09.25.2012 06:08 AM

In today’s Sun: why Harper (and other PMs) survive

Harper-haters – found mainly on the progressive side of the spectrum, but not exclusively — consider the prime minister to be a black-hearted social conservative, perpetually scheming to crush dissent and push Canada further to the right. (When, in fact, he spent like a liberal during the post-recession stimulus period, and has pledged to vote with Liberals and the NDP to keep abortion legal.)

Harper-lovers — most often conservatives, but also a wide swath of Canada’s media establishment — regard their man as a latter-day St. George, slaying the twin-headed dragon of socialism and liberalism, and remaking Canada in the image of our WASPy antecedents. (When, in fact, he has piloted his Conservative party to the centre of the ideological road, and leads the most ethnically diverse caucus in the House of Commons.)

His detractors are flummoxed by Harper’s position atop the polls, as in the Abacus survey which showed his party is still the dominant force in Canadian politics, more than six years after he became PM.

His acolytes believe his popularity can be traced to conservative orthodoxy. Harper’s haters, and his helpers and hangers-on, are misinformed. Both sides believe Harper is an activist. Both sides believe he never rests in aggressively pursuing his agenda, whether they approve of it or not.

They’re wrong. Harper has survived and prospered for one reason: He stays out of your face.


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    Rob Harvie says:

    Well written piece, and, more or less, bang-on (though I do think that the “tough on crime” effort has the PM’s fingerprints all over it, and, at least THIS conservative finds it offensive from a justice point of view and from an economic point of view).

    Would that more political pundits and reporters displayed an ability to walk outside of the “partisan spin zone” to comment on the subtleties of politics.

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    Michael Behiels says:

    Yes, Warren. Part of the success of being a Prime Minister is to manage your public appearances and keep them to a bare minimum. Never be seen to be wielding too much power.
    Harper stays away from the public limelight but he is perceived by a majority of Canadians as wielding his enormous executive power to great excess. He is perceived as a micro manager of his caucus, his cabinet, and the bureaucracy.
    But this is also Strongman Harper’s strength.
    Harper’s CP is a motley coalition of social conservatives, fiscal conservatives (the small but dominant group), democratic populists, confused libertarians, and a smattering of Québécois nationaliste conservatives.
    Harper’s success to date has been his ability to manage this fragile coalition by throwing chunks of meat out to each one of these elements of his coalition. Then each group of his coalition chews on their particular junk of meat and go away happy until they get hungry. They then demand that King Harper give them some more chunks of meat.
    Strongman politicians world-wide function in this way. Their approach to politics is quite successful, especially if the opposition can’t get its act together.

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      Np says:

      “…he is perceived by a majority of Canadians as wielding his enormous executive power to great excess.”

      Source please.

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    Philippe says:

    Nice article. Although I’m not sure I’d call anyone who introduces mandatory minimum sentences for a few pot plants a centrist. No, he didn’t ban abortions and no, he didn’t ban gay marriage – but he’s been hard-right on foreign policy, crime, the environment, the military, etc. I just don’t agree that he’s operated from the center à la Chrétien.

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      Warren says:

      I actually agree with you. I should have emphasized that, on the social conservative stuff, he hasn’t been nearly as extreme as people like me had speculated he would be.

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    Tony Miller says:

    Insightful piece. I’d add that Bill Davis was the master of staying out of the papers. I was too young to remember much of what he did or did not do, but I think he said something like “bland works.”

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    Kelly says:

    Harper is prime minister because of our phony electoral system. Full stop. Most people don’t vote Conservative and haven’t for 100 years. If we used the same electoral system ad Sweden, New Zealand, Germany, etc., we would have valid coalition governments that govern through consensus. Even the Australian system would be better than the steam-age sham democracy we now have. When will we have legitimate government?

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      Brine says:

      Sigh… The old “most people didn’t vote x” argument again…. Did you bitch when the Liberals won several elections when most people didn’t vote for them? Didn’t think so. If you are going to rail against “sham democracy” and beat the drum for a change to the electoral system, at least be consistent.

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    Lance says:

    And Italy they have coalition governments, too. How is that working out for them by they way?

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      Kelly says:

      Blah, blah, blah…why not mention Israel too — the TWO governments out of the hundreds that use PR that are dysfunctional because their vote thresholds are so low. You can’t win this argument — 37% of the vote is not or never will be a majority, whether Conservative or Liberal. Nobody is ever happy with the government because nobody gets the government they vote for. Ours really is a sham democracy.

      Why would you support a system that delivers fake governments? Why not just say you prefer a dictatorship?

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    Ronald O'Dowd says:


    When all about you are running around in circles and losing their heads, self-evident staying power usually finds its way and continues to prosper.

    To sum up, New Democrats and Liberals jointly have a lot more getting their act together to accomplish before this guy’s hold on power is seriously threatened.

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    The Dude says:

    “spends like a liberal” eh? What a myth. Seriously, how did that ever come about in this country when the conservatives almost always increase debt and now record deficits? Maybe that saying should be changed to, “spends like a conservative that thinks spending is ok as loong as you’re conservative”

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      Kelly says:

      Conservatives cut taxes and increase spending (on the wrong things). They believe in voodoo economics — you know, that supply side rubbish that nobody other than wall street journal columnists, the National “citizens” coalition and Stephen Harper believe. But when you have a phony Majority, elected through a phony electoral system, that depends on phony statistics, what do you expect?

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