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Environment, Federal Politics

Separating Conservatisms

A Dangerous Intersection

If an Ensight Canada focus group reading is to be believed, Canadians have handed Stephen Harper an economic conservative majority, but not – and it’s amazing Canadians think it works like this – a socially conservative majority.

According to the CBC, “despite giving Harper a clear majority mandate, the voters in the focus groups don’t want him to make bold or radical policy changes in areas outside the economy.”

Ensight’s Jaime Watt notes that,

“‘At this point, Canadians are still not ready to grant the Conservatives permission to move too far out of the mainstream across some areas of the issues spectrum. While Canadians confidently give Harper a ‘green light’ on the economy, they do not expect, nor do they want to see, any movement on social issues,” the report said.”

To be fair, the way in which the Conservative Party runs the economy is the least of my fears. Truth be told, I have little problem with the way they have run the economy since 2006. I have my issues with subsidies to oil and gas companies that Canadian environmental groups argue have reached $1.9B annually, and feel that corporate taxes are not nearly as high as they should be, falling as they will to 15% as of January, 2012 from 18% in January, 2010.

(As an aside, at 15% income tax, Canada will boast the lowest corporate income tax rates of all the G8 nations, while we struggle to pay for health care and much-needed infrastructure improvements.)

But the daily grind of keeping a G8 economy running has not been a noticeable issue for me. As the Globe & Mail noted in their pre-election endorsement of Harper, the fact that Canadians take the CPC’s smooth running of the economy for granted is proof enough that they are doing something right.

And while I am heartened to know that priority on Canadian’s minds is not implementing some sort of right-wing wet dream social re-construction (instituting prayer in school, outlawing abortion access, banning same-sex marriage, making marijuana possession a jail-time offence), I am worried that so many people seem to think that you can easily separate the Conservatisms in this way.

You cannot give segmented mandates to govern: it is a complete package, and voters must determine what priorities are more meaningful to them and their community.

And while I don’t think Stephen Harper is foolish enough to risk his newly-won majority by alienating a large crop of his Red Tory supporters by opening up any of the above mentioned issues, I am concerned that so many people voted economy over social rights. Even if many Canadians would rather the Conservative Party not move forward with unfavourable social legislation, with a majority government, there is little citizens of any political stripe can do about it once the gears of policy-making have been set in motion.

And this is not mere left-wing fear-mongering over some ‘secret agenda’ nonsense. I am legitimately concerned about our ability to temper unfavourable social legislation if it comes forward under a majority government. Of equal concern is the often covert ways in which Harper strikes small blows at socially progressive policies, like funding for Planned Parenthood. Overtly stating his opposition to much of what PP stands for would be politically problematic and draw unwanted criticism: quietly choking their funding as he has done ensures his support from the far right is shored up with minimal blowback from the media and Opposition.

The counter to this is that even a majority government can only last four years or therabouts: eventually, MP’s will need to be held accountable by their constituents, who may turf them if they stray from their preferred path of governing well on the economy, and leaving social policy the hell alone.

Let’s hope Canadians hold their Conservative MP’s accountable, and insist upon no steps backward on important social issues. Of greater importance is fostering a better understand among the population that picking and choosing what policies our majority governments undertake is harder than we expect.

About awreeves

Editor-in-chief at Alternatives Journal. Author of 'Overrun: Dispatches from the Asian carp Crisis'.


One thought on “Separating Conservatisms

  1. Given that Ensight is a Conservative lobbying firm and that the authors of this report (along with almost all their employees) are former Tory insiders, I’d be a bit skeptical about this source as an independent analysis of the new government.

    Especially since they’re publicly claiming that “every” participant in their focus groups told them pretty much the same thing. I doubt you could get 125 Canadians to agree on anything, except perhaps that the sky is blue.

    Posted by Sixth Estate | May 8, 2011, 7:30 am

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