March 07, 2009
Why we need a majority...
Harper driving Conservatives the wrong way
By: MICHAEL TAUBE
Last Updated: 9th March, 2009
In March 2006, I left the Toronto Sun to become a speechwriter for Prime Minister Stephen Harper. In those early days, after an exciting election result and a shock to the political system, the re-emergence of Canadian conservatism - and Canada's future - looked pretty positive.
How wrong I was.
The federal Conservatives have increasingly become a centrist, non-ideological government. While there have been some incremental steps toward conservatism - including tax credits, GST reduction, and cracking down on crime - they've been few and far between.
Instead, the Harper Tories have spent more time propping up bloated social programs they previously opposed, and tearing down political positions they formerly supported.
For example, the government introduced a federal budget in January that only a drunken sailor could be proud of. Sure, there were some new tax cuts totaling about $2 billion, but so what? They were completely offset by massive spending deficits of close to $85 billion on wasteful infrastructure, social housing and cultural programs.
Yes, both the global economic crisis and last December's political stand-off played a role in this budget's evolution.
But a true Conservative government - in either a majority or minority position - would still be fiscally prudent even in the face of political and economic turmoil. This so-called economic recovery plan won't get our economy rolling again.
And just this week, the PM admitted defeat in Afghanistan. He told CNN's Fareed Zakaria, "We are not going to ever defeat the insurgency."
In one fell swoop, Harper wiped out the Canadian military's accomplishments during this mission, including building roads, providing fresh, clean water and improving women's rights.
Even worse, he brushed aside the memory of the brave 111 Canadian soldiers who died in war-torn Afghanistan fighting for freedom and democracy.
Yes, I recognize Harper may be trying to make the best out of a bad situation. But ascribing to the culture of defeat with respect to an ongoing military mission is hardly a case study in strong leadership. It's disrespectful to our men and women in uniform, not to mention their families and friends.
And to put it bluntly, it's not a very right-wing thing to do.
As the Conservatives sink further and further away from ideological purity, their support base keeps crumbling. In fact, some conservatives are strongly considering voting for the Liberals in the next federal election.
They appear to be dissatisfied with Harper's leadership and policies, and are relatively content with Michael Ignatieff's economic positions and support for a greater international role for Canada. They believe he has the makings of a future prime minister.
If some conservatives now believe there's no difference between Ignatieff and Harper, this government has a real identity problem. It's up to the PM to re-establish a clear distinction between the Conservatives and Liberals.
Here are some ways to do it:
- Support across-the-board tax cuts for all Canadians instead of targeted tax credits for a few.
- Increase private sector opportunities in job and wealth creation, and reduce - not revisit - government waste.
- Resist the short-term public relations temptation to follow U.S. President Barack Obama's destructive path of social engineering.
- Stop throwing away taxpayer money on ineffective social programs like universal health care, and utilize market-based approaches to reform them.
- Relax foreign ownership rules and give our economy a real jolt.
Hopefully Harper will wake up from his political malaise and re-embrace a free market-oriented approach. It would show real initiative and leadership in these difficult economic times, and prove he's not in office to simply maintain power.
Conservatives and Canadians are waiting, prime minister. But I sense not for much longer.
Taube is a public affairs analyst and commentator, and a former speechwriter for PM Stephen Harper.
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