Sean Kennedy: The downfall of the Harper government is a defeat for a conservative admired by many on the right in U.S. politics
Canada's voters were tired of scandals and unforced errors by the administration, he says
Editor’s Note: Sean Kennedy is a writer based in Washington. Previously, he was a U.S. Senate aide, television producer and a fellow at public policy think tanks. He lived in Canada and observed the last federal election in Canada firsthand. The views expressed in this commentary are his own.
According to the Reputation Institute, it is the “most admired” nation on earth. Immigrants flock there from all over the world – for the most part politely standing in line for the opportunity.
Taxes seem to get lower every year and the government runs a surplus. Burdensome regulations have been slashed and the tax code’s been rewritten to encourage business investment and pro-family policies. Abroad, it’s taking the fight to ISIS with a reinvigorated military, standing side by side with Israel and against aggression from the mullahs of Iran and Vladimir Putin’s Russia.
No, it’s not three years into the Marco Rubio administration – it’s present-day Canada, and its courageous leader just got booted out of office after nine years of steadily maneuvering the ship of state.
The Conservative Party’s loss is to the detriment of its neighbors to the south and the world at large, since the Tory leader, Prime Minister Stephen Harper, was defeated by the unprepared, gaffe-prone but well-coiffed son of a former prime minister, Justin Trudeau.
Harper’s fate is all the more shocking when you consider how well Canada weathered the 2008-2009 financial crisis under his watch. He didn’t bail out anyone (except the U.S.-based auto industry), no financial institutions failed and the Canadian economy hummed along.
Part of Harper’s success – and doom – lies in the commodity markets. With sky-high oil prices and other resources reaching record highs, Canada got rich as other industrial powers paid top dollar (or top loonie, if you will) for the raw materials they needed to grow. As oil prices fell off a cliff, the Canadian economy slowed, even briefly dipping into recession this year. But Harper made the necessary cuts and kept taxes low. Amazingly, he balanced the budget ahead of schedule as the commodity markets nosedived.
The fickle Canadian voters were tired, though. Tired of the scandals and unforced errors that come with years of unchecked power (Canada’s parliamentary system is a unitary executive-legislative branch). Political appointees and friends of Harper’s couldn’t resist feeding at the taxpayers’ trough. Though the trail never led directly to Harper, the scandal only fed a public perception that the cool-to-a-fault, calculating (and yes, even Nixonian) Prime Minister was up to no good.
Despite their success, Harper’s policies, too, seemed to echo the “American” political discourse, a byword for becoming what Canadians fear most – too much like their rapacious, bellicose and paranoid neighbors to the south. In Canada, identity is tied up in a few things (hockey, universal health care) but none more powerful than a genteel anti-Americanism that tinges every political debate in the Great White North.
When Harper introduced anti-terror legislation called C-51, or “Canada’s Patriot Act,” after prominent attacks inspired by radical Islam, the wing nuts of Canada’s left came out of the woodwork, painting the Prime Minister as a tyrant in the making.
His inaction on climate change – a shrewd move for a near-petro state – enraged the ecowarriors.
But the final straw came when Harper took a stand for an inclusive, but fully Westernized and assimilating Canada – banning the niqab, or face veil, from being worn at citizenship swearing-in ceremonies. The din of the “culturally sensitive” left’s cries was deafening – “racist,” “Islamophobe” and “anti-immigrant” entered the normally polite Canadian discourse.
What lies next for Canada is bad news for America and especially conservatives.
Canada under Harper’s leadership was a conservative wonderland with balanced budgets, increasingly low taxes and a robust foreign policy aimed at taking on terrorists and bullies the world over. But that is poised to change under the Liberal Party’s Trudeau, who promises to run deficits, pull out of the anti-ISIS operation in Iraq and Syria, and re-establish ties with Iran. He also wants to bring 25,000 Syrian refugees to Canada.
Furthermore, although the abortion debate has been “settled” for a generation by repeated diktats from Canada’s uber-leftist Supreme Court, Trudeau has stamped out dissent within his own party over abortion, where a thriving anti-abortion wing once existed.
Without Harper at the helm, the lessons of Canada’s miracle – surviving the financial crisis, balancing budgets, slashing red tape and taxes while maintaining a healthy welfare state – will be lost to history as Trudeau’s Liberals in a fit of pique roll back the gains the Great White North has made.
Politics is a fickle game and fatigue is a real phenomenon. Harper’s achievements will be relegated to the dustbin of history.
As Shelley’s “Ozymandias” reminds us, “Look on my works, ye Mighty, and despair!”