Tuesday, December 13, 2005

Stephen Harper : the Un-American Conservative

Anyone who wants to know what kind of conservative Stephen Harper is, right now, should read this letter he sent to the Washington Times, which appeared in their Sunday edition.

Harper is responding to this column by Patrick Basham, which appeared the week before:
Free-market economist Stephen Harper, leader of the opposition Conservative Party, is pro-free trade, pro-Iraq war, anti-Kyoto, and socially conservative.
I'm sure Patrick meant well, but his description would play directly into the Librano stereotype of Harper as a Puritanical Yankee-lapdog -- exactly the type of fellow who couldn't get elected Prime Minister if all the other candidates dropped dead. His bigger mistake is to try to slide Harper into the American conservative mold, without allowing for cultural differences -- and there are some fairly big differences.

For example, for Harper, "free trade" means everyone plays by the rules. It's pretty much the same position Paul Martin has:
For the record: While, unlike the current Liberal government, I have always supported free trade, there is a deep concern in Canada about the commitment of the current U.S. administration and Congress to free trade. The United States is withholding some $5 billion in duties held from Canadian softwood lumber producers, despite the fact that a NAFTA panel has ruled that these duties are illegal.
In a recent speech, I stated that Canada must determine "the willingness of the United States to strengthen the dispute resolution mechanism and to subordinate domestic political pressures to a shared system of rules" and that "if this is not a direction in which the United States wishes to go, then Canada will have to make other long-term choices in its economic infrastructure," including expanded trade relationships with Asian countries such as India, Japan, and China.
Remember that Harper's main point of attack against the Liberals isn't really their economic strategy, it's their tactics. Neither major party is really interested in tearing down NAFTA at this point, unless the Bush administration really tries to pull a fast one.
On Iraq, while I support the removal of Saddam Hussein and applaud the efforts to establish democracy and freedom in Iraq, I would not commit Canadian troops to that country. I must admit great disappointment at the failure to substantiate pre-war intelligence information regarding Iraq's possession of weapons of mass destruction.
This statement was based on a Librano lie that dogged him in the last half of the 2004 campaign: that Harper would have brought Canada into the Iraq war. Since everyone knows our military forces are overstretched due to years of neglect, I don't think any leader would have committed them to any major operation apart from Afghanistan.
And while I have promised a free vote in Canada's parliament to reconsider the recent change of law to allow same-sex marriages in Canada, and will vote myself for a return to the traditional definition of marriage, I have said any changes must protect the existing status of same-sex couples who have been legally married. As well, a new Conservative government will not initiate or support any effort to pass legislation restricting abortion in Canada.
SSM is still a contentious issue; witness Paul Martin's recent attempt yesterday to draw Harper out on his long-term strategy. But unlike in the States, abortion isn't that big a hot-button issue. Hasn't really been on the public agenda since the 1980s.

It's been said that Canadian Conservatives tend to be on a par with centre-right Democrats on the political spectrum. In other words, from a political standpoint we're more like Joe Lieberman or (cough) Hilary Clinton than George W. Bush. (A lot of it is from decades of living under the Liberals: there have been some societal evolutions that we've simply become accustomed to.) I'd say that's accurate, and so here's hoping we have better luck than they do when it comes to changing governments.