We always used to knock Stephen Harper’s Conservatives for having no vision. The prime minister wasn’t one for big words and fancy phrases.
Tom Flanagan, his former top strategist, spoke of incrementalism as being the favoured approach. The Conservatives didn’t want to scare Canadians by putting out a muscular policy blueprint that would have them thinking they were in the grip of Republican-styled rednecks.
But four years in, it’s become clear that the Conservatives are the party of vision and the Liberals are the party without one.
We couldn’t see what the Conservatives were really up to because they kept taking detours. Only a year ago, Harper had party purists up in arms with his Keynesian big-spending approach to fighting the recession. It went against all his former precepts. But governance requires pragmatic detours and most of the detours have been taken, and now it’s clear what the Conservatives are all about.
They’re about law and order, a strong military, smaller government with low tax rates, traditional Anglo-Saxon family values and flag-waving patriotism. It’s classic conservative stuff and a bold departure from the Trudeau-styled liberalism Canadians knew for so long.
Progress has been made on all fronts. The crackdown-on-crime bills roll out with regularity. Defence spending has soared and only now will tail off. The GST has gone down two points and other tax reductions, especially for corporations, have been introduced. Multiculturalism has been curbed. With the emphasis on Arctic sovereignty, the flag has been hoisted in the North and, in this Olympic year, all across the country. Last week’s budget signals a shutting down of the spending taps that have been open for so long. With a smaller tax base in place, future governments won’t have room for welfare-state initiatives.
On foreign policy, the Conservatives are displaying a stronger partisanship, moving Canada from its traditional honest broker role. With the provinces, there is more of a decentralizing hands-off approach.
What we’ve seen so far is only part of what the Tories have in mind. It’s only been four years and it’s been done with a minority government.
This idea of Canada — a Canada with stronger right-wing values than ever before — may not be what the majority of Canadians want. But it is coming and it is coming fast. And a big reason for this is that no strong alternative has been put in place by the Liberals. They are in the grey middle. They have been lurching all over the place without a concrete vision, leaving the people with no attractive option.
Lawrence Martin is a journalist and author of 10 books who writes about national affairs from Ottawa.