Monday, October 05, 2009

Another King?

Last Friday, in The Globe and Mail, Canadian historian Michael Bliss mused that Stephen Harper might be on the cusp of becoming another William Lyon MacKenzie King. It was King -- Canada's longest serving prime Minister -- who established the Liberals as Canada's "natural governing party." It was King, too, who had absolutely no political scrupples. "Sooner or later," Bliss wrote, "the contempt that many in our chattering classes still seem to feel for the Conservatives in general and Mr. Harper in particular is going to begin to give way to the realization that he is on the verge of becoming the next Mackenzie King."

Perhaps. Bliss conceded that -- like King -- Harper is "neither colourful nor lovable." But Bliss's central thrust, that "Conservatives hold the political centre so thoroughly that Liberals have no idea whether to attack the government from the right . . . or from the left . . ." is dubious. He is right, however, when he claims that "the Liberal Party is floundering in uncertainty and disunity."

Canadians are far from certain that Harper is a centrist. I suspect that a majority of them would agree with W.E. Belliveau that Harper's "personal ideology remains far from the centre. His core beliefs are right wing and often anti-social." No, Belliveau concludes, Harper is a chameleon: "A chameleon can change colours at a drop of a hat. A chameleon is not a leader. A chameleon is a survivor, and that's the message of Mr. Harper's new found centre status." If one requires proof, one need look no further than his recent performance at the National Arts Centre, before an audience of black tie patrons of the arts who -- during the last election -- he dismissed as financial parasites.

Belliveau is on to something. But, however valid his analysis might be, it does not let the Liberals off the hook. They are in danger of reliving the fate of King's earnest but naive opponent, Arthur Meighen, who -- Bliss correctly noted -- "was consigned to the dustbin of history, where he wrote memoirs insisting that he had always been right."

When the Liberals chose Ignatieff, they chose a man of ideas who had absolutely no political experience. That lack of experience was undercored last week in the foolishness over the Liberal nomination in Outremont. More importantly, the party is still waiting for a policy conference, which is now scheduled for early next year. It would have been better to have had the conference sooner rather than later; and it would have been better to support the government on an issue by issue basis until the conference. Having sorted out its platform, the party would then be in a better position to withdraw its support wholesale.

Liberals' frustration boiled over this summer when they realized that to support Mr. Harper is to ride on the back of the tiger. He lives for the thrill of devouring his opponents. Anyone who believes he does anything for altrustic reasons -- even performing with Yo Yo Ma at the National Arts Centre -- is deluded.


ChrisJ said...

Your comments are bang on! I couldn't agree more.

The Globe and Mail seems to be going more to the right itself; maybe that's why their commentators can believe Harper is more centrist?

Owen Gray said...

Bliss is a good historian. But, like Donald Creighton -- another Conservative historian -- he has never shied away from showing his colours, which are deep blue.

There are other historians, like Frank Underhill, who -- if he were alive -- would take issue with Bliss.