Periodically there are changes of government. Canada is due for one soon. Prime Minister Harper has done a splendid job, for the most part; his large-scale economic management has been among the best. I cannot recall a time since before Pearson when Canada was relatively as well off.
Canadian Prime Ministers so totally dominate the political life of the country that, whether they want to or not, they get under people’s skin. Our Prime Minister is charmless and there is something cold that radiates from him.
Apart from these purely personal criticisms, which I regret to make, my biggest beef is at the level of grand policy. Margaret Thatcher held that, above all, governments should not aim too low, that their ambitions should be to do something large.
It seems to me that Harper has failed by this criterion. By trying to lock down the government, and micro-managing the political agenda, he sought to do what he did best, but he never inspired anything but fear in his enemies. He did not inspire admiration by the largeness of his vision.The people die for want of vision, says the Book of Proverbs.
Where there is no vision, the people perish: but he that keepeth the law, happy is he.
His inability to engage our better natures, by appealing to the soft stuff inside us, his absence of rhetoric, his prosaic competence, his obsession with free trade agreements, has been unable to compensate us for a want of vision. He has kept us out of all kinds of trouble, and we are less grateful than perhaps we ought to be. He has kept us out of trouble with Quebec by adhering strictly to the division of powers in the constitution. He has kept us out of trouble by avoiding overly large promises to Canada’s native peoples, and has begun to insist on the accountability of Indian chiefs in the corrupt clientele politics of native reserves.
His stand on Islam has shown appropriate backbone, which we will miss very soon, as the Liberals continue to suck up to Islamic voters. By contrast the Tories represent the King and Country element in Canada, and Harper is true to that conservative vision of society, namely that culture goes much deeper than Liberals think it does.
But where Harper has failed, and failed completely, is his failure to articulate a coherent objection to the notions of supremacy that emanate from the Supreme Court. He has failed to articulate a polite and respectful objection, based on ideas of British constitutional theory, as to why the views of the Court Party are mistaken and ill-advised.
Such an argument can be made, and ought to have been made. It was not at any time expressed in terms that could engage most Charter-loving Canadians in a view of the Constitution that challenged their view. The argument might have been presented that the Charter of Rights and Freedoms is a dangerous innovation, that it places too much power in courts, which are themselves by definition anti-democratic, and that it confines discussion to narrowly focused styles of argument where half the issue is always left out. Because your right to something causes there to be created a simultaneous obligation on the part of everyone else in society to observe that right. The Constitution is so constructed that a) courts define rights, and b) lawyers only may become definers of these rights, and c) the style of argument never balances your rights against the burden imposed on society to observe those rights.
The kinds of deliberations in which parliaments engage allow for a much longer, more general, bottom-up and distributed form of input from much larger masses of citizens and interest groups, than the paper procedures and style of argument that courts are equipped to hear.
I am arguing for the supremacy of parliaments because I argue for the styles of discussion, and openness of discussion, that a political process allows, and which is suppressed by lawyerly forms of discourse.
This, in my opinion, is the unanswered challenge, and in this regard the Conservative regime of Prime Minister Harper failed completely to undertake the necessary process of rational argument to advance the other, suppressed, side of the debate. It is the key issue for Canadian conservatism. In that regard, Stepehen Harper failed to challenge the Court party at the level of rational debate, when he could have done so, and ought to have done so, even if only to legitimize the notion among people of goof faith.