Could Harper’s win cost voters their homes?
By charlie smith taken from Georgia Straight
Publish Date: 26-Jan-2006
On election night, some socially progressive voters probably heaved a sigh of relief that Conservative prime minister–designate Stephen Harper failed to win a majority government. Nationally, his party won fewer seats than the Liberals did in 2004. Without the support of other parties in Parliament, Harper won’t be able to drag Canada into a war, ban same-sex marriage, create a “made-in-Canada” alternative to the Kyoto Protocol, or cut off funding for embryonic-stem-cell research.
Harper’s socially conservative candidates fared particularly poorly in the Lower Mainland’s inner suburbs. Pastor and teacher Marc Dalton came third in Burnaby–New Westminster. In Richmond, former Focus on the Family president Darrel Reid lost a winnable riding against a relatively hapless Liberal incumbent, Raymond Chan. FOF’s former staffer and lawyer, Cindy Silver, missed out in North Vancouver, which should have been an easy victory for her party. And long-time incumbent Paul Forseth was defeated in New Westminster–Coquitlam after winning four previous elections.
The Conservatives also lost existing footholds in West Vancouver–Sunshine Coast–Sea to Sky Country and in Newton–North Delta. All things considered, it was the most dismal performance by the extreme right in this region since 1988, when the Reform Party of Canada ran on a platform supporting a ban on RCMP members wearing turbans. If this election is viewed as a plebiscite on social conservatism, the Christian right suffered a bloody nose. Harper’s Conservatives were trounced in Atlantic Canada, Quebec, and the North. The party was soundly defeated in Ontario, lost in B.C., and only managed to retain a majority of seats in Alberta, Saskatchewan, and Manitoba. Even if Quebec were a separate country, the Conservatives would still have fewer than half the seats in the next Parliament. But that shouldn’t engender any complacency among those who feel that gays and lesbians should have equal rights to marry, or that people with diseases such as Parkinson’s should benefit from embryonic-stem-cell research. Once the Conservatives form a new minority government, Harper and some of his most right-wing allies, such as Calgary Southeast MP Jason Kenney and Okanagan-Coquihalla MP Stockwell Day, will have a phalanx of government bureaucrats and spin doctors at their disposal to buff up their images. Harper has already stated that he prefers “incrementalism” to achieve his objectives.
As cabinet ministers, socially conservative MPs can start wooing the public by passing bills to reduce corruption and to cut the goods and services tax. This could create the political conditions to propel the Conservatives to a majority in the next election.
It’s worth noting that during the recent campaign, Harper told the Globe and Mail that his fundamental views hadn’t changed over the past decade, though his positions on individual issues had “evolved”. To get a glimpse into Harper’s fundamental views, one only has to examine what he wrote in the Report, a right-wing Canadian magazine, in June 2003. He urged readers to “rediscover...social conservatism because a growing body of evidence points to the damage the welfare state is having on our most important institutions, particularly the family”.
In the same article, Harper decried the federal Liberals’ “children’s agenda”, claiming it hinted at more government interference in the family. He also noted that it would require “careful political judgment” to move in the opposite direction.
“For example, the social conservative issues we choose should not be denominational, but should unite social conservatives of different denominations and even different faiths,” Harper wrote. “It also helps when social conservative concerns overlap with those of people with a more libertarian orientation.
“Second, we must realize that real gains are inevitably incremental. This, in my experience, is harder for social conservatives than for economic conservatives.”
He added that social conservatives have trouble with incrementalism because of their “explicitly moral orientation”. But he warned that any other approach would fail.
This article was published shortly after Canada refused to join the U.S.–led coalition attack on Iraq. Harper clearly disapproved of the then–Chrétien government’s decision not to go along with the Bush administration’s decision to remove Saddam Hussein from power. Harper claimed that with the exception of British Prime Minister Tony Blair, modern liberals “are trapped in their framework of moral neutrality, moral relativism and moral equivalence”.
“Conservatives must take the moral stand, with our allies, in favour of the fundamental values of our society, including democracy, free enterprise and individual freedom,” Harper wrote. “This moral stand should not just give us the right to stand up with our allies, but the duty to do so and the responsibility to put ‘hard power’ behind our international commitments.”
In effect, Harper linked social conservatism to military policy. But he didn’t take that extra step in the article and examine the potential impact on fiscal policy and mortgage rates. Because Harper’s party now holds a minority of seats, he will have less freedom to advance his military-spending agenda. It calls for an additional $5.3 billion in spending and 13,000 more regular troops. As long as he is governing in a minority, it reduces the likelihood that Harper will repeat the fiscal insanity of the two Republican U.S. presidents, Ronald Reagan and George W. Bush, that he appears to admire so much. Both Reagan and Bush Jr. sharply cut taxes, particularly for the rich. Both of their administrations also went on military-spending binges. The combination of reduced revenues and higher military expenditures created whopping deficits. The Bush administration’s shortfall approaches a half-trillion dollars.
Harper has promised to increase military spending and cut taxes. He also plans to redo the fiscal framework to ensure more money goes to the provinces.
The Liberals claimed during the recent campaign that this would blow a huge hole in Ottawa’s finances. The Conservatives vehemently denied it. However, given the record of socially conservative U.S. Republican administrations, it’s easy to imagine that Harper’s approach could result in a large deficit. Whenever a government collects less than it spends, it competes with the private sector to borrow money. This puts upward pressure on Canadian interest rates.
Vancouver already has the highest housing prices in the country, with many people carrying large mortgages. This makes them especially sensitive to rising interest rates, which can occur when a government rings up a huge deficit.
During the 2004 federal election, Liberal candidate Kwangyul Peck, an economist, claimed that Harper’s flawed fiscal policy could cause some voters to lose their homes. Many suburban dwellers may not give a damn about embryonic-stem-cell research, notwithstanding its potential to save lives. They might not give a hoot about equal rights for gays and lesbians. But these voters surely care how much they’re paying to their banker each month to keep a roof over their heads. The pernicious economic effects of Harper’s social conservatism didn’t get much attention during the recent campaign, despite the dismal record of the Reagan and Bush Jr. administrations. However, if the opposition parties decide to make this an issue before the next election, it could ensure that the likes of Darrel Reid, Cindy Silver, and Marc Dalton will never be part of a majority government in the future.