Conservatives Against Harper

February 2nd, 2013 | J. Hodgson 

There’s a lot of criticism being hurled at Stephen Harper and his Conservative government. I’m not talking about the typical left-wing grandstanding that always follows Stephen Harper around. I’m talking about criticism from the right. Criticism that is actually more dangerous, since people like this will actually support Harper during an election...or not. Articles like this are becoming more prevalent and now that we’re at the 7 year mark in Harper’s mandate, I expect there will be more criticism in the future.

Conservatives need to lighten up. We’ve come a long way from the dysfunction and left-wing hi-jinks of 2000-2005.
Here are ten things to cheer about since 2006:

#1. Income taxes are lower.
#2. GST is lower.
#3. Long gun registry is dead.
#4. Wheat Pool monopoly is dead.
#5. Tough on crime policy.
#6. Kyoto is dead.
#7. Corporate taxes are lower.
#8. Multiple new Free Trade deals.
#9. Elimination of the per-vote subsidy.
#10. Reforming Immigration.

There you go...there’s ten things. I could dig deep and start listing loads of other examples, but why bother? The argument on the right is that stuff like the above is fine, but we need more. Harper is governing too much like a Liberal. He’s just not hard-core conservative enough. 

Here’s the problem.

In order to win elections you need to broaden your base of support. The Christian Heritage Party is an uncompromising hard-core conservative party and they’ve been around since 1988. You know what? They’ve never won a seat in Parliament. So you have to ask...what’s the point? Sure they can operate as a political party and attempt influence and what not, but at some point don’t you need to win one?

Others might point to the election victory of Mike Harris as an example of hard nosed conservatism winning elections. The problem with this example is twofold.

#1. Hard nosed conservatism only sells when times are horrifically bad. When Bob Rae won an accidental vote-split victory and became Ontario’s first NDP Premier, he ushered in the age of economic catastrophe. The early 90’s were hard for all stripes of government, but Bob Rae threw monkey wrenches into Ontario’s economy as only an NDP member can do. By 1995, the people of Ontario were in the mood for big hard changes. They voted in Mike Harris and his ‘common sense revolution’ because they needed to, not because they wanted to.

#2. The results of Mike Harris and his group of conservatives were successful, but the hard choices that the government faced came back to haunt them once the crisis passed. They lost the 2003 election badly and have yet to recover from the poisoning of the brand. In Ontario, voting for the provincial Progressive Conservative party is seen as something you only do when absolutely necessary.
Like taking medicine.

Is that a winning formula for entrenching change?

Stephen Harper recognizes this problem. He lost the 2004 election, partly by presenting himself like a hard nosed Mike Harris type guy. Since there wasn’t a crisis in 2004, the voters returned Paul Martin to power with a minority.

Harper and his team began to prepare for the next election and they changed quite of few things for the next round. They softened Harper’s image and simplified their message. They stuck to five main points so voters could easily understand what they were voting for. They changed their ads and messaging. Compare this ad in 2004 in which Harper is introducing himself with a no nonsense style approach attacking Liberals, with this ad two years later. The tie is gone. The language is simpler. The line delivery is conversational instead of lecturing. The tagline is “Stand Up For Canada”, instead of “Demand Better”. The whole thing is folksy and friendly, right down to the cheesy car horn at the end.

Why this change?

Because they figured out that hard conservatism only sells in a crisis and even if voters buy it, they buy it reluctantly. Harper’s vision isn’t to become a benchwarmer for the Liberal Party while they take a time out from governing. His vision is to replace the Liberal Party as the primary governing party of the 21st century. The way to do this is by playing the long game and the long game requires strategy and incrementalism.

"This political party stands for values that are eternal ... this country will either adopt our values or it will fail." - Stephen Harper,
Dec. 20, 2001

The above quote was taken from a dossier of quotes compiled by former campaign manager Tom Flanagan. When Harper won the leadership of the CPC, he knew the media and opposition would dig for ammunition, so Flanagan did it himself in order to prepare for any assault. Eventually the binder got leaked and it was full of quotes like these.

You can easily tell by reading through some of these quotes that Stephen Harper is a hard-core conservative, far beyond the realm of Brian Mulroney or Joe Clark. Many people such as myself wondered why exactly Harper wasn’t embracing it openly when he was elected Prime Minister. We now know he is playing the long game of strategy and incrementalism. The lightbulb moment for myself?

In 2007, Stephen Harper stood up and proclaimed “Global Warming” to be...”perhaps the biggest threat to confront the future of humanity today!” I scratched my head. How could this be? Isn’t the whole “Global Warming” thing just a leftist fetish? Didn’t I vote for you guys in order to avoid these issues? Instead, Harper jumped right in and talked the talk.


On November 17th, 2010 the conservative controlled Senate killed bill C-311 without so much as a debate. It was awesome. The opposition lost their minds and it was at this moment that I realized exactly what Harper was doing. He was playing the long game. Talking the talk without walking the walk. Strategy. Incrementalism.

Harper “gets it”.

As Vitor Marciano once stated at a Rob Anders event, Harper governs as conservatively as he’s able to, while still ensuring he can win elections. So the reason he’s not as conservative as some conservatives would like him to be, is simply that he needs to win in order to be effective at all.

Another example is Stockwell Day. Stockwell was a guy as hardcore conservative as Canada has ever seen. I thought he was great, but in the election of 2000 he was only able to garner 25% of the popular vote. You know what 25% of the popular vote gets a conservative?

A Liberal majority (Or perhaps in the future....I shudder....a NDP majority).

So to all those disgruntled conservatives out there take heart, and remember three things.

#1. Harper “gets it”, even if he can’t always show it.
#2. The conservative changes are coming, little by little.
#3. 50% of something is better than 100% of nothing.