Harper counts on hardcore

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There's an upside to being a fiscal and social conservative, even in a small-l liberal country like Canada. Just ask Prime Minister Stephen Harper.

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Opinion

Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 25/03/2009 (5002 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

There’s an upside to being a fiscal and social conservative, even in a small-l liberal country like Canada. Just ask Prime Minister Stephen Harper.

Recently, the prime minister, two cabinet ministers and one MP strayed off the safe centre the party has doggedly clung to ever since the loose lips of three Alliance MPs sank the Conservative ship in the 2004 federal election by attacking abortion, the courts and bilingualism.

On March 12, Harper delivered a closed-door true-blue conservative speech to the Manning Centre for Building Democracy, a conservative think-tank run by former Reform Party leader Preston Manning. Most of it has become public. Some selections:

"These dangerous times require us to maintain a Conservative government and to govern according to conservative values… I like to summarize my idea of conservatism in three Fs – freedom, family and faith…

"And, my friends, don’t let anyone tell you that the opposition — that toxic coalition brew of Liberals, socialists and separatists — you know, I always wished they would do that and (former Liberal leader Stéphane) Dion finally did it — don’t let anybody tell you that they would have done the same things…"

"Instead of subsidizing court challenges by left-wing fringe groups, we are cracking down on criminals by providing support to victims…

"Instead of sitting on our hands when our allies are in peril, instead of polling the General Assembly of the United Nations, we are taking principled, unequivocal positions…

"Imagine how different things would have been if the Liberal left had remained in power… Imagine the bloated bureaucracy their daycare program would have spawned…"

On March 17, Minister of State for Science and Technology Gary Goodyear, an evangelical Christian, dodged when asked in an interview if he believed in evolution. "I’m a Christian, and I don’t think anybody asking a question about my religion is appropriate," he said.

Later, seeking to squelch the growing chorus of concern from the scientific community, Goodyear said he believed in evolution. He then made matters worse by confusing the science of natural selection with lifestyle adaptation.

"We are evolving every year, every decade," he explained. "That’s a fact, whether it is to the intensity of the sun, whether it is to, as a chiropractor, walking on cement versus anything else, whether it is running shoes or high heels, of course we are evolving to our environment. But that’s not relevant and that is why I refused to answer the question."

Commentators have noted that under Goodyear’s watch, Ottawa has cut $147.9 million from the three granting agencies that fund pure scientific research at Canadian universities in favour of a hefty hike ($750 million) in funding for applied research at the Canadian Foundation for Innovation.

Simultaneous with the Goodyear controversy, Saskatchewan Conservative MP Garry Breitkreuz, a fierce foe of the federal gun registry, came under fire for accepting an invitation to be the guest speaker at the Canadian Shooting Sports Association annual general meeting in Mississauga next month. The reason? The raffle prize is to be a Beretta semi-automatic handgun. To save its close friend further embarrassment, the gun lobby group withdrew the invitation.

But Harper has stepped into the breach. He addressed a meeting of the Ontario Federation of Anglers and Hunters last weekend and urged them to pressure opposition MPs to support Breitkreuz’s private member’s bill to kill the gun registry and, critics say, loosen rules for handguns as well as semi-automatic weapons. The prime minister was not deterred by the fact the group was also holding a gun raffle — this time, for a long gun.

Power seems to be going to Immigration Minister Jason Kenney’s head. He denies issuing but won’t reverse a Canada Border Services decision to ban controversial British MP George Galloway from Canada because he led a convoy of humanitarian aid to Gaza. Canada lists Gaza’s Hamas government as a terrorist organization. He abruptly terminated $2.5 million in contracts to the Canadian Arab Federation for teaching English to new immigrants because its president wants Canada to treat Hamas and Hezbollah as "legitimate organizations." He then turned around and said immigrants who can’t speak English or French well should be denied Canadian citizenship.

Despite sliding off their safe centre, the Conservatives haven’t taken any real hit in their polling numbers. The hype around Liberal Leader Michael Ignatieff notwithstanding, he hasn’t moved his party past Dion’s goalposts.

That’s the upside to being a fiscal and social conservative in Canada. Your hardcore of true believers number a solid one-third of the population; enough to win elections especially if you keep them energized. So what if you horrify the other, hopelessly divided, two-thirds of the population?

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