Right to the centre: Canadian politics after Harper

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Let us join the hallelujahs arising from the capitals of the Western world and beyond, celebrating the disappearance of a nasty troublemaker from the global stage -- a Canadian, embarrassingly -- and thank our lucky stars that our flawed democracy still works, and that we could get rid of a budding despot.

But when things get complicated for a new government that has -- as usually happens -- promised too much too fast, when hope bogs down in the usual politics, here's how I suggest we understand what's happening.

Since we're always a few steps behind what's going on in the United States, Justin Trudeau trying to shake off the Stephen Harper legacy will be the follow up to Barack Obama trying to shake off Bush-Cheney, of which Harperism is a knockoff.

In both cases, the defeat left intact a propaganda machine impervious to evidence, argument, compromise or anything else that makes a democratic system work, and one with remarkable reach. The one saving grace is that our much-disputed first-past-the-post electoral system did deliver a clear majority, unlike the U.S. system, which left Obama subject to constant Republican blackmail.

Nevertheless, Harperism is a mission, not just a political party. Harper himself is not quitting the Conservative caucus -- some say he's staying to keep the party in line -- and the politics of absolutism will stay alive, ready to cause trouble. The Harperist-dominated Senate, with its power to block legislation, could deliver it.

Meanwhile, as with its Republican counterpart, the Harper party leadership is starting to look like a gong show. Notably, there is no available candidate whose virtue goes beyond having passed the Harper loyalty test by efficiently delivering his talking points. Peter MacKay, who delivered the moderate Progressive Conservative party to Harper to be ground up into right-wing bits, should be the least credible candidate.

Indeed, there's a faction -- "Red Tories set to rise again," is one headline I saw -- apparently prepared to make its case for a return to a moderate conservative party. They're dreaming.

First of all, there's no need for a moderate conservative party. There already is one: it's called the Liberal party. If we're talking economics, there's nothing in the Liberal platform inconsistent with small-c conservatism. Indeed, one of the quiet sidelights of the election campaign was the business establishment cozying up to the Grits.

Even as Harper was bleating that only he could be trusted with the economy, old right-wing media mogul Conrad Black made waves with the observation, in the National Post, that the Liberals were "adequately to the right to not frighten the cautious Canadian bourgeoisie." It was noted that no one on Bay Street objected to a few more deficits in order to finance national infrastructure (Harper did that himself earlier). That last minute mini-scandal, in which the co-chairman of the Liberal election campaign was found to be smoothing things out for Trans-Canada Pipelines, might have seemed risqué to you and me but was a clear signal to the business community: the Grits are onside.

Meanwhile, the new Trudeau government will be rushing to deliver its promised tax cut to the middle class, which looks like out-Harpering Harper. Keep in mind that cutting taxes is easier than raising them. As such, the Liberals could well be locked into those Harper tax cuts (like Obama and the Bush tax cuts) -- to the HST, to corporate taxes, as well as the "boutique" cuts to political constituencies.

In other words, Harper-hostile conservatives, many of whom already moved to the Liberals, would do well to swallow hard and keep doing so. They have no other home.

By staying frankly to the right of centre, the Grits would do the country a favour. The NDP could overcome its hang-ups and move into the old Liberal spot, with the Greens becoming the new real left-wing party.

As a possible example, take Nova Scotia. The Liberals out-campaigned the NDP government to the left, but now are governing to the right -- cutting social programs, privatizing, shaving down public sector unions -- thereby eating into the support of the Tories, who offer only tax-cutting radicalism. Meanwhile, the NDP quickly bounced back from its defeat, provides feisty opposition, and is way ahead of the Tories in the last poll.

In fact, if Canada weren't so dominated by American politics, this would arguably have happened nationally some time ago, as it has with our parliamentary siblings. In Australia, the Conservatives have disappeared altogether. The Liberals are the new Conservatives, while Labour are the new Liberals. In Britain, it's the Liberals who were replaced a long time ago by Labour. It doesn't matter what the labels are -- a left-of-centre and a right-of-centre party.

But here we also have the Harper nasties, who feel themselves in possession of the whole truth and destined to triumph. As defeated cabinet minister Chris Alexander arrogantly put it, "We're still the only party that sees reality as it is."

Wow. Sounds like a gang who need some more comedowns. Reducing them to 99 seats wasn't enough.

Ralph Surette is a freelance journalist in Yarmouth County. This column was first published in the Chronicle Herald.

Photo: Αλέξης Τσίπρας Πρωθυπουργός της Ελλάδας/flickr

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