Friday, September 10, 2010

Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Harper

Canada's "new" Conservative Party -- and its Prime Minister -- were diagnosed long ago by Robert Louis Stevenson. Stevenson understood that even the most humane person has a dark side, which is only held in check by social convention. The problem for Conservatives -- as James Laxer recently noted -- is that they are only conservative when they are held in check by a strong opposition. And -- at least until recently -- that opposition has been pretty feeble.

The Harperites' dark souls are really libertarian; and, as libertarians, they hate conventions -- any conventions, whether they are census forms, long gun registries, or the institution of Parliament itself. Their ultimate goal is to free themselves of limits -- any limits. Their problem is that Canadians are suspicious of their intentions.

So, at election time, Mr. Harper dons a blue sweater -- the equivalent of a white lab coat -- makes his rounds, and adopts his best bedside manner. Once elected, he retreats into the basement, mixes up that potion of mean spirited policies, and attempts to accomplish by stealth what he can't accomplish in the light of day.

The problem would be difficult enough if Harper were the only Hyde in the party. But, as James Travers observes in Thursday's Toronto Star, there are other Hydes lurking in the party's basement. In the run up to the vote on the long gun registry, two lesser Hydes -- James Bezan and Garry Breitkreuz -- have found their way out of the lab. Bezan

hee-hawed his way on to You Tube -- complete with horse and cowboy hat -- and Breitkruez mused about a clandestine police scheme to wrench guns from cold Canadian hands. Along with looking and sounding foolish, the two Conservative MP's exposed the soft underbelly of a Harper strategy that once seemed bulletproof.

The problem for Dr. Jekyll the Prime Minister is that he finds it increasingly difficult to control his dark side. It shows up at very inopportune times -- during elections, for instance -- and in the lazy days of summer, when he thinks Canadians aren't paying attention. Now he finds it hard to control the lesser Hydes within his party.

We all know how the story ends.


Anonymous said...

"Libertarian" isn't the first term that comes to mind when I think of Harper. He strikes me as more of an authoritarian. The "libertarian" things he does, e.g., eliminating the mandatory long-form census, seem designed to secure his own authority.

Perhaps the question comes down to where one draws the line between the public and the private. What freedom are we talking about? Freedom for whom?


Owen Gray said...

What you're highlighting is the essential weakness of libertarianism.

Because libertarians seek to weaken the state by limiting its ability to referee between competing interests, they end up granting enhanced status to the rich and powerful. Libertarians rail against the tyranny of the state, while handing over the levers of power to one person or one group.

If one's purpose is to be that person or a member of that one group, libertarianism is a convenient place to hang one's hat.