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Senate reform could cover a multitude of sins

Senate reform What should conservatives expect of Prime Minister Stephen Harper?

Smaller government? Less bilingualism? Traditional values?

Most of us would probably say “all of these.”

But let’s face it. In his first two years Harper’s answer appears to have been “none of these.” He has made the national government bigger (in cost, if not in scope), has vigorously promoted bilingualism, and has muzzled his social conservatives.

The private explanation from Tory MPs is that until they win a majority, the Conservatives can’t be very conservative, only less liberal than the Liberals.

But the longer they say this, the more it sinks in that they’ll say the same thing after winning a majority, and for the same reason.

Small-c conservatives of all descriptions are slowly having to accept something Harper has seen from the beginning – that most Canadians are not in any defi nable sense conservative. They want (or have come to expect) paternalistic, non-moralizing, bicultural government. If the Conservatives offer anything else – at least any time soon – they will be defeated.

What, then, should small-c Canadian conservatives do?

Rant? Despair? Start a new federal party?

No, no, no.

First, we must heed the old dictum that “politics is the art of the possible” and be thankful that Stephen Harper is at heart – unlike any other Tory leader in memory – a genuine conservative. Slow progress is better than no progress.

House of Commons Rome wasn’t unbuilt in a day.

  Second, we should understand Harper’s longer-term plan.

It isn’t a “secret agenda” – much as we might wish for one.

He talks about this intention fairly often, but nobody seems to hear him.
Like most old-school Reformers, Harper sees the country’s main flaw as systemic, or constitutional. Our system, as it has evolved, discourages responsible and accountable government.

Twentieth century Liberals reshaped Canadian federalism to serve their own political agenda, and it does. It guarantees big central government, subservient provinces, aggressive judges and unaccountable politicians.

Harper wants to reform the ground-rules so that they favour conservatism; and not just for the next election, but for the next century.

He sees the Senate as the main means of doing this.

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