Is Prime Minister Stephen Harper even a Conservative?
We’ve opined in this space before that there’s no way the man can be called a “Tory.” The last Tory prime minister of Canada was Brian Mulroney, or maybe Kim Campbell if you count historical irrelevancies.
But, judged on his actions, can Mr. Harper even be called a “Conservative,” the words on the party card in his wallet notwithstanding?
These musings are prompted, of course, by Mr. Harper’s recent shabby treatment of Mr. Mulroney, whose record as prime minister remains controversial and whose reputation is troubled because of murky and unproven allegations of impropriety in his business dealings.
The wee hours of Good Friday bring a report that Mr. Harper, plotting last week from abroad, was in on the scheme to leak the claim Mr. Mulroney had asked to have his name removed from the Conservative Party’s rolls.
For his part, Mr. Mulroney denies it. Moreover, according to his spokesperson, “it was the understanding of those who were at the founding convention of the Conservative Party that all former leaders, except Joe Clark who declined, would be conferred lifetime memberships. And if the decision had subsequently been changed, someone should have shown the courtesy to Mulroney to advise him.”
Mr. Harper and the neoconservative crowd now running the Conservative Party of Canada, presumably want to get themselves as far as possible from his predecessor before the commencement of the inquiry into Mr. Mulroney’s dealings with German businessman Karlheinz Schreiber. No doubt they also want to lay to rest the very public squabble in their caucus about the way Mr. Mulroney is being treated.
The Toronto Star this morning quoted an unidentified person said to be close to Mr. Mulroney stating that Mr. Harper “knew and he agreed to” the claim Mr. Mulroney was a Conservative no more. “They thought they could differentiate between old Conservatives and new Conservatives, Progressive Conservatives and the Conservative Party of Canada,” the Star quotes its source as saying. “Of course it’s a ridiculous notion.”
The source’s accusation about Mr. Harper’s conduct rings true, even if we disagree with his or her dismissal of the view there is no difference “between old Conservatives and new Conservatives.”
For, whether or not Mr. Mulroney is a member in good standing of the Conservative Party, there can be no question that there are big differences between the great Canadian party led by John A. Macdonald, John Diefenbaker, Joe Clark and Brian Mulroney and the Republican-style neoconservatives in Mr. Harper’s clique.
This is not to say that radical American-style neo-conservatism isn’t a view that deserves its own Canadian political party. There have always been Canadians who despised their own country and looked to the ideology of the great imperial power of their day for inspiration. It is merely to say that there is very little historical or philosophical connection between Mr. Harper’s “American Party of Canada” and the fiercely Canadian Tories of yore.
The neoconservatives under M. Harper seized their opportunity in 2003 and hijacked the then-Progressive Conservatives for their own ends. It was a moment, ironically, that the Progressive Conservative Party was at its weakest, the result of public perceptions of some of Mr. Mulroney’s policies. Future historians my judge Mr. Mulroney more kindly, of course, but the sentiment of the moment created the opportunity for Mr. Harper’s profoundly un-conservative neocons.
Since then, Mr. Harper’s forces have set about purging the traditional Conservative remnants within the party and their remaining influence. However, while their intent clearly remains to implement the discredited right-wing radical ideology of the Bush Republicans, they have retained the Conservative “brand” in hopes of holding on to the sentimental Tory vote among moderate Canadian electors. Many Alberta voters, one suspects, are among those fooled.
As such, the betrayal and final purge of Mr. Mulroney during his darkest hour is highly symbolic and from a Harperite perspective entirely appropriate.
In the media, the question for the moment remains: “Is Mr. Mulroney a Conservative?” The question we Canadians should really be asking is a little different: “Is Mr. Harper a Conservative?”