Unfortunately, this purported detachment does not apply to what opposition leaders do, hence PPF Vice President (and former Joe Clark chief of staff) Graham Fox’s lengthy indictment of Stephen Harper in today‘s Toronto Star, which appears in Policy Options, a publication of the Institute for Research on Public Policy.
Fox runs through a long and rather stale list of Harper’s failings as leader, as seen through the prism of this spring’s events when the AdScam testimony broke and the Martin government faced confidence votes on its budget. Briefly, these failings are:
· Relying on a small cadre of advisers to the exclusion of all others
· Failing to broaden the base of the new party
· Failing to adapt his strategy to changing circumstances
· Continuing to oppose same-sex marriage, after Canadians have “moved on”
· Blaming others and shutting out different views
· Centralizing party power in the leader’s office
The only original observation I found was Fox’s claim that, according to William Johnson’s recent bio of Harper, Harper is “fundamentally a social conservative.” Is that what Johnson said? I haven’t read the book yet (hoping to get it next week for my birthday), but took a quick look at a library copy and note the following passages:
From a lengthy discussion of Harper’s March 1989 memo to Reform leader Preston Manning, which details much of Harper’s thinking:
While recognizing that the Reform Party should stand for conservative social values, Harper also warned against any departure from moderation, any partiality for “ultra-conservative values” such as nativism and excessive religious fervour. “A modern party of the Right cannot pander either to these minorities or to resentments of them.” (p. 122)
And from page 363:
His (Harper’s) stance for years had been that moral issues should not be a matter of party policy, but each MP should be free to follow his or her conscience and the wishes of the constituents.
Add to these the common knowledge that Harper is a social libertarian and has described himself as such from time to time. So where does Fox derive his conclusion that Harper is a so-con?
The screed ends with the conclusion that Harper “has to decide whether he wants to lead a social conservative movement or a brokerage party. If he opts for the former, he must do so with the clear understanding that he will not form a government . . .” If he wants to lead a “brokerage party”, Harper must “recognize the need for the party to broaden its base and make the kind of policy compromises inherent in that shift.” Since those compromises were basically made at the party’s Montreal policy convention in March, it seems that the only policy compromise Fox is talking about is same-sex marriage.
Same-sex marriage is a challenging issue to deal with, and I would argue that Harper and his MPs have addressed it with more honesty and integrity than Paul Martin has. But what should Harper and conservative MPs say to the vast majority of their supporters who oppose changing the definition of marriage? “Don’t bother us with your deeply-held views on a fundamental social institution! Can’t you see we’re trying to get our hands on the keys to the government limos here?!”
I don’t think that Harper is thrilled about having to continue the debate over same-sex marriage into the next election (where I don’t think it will be a major issue nationally), but should the rise to power consist primarily of jettisoning every issue that may slow or divert one’s progress? Perhaps Fox sees debating contentious policies as a burden. That’s a strange view for someone working for a think tank.
Despite the layers of Saran Wrap supplied by the imprimaturs of the Public Policy Forum and the Institute for Research on Public Policy, Fox’s piece has the smell of a hit ordered by PC malcontents who wanted Harper as leader even less than they wanted merger. Lo and behold, the forum’s staff includes Joe Clark old-timers Jodi White (she’s the President) and Bill Neville (“Senior Advisor to the President” – I am not making this up). Perhaps Fox thinks it is their advice that Harper should have sought on managing minority government situations.
A sidebar: Fox raises the canard of how gay couples that wed pursuant to the various lower court decisions would be “un-married” if new federal legislation were passed. Answer: they wouldn’t. Their situation would be analogous to a house that is built under zoning rules that have been superseded by rules that would not allow the same house to be built today. The existing house does not have to be torn down, as it is a “legal non-conforming use.” As for the married gays, they would eventually die or get divorced.