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September 22, 2010

Stephen Harper never held full time job outside politics

Scott Stockdale

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When Stephen Harper became Prime Minister, after his party won a minority government in the 2006 election, he had a wealth of experience in politics, but little else: he had never had a full time job outside of politics in his life.

Ironically, although he's had no experience working in the private sector, throughout his political career he's favored the private sector, continuously trying to reduce government influence over it.

In fact, from his high school days as a member of the Young Liberal's Club, to the time he served as chief aide to Progressive Conservative MP Jim Hawkes, in the Mulroney governments of the 1980's, he continued to find the political parties he served were not conservative enough for him.

Although he ran for the Canadian House of Commons, as a Reform Party candidate in the 1988 election, appearing on the ballot as Steve Harper, not Stephen, in Calgary West, no one has ever accused him of placing the priorities of Canadians ahead of his own ideology.

He lost the 1988 election but remained a Reform Party apparatichik, until his relationship with Reform Party leader Preston Manning became strained over the Charlottetown Accord. Mr. Harper opposed the Accord for ideological reasons, while Mr. Manning was initially more open to compromise, something that Mr.  Harper has never been comfortable with.

However, he did fit right in as president of the National Citizen's Coalition (NCC) from 1998-2002, a conservative think-tank founded to oppose the concept of a national health care system. The NCC supports privatization, tax cuts, and government spending cuts and opposes laws that limit spending by non-party organizations during election campaigns. It has been heavily involved in advertising, political campaigns and legal challenges, in support of its goals of "more freedom with less government."

It's not surprising that someone like Mr. Harper, with no practical working experience, can consistently view every issue through an ideological prism, regardless of what's happening in the society at large. It seems that he doesn't just want to govern: he wants to change the way people think.

Notwithstanding his “take-no-prisoners stance” on most issues - unless of course they happen to be Afghanistani prisoners -  after winning a seat in the 1993 federal election, Mr. Harper, soon gained respect - even from political opponents - for his intellect and ideological commitment.

Indeed, Mr. Harper has no problem articulating his ideology, so passionately, in fact that it really borders on being a theology: the idea that government has no business interfering in a free market economy, because the market is divine: whenever possible, let the market decide and we'll all be better off. After all, this modus operandi has worked for Mr. Harper and his ilk, so why can't it work for the rest of Canadians, provided, of course, they reject their “can't do” attitude.

After Pierre Trudeau's death in 2000, Mr. Harper said Mr. Trudeau promoted “unabashed” socialism and argued that Canadian governments between 1972 and 2002 had restricted economic growth through “state corporatism.”

The fact that Mr. Trudeau argued his policies allowed more Canadians than ever before to rise out of poverty, meant nothing to Mr. Harper. Issues such as the ever-increasing child poverty rate in Canada means nothing to a man who has never experienced poverty in his life, and probably doesn't know anyone who has.

Moreover, child poverty doesn't have a direct relationship to the market, in no small part, because it's impossible to measure how much more these children, who grew up in poverty-stricken circumstances, could have contributed to society, had they been given a better start in life.

His “tough on crime” policy - although the crime rate is decreasing - is another example of a man, who's never had a full-time job outside politics, being out of touch with the realities of Canadian life. His tough stance on marijuana is a poignant example of his ideology trumping reality: The Harper government is proposing automatic jail terms for anyone caught growing five or more marijuana plants. On this issue in particular, Mr. Harper is at odds with even his own ideological brethren: columnists in the National Post are calling for the legalization of marijuana, and arch-right-wing ideologue Conrad Black described the war on drugs as “the corrupt, sociopathic war on drugs.”

Ironically, Mr. Harper has no qualms about filling our already overcrowded prison system with marijuana users, at a cost to taxpayers of upwards of $100,000 per inmate, per year, not to mention the reduced job prospects these inmates will face upon being released back into society.

Like most right-wing ideologues, Harper is seldom short of justifications for war. In 2003, he and Stockwell Day co-wrote a letter to the Wall Street Journal, condemning the Canadian government for not participating in the 2003 Iraq War. After becoming Prime Minister in 2006, Mr. Harper made Afghanistan a priority, visiting our troops and treating them to a rallying cry from their Prime Minister himself.

“We're not going to cut and run. That's not the Canadian way and that's not my way. We're going to stand and fight. I'm behind you and the Canadian people are behind you,” Mr. Harper said, after which Canadian soldiers took turns shaking hands with him.

While it's true that he's a hard-nosed political fighter, like most armchair warriors, he doesn't seem to be able to distinguish between his political battles and men, women and children dying and being mutilated in a senseless conflict, western forces have no hope of winning. He's had no military experience and television or movie screen is the closest he's ever come to actual combat. When he told the Canadian soldiers he was behind them, he meant it figuratively of course. In reality, he's about 10 kilometers behind them.

One has to wonder how a person with such rigid ideological views could manage to become Prime Minister of a democratic country like Canada. It helps that the Conservative Party has raised four times as much money as any other party, for one thing. For another, the Liberal Party- Mr. Harper's main opposition – is in disarray, unable to offer Canadians a counter narrative; and it has a leader whom only 20% of Canadians think would make the best Prime Minister out of three party leaders.

Moreover, Mr. Harper's constituency appears to be narrower than his election victories indicate: The National Post reported that recent polls show, “Over 40% of Canadians dislike the job Mr. Harper is doing, while close to half say they would never, ever consider voting for him.”

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