Despite its label and occasional bows to the lineage of John A. Macdonald, Harper’s Party is without conservatives.
Harper’s bazaar is inhabited by enthusiasts from the Christian Right, anti-government devotees, advocates of economic and political union with the United States, opponents of abortion, people fearful of gay pride festivities, haters of trade unions, those who think you should be nice to everyone who is not different, lobbyists for the oil industry, and those who fear that global warming is a pointy-headed conspiracy. Binding them together is a proverb: To those who have much, more shall be given; to those who have not, less is only plenty.
Missing in this potpourri are conservatives. Traditional conservatives are not frightened of the state. They don’t fear the census, and they don’t believe that registering cars, or guns is step one on the way to the shadowy men in the black helicopters swooping down and taking our shotguns away. They don’t think that someday those with four-wheel drive vehicles may have to take up arms against the state.
They didn’t support the original Tea Party in which white men dressed up as native people threw tea into Boston Harbour; and they don’t support today’s Tea Party, financed by billionaires, and dedicated to the proposition that ignorance is a qualification for political leadership. They are inclined to the view that the state should control the means of violence and do not adhere to the notion that the Second Amendment of the U.S. Constitution(that the U.S. Supreme Court interprets as giving Americans the right to bear arms) is the fount of liberty.
Traditional Canadian conservatives regarded the strong state as essential for the construction of a country next door to the United States. They were prepared to underwrite railways they thought were necessary for the creation of a transcontinental Canada. When they were convinced that it was required — as in the cases of hydro electricity, bankrupt railways, the sale of liquor, and broadcasting — they were prepared to use crown ownership to achieve their ends. They were elitists, who acted on behalf of big business; they were skeptical about democracy, and they didn’t have a populist bone in their bodies. For a socialist like me, they were not to love.
But let’s not confuse conservatives with Harper’s crowd. On both sides of the Canada-U.S. border, the elements that make up today’s political right constitute a combustible, unstable force that threatens the viability of democracy. In the U.S. where they are stronger and can rally vast throngs in the streets, they have immobilized a timid Democratic administration and its Congressional allies. In Canada, where they hold office in Ottawa, they have to be more circumspect, waiting for the day when they have a majority and can let loose their full dictatorial impulses.
If any traditional conservatives are worried by the spectacle before us, now is the time to speak up.