If politics were hockey, Harper would be Wayne Gretzky
Written by Link Byfield   
Monday, 22 May 2006

I know government isn’t supposed to look like hockey, but I’m starting to enjoy the aggressive stick-handling style of our new Calgary prime minister.

Team Harper is scoring so many short-handed goals in Parliament you’d almost think they came from Edmonton.

For example, they won the Gwyn Morgan play last week. A truly awesome goal.

Even though the Opposition majority on the government operations committee rejected Morgan to chair Ottawa’s patronage clean-up, they only succeeded in looking anti-business and pro-corruption.

In winning the Afghanistan vote, the Conservatives revealed the Liberals to be divided and rudderless.

Despite a bogus recent poll to the contrary, they will score again by ditching the rifle registry.
 
And the government’s new environmental alternatives to Kyoto, by the time of the next election, will make Stephen Harper look like the Jolly Green Giant.

At 43% in the polls -- seven points ahead of the January election result and now leading in both Ontario and Quebec -- the Conservatives are within easy reach of a majority.

Two questions occur: why has this happened, and will it last?

What sets the Conservatives apart -- especially <ITAL>these<ITAL> Conservatives compared to previous models -- is that they actually believe in limited and responsible government. They actually talk about the duty of Canadians to work hard, to support themselves, to behave, and to defend freedom and the natural social order at home and abroad.

But why are they popular?

Is it because they vow to shrink the size and role of the national government? Or is it because they have actually increased federal spending while cutting the GST?

Is it because they believe in parents, not the State, raising children, or because they’re giving all parents $100 a month for kids under six?

Is it because Harper has always in the past championed the rights of Parliament, or because he’s now proving so good at ignoring it?

Is it because he has promised there will be no further federal intrusions into provincial social and economic jurisdictions, or because he has promised to raise the equalization transfer to the “hands-out” provinces?

How on earth would anyone know?

The Conservatives now differ from the Liberals in that they claim to be against maintaining a strong central government -- even as they continue to operate one.

It’s too early to say what the longer-term course of the Conservatives and the country will be, and whether they will become the “natural governing party” in the twenty-first century, as the Liberals were in the twentieth.

It’s possible. The Liberals are almost shut out of Quebec -- a catastrophe for any national party.

But even if there’s a long-term change in government and a new federalist philosophy, there can be no fundamental change in the regional interests which so often drive national politics.

The Harper appeal to the older federal values of the country -- weak enough to begin with -- could be easily demolished by one bad spike in the price of oil next fall, or anything else that causes easterners to want to “pull together” for “one Canada” -- i.e. to take even more from the West and from the powers of the provinces.

The Liberals have deeply ingrained such attitudes in most eastern Canadians, so I wouldn’t write them off yet.

But in the meantime, it’s a very good hockey game.

- Link Byfield

Link Byfield is chairman of the Edmonton-based Citizens Centre for Freedom and Democracy, and an Alberta senator-elect.
 
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