Maybe it’s just me, but every time I see Stephen Harper try to smile in his forced and unnatural way, I can’t help but think, Jack Nicholson — The Shining. He simply makes me very uneasy.

Harper was again smiling last Monday night, as a minority of Canadians demonstrated their wish to change governments and punish the Liberals. With a swing of a million votes from the 2004 election, the Conservative party picked up enough seats for a small minority government. Supported by 5.3 million voters — or in real terms only 23 per cent of the entire Canadian electorate of 22.7 million — the Conservatives are now set to form our next government.

But contrary to all the sighs of relief coming from commentators across the country about the pragmatic benefits of the upcoming minority government, I think there are lots of reasons why Canadians and progressives should be concerned.

First of all is the make-up of the new cabinet and government staff. Given the lack of experience of most in the Conservative party at managing anything other than their Blackberries, at the front of the line are former Harris Conservative ministers Jim Flaherty and Tony Clement.

Flaherty, a one-time Ontario finance minister, knows more than a few things about cutting taxes, and has proclaimed loudly the need to imprison the homeless and poor. Clement was one of the chief architects of hospital privatization. Likely to be helping both is Guy Giorno, already a chief executive assistant to Harper, who was one of the proclaimed architects of the “Common Sense” revolution as Harris’ chief executive assistant. All will have important roles in the next government.

Also to have key a position is Monte Solberg. Solberg, a former radio station manager, is now by all accounts set to be the next Finance Minister. He is infamous for blogging from the floor of the House of Commons saying how same sex-marriage was a victory for “ignorant secularism.” In addition, there are former Ralph Klein Ministers, Rona Ambrose and Stockwell Day, the latter who now has a host of websites devoted to his “Dayisms.” The list goes on.

To say the least, the incoming Conservative cabinet and staff will be made up of an “A” team of right-wing figures, none of whom are known for diplomacy, compromise or thinking things through.

Of equal concern is what the Conservatives and Liberals will agree upon in a minority Parliament, and which — given the numbers — neither the NDP or the Bloc Québécois can do anything about.

At the top of the agenda are tax cuts. The Liberals introduced $33 billion in tax cuts to businesses and the wealthy just prior to the election, in the form of cuts to corporate tax rates, capital dividend reductions, and income trusts.

The Conservatives have now promised further business tax reductions, and GST reductions to the tune of $51 billion, but will not introduce the planned income tax cuts of the Martin government. Already “Minister-in-Waiting” Solberg has stated tax-cuts are “non-negotiable.” The combined total in tax cuts likely appears to be $65-70 billion over five years, and the figures are climbing daily as the income trust and capital dividend figures are continually reassessed.

This is par for the course for conservative governments.

As centre-right parties have consistently shown over the past 25 years in both the United States and Western Europe, from Reagan to Bush to Berlusconi, once in power they run deficits, and with deficits, they quickly introduce further tax cuts and cuts to services and programs. The same has been true for the Conservative and “New” Liberal provincial administrations of Mike Harris, as well as those of Gordon Campbell in B.C. and Jean Charest in Quebec.

In poll after poll prior to the election, Canadians clearly ranked social issues, health care, education and child care as their top priorities. But as the majority of Canadians are about to discover once again, rather than stimulate the economy and provide revenues for a more “Red Tory” social plan, tax cuts and program retrenchment will mean the exact opposite.

Finally, new Conservative plans to “make federalism work” and “address fiscal imbalance” are likely to create further problems for cities and health care, as well as for women, the poor and the growing numbers of “flex” part-time workers.

Canada already has one of the most decentralized federal systems in the world. Provinces have control over revenues and programs, and can block the federal government from initiating any new programs. They also have the leeway to introduce “innovations” like cuts to services and programs and privatization in health care.

In comparison to other advanced industrial countries, only in the United States and Switzerland do federal governments play less of a role in funding, directing and providing social services and transfer programs.

As all recent studies now show, the more federal a country, the more difficult it has been to develop broad-ranging public services and effective social security programs. Likewise, the more federal a country today, the easier it is to dismantle basic public programs.

But if Liberals, Conservatives and the Bloc Québécois can agree on anything else it is further decentralizing federalism and taking away power and money from the federal government and giving it to the provinces. This includes turning over more tax power and regulatory power to the provinces for everything from health to child care.

The problem is that this only makes a bad federal system of social provision worse. Rather than create national standards that are well-funded and benefit all Canadians, the decentralization of power increases the pressures on provinces to pursue the lowest common denominator.

Rather than co-operation and compromise in the search for better and needed social programs, the Conservative proposal of further downloading of tax and regulatory powers will only lead more provinces — especially the poorer ones, as well as those led by Conservatives such as Ralph Klein — to search for escape mechanisms from providing basic programs such as public health care and social services, and the end to all new ones, such as child care.

Klein has already announced his intentions to allow Albertans to purchase private health insurance, and doctors to operate more private clinics.

Contrary to Conservative campaign rhetoric, the major problems Canadians face are not those of “corruption” or “fiscal imbalance.” Rather, they are the “political imbalances” created by our electoral system and our federal system of government.

The Conservative victory will do nothing to rectify these imbalances, and will in all likelihood only make them worse, as the Conservatives “forge working relationships” with the Liberals and BQ to pass new legislation, and governments like those of Klein and Campbell chomp at the bit to privatize health care, and take apart employment insurance and social assistance in order to introduce full blown workfare programs.

If the majority of Canadians are actually to get better government, they are going to have to do more than let a small percentage of the population use inflated regional political support switch the players in minority Parliaments.

As Vote Canada has underlined, progressives will have to introduce proportional representation so that all voices are heard and so that coalition governments are formed on the basis of what the majority of the electorate want across the country.

Canadians will also have to make their demand for a stronger federal government and better national programs in a clear and effective manner by going over the heads of their provincial and narrowly parochial politicians.

Revenge is sometimes sweet. But it never has long-term benefits.

However much some may have enjoyed tossing the Liberals out Monday night, simply electing a different minority government is not the way forward for a better Canada. A minority Conservative government can be just as bad as a majority.

Progressive Canadians had better take a deep breath and get back to work. Tough times are ahead. Stephen Harper is smiling for a reason.