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The Incremental Conservative


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Tom Flanagan wrote an article explaining how Stephen Harper must tread lightly, and be polite, to gain power and implement his policies.

Admit it – you'd love to see a federal election. Governments may be boring, but campaigning is so much fun. Sadly, this week's Quebec by-elections make a quick call for a national vote much less likely. After doing so badly, neither the Liberals' Stéphane Dion nor Gilles Duceppe of the Bloc Québécois will be in a hurry to pull the plug.

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And why would he want to go to the polls? Because Stephen Harper is trying to do what no Conservative leader since Sir John A. Macdonald has been able to do – build a viable, long-term political coalition with a broad enough appeal to win elections and, if it falls short, enough strength of character and self-discipline to avoid immolating itself on a bonfire of recrimination. In other words, he wants the Conservatives to replace the Liberals as the natural governing party of Canada.

By winning the last election, Mr. Harper's campaign team demonstrated its ability to learn from experience and to correct its mistakes. And there were plenty of them. When the team came together in 2001, its members were more like “friends of Stephen” than professional campaigners – although passionate about getting their man elected, they had a lot to learn.

...

Canada is not yet a conservative or Conservative country. The party can't win if it veers too far to the right of the average voter. In times of perceived crisis, a conservative party can win by positioning itself further to the right, as shown by the victories of Margaret Thatcher, Ronald Reagan, Ralph Klein, Mike Harris and Gordon Campbell. But Canadians don't perceive themselves in crisis right now.

4. Incrementalism - Conservatives must be willing to make progress in small, practical steps. Sweeping visions have a place in intellectual discussion, but they are toxic in practical politics.

Incrementalism is the twin of moderation. Small conservative reforms are less likely to scare voters than grand conservative schemes, particularly in Canada, where conservatism is not yet the dominant public philosophy. In any case, incrementalism is intrinsically the right approach for a conservative party.

G & M

I particularly "liked" this:

3. Inclusion - The traditional Conservative base of anglophone Protestants is too narrow to win modern Canadian elections. While preserving that base, we have to appeal to francophones, Roman Catholics (44 per cent of the population, according to the 2001 census) and other racial and religious minorities. The key to the long-term success of the Liberals has been their cultivation of minority groups. Conservatives have to take away that advantage.

IMV, Flanagan does not understand Quebec and hence, he doesn't understand Canada. To form a federal government, I\d take his advice with a grain of salt and that's what Harper has apparently (and wisely) done.

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In response to Flanagan, Terence Corcoran wrote this column:

The leading theory of current Conservative political strategy was recently spelled out by Tom Flanagan. In an article in the online magazine C2C, reproduced on these pages last month, the former advisor to Prime Minister Stephen Harper unveiled what could be called the Flanagan Rules for Conservative Engagement. The title of his piece was "Incremental Conservatism."

Flanagan put the strategy into a one-sentence nugget: "My vision of incremental conservatism means endorsing even very small steps if they are in the right direction, and accepting inaction in areas that can't feasibly be changed right now, but opposing government initiatives that are clearly going the wrong way." While Flanagan is here describing the go-slow Conservatism of the Harper government in Ottawa, it also fits the John Tory Conservative opposition in Ontario. Another jurisdiction that meets the Flanagan rules is Alberta, where Ed Stelmach's Conservatives are flying the flag of incrementalism to a political disaster.

...

The lesson from yesterday's Ontario vote and the sliding fortunes of Alberta's Conservatives must be that incremental conservatism is a flawed strategy that can, indeed has, produced disastrous results for those who play the game of either deceiving themselves or the voters.

It's a fate that could befall federal Conservatives. Flanagan's assessment was that the Harper government had taken a few small steps in the right direction, put off others and perhaps edged a little too far in the wrong direction now and then.

But the record is much bleaker than that from a conservative perspective. Federal spending is soaring, budget surpluses are piling up, tax cuts never get beyond the rumour stage and more than a few "wrong way" programs have emerged.

Flanagan, for example, is particularly apologetic for the fact that the Conservatives have become enthusiastic public backers of farm supply-management programs. It's irrational, he says, to insist that the government commit political suicide by alienating the farm vote. Even granting that point, was it really necessary to add to farm lobby dependence by bringing in massive ethanol subsidies?

Maybe the Harper Tories will reverse their backtracking ways with the Throne Speech next week and a tax-cutting budget, thus putting an end to incremental conservatism, a strategy that so far looks like a policy failure in three jurisdictions. For millions of Canadians whose politics favour less government, reduced regulation and significantly lower tax rates, there is nothing in incremental conservatism but small steps, inaction and too many forays heading the wrong way down a one-way street.

National Post

As Theodore Roosevelt said, I'm not in the arena. I don't have to stand up to the slings and arrows.

But it seems to me that we are in an era where people want to stand for something. A successful leader is someone who knows what people want to stand for. (The bland, polite statement might get the limo for awhile, or even re-election. In Ontario, it used to work and apparently still works on occasion.) Politeness doesn't work in federal politics. Boldness does.

I don't think Stephen Harper will be a successful Canadian politician if he becomes Mackenzie King. Like King, Harper is smart but unlike King, Harper's not bland. Harper is not William Davis, Canada is not Ontario, and Canada in 2007 is not Canada in 1935 or the 1940s. Harper will likely be the Margaret Thatcher of Canada. He's already hated by the Nationalist Left.

Harper is an English Canadian Mario Dumont.

Edited by August1991
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Harper may NEVER get his majority government because he's too good at peeving off Premiers and voters. Everyone knows the "Conservative" party is only conservative in name only, its more alliance/reform party. Being bold as a leader doesn't work all the time,just look at the "bold" actions of GWBush and how the world is in one hell of a mess and if Harper follows the US, Canada is going to be in its own mess with high debt and I'm still wondering how much he has spent in the military??

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Harper, like many conservatives, believes that his way is the right way. He despises people who oppose him in any way. The idea that the common man is worth very little other than fodder to gain more money is very strong in the Conservative Party. The tend to be an arrogant bunch, who don't like to mix with the hoepoloy.

They care little for people who suffer from the whims of society, it is, in their opinion their own fault. It is a common way to blame the poor for being poor.

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Harper should not have the power of majority. Look how dictatorial he is in a minority situation; can you imagine how bad it would be if he actually were the bonafide dictator?

Well, looking back at the PMO of Chretien's majority tenure, I suspect Harper would have to pretty much turn into Caligula to compete.

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Incrementalism is the key. Canada IS a conservative country - people just don't know it yet. Currently, there is an Urban/Rural divide where Rural is admittedly Conservative. The cities on the other hand, tend to vote Liberal/NDP. The anomoly is that cities contain a heavily immigrant population. Immigrants come mainly from conservative cultures and thus SHOULD lean toward Conservatism. Immigrants and refugees also tend to come from countries where government has tried to impose on them - so BIG government SHOULD be something they don't like. Having said that, the political right was dormant for 12-13 years until Harper and the New Conservative Party came along - so it will take some more time to build street creds. But also, new Canadians frequently start off using government programs like Welfare and UIC and other supports. Past Liberal governments have made a big show about Conservatives cutting back on "programs" and "rights". The longer the Conservatives are in power, the more people will come to see this as hogwash. So I can see that slowly but surely, as the second-generation of New Canadians start to gain confidence, they will seek out their traditional conservatoive roots. Incrementalism - one step at a time.

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Personally I think Harper has done a very good job of ruling just right of center and yes he has gained respect for doing so. Contrary to what some believe, he does not have plans to turn far right, and we all know that is just liberal gibberish. We need the right of center policies for some time, to take back the left wing policies that the Liberals took while in office. The voters can see this and yes they are doing a correction at the polls. If an election were to be called this fall Harper will move ahead and get many more seats at the cost of Liberals and Bloc. Will this be enough to get a majority? Well maybe, but it would be a small minority at the least. The election campagne would be where this would be decided. I do not hold out much hope of Dion being a good debater, and as for thinking on his feet goes..... well I find myself almost breaking out in laughter.

The voters I think are seeing that Harper has been very good for the country, and they will be more willing to give him more power to do what needs to be done. The Liberal senate that stalled the many bills, will be seen as obstructionist, and that along with Dion as leader, will make the CPC look much more inviting. I do not see this getting in any way better for the liberals, bloc or ndp, so they may well choose to have an election now, and maybe hold the CPC to a minority, then wait till spring and probably give them a majority. But I feel the voters will see this as well, and that is the wild card in all of this.

Edited by old_bold&cold
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I don't think Stephen Harper will be a successful Canadian politician if he becomes Mackenzie King. Like King, Harper is smart but unlike King, Harper's not bland. Harper is not William Davis, Canada is not Ontario, and Canada in 2007 is not Canada in 1935 or the 1940s. Harper will likely be the Margaret Thatcher of Canada. He's already hated by the Nationalist Left.

Harper is an English Canadian Mario Dumont.

Don Martin of the National Post says that one of the things that hurts Harper is instinct to go for the throat. He showed that again in Nova Scotia where he plunged the knife in again at Casey.

http://www.canada.com/nationalpost/news/st...56ccc73&k=0

If there's any faint hope clause for Stéphane Dion, who should really be focused on a 90-seat Liberal survival strategy at this point, its turning the perceived strength of Mr. Harper's decisive leadership into his weakness as a frustrated school recess bully.

The view from one Nova Scotia paper.

http://www.amherstdaily.com/index.cfm?sid=70467&sc=61

Stephen Harper is not worthy to be prime minister and the quicker Canadians turf him from power the better off we will be.
Edited by jdobbin
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Don Martin of the National Post says that one of the things that hurts Harper is instinct to go for the throat. He showed that again in Nova Scotia where he plunged the knife in again at Casey.
Go for the throat? Like Chretien? Harper?

Harper's no Chretien but he's hated like Trudeau. Indeed, Harper is hated in English Canada the same way Chretien was hated in French Canada.

In political terms, Harper is hated by about 30% of Canadians. They'll never vote for him and they'll openly criticize him. Harper must live with this.

In our modern world, politicians must take a stand and defend it. We're no longer in the world of Mackenzie King. There's no Incremental Politics.

In any case, Canadian politics were never about incrementalism - which just shows the ignorance of Flanagan for Canadian politics. Canadian politics is all about regionalism. And regional support is not incremental; it's all or nothing.

To his credit, Harper the WASP has wisely figured that out. This WASP has not won incrementally in Quebec - Harper has won because he took a chance to say what he believes.

Edited by August1991
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In any case, Canadian politics were never about incrementalism - which just shows the ignorance of Flanagan for Canadian politics. Canadian politics is all about regionalism. And regional support is not incremental; it's all or nothing.

To his credit, Harper the WASP has wisely figured that out. This WASP has not won incrementally in Quebec - Harper has won because he took a chance to say what he believes.

The all or nothing approach was taken by the PCs by Mulroney. It worked twice and left two regions steaming mad at the end. So much so that we don't have a PC party anymore. One of the forces driving that death was Stephen Harper.

At some point, something or someone in Quebec will be on the receiving end of Harper's all or none approach. It remains to be seen what the reaction will be but suffice to say, we have seen what happens when Quebec gets its back up.

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Coyne weighs in on this question - referring to the much awaited Throne Speech:

That the speech crossed a number of opposition "lines in the sand" is undeniable: on Afghanistan (we're staying at least until 2011), on Kyoto (with 77 days to go, there is no prospect of meeting our targets by the original deadline), on crime (omnibus this!), the government made no effort to meet the opposition half-way, or even to pretend to. Moreover, on a number of other fronts-- taxes, the spending power, the economic union -- it is objectively radical, proposing large changes in the way we are governed. It is, in almost every respect, a recognizably conservative document.

Yet such was the moderation of its tone, and so artfully had the ground been prepared in advance, that almost no one decried it has a turn to the hard right.

It seems to me that Coyne is right. Harper moves the goalposts (as any incrementalist would aspire to do) and somehow the new centre is slightly to the right without anyone noticing.

And yet, in retrospect, Harper is also bold when it counts. Consider his decision, in the midst of a federal Liberal leadership race, to respond to the Bloc by introducing a motion to recognize the Quebecois as a nation within a united Canada. Or his announcement at the start of a federal election to cut the GST by two percentage points.

Harper can be bold but I fear that so far, close to power, he is bold in a phlegmatic way. I suspect that he is fearful of any boldness because he recalls the problems caused by the statements of his younger self. Once burned, twice shy.

Boldness? IMV, more than dramatic announcements, Harper has to stand for something and it has to be clear to all what it is he stands for.

Moreover, Harper will simply never be a politician who is idolized and he'll always be viscerally hated by about 30% of Canadians. He's not a phoney glad-handler like Chretien or Mulroney. (I met Harper only once, in Montreal, and he struck me as tall, shy and taciturn.)

The all or nothing approach was taken by the PCs by Mulroney. It worked twice and left two regions steaming mad at the end. So much so that we don't have a PC party anymore. One of the forces driving that death was Stephen Harper.

At some point, something or someone in Quebec will be on the receiving end of Harper's all or none approach. It remains to be seen what the reaction will be but suffice to say, we have seen what happens when Quebec gets its back up.

Mulroney tried to solve the problem left by Trudeau. Trudeau not only refused to accept any kind of Quebec special status, he changed Canada's constitution over the unanimous objection of Quebec's national assembly.

Mulroney's failed attempt to solve this mess left by Trudeau lead to the division of the Progressive Conservative Party into two branches: Reform and the Bloc.

Harper is not going to make the same mistake as Mulroney - but Harper's going to have to confront Trudeau's mess at some point. And it won't be incrementalism that will do it.

IMV, Harper has a major point in his favour. He knows English Canada well and he knows how far he can push the envelope. Something else. Mulroney was bold when he sought free trade with the US and this boldness was popular in Quebec, outside of Montreal. Harper can be bold about right wing economic positions if he has solidified his base in Quebec.

Edited by August1991
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Mulroney tried to solve the problem left by Trudeau. Trudeau not only refused to accept any kind of Quebec special status, he changed Canada's constitution over the unanimous objection of Quebec's national assembly.

Mulroney's failed attempt to solve this mess left by Trudeau lead to the division of the Progressive Conservative Party into two branches: Reform and the Bloc.

Harper is not going to make the same mistake as Mulroney - but Harper's going to have to confront Trudeau's mess at some point. And it won't be incrementalism that will do it.

IMV, Harper has a major point in his favour. He knows English Canada well and he knows how far he can push the envelope. Something else. Mulroney was bold when he sought free trade with the US and this boldness was popular in Quebec, outside of Montreal. Harper can be bold about right wing economic positions if he has solidified his base in Quebec.

If Mulroney's solution to Trudeau's problems was to award contracts to Quebec, it certainly didn't sit well with the West.

As for what happened in Quebec, Mulroney didn't choose his allies well. They stabbed him in the heart if you believe his book.

Harper isn't likely to make the same mistakes Mulroney did. He will make all new ones.

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Harper isn't likely to make the same mistakes Mulroney did. He will make all new ones.

This supposes he will be given the opportunity to make mistakes within a majority. I tend to agree. I also agree with August's thoughts about Harper being bold at times and moving the goalposts to the right. Canada has woken up to the fact that the sky hasn't fallen since the Tories came to power, and Harper is a shrewd operator.

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This supposes he will be given the opportunity to make mistakes within a majority. I tend to agree. I also agree with August's thoughts about Harper being bold at times and moving the goalposts to the right. Canada has woken up to the fact that the sky hasn't fallen since the Tories came to power, and Harper is a shrewd operator.

I never suspected the sky to fall. I've only said that the all or nothing approach is often a destructive one.

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If you take Harper's approach at alienating the Maritimes first then I think you could say it has started now.

Did Harper alienate them or did Danny boy whip up outrage? And Newfoundland is only one province in the Maritimes, didn't Harper hand out a pretty good deal to another Maritime province recently?

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Did Harper alienate them or did Danny boy whip up outrage? And Newfoundland is only one province in the Maritimes, didn't Harper hand out a pretty good deal to another Maritime province recently?

I think it is pretty clear that Harper said one thing when campaigning and did the opposite when he was prime minister. Williams might have whipped the outrage but it was already in place and continues to be in place even in places like Nova Scotia where there is still not a lot of satisfaction with the side deal that Nova Scotia got.

There is a reason why Liberals are pulling strong numbers in those provinces. It is because there is a lot of distrust about what everyone in the Atlantic provinces regarded as a campaign promise.

I haven't even gotten into the case of Saskatchewan here where there is also a lot of anger. Fortunately for Harper, the Liberals are extremely weak in that province and the NDP nationally is probably suffering from association to the provincial NDP.

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Did Harper alienate them or did Danny boy whip up outrage? And Newfoundland is only one province in the Maritimes, didn't Harper hand out a pretty good deal to another Maritime province recently?

Danny whipped up outrage for his own political gain and advantage. It's quite odd how Danny hasn't said anything about the Harper government since winning re-election. :rolleyes:

Nova Scotians sat at the table in good faith and made a good deal.

Poor Liberals. If an election were to happen right now the Maritimes is the only region of the country they could expect to hold the seats they currently have.

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I think it is pretty clear that Harper said one thing when campaigning and did the opposite when he was prime minister. Williams might have whipped the outrage but it was already in place and continues to be in place even in places like Nova Scotia where there is still not a lot of satisfaction with the side deal that Nova Scotia got.

There is a reason why Liberals are pulling strong numbers in those provinces. It is because there is a lot of distrust about what everyone in the Atlantic provinces regarded as a campaign promise.

I haven't even gotten into the case of Saskatchewan here where there is also a lot of anger. Fortunately for Harper, the Liberals are extremely weak in that province and the NDP nationally is probably suffering from association to the provincial NDP.

Hmm, anger anger everywhere yet the Tories are flirting with a majority, eh? I'll take that kind of anger any day.

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