Last Updated:Friday - 09/24/2010
February 20, 2006
Big business' surprise victory
Prime Minister Stephen Harper's appointment of two unelected corporate businessmen to his cabinet not only surprised Canadians in general, it also surprised the elected Conservative caucus. The heads of many Conservative MPs are spinning because Harper so casually tossed aside his promise to appoint only elected senators and his outrage last spring at Belinda Stronach's crossing the floor to join the Liberal cabinet.
"This is not what we laboured long and hard for in opposition for 13 thankless years," you can almost hear them thinking. "We were going to establish integrity in government, begin to implement social conservative policies and put an end to crazy liberal law-making."
The MPs dutifully sat on their social conservatism during the election campaign in the interests of not attracting negative national media coverage. But presumably they hoped their day would come, even though Harper was pledging to block any anti-abortion legislation and talking nonsense about allowing Parliament to end same-sex marriage without using the notwithstanding clause.
If Harper had a secret agenda, it wasn't stealth social conservatism. The agenda burst into full light the day he attracted David Emerson from the Liberals, named Michael Fortier to the Senate and made former Ontario treasurer Jim Flaherty his finance minister. The Prairie populism of the old Reform Party was blown out the window faster than you could say "corporate power."
Now there's nothing wrong with having corporate businessmen in your cabinet. But they should be elected like everyone else and they shouldn't run the show. And if Vancouver, Montreal and Toronto choose not to elect any Conservative MPs, then so be it. But don't give any region a back door into cabinet.
Harper brushed aside the criticisms of his appointing two unelected cabinet ministers as superficial. Perhaps it was. If so, the "superficiality" had to do with raising quaint concerns like morality and integrity. Imagine anyone so superficial as to say that good ends cannot justify illicit means!
The substance of the appointments, however, was that they signalled that Harper wants this government to be at one with corporate Canada.
Not many critics pointed that out. One who did was the Toronto Star's Chantal Hebert who wrote that the appointments of Emerson, Flaherty and Fortier "are key pieces of the ongoing reconstruction of the Conservative Party as a national institution and as the natural home of the country's business establishment."
In the campaign, the Conservatives promised to virtually eliminate the capital gains tax, a move which would provide a bonanza for Canada's richest Canadians and nothing for the poorest.
That raises the whole issue of the purpose of government. Government should ensure a good climate for business, not so that the rich get richer, but so that all have jobs. Government should be on the side of the poor, the sick and others on the edge of society precisely because those people cannot protect themselves.
Politics should be the voice of morality, not of power and opportunism.
That's why we need and value programs such as medicare, social assistance and public housing. That's why the government should defend the unborn, children and families. Government's moral mission is to protect the weak from the tyranny of the powerful.
It will be interesting to see to what extent Harper develops a corporate agenda and how social conservative MPs react to the exclusion of what they fought so hard to attain.
If corporate power comes to dominate the government, will the backbenchers try to revive the Reform Party? Probably not.
The worst outcome would be if all the populists sit meekly in their seats, raising an occasional protest, but slowly fading away as their long-time zeal melts into quiet disillusionment.
- Glen Argan
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