Parliament Building
Does Stephen Harper have a hidden agenda? This was a question that many people asked about him in the last two elections. Many came to the conclusion that he didn’t. They thought that the Conservative Party was business as usual. The prime minister might be aloof. Perhaps he was a control freak. Even though you didn’t want Michael Ignatieff dropping in at your BBQ, Harper was your guest from hell.

I liked and enormously respected Preston Manning. He was a very bright guy. He was an evangelical Christian and a policy wonk. He had spelled out his policies in great detail, even oppressive detail. People knew where he stood religiously, but he said, and I believed him, that Prime Minister Manning would govern as a secular prime minister. His personal religious beliefs would remain personal.

Pierre Trudeau was the same. As a very devout Roman Catholic, I can only assume that, in the late 1960s he believed that birth control, abortion, and homosexual acts between consenting adults were mortal sins. Yet he famously said that the state has no place in the bedrooms of the nation. He knew that Canada was a secular, not a Roman Catholic, country. The justice minister, which he was, needed to proceed on that basis.

What about Harper? What are his religious beliefs? He has no obligation to declare them publicly. Religion is a personal thing. However, are they influencing the government’s policies?

One thinks of the support he has given to Israel, almost from the first moment he became prime minister. It has been stronger and more unwavering than the countries of the European Union or, more important, the United States. Why? The public argument he has given – that Israel is unflinchingly the most democratic government in the Middle East – has not persuaded the USA or the EU. The Religious Right is a strong supporter of Israel. Is that Harper’s reason? Does he share their views and has he made them Canadian foreign policy?

As an economist, Harper believes in the limited role of the government in the economy. This might account for the many apparently irrational steps he has taken since attaining office.

Virtually no economists of stature supported cutting the GST from seven percent to five percent. However, the decline in tax revenues limits the government’s ability to introduce new social programmes. The public resistance to the introduction of the HST in Ontario and BC shows how difficult it would be to increase the GST.

Second, as anyone who has drive around Guelph or the Waterloo region will know, the Harper government spent a massive amount of money stimulating the economy during the recession. They spent it on infrastructure. The federal government will run a deficit for the foreseeable future. The size of the deficit will prevent the introduction of new social welfare programmes. The commitment to spend some sixteen billion dollars on the purchase and maintenance of new stealth fighters for the Canadian Forces will further tie up money that a future, more welfare inclined, government will not have available.

Once a future government has the money it will have great difficulty introducing new social programmes. Pity poor Tony Clement. A bright and decent guy, though without the backbone to resign, he has to take the fall for the prime minister’s decision to cancel the long form census. Without the details provided by the long form census, future governments, both provincial and federal, will not have the information effectively to introduce social welfare programmes.

No money, no information. Bye, bye, social planning. And a faith-based foreign policy.

Maybe Harper’s agenda is becoming less hidden.

Visit The Canadian Encyclopedia for the article, “What Harper Has in Common With Glenn Beck, and Why It Matters.”

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About William Christian

William Christian formerly taught political science at Mount Allison University and the University of Guelph. He has contributed regularly to newspapers for over thirty years. His biography of Canadian philosopher George Grant was a national best-seller. He recently published Parkin: Canada's Most Famous Forgotten Man (Blue Butterfly Books), a biography of Grant's maternal grandfather (and Michael Ignatieff's great-grandfather). He lives in Guelph, Ontario. He tweets at @WEChristian.

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