The Unsecret Agenda
When Stephen Harper became Canada’s 22nd prime minister on Feb. 6, 2006, many warned he would begin to implement his far-right “secret agenda”. Harper’s agenda is certainly right-wing by contemporary Canadian standards, even harshly so. But it’s well to remember that the principles of neoliberalism, which in their essence reflect what Harper refers to as “economic conservatism,” had already been adopted by all parties as the new economic policy consensus.
Granted, Harper’s version is marked by steely, unfeeling determination. But Harper never made a secret of his views during his days as a Reform MP (1993-1997), or as leader of the right-wing lobby group, the National Citizens’ Coalition (1997-2001), or as the successful candidate for leadership of the Canadian Alliance (2002) and then of the new Tory party (2004), or as Leader of the Opposition in the House of Commons (2002-2006).
No, Stephen Harper’s alleged secret agenda was an open book, and he never pretended his agenda as a majority prime minister would deviate from the policies and principles he long advocated.
Throughout his political life, Harper has been dedicated to uniting the Canadian right into a formidable political force capable of winning and keeping power. But he did not seek power for its own sake. From the beginning, his mission was to reshape Canada from its foundations upwards.
Our prime minister is deeply devoted to the right-wing principles at the core of his ideological mission. Remember, Harper saved the Reform party and the Canadian Alliance from becoming firmly locked up as a cranky, regional phenomenon — the fate of previous western-based protest parties. Though personally committed to social conservatism — a strict definition of orthodox marriage, opposition to abortion and strong devotion to evangelical Christianity — Harper publicly fought Reformers and Alliance members who would use government powers to impose religious or personal values, arguing the state should not legislate on matters of conscience.
For Harper, this was clearly essential if the right ever hoped to win power and implement more important, nation-changing economic and social policies. In pursing this goal, Harper first broke with his mentor, Preston Manning, then openly defied and defeated Stockwell Day — and today he effectively muzzles over-zealous far-right members of the Tory caucus.
Harper’s critical assessment of the Canada constructed by successive Liberal governments was brutal. “Canada is a Northern European welfare state in the worst sense of the term, and proud of it,” he said, and the words should have chilled anyone who dreamed of a gentle and compassionate Canada. He lamented the socialist tendencies of Liberal governments, especially Trudeau’s.
What Stephen Harper pushed for was stronger but smaller government that intervened far less in the economy and in the daily lives of citizens — and if that intervention had previously made Canadian’s lives better, tough luck. Harper argued that government had listened too much to experts and intellectuals, seeing itself as a social work agency. Instead, in his mind, it should be the wielder of the discipline of the state to impose law and order with vigour, to manage the economy, to seek global trade opportunities, and to militarily defend Canada’s privileged place in the world.
To Harper, the welfare state had gone too far in disrupting the operation of market forces, weakening the competitive health of the economy. Protection from the full force of the discipline of the market — whether overly generous unemployment insurance payments or the pooling principles of the Canadian Wheat Board — had gone so far under the Liberals that the Canadian economy was at risk.
That’s how Stephen Harper views the world.
What we have here is a true believer in the unflinching application of neoliberal principles and the use of state violence to further Canada’s geopolitical and economic interests.
Stephen Harper always criticized the strong, centralized state which characterized the Canadian federation, foisted on Canadians by systematically weakening the powers of the provinces. This had been particularly provocative in Quebec, contributing to the rise of separatism. Rather than dealing firmly with separatists in Quebec, successive governments in Ottawa opted for appeasement. Instead, Harper proposed the withdrawal of the federal government from areas of provincial constitutional jurisdiction.
Harper foresaw a federal government that was strong and active in areas of federal jurisdiction, while refraining from using fiscal discipline to impose federal programs which trampled on provincial constitutional rights. Give him time and it’s goodbye Medicare, employment insurance, generous federal funding for post-secondary education and social programs.
He’s argued that the federal government has gone too far in regulating not only the economy, but also in expanding areas which touch the lives of everyone — consumer products, drugs, food and environmental impact reviews. The resulting red tape and delays involved as public servants carried out the required investigations were a drag on the robust evolution of business ventures and an impediment to economic growth and prosperity.
To Harper, the government had grown out of control and it was time to curtail its growth, to reduce its size and to trim its activities, which imposed an impenetrable underbrush of regulations touching the work of all businesses and the lives of all citizens. He will achieve this by cuts in budgets, thus limiting the capacity of government agencies to continue their former levels of activity, and cuts in public service positions, reducing the number of bureaucrats with a shrinking mandate as downsizing goes forward.
Harper lamented Canada’s failure to take a more aggressive stance in foreign affairs, arguing the Canadian military had been cut to disgraceful and dangerous levels. Canada had failed to pay its fair share, in treasure and blood, to defend its economic and geopolitical interests in the world. Yet Canada benefited from the efforts of the U. S. and other NATO powers to defend the general interests of the advanced capitalist countries.
While in opposition he denounced the Chrétien government for failing to join U.S. President Bush’s Coalition of the Willing to invade and occupy Iraq, and enthusiastically supported Canada’s intervention in Afghanistan. It was always clear that a Harper government would continue as an active junior partner in future imperialist military adventures to retain economic and geopolitical domination in the world.
While pressing for a greater emphasis on an aggressive military role in the world for Canada, Harper championed a revival of the true conservative traditions of old-fashioned patriotism, love of the monarchy, an ideologically sanitized conservative version of Canadian history and uncritical support for a government at war and Canadian troops in combat.
Harper argued that Canada should join far more zealously in the U.S.-led War on Terror, and accept that the nation had to develop a higher level of war-readiness, in both military expenditures and popular support, to participate in what could be a global war without a foreseeable end.
All this, and more, was known before Harper ascended to high office and gained the majority power to begin his work. It was the most public “secret agenda” on record.
We are now suffering through its relentless implementation. But Harper warned us from the beginning. And despite the fact that 60 per cent of Canadians oppose Stephen Harper’s vision for Canada he is succeeding, thanks to our undemocratic parliamentary system which gives prime ministers of majority governments dictatorial power with minority popular support.
This is not a democracy, it’s a dictatorship.
It always was.