Even without a majority
Harper can still dismantle, de-regulate, and quietly undermine Canadian standards.
Dateline: Monday, February 06, 2006
There was an almost audible sigh of relief in many parts of the country when Stephen Harper was denied a majority government. After all, how much damage can even an earnest right-wing ideologue do with only a slim minority?
Sadly, quite a bit.
First, Harper effectively has a majority for at least a year, since no party will be ready to face him in an election. Of course, he'll tread carefully during this period, since his eye is on winning a majority.
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He's discovered that the most effective way to sell unbridled capitalism is to camouflage it
Still, Harper can do a lot of damage to Canada's relatively progressive social and political systems without entering into any high-profile battles in Parliament.
George W Bush accomplished much of his agenda by appointing right-wing radicals who rolled back progressive regulations governing the environment, food and drug inspections and the legal system.
Harper could do the same. His government could, as business has been urging, adopt US drug and biotechnology testing, dismantle plans to meet our Kyoto targets, and ease up on environmental regulations, particularly those that could stall development of Alberta's oil sands Washington's key hope for reducing its Middle East oil dependency.
Harper could also press forward with ongoing talks aimed at integrating Canada more with the US, and could sign an energy-sharing deal ensuring Washington even greater access to our energy.
There is also a lot Harper could do to weaken medicare, without taking a direct shot at the Canada Health Act. He could allow private medicine to flourish. Indeed, his promise of a "wait-time guarantee" for health care will deliver patients into the arms of private health providers.
Until now, Canada has managed to resist some of the worst aspects of the right-wing tide of Thatcherism and Reaganism that swept Britain and the US despite vigorous efforts here by corporate-funded organizations to push us down the same path.
Harper has been in the thick of those organizations, serving as head of the anti-medicare National Citizens Coalition. Back in 1989, he urged the Reform Party to become "a modern Canadian version of the Thatcher-Reagan phenomenon."
He doesn't talk like that now. Like other sophisticated right wingers, he's discovered that the most effective way to sell unbridled capitalism is to camouflage it.
At a conference in Vancouver last fall, medicare opponents openly discussed how to repackage their message to make it more palatable to Canadians. As the Star's Thomas Walkom reported, one privatization guru told the crowd they'd have more success selling private medicine if they pitched it, not as a way for the affluent to jump the queue, but as a way to "strengthen" medicare.
If Harper keeps his views wrapped in the garb of moderation, he'll have a good shot at winning a majority. And then our unique Canadian social system, preserved against great odds, will be in the hands of a man who's devoted much of his life to figuring out how to destroy it.
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