What motivates Stephen Harper to roll out of bed each morning?
According to observers, Harper is driven by the dream of transforming Canada from a country rooted in strong progressive values into a small-c conservative sorta place. It's always been "a battle for ownership of the national idea," columnist Andrew Coyne opined several years ago, commenting on Harper's efforts to "redefine Canada itself."
How's that working for our great Canadian leader? Let's get an update from Harper and Coyne at the end of Season 9 of The Stephen Harper Show:
"It wasn't until late in the year that it dawned on me: the left is winning," Coyne said even more bluntly in his year-end column. "In the contest of ideas, the left is very much on the march."
Digging deeper, here are three more signs that Harper's fantasy of moulding Canada in his own image might not be working so well after nine years in office:
1. Harper's plan to build a "global energy powerhouse" goes boink
On his first visit to Britain in 2006, Prime Minister Harper spoke of "Canada's emergence as a global energy powerhouse -- the emerging energy superpower our government intends to build."
How's that plan going nine years later?
- After years of PR wrangling that managed to alienate a lot of Canadians and make pipelines one of the most toxic issues in Canada today, none of the major pipelines supported by the government have been built -- and they continue to face strong opposition and major hurdles.
- Despite years of vague promises about bringing in oil and gas regulations, in December Harper said the idea is "crazy." He then muddled things further by telling the CBC's Peter Mansbridge that Alberta's carbon pricing system could "go broader."
- A fracking moratorium was passed in Nova Scotia. Meanwhile, New Brunswick has promised to introduce a similar ban.
- The Supreme Court’s landmark ruling on aboriginal rights in June (Tsilhqot'in Nation v. British Columbia) granted the Tsilhqot’in a declaration of Aboriginal title to over 1,750 square kilometres of territory. The game-changing ruling empowered aboriginal communities across the country, with long-term ramifications for First Nations dealing with provincial, territorial and federal governments over issues such as land claims and natural resources.
2. Crouching Harper, hidden economic problems
Back in 2003, Stephen Harper compared his economic philosophy to being a tiger, pointing to a region administered by Communist China and a country whose economy collapsed five years later as examples of economies he wanted Canada to emulate.
But after nine years of the Harper government, surely everyone shares Harper's love of free markets by now, right?
- Dominating bestseller lists last year, Thomas Piketty's Capital in the 21st Century sparked a global debate with its central point being that the free market, left to its own devices, concentrates more and more wealth in the hands of the very rich – and that this can be self-destructive. Kevin O'Leary predictably blew a gasket when he heard about the book he probably still hasn't read.
- Echoing Piketty, the CEO of Goldman Sachs made a lot of jaws drop when he sided with those Occupy Wall Street riff raff and admitted that not only does the "economic system" distribute wealth unequally, but also creates a "destabilizing" effect.
- One of Canada's big banks now says "rising income inequality in advanced economies is posing a threat to economic growth and long-term prosperity." TD Bank is calling for strategic public investments in housing, child care, post-secondary education, health and social services to reverse the trend of inequality.
- Former Bank of Canada Governor Mark Carney gave a "radical" speech to global political and financial elites also slamming the system -- the same one Stephen Harper swears by. "Just like any revolution eats its children," Carney said, "unchecked market fundamentalism can devour the social capital essential for the long-term dynamism of capitalism itself" – "We moved from a market economy towards a market society," Carney added.
- The United Nations' International Labour Organization, the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, and the World Bank released a joint report saying that low wages is causing lower demand, less consumption, less investment and less government revenues. In plain English, the economy sucks because people need a raise.
3. So much for social conservatives
It wasn't so long ago that Stephen Harper warned about the "moral nihilism" of "the social agenda of the modern Left." What Canadians really wanted was a conservative government with "strong traditional views of values and family."
But change wouldn't happen overnight. No, Harper told social conservatives to be ready to play the long game, because "real gains are inevitably incremental." Guess how the long game is going?
- Alberta's Progressive Conservatives backed down from their controversial Bill 10 that would allow schools to ban Gay-Straight Alliances, peer support groups meant to make schools more inclusive and reduce bullying. Turns out nearly half of all Albertans support GSAs, with that number rising to 52% support among Albertan Catholics alone (only 18% being opposed).
- Despite repeated backdoor attempts to reopen the debate on womens' reproductive rights, a majority of Canadians continue to support having no laws restricting abortion. And after many young (and largely female) activists in New Brunswick protested the closure of the province's only abortion clinic, some barriers to accessing services were lifted January 1st.
- After facing a highly visible and vicious anti-Islamic campaign, including having her signs vandalized and debate appearances interrupted by hostile protesters, Ausma Malik pulled off a victory in her downtown ward to become a Toronto school board trustee. "You can't let a few election trolls ruin your city," Malik told the Toronto Star. Looks like the people of Toronto agreed.
- A public outcry caused the Ottawa Catholic District School Board to change its tune after two 11-year-olds were told they weren't allowed to present a project on gay rights.
- Local school boards revised their LGBTQ policy passed in Vancouver, a breakthrough on transgendered rights in public schools. The policy will see the introduction of single-stall, gender-neutral washrooms in all schools.