About the Author

Paul Wells

Books by this Author
Maclean's on the Senate Scandals

Maclean's on the Senate Scandals

From Wallin to Duffy to Wright, how the Senate became the symbol of all that's wrong with Ottawa
edition:eBook
tagged : canadian
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Right Side Up

Right Side Up

The Fall of Paul Martin and the Rise of Stephen Harper's New Conservatism
edition:Paperback
tagged : elections
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Excerpt

To understand who Stephen Harper is, it helps to know who he isn’t. For starters, he’s not Strom Thurmond. Probably this shouldn’t need saying. But I keep hearing from readers who believe, or claim to believe, that racial segregation, an abortion ban, the institution of a state religion, and an aggressive program of chastity-belt distribution for all Canadian women under thirty are just over the next hill.

Before the January 23 election I became very cross with a reader who emailed me to announce that with Harper in charge it would be only a matter of time before they were teaching creationism in the schools again. And that it would be my fault, because I hadn’t done enough to stop him. Actually, what got me angriest was the hash this reader was making of constitutional law: school curriculum is a matter of provincial jurisdiction. But besides that, the reader’s note demonstrated how deaf some left-of-centre Canadians are to the differences of tone among the various strains of conservatism. Social conservatives know Harper isn’t really one of them. Legislating right moral conduct isn’t his game.

“This is the interesting story of Stephen Harper,” Pierre Poilièvre, the young Ontario Conservative MP who once worked as an assistant to Stockwell Day, told me one day. “Everyone thinks he seduced the centre. It’s actually the way he tamed the right.

“Let’s get this straight. He’s now taken the most left-wing position of any conservative party in the world on gay marriage. He’s adopted the position of European socialists that gays should have civil unions — full marital rights without the word marriage. Harper has ruled out any abortion legislation. He has basically moved the party onto an agenda that is centrist and acceptable to mainstream people.

“And he’s done it almost without a peep from the right — from the people who founded the Reform Party, who had made the bombastic and even embarrassing remarks that had come to typify the Reform era. All of those people have gone along with this swift, centrist move while making almost no sounds at all.”

Why? Why are social conservatives so willing to let Harper pursue a not-particularly-socially-conservative policy? One school of thought, of course, holds that the hard-core right wingers know that Harper is one of them. They’re just biding their time. Once he gets his majority, the masks will fall and the real Harper will become visible. This theory will certainly be a centrepiece of any Liberal leader’s campaign to block Harper from gaining seats at the next election. “Oh sure, you haven’t seen any hidden agenda…yet…”

But for my money this analysis misunderstands Harper too. First, because I don’t believe his political beliefs are wildly out of the Canadian mainstream. But second, because even if they were, he has never been interested in implementing wrenching change if it means doing lasting damage to Canadian conservatism’s electoral chances. The “penchant for incremental change” he valued in Progressive Conservatives so long ago has become an integral part of his own political philosophy.

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Rob Ford

Rob Ford

The rise and fall of Canada's most notorious mayor
edition:eBook
tagged : canadian
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The Harper Decade

The Harper Decade

Inside the Fight to Remake Canada
edition:eBook
tagged : canadian
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The Longer I'm Prime Minister

The Longer I'm Prime Minister

Stephen Harper and Canada, 2006-
edition:Hardcover
also available: Paperback
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