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Douglas Bell

The Harper Principles (or lack thereof) Add to ...

On Monday of this week, The Globe summarized the triumph of what my fellow blogger Brian Topp calls libertarian Keynesianism.

"The third report on the progress of stimulus spending noted the following measures are under way:

-- More than 7,500 infrastructure projects including 4,700 provincial, territorial and municipal initiatives; 1,150 projects to repair and renovate federal buildings; 447 projects to improve infrastructure and colleages and universities and about 300 social housing projects.

-- The employment insurance program is providing an additional $5.8-billion in EI benefits this year.

-- About 44,000 Canadians are receiving training through funds flowing to provinces and territories.

-- Improved access to financing for business such as $131-billion in financing support. This money doesn't add extra debt obligations for the Canadian taxpayer because the assets being protected are already guaranteed by Ottawa."

The Tories now wear as a badge of honour economic programs that in the abstract ideological quarters of their party used to be anathema. It's as though Torquemada were buying the wine and cheese for a joint book launch featuring Richard Dawkins and Chistopher Hitchens.

All of which, in the world of politics, is well and good - "events, young man, events!" Harold Macmillan cautioned - but the distance traveled to compromise party principles can't be entirely without consequence. Writing in the British magazine Standpoint, Peter Hitchens (brother of Christopher) wrote about a similar phenomenon afflicting the British Tory party and particularly its "electable" leader, David Cameron.

"What is puzzling to me is the apparent abandonment … of any concern with issues which once moved [Conservatives]powerfully, including the cultural, sexual and moral revolutions, the man-made global warming cult, the attack on the married state, the pollution of language with intolerant leftist Newspeak, the pursuit of equality of outcome rather than of equality of opportunity, the loss of rigour and authority in education, the break-up of the UK and the unending salami-slicing assault on tradition and Christianity, the general unremitting attack on what Mr Blair once called "the forces of conservatism". Mr Cameron has nothing of any comfort or substance to say about these issues.

... If Mr Cameron wins outright, he will attribute his victory to his abandonment of conservative policies and the remaining conservatives in the parliamentary party will be more isolated than at any time since the days of Edward Heath. If he manages to form a minority or coalition government, it will of necessity be a Blairite, leftist coalition which will govern (as would a Cameron majority government) like New Labour. Only a Tory defeat, which would demonstrate that surrender to the Left also cannot save a party which has in truth had its day, would at least create the possibility that a genuinely conservative opposition."

On Monday I had lunch with British Tory who assured me that a sufficient number of Conservative voters will sit on their hands in the coming election and that a Tory minority is a distinct possibility. While the issues are different, one wonders whether the same phenomenon might take hold hereabouts. It was a long, bitter struggle to rid federal Canadian conservatism of its progressive tag. And on fiscal issues at least to what end? The appeal to conservatives among the electorate is always more about what you can't or won't do in government than the other way round. That's one principle that Steve-O would do well to remember.

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