all residents in the Toronto suburbs were born outside Canada, in China, South Asia, Africa, the Caribbean and the Middle East.

Some ridings, or parliamentary districts, were decided by fewer than 1,000 votes in the last elections. This time, it is not just party machines that are trying to grab those seats. A swath of nonaligned voters, known as A.B.C.s, Anything But Conservative, have organized online to pool and swap votes.

For instance, Olivier Jarvis Lavoie, a 32-year old researcher who lives in a Toronto riding unlikely to vote Conservative, struck a deal with a friend, a Green Party supporter who lives in an Ottawa district where a Conservative candidate is competitive.

“He said, ‘If you’re willing to vote Green in your riding, I will vote for whichever candidate is best positioned to defeat the Conservative,’ ” Mr. Lavoie said.

As of Saturday, one campaign had drawn more than 89,000 pledges to switch votes in close-fought districts to candidates who seemed to have the best chance of beating the Conservative nominees.

“It’s a Rubik’s Cube here in Canada: a three-dimensional electoral map with history, immigration and vote switching,” said John Wright, a senior vice president with Ipsos Reid, a polling and marketing company.

Since August, each of the three big parties has led in one poll or another, but the robust, dizzying political culture puts the race well beyond the reach of trustworthy handicapping. At least six parties have fielded nearly 1,800 candidates for seats in all or some of the 338 ridings, spread from the Atlantic Ocean to the Pacific and north to the Arctic. In each riding, a simple plurality determines the winner. The party with the majority in Parliament — 170 or more members — selects the prime minister and forms the government.

“Even with six in 10 people hating them, the Conservatives could still win with a massive parliamentary majority at 38 percent of the popular vote, or a comfortable majority at 37 percent,” Mr. Wright said.

The same arithmetic might also work for the New Democrats, led by Thomas Mulcair, or the Liberals, led by Justin Trudeau, whose father, Pierre Elliot Trudeau, was prime minister for 15 years into the early 1980s.

In their fight to be recognized as the standard bearers of change, Mr. Mulcair, 60, and Mr. Trudeau, 43, have been hostile to each other but both have said that they would try to block Mr. Harper from forming government if the Conservatives or their own parties do not get a majority.

Mr. Trudeau took over the Liberals in 2013 when the party was in shambles after a historic rout two years earlier. By all accounts, it has been restored to a position as a serious political force. Recent polls show it in the lead.

The youngest of the main candidates, Mr. Trudeau has led a campaign of high style and tight scripts, inviting photographers to see him sparring in a boxing ring, paddling a canoe, or picking pumpkins with his wife and their three young children. He recently outlined a child welfare program in Montreal’s Olympic Stadium, saying that the arena’s seats could hold the 60,000 children who would be lifted out of poverty under the Liberal proposal. As a video drone operated by one of his aides buzzed overhead in the nearly empty stadium, he waved, smiled and boarded a bus.

His opponents have tried to use his age, relative inexperience, and youthful appearance against him. One early Conservative ad ran through a list of Mr. Trudeau’s supposed shortcomings, and concluded with the line, “Nice hair though.” Another favored punch line: “Just not ready.”

Mr. Mulcair was a bit more subtle, addressing Mr. Trudeau in debates as “Justin.”

The condescension may have backfired: Mr. Trudeau proved to be as forceful a presence as his opponents in debates that also included Elizabeth May of the Green Party, and Gilles Duceppe of the Bloc Québécois.

For his part, Mr. Mulcair, the leader of what has traditionally been Canada’s most left-leaning major party, came into the campaign as the front-runner. The party had surprised even itself by sweeping seats in Quebec in 2011.

That support was shaken when the Harper government pursued a ban on the niqab, a face veil worn by some Muslim women, during citizenship ceremonies. Many in the French-speaking region were in favor of the ban but Mr. Mulcair opposed it, saying that while he was not comfortable with the niqab, the courts had ruled against prohibiting it. The Conservatives, Mr. Mulcair charged, were using it as a “weapon of mass distraction.” Mr. Harper said the ban “reflects our values as a society.” So far, polls suggest, the niqab debate may have undermined the New Democrats in Quebec, and coincided with their loss of ground elsewhere.

As things stand right now, it seems hard to say what will happen when Canadians go to the polls on Monday. The poll tracker run by the Canadian Broadcast Corporation, which has been tracking the national, provincial, and territorial polls since the election started, presently shows Trudeau’s liberal with a national lead of 36.4%, following by the Conservatives at 31.1%, and the New Democrats at 22.5%. They’ve projected this out to show a hypothetical Parliamentary makeup that looks like this:

CBC Poll Tracker

Based on this projection, it would appear that the most likely outcome is one in which none of the major parties get the 170 seats that are needed to form a majority outright. This isn’t necessarily an unusual thing in Canadian politics, though, as there have been minority governments before that have survived for surprisingly long periods of time by relying on opportunistic coalitions to get bills passed. Indeed, of the more than nine-and-a-half years that Stephen Harper has been Prime Minister he governed under a minority government for roughly five of those years thanks to elections in 2006 and 2008 in which his party one the most seats, but failed to win a majority. It wasn’t until the 2011 elections that Harper’s conservatives won a majority. In fact, since 2000 Canada has been governed by a minority government for eleven of the past fifteen years since the last Liberal Party government, elected in 2004, also failed to win an outright majority. Given that history, it wouldn’t be surprising for either the Conservatives or the Liberals, either one of whom seems to be the party most likely to walk away from Monday with the most seats of any party even if it doesn’t have a majority.

Which party ends up getting the first chance to form a government, though, isn’t necessarily straight forward, and it’s entirely possible that Harper could stay as Prime Minister even if his party doesn’t win enough the most seats:

Many Canadians see Governor-General David Johnston as a nice man who greets foreign dignitaries, reads a speech from the throne that others write for him and hands out awards. But a week from today, they may learn how important a role he plays in the life of the nation.

If the polls hold, Canadians could wake up to a hung Parliament after the 42nd general election, with no party able to command a majority of seats in the House of Commons. In that case, tradition, precedent and Mr. Johnston’s discretion could determine who governs Canada and for how long.

Earlier this year, Prime Minister Stephen Harper asked Mr. Johnston to extend his tenure for another two years. According to those close to the discussions, Mr. Harper anticipated the possibility of a hung parliament, in which no party won a clear majority of seats and it was unclear which party would form government.

A former professor of law, law-school dean and university president, Mr. Johnston had been repeatedly called upon by both Liberal and Conservative governments to offer advice in difficult situations, before Mr. Harper chose him for Governor-General in 2010.

Mr. Harper asked Mr. Johnston to stay on because he wanted someone with experience and skill at Rideau Hall, in the event of a close or uncertain result Oct. 19.

While we may understand that in a general election we vote for a local candidate in our riding and that the winners of these 338 contests then meet in the House of Commons and invest confidence in a government, in fact most people vote for a party and its leader.

This discrepancy between the parliamentary democracy that we have and the American-style assumptions that voters make “is a serious problem,” maintains Bruce Ryder, an authority on constitutional law who teaches at York University’s Osgoode Hall Law School.

“The important rules of the Canadian Constitution are conventional and unwritten and for that reason they are somewhat murky and open to contestation,” he says. “But nevertheless, they are absolutely crucial to the operation of our system of parliamentary government. And the governor-general plays a very important role in the situation that we’re likely to have with a closely hung parliament.”

For example, both Conservative Leader Stephen Harper in this election and Liberal leader Paul Martin when he was prime minister said that whichever party wins the most seats on election night gets to govern.

Not so. “That’s a political decision, not a constitutional one,” says Adam Dodek, a constitutional scholar who teaches at the University of Ottawa faculty of law. Only the prime minister may advise the governor-general, Prof. Dodek points out, and Mr. Harper will still be Prime Minister the day after the election. Whether the Conservative Party comes in first, second or third, Mr. Harper has the right to advise Mr. Johnston whether he wishes to form a government and test the confidence of the House of Commons.

“In 1993, Kim Campbell, as prime minister, had the right if she so desired to meet the House and suffer her fate,” he adds.

But since Mr. Harper has declared he will step down as prime minister unless his party wins the most seats, he would need a plurality to continue governing, which introduces another complication: Both Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau and NDP Leader Tom Mulcair have repeatedly declared that they would never, ever prop up another minority Conservative government.

Could Mr. Harper advise Mr. Johnston that he intended to form a government and then refuse to meet the House of Commons? Constitutionally, Parliament does not have to meet until next June, a year after the previous Parliament was dissolved.

However, long before then Mr. Johnston would likely intervene. A governor-general would let a government exist without testing the confidence of the House for “a few months and not more than a few months,” says David Schneiderman, a University of Toronto law professor, who has a new book,Red, White and Kind of Blue, that examines the drift in Canadian political culture away from its Westminster roots and toward the American model. “You don’t want to prolong uncertainty.”

The CBC has more on the role that Governor General Johnston could play in the event of a minority government.

The other possibility, of course, is that a coalition could be formed, most likely between the Liberal Party and the New Democrats, both of whom are at least united in opposition to Harper if nothing else, and as The New York Times reports today there is some campaigning going on in that regard:

OTTAWA — A new kind of canvasser has been knocking on doors in Canada’s election campaign, the longest in its modern history. These canvassers are partisan only in the sense that they oppose Prime Minister Stephen Harper and his Conservatives. What they are asking like-minded voters to do is to set party allegiance aside and vote on Monday for whichever opposition candidate has the best chance of defeating the Conservatives.

Interest in this kind of strategic voting has been growing during Mr. Harper’s decade in power in Canada, a country where there is sometimes as much discussion over the mechanics of the electoral system as over who ought to be elected.

As Mr. Harper’s opponents point out, the Conservatives have formed governments after each of the last three elections without ever getting more than 39.6 percent of the popular vote. That has been enough to win them a majority in Parliament because most of the remainder has been split between two center-left parties, the Liberals and the New Democratic Party.

“I was just appalled with our government, and that Harper would get 39 percent of the vote and 100 percent of the power,” said Jackie DeRoo, a retired executive in Vancouver, British Columbia. She now volunteers as a canvasser in a strategic voting campaign organized by Leadnow Canada, an independent group that encourages citizen participation in elections and on issues.

Less obvious than the arithmetic of the opposition’s vote-splitting problem is how to eliminate it. One solution would be a merger of the Liberals, who date to the founding of Canada, and the slightly more leftward New Democrats, a party created in part by organized labor. The current Conservative Party of Canada was created that way — a 2003 merger of the Canadian Alliance, then led by Mr. Harper, and the venerable Progressive Conservative Party — for a similar reason, to avoid fracturing the vote on the right.

Yet there do not seem to be many voters like Ms. DeRoo who want to reduce Canadian politics to a two-party system, and the idea has no support among party leaders either. Nor does Canada have a tradition of parties forming coalitions during campaigns.

That leaves strategic voting. In a country where voters choose their members of Parliament district by district, but most publicly available opinion polls yield only broad national data, determining how to vote strategically is not always straightforward.

Early efforts in Canada mainly involved websites trying to guide voting decisions. In 2008, Hisham Abdel-Rahman, an information technology worker in Calgary, Alberta — historically a Conservative bastion where strategic voting would be pointless — started a website, strategicvoting.ca. He said he relied on past election results and online election handicappers to offer advice to voters who live in areas where strategic voting might work. Based on web traffic, he believes interest in the idea has increased.

“People are really engaged in this process this time,” Mr. Abdel-Rahman said.

There has been talk of strategic voting elsewhere in the past, of course, but it never seems to work out the way that the parties intended. Additionally, it’s worth remembering that national polling in countries with Parliamentary systems doesn’t necessarily tell us much about how an election will actually turn out. Just this year, for example, pre-election polling in both the United Kingdom and Israel in advance of their elections purported to show that the governing parties were either in danger of losing their majorities or walking away with smaller majorities than they had been governing with. In both cases, the polls ended up being wildly wrong. In Great Britain, election eve polling showed the outcome of the election to be up in the air and there was talk of either a hung Parliament or a situation where Labour would have to give massive concessions to the Scottish National Party to form a government. Instead, David Cameron walked away with a substantially largely majority than anyone was predicting before the election thanks in no small part to the collapse of Labour in Scotland and the Liberal Democrats elsewhere. In Israel, there as also early polling that put Likud’s hold on power in doubt, but Benjamin Netanyahu won and ended up with a large enough majority to give him considerable freedom in constructing a government that seems likely to last until the next election is required in five years. We could see the same thing happen in Canada, so it’s worth taking the polls with a grain of salt. Nonetheless, as things stand it does appear that Stephan Harper and the Conservative Party may be at the end of their nine years in power.

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Doug Mataconis
About Doug Mataconis
Doug holds a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May 2010. Before joining OTB, he wrote at Below The BeltwayThe Liberty Papers, and United Liberty Follow Doug on Twitter | Facebook

Comments

  1. ltmcdies says:

    linking the most confusing endorsement by an editorial board ever written as an example of how many Canadians feel about Stephen Harper:

    http://www.theglobeandmail.com/globe-debate/editorials/the-tories-deserve-another-mandate-stephen-harper-doesnt/article26842506/

    you just don’t see a party but not it’s leader endorsed but this paper actual suggestion is if the Tories win , their leader resigns.

    my second comment as a Canuck…a lot of us don’t mind minority governments as it keeps one party from “running the table”

    the “down side” …we wind up back at the polls sooner rather than later

  2. Paul Hooson says:

    I’m still looking at any trend that voters are becoming more liberal in major worldwide elections, but I’m not really seeing it. National security or other fears that help conservative politicians are keeping them in power, sometimes with surprise big wins.

  3. Are you not paying attention to the polls out of Canada? Nearly 60% of Canadians are backing what you would call “left wing” parties. Additionally, the Canadian Conservative Party is hardly something that the right-wing in the United States would be pleased with when it comes to domestic policy. The same goes for the Tories in Great Britain, and Likud in Israel.

  4. george says:

    @Doug Mataconis:

    Additionally, the Canadian Conservative Party is hardly something that the right-wing in the United States would be please with when it comes to domestic policy.

    In fact even the Democratic Party would call many of the Conservative Party’s policies too left wing. Like supporting the public health option, the ban on hand guns, the extent of the social security net.

    Conservative in Canada means something very different than the US. Harper is left of Obama on most issues.

    But he’s been in power a long time; and that in Canada (as it should be) is a good enough reason to elect someone else. Gov’ts that stay in too long get corrupt and inefficient – and voters know that.

  5. @george:

    That seems like a good enough reason to clean house in a Parliamentary system as any.

    Of course, if they end up with a minority government then Canadians will probably find themselves back at the polls sooner rather than later. But they seem to be okay with that.

  6. @ltmcdies:

    Harper does seem to generate a lot of negative commentary from the Canadians I speak to, not even so much when it comes to policy but on a personal level.

    Of course, I don’t get the impression that Justin Trudeau is that highly regarded either.

  7. george says:

    @Doug Mataconis:

    Of course, if they end up with a minority government then Canadians will probably find themselves back at the polls sooner rather than later. But they seem to be okay with that.

    A very common feeling is that minority governments are the best (most people don’t like any of the parties, so forcing them to co-operate is a plus). The only problem with minority gov’ts is that the parties themselves don’t like them, so as soon as they think there’s a reasonable chance of getting a majority they call another election.

    I tend to agree with that opinion: I’m very hopeful that we’ll get a minority gov’t this time, but suspect it’d only last a year or two before another election. No one likes elections (or the cost), but having a minority gov’t even for a few years is almost always better than a majority gov’t.

    And yes, Trudeau isn’t that highly regarded either. Or Mulcair. Or May. None of the leaders are generally respected – almost everyone I talk to (and I think the polls) suggest that for most people its a question of holding your nose and voting for the least awful.

    Voting the existing bums out is always more fun than voting a new bum in (and its always a new bum). I think Pearson is the last Prime Minister who was still popular when he left office (before my time). Pierre Trudeau was broadly popular for his first election (Trudeaumania), and then never again. No one has had broad appeal (or at least respect) since then – and that includes people who vote for them (again, hold nose and vote is the general tactic).

  8. almost everyone I talk to (and I think the polls) suggest that for most people its a question of holding your nose and voting for the least awful.

    Yes, that is something we understand very well here in the States.

  9. ltmcdies says:

    @Doug Mataconis: @Doug Mataconis:
    Harper has burned a lot of bridges with a number of Canadians or groups of Canadians ie: muzzling government scientists ticked off a number of people, various veterans groups, a number of us who suddenly discovered in 2007 we weren’t considered Canadians by our government due to the wording of a citizenship law passed in 1947….etc, etc.
    Eventually those small groups add up to one big group.

    And after almost ten years voter fatigue sets in….and the Tory campaign hasn’t done a thing to alleviate it.

    As for Justin Trudeau…I suspect at the beginning of the campaign there were many doubts but as we went forward his debate performances were strong, he has worked hard meeting people , developing a platform to the point where the Liberals are first in the polls They started the campaign in third.

    There will always be a small group of Canadians who dislike Trudeau because of who his father is. (A bit like some Americans will always dislike Obama because …reasons)

    And the Tories I see in the final days are exploiting that sentiment (online mostly) which is a shame but they’ve run a mean spirited campaign for the most part so it’s not a surprise.

    and that in itself is another big reason many canadians have a real antipathy to Mr. Harper going in the last weekend of the campaign

  10. Davebo says:

    @george:

    Harper is left of Obama on most issues.

    If you can name 3 I’d be amazed.

  11. george says:

    @Davebo:

    If you can name 3 I’d be amazed.

    Sure.

    Harper is for a completely public paid health care (compare to Obamacare).

    Harper is for a ban on handguns (Obama talks respecting the 2nd amendment).

    Harper supports a wider range of social programs than Obama does (you can look at spending or just go to wiki and look on a per line basis.

  12. It’s true.

    Whatever one might think about what Harper truly believes, he and his party have advocated and supported policies on domestic issues that are distinctly to the left of Barack Obama. Heck, on some issues Harper is closest to Bernie Sanders.

  13. Matt says:

    @george: Ban on handguns? My Canadian friends want to know where you heard that bullshit from.

  14. george says:

    @Matt:

    @george: Ban on handguns? My Canadian friends want to know where you heard that bullshit from.

    I’m a Canadian citizen, I know our handgun laws. Okay, ban is too strong a word, you can get them under some circumstances (its a restricted firearm), but in effect they’re so uncommon (about 3% of Canadian households) as to be a ban in practice (this is a good thing, as almost every Canadian, including Harper and his conservatives agree).

    Look, Harper has had a majority gov’t. In Canada, under our Parliamentary rules, that means you can impose most any law you want so long as it doesn’t go against the charter of rights (the Senate is appointed by the gov’t and has no power). If Harper wanted to remove the restrictions against handguns he would have done so (same for outlawing abortion, lowering taxes, getting rid of the public health option, dismantling the social security net and so on). Basically, Canadian laws, after years of Harper’s majority gov’t, is to the left of America – and that means that is where Harper wants it to be.

    Your Canadian friends should look up what’s involved in getting a PAL for handguns. Its not like it is in the United States.

  15. george says:

    I should add I’m not a fan of Harper, and won’t be voting Conservative (I’m not a fan of any of them, and always vote against the incumbent on principle). But its silly to pretend he’s far to the right.

    In fact, the last major cuts to public health (a real bell weather of left-right) was done under Chretien’s Liberal gov’t (Paul Martin as finance minister came up with that). The conservatives have put more money into it.

    A more realistic knock against the Conservatives is that they’re bad with money, they like the TPP (so do the Liberals), and they muzzle gov’t scientists (which isn’t a left-right issue, since both left wing gov’ts like Cuba and the old USSR and right wing gov’ts (like Mussolini etc) have found that useful.

  16. Steve Evets says:

    This election may tell us a lot about the reliability of polls and “too close to call” predictions. Plus we can see that having more than just 2 choices of parties is no guarantee of everyone being satisfied with just those choices.

  17. spamagitor says:

    @george:

    Most of the countries are on the left of the USA in policies. Anyway, nowadays it is difficult to tell about a political party that it is on the left of right because they have policies from each ‘wings’.
    I always hated the Conservatives.
    Go for Greens!

  18. Ron Beasley says:

    I suspect that Harper has a couple of problems.
    1) he’s simply been in office too long.
    2) The rather sudden plunge in oil prices has had a very negative impact on the fossil fuel industry that the Canadian economy is so dependent on.

  19. Ron Beasley says:

    I suspect that Harper has a couple of problems.
    1) he’s simply been in office too long.
    2) The rather sudden plunge in oil prices has had a very negative impact on the fossil fuel industry that the Canadian economy is so dependent on.

  20. Pete S says:

    Part of Harper’s campaign is an assumption that Canadian voters are morons. This week he has 2 ads running – 1 claiming that the election is about the economy, not personalities, and may second ad attacking Justin Trudeau. Either one is fine but they look stupid when you see them run back to back which has been happening all week.

    And posing for pictures with Rob Ford and his family this week tends to discount the claims that Harper is the most serious candidate for PM.

  21. Mike Adamson says:

    Harper has already stated that the Conservatives won’t claim government if they don’t finish first on Monday so if you believe him then that should clear up that question.

  22. pylon says:

    @george:

    Yes, he has had a majority government and accordingly could pass legislation trashing all gun restrictions, outlaw abortion and privatize health care (assuming all of his backbenchers, especially those in the East, fell in line). I have zero doubt he would like to do so, having met the man and his supporters. But he’d only do it if it was politically palatable. He cares more about being re-elected than his ideology. There’s no doubt this is a Conservative to the right of previous PMs like Clark and Mulroney (and Campbell I suppose).

    I don’t think he is actually left of Obama.

  23. george says:

    @pylon:

    I’ve no idea what his private beliefs are, and I admit I don’t care – what politicians say and think isn’t important, what they do is. And Harper has governed from the left of Obama on most issues. I agree that he (like Obama and every other politician) only do what’s politically palatable. I think that’s a very good thing – that’s how democracy is supposed to work (as you can guess, I don’t like the idea of politicians as leaders, I think they should be sensible followers).

    I wouldn’t say Harper cares more about being re-elected than his ideology, I’d say being re-elected is in fact his ideology. He’s not particularly conservative or liberal, he’s pro-Harper, and will push any program which achieves that. Harper is the kind of person that if there was an opening in the NDP that could have led to being PM, he’d have jumped there (much as Trudeau jumped from the democratic socialists to Liberals to become PM).

    Chretien was the same way (for instance, his constant speaking about public daycare at election time but never getting around to implementing it despite majorities – he spoke to what he thought was his base, but didn’t care if actually implemented it or not). Paul Martin too I think, though he didn’t really get a chance to show much of his style.

    Ideology is what politically interested voters have. Politicians tend to be like most professionals – they’re just interested in what works (and by works, in politics, they mean get elected and re-elected).

  24. pylon says:

    @george:

    Sure, but let’s not pretend he’s some sort of centrist. His acceptance of popular opinion by not pushing anti-gay agendas lets him get what he wants in a host of other conservative areas. Bill C-51? Greenpeace classified as a security threat? Triple tar sands production by 2035 as a policy goal? Killing the Experimental Lakes Centre and defunding a lot of other environmental programs? Defunding Christian groups who are critical of Israel? Increasing military spending like a Republican (triple from when he first came to power)?

  25. george says:

    @pylon:

    Sure, but let’s not pretend he’s some sort of centrist.

    Certainly not in the Canadian context, he’s right wing here (though not on the big issues). But he’s actually left wing in the American context, which I took as the point of the original comment – American right wingers shouldn’t see Harper as one of their own, they’d be calling him a communist if he was running for office in America.

    And a lot of NDP’ers and Greens would point out that the Liberal talk of environmentalism never seemed to actually make it into legislation – for instance they signed the Kyoto accord but did nothing to actually reduce emissions, then complain when Harper too did nothing to reduce emissions. Centrist in a Canadian context mainly means speaking left wing while acting right wing.

  26. Pylon says:

    @george: Hes not left wing in the US context. He’s a religious conservative, who, if he could have gotten away with it electorally, would adopt the same policies as Ted Cruz. He’s a evangelical Christian and conservative on every front – socially, fiscally and in terms of foreign relations. He got his start with the National Citizens Coalition – check out their policies sometime.

    What is less conservative is Canada, so Harper has to swim in those waters. So while he is ultra right wing (as I mentioned, I’ve met the man and had dinner with him bee he was PM) he couldnt maintain power and implement those policies.

  27. george says:

    @Pylon:

    What is less conservative is Canada, so Harper has to swim in those waters. So while he is ultra right wing (as I mentioned, I’ve met the man and had dinner with him bee he was PM) he couldnt maintain power and implement those policies.

    I believe you about his personal views, but as I said, I find them irrelevant – its how he governs that’s important, and he governs well to the left in an American context. And the reason for that is his strongest held view is that he should be in power – if his ideology was conservative rather than Harpertive (ie that Harper should be PM) he’d have tried to push his conservative ideology (like Manning and Stockwell Day, for instance, did). For Harper conservatism runs a very distance second in the ideological race compared to being in power.

    And again, I think that’s a very, very good thing in politicians. Politicians should follow the population in a sensible way, they shouldn’t try to impose or lead the population into their views.

    And I say this as someone who typically votes NDP or Green – I’m no fan of Harper, but he simple didn’t govern, or even attempt to govern, from the American right. Talk to self-proclaimed social conservatives up here, most think he was a sell-out; they can understand his not being able to push his supposed “hidden agenda” through, but not that he forbid his party from even discussing those topics. How strong do you think his evangelical views are in practice when he didn’t even allow such views to be brought up by his party in Parliament?

  28. pylon says:

    @george: Your premise was that Harper (not his government) was left of Obama. Just not true. And he did try and push his beliefs – just found out, the hard way by losing to Paul Martin, that social issues didn’t sell well.

    And he did in fact govern like a Republican – Nixon to be exact. If you don’t think he was ideological, explain the niqab debate. Explain C-45, C-51. Explain refusing to fund abortion procedures. Withdrawing from Kyoto. Cutting gay community program funding. “Free speech” laws aimed at shielding bigots. Cutting child care. Ripping up the Kelwona Accord with First Nations? Mandatory jail sentences? Mandatory minimum sentences? Shutting the gun registry. These are all right wing issues.

    That he wanted to but didn’t kill Medicare makes him a coward, not a statesman. Being electorally sensitive doesn’t make him left of Obama.

  29. george says:

    @pylon:

    Your first paragraph confirms what I said – his conservative beliefs were much weaker than his true belief – that he should be in power. If he took his conservative beliefs seriously then he’d have stuck with them however well they sold, trying to change the nation. What he in fact did was note that they weren’t popular and not only move on, but forbid his party to discuss them. And we’re talking about the core social conservative beliefs – abortion, banning gay marriage, prayer in school. The only thing he would allow discussion on where minor conservative issues, and most of those look like throwing bones at your dogs to keep them from whining about not getting the meat of their desires.

    I agree about governing like Nixon but Nixon is left wing by today’s American standards. Reagan too arguably.

    Lets look at your list. The Niqab debate was about trying to get votes in Quebec, which despite being the most left wing province in Canada is very strongly against the Niqab (like in France, which has outlawed them despite being far to the left even of Canada). Its not a left-right issue, many left wing Muslims in Canada are against the Niqab as well (Google if you doubt, for many its a woman’s issue). Its certainly cynical political opportunism and using fear tactics, but that too isn’t limited to right wing. Remember the Liberals in 2006 giving video adds suggesting the conservatives were going to dismantle public health (they put more money into it) and have the army marching in the street (never seemed to happen)? Every party in Canada but the Greens use fear tactics when they think it can work.

    Bill C-45 I’ll give you is conservative. Bill C-51 is so conservative that Trudeau endorsed it. Abortion procedures are like all medical procedures provincial rather than federal, so he neither funded or refused funding on them, its not his call. Withdrawing from Kyoto is basically the observation that the Liberals signed it and did exactly zero about trying to meet it; I think that’s wrong, but I don’t see his action any worse than Chretien’s and Martins, or perhaps there’s was worse since they pretended to worry about climate change while doing zilch about it despite years of majority gov’t. You’ll have to fill me in on the gay community program funding cut, I did a Google but didn’t find anything other than again provincial programs. Free speech is definitely not a right wing issue – a lot of card carrying Greens and NDP’ers think free speech is vital, and its mainly a right wing lie tactic to pretend that they’re only ones who want free speech. The Kelonwa Accord I’ll give you, though the Liberals track record on first nations is also pretty horrible, so I’m not sure how left-right that issue is.

    The gun registry was a rural-urban split, not left-right. Rural NDP MLA’s in western Canada were as strongly against the registry as their Conservative counterparts. Basically it was a 2 billion dollar boondoggle which funneled money into the pockets of some of the Liberal Party’s friends. Gun control in Canada is the PAL system, and that wasn’t weakened at all by the conservatives; the registry was superfluous and again, a huge waste of money.

    Basically the better arguments against Harper, and why its great he’s gone, is that he was horrible with money (how about the huge waste of the G-20 summit), supports things like TPP (as do the Liberals), muzzled gov’t scientists … and none of those are left-right issues, just corruption and poor government. He was a bad Prime Minister. But for the most part he didn’t govern from the right – in fact on some issues like public health he increased transfer payments that the Liberals had cut out (the biggest blows to public health came under Chretien’s gov’t, not Harpers).

    On small issues he sometimes went conservative, sometimes not. That’s not particularly politically ideological, its want to stay in power ideological. You’re probably right about his stated personal views, but I’d say he just stated what he thought would get him elected, because he never acted on most of his supposed deeply held beliefs … how deeply can you believe in something you’d ignore at the first hint it was politically inconvenient?