The arrival of Ronald Reagan as President of the United States in 1981, heralded a coming renaissance of Conservatism with a big C in North America. Reagan strengthened conservative Republican power with a mixture of tax cuts, a march towards deregulation, an ever-expanding defense budget and military, and a return to conservative Christian family values.
His policies, from supply-side economics to his public description of the Soviet Union as an evil empire, brought on major changes in the U.S. and the world culminating with the fall of communism. This success planted the seeds of conservatism as an effective ideology, a success story that reverberates to this day. The prime examples being today’s Tea Party in the U.S. and Stephen Harper’s Conservative Party in Canada.
Harper garnered 166 seats on May 2 of this year increasing his number of seats from 143. In securing a majority government he paved the way for his conservative agenda. Harper, with the unfortunate passing of opposition NDP leader Jack Layton, would appear to have carte blanche to implement his conservative program.
But Canada is a far different country than the U.S., and where an iconoclast Quebec resides and acts as a buffer to a descent into unabashed conservatism. In the U.S. it is the land of FOX TV, Rupert Murdoch’s network with a conservative slant, that is regularly the subject of controversy. Conservative talking heads rule like Rush Limbaugh, and the Twin Towers of political nuttiness, Ann Coulter and Laura Ingraham.
These gonzo voices espouse the conservative hardline 24/7 fuelling the Republican and Christian masses in their support for the Tea Party movement. In Canada Harper’s conservatives have no such background noise egging them on. Aside from Pierre Karl Péladeau’s Sun News Network, which has a Category B licence and is only available on a handful of cable and satellite systems in Canada, they are not that many ultra-conservative voices around.
Though Don Cherry on national hockey broadcasts gives Coulter and Ingraham a run for their money, his floral fashion sense makes it hard to take him seriously. Harper’s agenda is one that rises and falls from the bowels of his own party not from the ideological desires of the majority of Canadians. His rise to power arcs back to the Liberal’s sponsorship scandal and the segmentation of the electorate by the Bloc Québécois up until the last election.
These factors paved the way for Harper’s majority. A divided centre and left wing putting a minority of right-wingers in power. With the NDP and Liberals unable to challenge the Conservatives, will the huddled masses like their Canada being pulled to the hard right? Quebecers distate for the Conservative government’s tough-on-crime agenda, and apparent statistics showing a decrease in crime will fuel opposition.
The coming months should bring some answers, but with both the NDP and Liberals without an official and permanent leader, Harper will have a head start. How far he gets may change the landscape and political tone of our country.
Will we see the rise of a mainstream matter-of-fact right that pushes the bounds of civility à la Tea Party? Or will we recoil at the thought of becoming a society that implements laws like the one in Alabama, that requires state and local law enforcement officials to try to verify a person’s immigration status during routine traffic stops or arrests.