Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Defining Stephen Harper

Successful politicians are often slippery figures, hard to pin down and adept at saying nothing while making it sound like they’re actually saying something deep and meaningful. It’s a requirement in the political arena. Men and women vying for political office don’t want to alienate any group or constituency because of potential repercussions at the ballot box. Stephen Harper is no exception, a large part of his success is due to his mastery of this essential skill.

One constituency with which Stephen Harper’s Conservatives did very well in our most recent election was with that of Christian voters. According to a Vancouver Sun story published December 17th 2008:

“Three-quarters of Canadian voters who attend evangelical churches (such as Baptist, Mennonite and Pentecostal) opted for the Conservative Party of Canada. That's the same proportion of white American evangelicals who supported the Republicans”.

The writer of this article found this fact somewhat surprising given that Harper basically refuses to speak about his own membership in an Evangelical Church. What’s also noteworthy is that Harper has been able to maintain this support despite doing nothing on issues important to Evangelical Christians, most notably Abortion and Same Sex Marriage. With that being said, Campaign Life Coalition, which defines itself as, “the political wing of the pro-life movement in Canada” did give Harper passing grades on his Party Leader Report Card, while the likes of Dion, Layton, and Duceppe all failed miserably.

The only hope Christian voters may have for seeing action on contentious moral issues is if the Conservatives are able to eventually win a majority of seats in Parliament. In Stephen Harper's party many Christian voters obviously see potential for a government which will address their concerns. If the Conservatives ever do intend to move on these issues (with most polls suggesting Canadians happy with the status quo) it would be nothing short of electoral suicide to speak about them prior to winning a majority mandate.

Pinning a politician of Harper’s skill down on issues like abortion though is bound to lead to frustration. Some are certain he’ll continue to govern in a pragmatic fashion, leaving moral issues alone. Others are equally certain that given a majority Harper would seek to appease his religiously minded base. But Stephen Harper hasn’t always been a politician, in a previous incarnation he was Vice President of Canada’s National Citizens Coalition. The NCC is basically a Libertarian Think Tank, one which favours less government involvement and proposes initiatives like movement toward Private Health Care.

In June of 1997, at a time when he was Vice President of the NCC, Stephen Harper gave a speech to the Council for National Policy, a right-wing U.S. think tank. While this speech tells us little about our Prime Minister’s views on issues like abortion, it does give us a glimpse into his views on other important issues.

Oh Canada
“First, facts about Canada. Canada is a Northern European welfare state in the worst sense of the term, and very proud of it”.

On unemployed Canadians
"In terms of the unemployed, of which we have over a million-and-a-half, don't feel particularly bad for many of these people. They don't feel bad about it themselves, as long as they're receiving generous social assistance and unemployment insurance".

On the NDP
"The NDP could be described as basically a party of liberal Democrats, but it's actually worse than that, I have to say. And forgive me jesting again, but the NDP is kind of proof that the Devil lives and interferes in the affairs of men".

On Liberals and their policies
"It's not what you would call conservative Democrat; I think that's a disappearing kind of breed. But it's certainly moderate Democrat, a type of Clinton-pragmatic Democrat. It's moved in the last few years very much to the right on fiscal and economic concerns, but still believes in government intrusion in the economy where possible, and does, in its majority, believe in fairly liberal social values".

On the old Progressive Conservative Party
"They were in favour of gay rights officially, officially for abortion on demand. Officially -- what else can I say about them? Officially for the entrenchment of our universal, collectivized, health-care system and multicultural policies in the constitution of the country".

On Preston Manning and the Reform Party
"Mr. Manning is a Christian, as are most of the party's senior people. But it's not officially part of the party. The party hasn't quite come to terms with how that fits into it".

You can view the full text of the speech on CTV's website: HERE

Seeing some of those comments it might be tempting for some to hope that our Prime Minister's views have evolved, as they have on issues like stacking the Senate, Fixed Election Dates and the Tax Exempt Status of Income Trusts.

Perhaps they have, we'll likely be casting judgement in less than a year. Happy voting.

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