Stephen Joseph Harper, who celebrated his 52nd birthday two days before leading his Conservatives to their third consecutive election victory, once joked that his father had wanted him to become a chartered accountant. "But I didn't have enough charisma to be an accountant," Harper told the Toronto Star in 2004. Now, as a Conservative prime minister with a comfortable majority, Harper possesses something more valuable than the magic of charisma. He finally has the power to do what he wants.
Judging by a remarkable speech Harper delivered to a right-leaning conservative group in 2003, our majority prime minister has definite ideas on the use of such power. Harper argued then that after the Reagan and Thatcher revolutions of the 1980s, the political right had finally defeated the economic ideas of their left-leaning foes, forcing socialists and liberals to "adopt much of the winning conservative agenda," including balanced budgets, rolling back welfare entitlements, the privatization of public institutions and the use of public/private partnerships in accomplishing state goals.
More still needed to be done on the economic front, Harper argued, including deeper tax cuts and further privatization and deregulation, but the real contest between left and right had shifted to social values and "the damage the welfare state is having on our most important institutions, particularly the family." Harper went on to mention issues he saw as "key to a conservative agenda." They included "banning child pornography, raising the age of sexual consent, providing choice in education and strengthening the institution of marriage." And he castigated the left for what he called its "moral nihilism" reflected, for example, in the silliness of its "moral neutrality on the use of marijuana or harder drugs mixed with its random moral crusades on tobacco." Harper added that conservatives should not shy away from applying their social values in a wide range of political fields "including foreign affairs and defence, criminal justice and corrections, family and child care and health care and social services."
Harper's record as prime minister shows that he still adheres to these ideas. His multi-billion-dollar, tough-on-crime agenda, which includes harsher penalties for drug offences, is one example. For Harper, the war on drugs is not a futile waste of money and human lives. It's a principled crusade against moral nihilism and social decay. Harper's promise to reduce federal spending to 12.9 percent of gross domestic product---a move that would require major cuts in social spending---is another example. He touts the need for "limited government"---a goal that goes hand-in-hand with conservative social values. Not only would smaller government reduce people's dependence on the hated welfare state, it would also make it easier to cut the taxes that social conservatives see as constraints on individual freedom.
Harper's promise to phase out the $2 per vote subsidy to political parties also fits in with his philosophy of privatizing public functions. Why should taxpayers bear so much of the burden of financing election campaigns when private donors could do it? Harper's admiration for all things American seems to have blinded him to the corrosive combination of money and politics south of the border. As one pol joked, the US system of government is the finest money can buy.
Finally, back in 2003, Harper castigated the liberal-left for its unwillingness to fight the international war on terrorism. He argued that Canada has a duty to use its military to take a "moral stand" on behalf of democracy, free enterprise and freedom. "This moral stand," he continued, "should not just give us the right to stand with our allies, but the duty to do so and the responsibility to put 'hard power' behind our international commitments."
Harper's chilling militarism, his hostility to social welfare and his moralizing approach to political issues are a potent mix in a powerful leader with scant respect for parliamentary institutions. How far will Stephen Harper go? Just watch him.