Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 20/10/2009 (4352 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
One by one, the bastions of Liberal support have fallen. The first to depart were westerners in protest over bilingualism and "pandering" to Quebec in the 1960s. Second, in a mirror image of the West's opposition to bilingualism, nationalist Quebecers rejected the Trudeau dream of one Canada with two founding peoples and languages, switching first to Brian Mulroney's Progressive Conservatives in the 1980s and then to the Bloc Quebecois in the 1990s. Third, rural Canadians started drifting away in the 1960s and are now almost gone, alienated by the belief the Liberals neither understood them nor cared about their issues but governed solely for progressive urban elites with policies like the gun registry and support for same-sex marriage.
Now, the Stephen Harper Conservatives are on their way to shattering the last remnants of the old Liberal fortress among seniors, immigrants, visible and religious minorities, women and city dwellers through the relentless application of U.S. Republican wedge politics and vicious personal attack ads.
The Harper Conservatives have introduced a whole new style of politics to Canada, and the opposition parties must adapt to confront it or see the country changed irrevocably.
Michael Behiels, a native of Alberta's Peace River country, teaches Canadian constitutional history at the University of Ottawa. He says Harper's approach to politics and governance is shaped by his Christian fundamentalism.
"Harper is a fundamentalist 'values' conservative and his evangelical Christian views drive both his domestic and foreign policy agendas," Behiels continues. "On foreign policy, Harper is a dyed-in-the-wool Republican who maintains that the U.S., Canada and the U.K. have a mission, a religious duty, so to speak, to impose an American form of democracy on the world."
On the domestic front, Behiels continues, the prime minister believes "every left-of-centre Canadian is a moral relativist, that is, immoral, and can't be trusted to govern at any level of society."
In a 2003 speech to the conservative Civitas group, Harper expressed the philosophy that informs his politics and public policies to this day.
"Conservatives need to reassess our understanding of the modern left. It has moved beyond old socialistic morality or even moral relativism to something much darker. It has become moral nihilism ... a post-Marxism with deep resentments," he said.
"Serious conservative parties simply cannot shy away from values questions. On a wide range of public policy questions, including foreign affairs and defence, criminal justice and corrections, family and child care and health care and social services, social values are increasingly the big issues."
This is the wellspring for the prime minister's contempt for "socialists," for his treatment of Canada's opposition parties as enemies to be destroyed, for his antipathy to "left-wing fringe groups" working on behalf of the disadvantaged, for his government's crackdown on refugees and his willingness to spend hundreds of millions of dollars building new prisons to facilitate his "tough-on-crime" agenda.
Behiels says Canada's changing demographics and recent socio-economic developments are helping the Conservatives smash the Liberal base. Many of Canada's recent immigrants come from countries where fundamentalist religion, whether Muslim, Christian or Judaic, predominate. And the Conservatives have spared neither energy nor money in wooing them. Their success can be measured in the Conservative penetration of the ring of wealthy, multicultural suburbs forming the 905 area code region of Metropolitan Toronto.
Using polling data from IpsosReid and Angus Reid, a new study by the Centre for Research on Canadian Evangelicalism found growth of evangelical support for the Reform/Canadian Alliance/Conservative parties in Western Canada has been phenomenal, from 33 per cent in 1996 to 71 per cent in the 2008 election. Nationally, 60 per cent of evangelicals backed the Conservatives in 2006.
Behiels sees the next election as a "competition of values. There are values on the right which are deeply imbued with religious fundamentalism but you also have longstanding, deeply-entrenched liberal values in Canada that are just as important to people and must be defended."