Ralph Waldo Emerson famously said that “a foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds.” Emerson, the 19th-century American philosopher, thought the better part of wisdom is one’s willingness to abandon flawed, mistaken or dated beliefs.
By this measure, Stephen Harper is Emerson’s man. He’s happy to divest himself of anything. There appears to be nothing — no program, no promise — that he will not jettison if it becomes cumbersome or inconvenient.
If that means remaking yourself ideologically, or becoming a political chameleon, so be it. No one can accuse Harper of much attachment to anything.
The federal budget is the latest in a string of staggering reversals. Only weeks ago, Harper declared that our economy was strong and there was no need for stimulus. And there would be no deficit.
Well, one could say that things changed between now and then. What changed was the government found Keynesian economics when it was faced with defeat. Period.
That this deficit comes from a Conservative government led by a conservative economist who once disdained deficits is exquisite. It shows, once again, that politicians, whatever their stripe, will choose survival over principle.
Power has not corrupted the Conservatives absolutely, as Lord Acton once said. Rather, it has bankrupted them intellectually. After a decade of “uniting the right” and plotting a Canadian Conservative majority, they take office and embrace deficit financing and gargantuan spending.
Some might say the Conservatives have become Liberals today, but don’t be so sure the Liberals would have been this profligate. It was they who eliminated the deficit inherited from Brian Mulroney’s Conservatives.
When former finance minister John Manley heard the deficit forecast last week, he said he “felt sick.” He knows, more than most, the pain it took to produce a surplus in the 1990s.
Then again, a government invites a deficit when it cuts the GST and income taxes (which this government did), so it can shrink the size of government (which this government wants), so it can create a Conservative Canada. Or so it thought.
When you want to stay in power, you learn how to trim and tack. Harper is becoming good at this.
Need a new mandate? Forget the election date you fixed and call one now. Want a Conservative majority in the Senate? Forget term limits for senators.
Want to appoint a new high court justice? Forget those pesky parliamentary hearings. Dislike income trusts? Abolish them.
Want to placate the opposition? Drop plans to kill election subsidies.
Easy come, easy go. My, my, these are faithless folks.