You are here

Harper’s “Conservative” Economism: Rhetoric and Reality


The Harper-run Conservatives combined their revisioning of conservatism and economism into a winning strategy. With significant vote-splitting in the existing first-past-the-post system, a minority won a majority of seats in 2011. The broad Canadian public now seems to be looking more deeply at the rhetoric and the realities of Harper’s political brand. It’s about time.

Harper’s brand is reinforced by the barrage of Economic Action Plan ads and the slogan “Jobs, Growth and Prosperity”, all paid by the taxpayer. It’s simplistic and deceptive rhetoric and the perception managers want us to stay at the level of rhetoric and not look too closely at the consequences of Harper’s decision-making.

Some who still support Harper credit his government with fiscal responsibility, but the evidence mounts that this is also rhetoric. The recent Auditor General’s Report found that spending of $3.1 billion for anti-terrorist programs was unaccounted for. He also reported that there is $29 billion of uncollected taxes in the country. If the tax-man was vigilant and fair this shortfall could reduce the federal deficit without having to cut environmental protection and public services.

Root Causes

Harper’s government has consistently shown itself hostile to evidence-based policy; it prefers the divisiveness of wedge politics and end-running Parliamentary scrutiny. We see this in Harper’s recent attack on any exploration of the “root causes” of violence, such as occurred in the Boston bombings. This wasn’t just an attack on Justin Trudeau but on Canadian common sense.

Harper’s ideological agenda actually breeds ignorance about violence in its many forms. What about the 1,127 Bangladeshi garment workers who recently died producing clothing for the consumer society? Of course everyone put their backs into the herculean rescue effort, as they did after the Boston bombings, where two died. But conscientious people know that to prevent further deaths we need to explore roots causes. Over a thousand humans could be alive if they weren’t ordered into a building with two illegal stories added, already showing cracks in the foundation. Having the protection and advocacy of trade unions would certainly help. So would curtailing the collusion between businesses and politicians which allows this sort of deadly exploitation. But no mention of this by Harper!

Or, what about the “root causes” of the deaths and maiming from the thousands of landmines left after the war in Croatia? Sixty land-mine removers have already died in this unforgiving work; giving their lives to save many more that would surely die if landmines were left near schools, hospitals and roads. Should we only mourn the victims of these explosions after the fact and ignore roots causes? Who would we demonize then?

There is growing concern about violence from bullying. Facing declining public support Harper recently injected himself into the middle of the widespread sympathy that is being felt for the families who have endured recent losses. He will supposedly use the strong-arm state to protect families from bullying. Meanwhile it is hard to imagine a Canadian government that has used more political bullying in its exercise of power. What kind of example for upcoming generations is Harper’s use of bully-like attack ads?

Climate Denying

Then there’s Harper’s denial of solid knowledge about global warming, which will bring its own form of violence to humans across the globe. His muzzling of scientists who have important policy-related information on the climate crisis further shows how he rules by wedge politics and disinformation: “you’ll lose your job if there’s a price on carbon”! His Minister, Oliver, who previously attacked environmentalists and First Nations as “un-Canadian”, is in a new mess after attacking climate scientists. Oliver recently received an open letter from several of them about the dangers of creating an expensive pipeline infrastructure and economic dependence on extracting and exporting tar sand oil. Yet when Oliver threatens to take the EU to the WTO for labeling tar sand oil as “dirty”, he says the EU’s views are “not based on science”. This is reminiscent of how Patriarchs used their prescribed “science” to defend orthodoxy in the Dark Ages.

Ongoing Pattern

The divergence between Harper’s rhetoric and realities is everywhere. Over 300,000 people have already been brought here through his Temporary Worker Program. Many aren’t even for skilled jobs. This contributes to lowering wages and increasing youth unemployment. Integrated training programs and enhanced job benefits, not a global race to the bottom, is what Canada needs, but Harper’s corporate-economistic ideology puts the mobility of capital and labour above all else.

A similar pattern exists in rural Canada. Harper used wedge issues like the gun registry and baseless exaggerations about crime as well as appeals to “marketing freedom” to gain significant rural support. Again ideology not evidence ruled. Meanwhile his government is steadily dismantling vital rural and producer support programs. The Indian Head tree farm, community pastures and PFRA are all on the chopping block. The destruction of the Canadian Wheat Board has weakened the influence of farm producers while consolidating the market power of corporate agribusiness.

The examples continue. Harper wants to militarize Canadian society, including sports. While he glorifies war, his regime consistently ignores the needs of traumatized and injured veterans. His government shows immense fiscal irresponsibility and incompetence when ordering military hardware, such as the F-35’s and naval ships. The needed transparency to protect the public interest is lacking because Harper continues to demean the accountability that is supposed to be part of the supremacy of our elected parliament. Harper’s corporate-oriented economism trumps all.

Human Health

It’s no different with our health; Harper’s Canada doesn’t even respect safe water as a human right, which the UN recently declared.

Further, all evidence is that too much sodium in our diets increases hypertension, strokes and heart attacks, along with obesity and even stress. Though our bodies only need 1,500 mg or one-half teaspoon a day, we get much more, and mostly (80%) through all the processed foods. Most Canadians don’t grow their own food and are highly dependent on the supermarket. Yet, even with all the evidence, the Harper government has only called on food corporations to make voluntary sodium reductions by 2016. His officials argue that rather than setting health regulations, individuals must take more responsibility for their health.

Many Canadians are doing this and yet our sodium intake continues to creep up. If you check labels you’ll find that some products saying “low sodium” or “organic” still have high enough levels (e.g. 400 mg per half-cup) to help put us well over the safe daily level. CBC’s Marketplace recently tested sodium levels in a high school class, a swim club and a hockey team. In spite of their relatively healthy lifestyles, the average level was 3,600 mg a day, twice what’s needed. The highest level (4,300) was in the hockey team and the second highest (3,300) in the swim club. Unfettered economic growth and corporate prosperity trumps the longevity of Canadians, 14,000 of whom die of strokes yearly.

Reactionary Politics

Harper’s rhetoric only seems conservative. Real conservatives play a positive role by reminding us of the importance of heritage and respect for traditions. Sometimes the view of history gets romanticized and slanted, as it did to defend slavery, colonization and patriarchy, which stood in the way of real progress.

The Progressive Conservative party had decades of success trying to find the right balance. Harper’s “Conservatives” however have morphed into something that is more reactionary than conservative. It’s a throwback; rule by Omnibus. Nothing much about Canada is being conserved, not even the waterways. Harper’s rule undermines attempts to address the climate crisis as well as the rule of law, as though ecology and democracy are simply to be manipulated to get and maintain power. Canada can do much better than this; we simply must!

R-Town #193 May 17, 2013