One of the highest priorities of a Conservative prime minister, quite naturally, is to make the country more conservative. And when Stephen Harper stands before the Conservative Party convention in Calgary this week, he will certainly be able to make that claim.
He could take it further. Here's a politician out of hard-right Reform country who set out to become a progressive's worst nightmare. With his election victories and his conservative policy inroads, he has succeeded in that.
So while there will be plenty of angst in the convention corridors about the Senate scandal (for which Mr. Harper's own office was the real trigger), so while there will be worry at being overtaken in the opinion polls by the Liberals, look for the convention to steer clear of scandal talk and give the beleaguered Prime Minister a show of support. The focus will be on his accomplishments.
While some Conservatives complain that Mr. Harper hasn't been conservative enough, most appreciate how far he has moved the dial. In 10 policy areas, a conservative advance is apparent.
On law and order, with his toughening of sentencing, jail-building and hard take on civil liberties. On the economy, with his shrinking of the revenue base by way of tax cuts, his resource exploitation policies at the expense of the environment, his push for free-trade agreements. On the environment, with his reluctance to move on climate change, which delights the dinosaurs. On the military, particularly in the early years, with his defence buildup and enthusiasm for the war in Afghanistan.
In addition, Mr. Harper's conservatism can be seen in its morally superior approach to foreign policy and federal-provincial relations, with his decentralizing preferences. It can be seen on science, with his muzzling proclivities and sometimes disregard for empirical data, on labour, with anti-union measures, and in jurisprudence, where Mr. Harper's six Supreme Court appointments have effectively created a conservative-leaning court for a decade or two to come.
At least for his own flock, Mr. Harper has delivered on policy. The topic Conservatives must avoid at this convention is integrity. Here, over the years, Mr. Harper has delivered as well – delivered his image and his party's image into the gutter, that is.
In the Commons last week, while putting up a defence on the Senate controversy, he said he has made things "crystal" clear. "We expect people to act in ways that respect rules and show integrity. If they do not do that, they cannot expect the support of their colleagues, they cannot expect the support of their leader …"
An interesting choice of words. Whether people support the suspension of the senators or not, they might well ask where this integrity has been in the treatment of other party members who have contravened the rules.
Did the Prime Minister discipline those found culpable in the "in and out" election spending controversy? Did he discipline Tony Clement for the millions in G8 summit money that, as condemned by the auditor-general, were diverted to his own riding? Did he suspend those who violated privacy to smear a veteran who spoke out against policy, or those accused of misleading Parliament on the F-35 fighter jets? Was a single word of censure uttered against Dean Del Mastro, who was kept on as parliamentary secretary long after Elections Canada recommended charges against him for alleged election spending violations?
Speaking of integrity, the senators on the chopping block might wonder what kind of example Mr. Harper set in becoming the first PM ever found in contempt of Parliament. His own caucus members who stood up against his iron-clad controls a few months ago can cite the number of ways he has ratcheted down freedom of speech in this country. A recent survey of scientists provided further evidence.
But at the convention, the voices of discontent will be drowned out by the loyalists. While they might lament behind the scenes their leader's autocratic methods, the emphasis will be on the things he has given them to cheer about.