Harper Should Skip the Barbecues and Read Policy Instead
by Margret Kopala

Published in the Ottawa Citizen, June 18, 2005

“Acquiring power, and keeping it, is all about winning the argument.”
Tim Potier, “British Conservatism: Where Next?”
In the National Interest, May 2005

In a misconceived and defensive show of rallying round the leader to help him with his so-called image problem, Conservative caucus members are sending Stephen Harper on the summer barbeque circuit while they announce party policy goodies. Never mind both will be lost in the summer smog, what a waste of a leader arguably the best versed in Canada’s political, social and economic realities for several decades.

More than that, Mr.Harper is a leader who shoulders the burden of the aspirations of the West, not to mention, increasingly, the future existence of Canada – a blunt reminder of which erupted recently in a seminal essay urging Alberta and Quebec to get on with it, to do the deed because the country is finished anyway.

The Commons confidence votes capped the two most disgraceful weeks in the history of Canadian Parliament, wrote ‘Walsingham’ on May 21st at www.themonarchist.blogspot.com. “The Canada I have defended and loved no longer exists and cannot be retrieved.” Exhorting Quebecers to save themselves, he also asks western Canadians what are they waiting for. “Do you really want taxation without representation especially when so much of what you pay is handed over to others?”

Will a new spirit arise? “I believe it is already stirring. The Liberals, with much of Ontario in dumb connivance, have sown the seeds … it is far beyond their sphere or recognition to see that far from saving Canada, they have destroyed it.”

Well, maybe, not quite. Or at least if Canada is destroyed, it will be some time before it is certified. This is the way history works, especially when it’s the death of a thousand insults.

However you look at it, though, for Stephen Harper, it is a tall order to restore the federation’s integrity, in all senses of the word.

He could start by doing what he does best, namely getting on top of his files, leaving his caucus to the partisan punching and summer barbeques. And if the Walsingham blog sounds a necessary warning about Canada’s future, Mr.Harper need look no further than May’s issue of In the National Interest to test his intellectual footing and so steer Canada toward a more constructive path.

The tragedy of Britain’s May 5 election, writes Dr. Tim Potier, an assistant professor of International law and human rights at Intercollege in Cyprus, is that in the absence of a credible alternative, Tony Blair’s Labour Party was returned with a majority by default.

Continuing in a vein similarly reminiscent of Canada’s political situation, he says the British Conservative Party, consigned to the political wilderness since 1997, needs a new vision, one that reflects the requirements of the early 21st century not the sensibilities of the Margaret Thatcher era.

Having already lost the ‘soft right’ to the social democrats by the time of the 2001 election, the British Conservative Party’s “hackneyed totems of policemen on the beat and lower taxes failed to excite interest”. And, though it created a formidable election winning machine in the early 1990s, it ultimately destroyed the other most crucial component for electoral success – party discipline. Now riven with factionalism, it rests upon the party leadership to determine the philosophy and direction of the party, he says.

Government can’t perfect society and shouldn’t try, he writes. Enhancing civil liberty and reducing government will clarify a minimum standard of conduct for a “confused” and “burdened” society.

On everything from the European Union, to healthcare and the environment, British Conservatives must provide ideological leadership to secure influence in the first instance, to convince the public of its commitment to and understanding of what’s wrong in the second, and to provide solutions the left hasn’t in the third. “The essence of sovereignty and government has shifted,” Potier concludes, “the Tories must either grasp this reality or consign themselves to further defeat.”

At a time of pit-bull media spin, engaging the politics of explanation and argument will seem old fashioned. But it could be the breath of fresh air Canada needs to abort the sense of hopelessness expressed by Canada’s increasing number of Walsinghams. It would also present Canadians with the authentic Stephen Harper – serious, bookish, even testy at times, but someone who can establish and deliver an agenda for Canada in the 21st century.

MARGRET KOPALA’s column on western perspectives appears every other week.

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