Thursday, March 29, 2007

Let's Hope That Somewhere, Somehow, Harper Sill Has an Agenda

It is a rare but valued occasion when someone you know to have significant philosophical differences with you seems to express themselves in ways that converge and align with you rather than diverge and divide you. The cynic in me would conclude in such circumstances, one of us simply does not understand the issue. That is not the case this time with Link Byfield.

Link Byfield is a staunch conservative and I am a pure progressive. We have little in common other than a respect for democracy and a high regard for our freedom of speech and a distrust of power structures. His recent Commentary on what Stephen Harper is doing is ironically almost totally consistent with my point of view. I just wanted to share it with you.

So with his permission, I give you Link Byfield and his take on the federal budget, the Quebec election and what the hell Stephen Harper is doing:

Let's hope that somewhere, somehow, Harper still has an agenda
There appear to be two very different views of last week’s federal budget and this week’s Quebec election.

One attitude could be labeled “let’s go,” and the other “let them go.”

The “let’s go!” crowd is saying, “The budget worked, the Conservatives have reached majority territory at 40% in the polls, and Quebec separatism is dead. Let’s have an election.”

The other is saying, “The budget was a ridiculous Quebec spending spree, it won’t work, and I’d rather let Quebec go.”

They’re angry that Quebeckers got more than anyone else in this budget, and always do.

No, actually, Maritimers and Manitobans get far more than Quebeckers per capita, for equally dubious reasons and with even worse effect.

So why is nobody complaining about them?

More to the point, why are conservatives not upset that this budget drives federal spending to its highest and fattest level in history?

In constant dollars per Canadian, Harper is spending more than Trudeau, Mulroney or Martin ever did (see Andrew Coyne at

“Overall, no plan to address the productivity and demographic challenges facing the Canadian economy over the long term,” observed Jack Mintz, highly regarded former CEO of the C.D. Howe Institute. “This budget marks a turning point – major tax relief seems impossible, even from this government.”

Harper must do this, say the “let’s go” people, to get a Conservative majority.

Oh? And what will he do with it when he gets it? Will he then cut taxes and transfers? Tell the have-not provinces to pull up their socks and get to work? Tell Quebec to get in or get out?

If he can’t do these things now because he’s in a minority, and can’t discuss them during a campaign for fear of losing votes, what makes us think he’ll do them ever? Maybe he has a master plan. But how would we know?

At what point could we reasonably conclude that his overall objective has changed from fixing federalism to staying in power?

It’s hard to blame Harper, but in so many ways – fiscal federalism, climate change, the Quebecois nation – he is saying or doing one thing while (we hope) meaning and intending another.

While it may be necessary, do we not run a terrible risk that having started, he will be unable to stop? That having enmeshed himself in contradictions, he can never untangle himself?

This is why we at the Citizens Centre are organizing a People’s Parliament – a parliament without parties and politicians, just regular citizens interested in the public welfare.

Most Canadians are not cynical, and wish well for their country. But as a nation we are quite confused – and apparently in disagreement – over what federalism is about and how it should work.

Is it about preserving “social and regional equality” and “two founding nations,” as we are now so often told? Or is it still about ensuring the older values of freedom and prosperity at home, and supporting them abroad?

These two objectives are plainly in direct collision, but it takes a long discussion for people to understand why, and to decide which one matters more.

Canadians need a national assembly free of the cynicism, invective and dishonesty of our existing political institutions.

To find out more about this urgently needed project, visit

Link Byfield

Link Byfield is an Alberta senator-elect and chairman of the Citizens Centre. The Centre promotes the principles of personal freedom and responsible government.

Thanks Link!