Skip to main content
The Globe and Mail
Support Quality Journalism
The Globe and Mail
First Access to Latest
Investment News
Collection of curated
e-books and guides
Inform your decisions via
Globe Investor Tools
Just$1.99
per week
for first 24 weeks

Enjoy unlimited digital access
Enjoy Unlimited Digital Access
Get full access to globeandmail.com
Just $1.99 per week for the first 24 weeks
Just $1.99 per week for the first 24 weeks
var select={root:".js-sub-pencil",control:".js-sub-pencil-control",open:"o-sub-pencil--open",closed:"o-sub-pencil--closed"},dom={},allowExpand=!0;function pencilInit(o){var e=arguments.length>1&&void 0!==arguments[1]&&arguments[1];select.root=o,dom.root=document.querySelector(select.root),dom.root&&(dom.control=document.querySelector(select.control),dom.control.addEventListener("click",onToggleClicked),setPanelState(e),window.addEventListener("scroll",onWindowScroll),dom.root.removeAttribute("hidden"))}function isPanelOpen(){return dom.root.classList.contains(select.open)}function setPanelState(o){dom.root.classList[o?"add":"remove"](select.open),dom.root.classList[o?"remove":"add"](select.closed),dom.control.setAttribute("aria-expanded",o)}function onToggleClicked(){var l=!isPanelOpen();setPanelState(l)}function onWindowScroll(){window.requestAnimationFrame(function() {var l=isPanelOpen(),n=0===(document.body.scrollTop||document.documentElement.scrollTop);n||l||!allowExpand?n&&l&&(allowExpand=!0,setPanelState(!1)):(allowExpand=!1,setPanelState(!0))});}pencilInit(".js-sub-pencil",!1); // via darwin-bg var slideIndex = 0; carousel(); function carousel() { var i; var x = document.getElementsByClassName("subs_valueprop"); for (i = 0; i < x.length; i++) { x[i].style.display = "none"; } slideIndex++; if (slideIndex> x.length) { slideIndex = 1; } x[slideIndex - 1].style.display = "block"; setTimeout(carousel, 2500); }

In March, 1989, with the Progressive Conservative government of prime minister Brian Mulroney safely re-elected, a young right-wing maverick wrote a long memorandum about how to create a stronger, sharper conservative movement.

Stephen Harper was by then a Reformer, having abandoned the PCs, and he offered advice on how to shift the Reform Party from being a populist critic of the status quo to what he called a "modern version of the Thatcher-Reagan phenomenon."

Mr. Harper said the party had to seek and woo working-class and urban-dwelling Canadians with an approach that emphasized "moderate conservative social values, consistent with the traditional family, the market economy and patriotism." (The quotes are from Tom Flanagan's book Waiting for the Wave, as reproduced in Susan Delacourt's Shopping for Votes, the best political book of 2013.)

Story continues below advertisement

Run the reel forward, to Dec. 31, 2013. On the afternoon before New Year's Eve – an odd time if you think about how few people care about anything political while preparing for that evening – the Prime Minister's Office issued a long press release listing 75 Harper government accomplishments from the year.

Supporting the list was a prime ministerial statement concluding that the government will "seize every opportunity to secure prosperity and security for Canadians … by creating jobs and opportunities, supporting and protecting Canadian families, and putting Canada first."

There was that same message, nearly 25 years after that 1989 memo: "market economy" (jobs and the economy), "moderate conservative social values" (supporting and protecting Canadian families) and "patriotism" (putting Canada first.)

Say what you like about Stephen Harper: He has been consistent in his approach to politics and what he hopes to accomplish. Of course, he has zigged and zagged, as all prime ministers must when confronted with complex realities, but he has never removed his eyes from the objectives he envisaged when, as a younger man, he sought a Canadian version of the "Thatcher-Reagan phenomenon." As leader of a party he more than anyone created, he has won minority governments and one majority, and wants another.

Mr. Harper disliked intensely the old Progressive Conservative Party of Robert Stanfield, Joe Clark and Brian Mulroney for all sorts of reasons, notably what he saw as intellectual mushiness and a desire to be too many things to too many people. To use a phrase from Britain's Thatcher era, the PCs were the "wets," as in wet noodles.

The party Mr. Harper sought would be more tightly focused on fewer voters, but they would be intensely loyal, capable of being rallied around those three themes of market, family and patriotism. Even in the pre-New Year's list of 75 items, his government's record is broken down into those three categories.

The overarching political question, as 2014 dawns, is whether Mr. Harper's narrow and disciplined approach has run its course. The negatives in public opinion about the government and its leader are at all-time highs. At the same time the government was doing these 75 things in 2013 – some of them quite significant; others picayune or statements of intention – the government's popularity slid.

Story continues below advertisement

Today, with perhaps 30 per cent (maximum) of the electorate prepared to vote Conservative, the party commands the loyalty of far fewer voters than the old Progressive Conservatives. In 1979, Joe Clark won 36 per cent of the popular vote in defeating prime minister Pierre Trudeau's Liberals (who actually won 40 per cent themselves). Brian Mulroney won 50 per cent in his landslide victory of 1984.

At its very best, in the 2011 election, Mr. Harper's party won just a marginally higher share of the popular vote than Mr. Clark, and way below the share won by Mr. Mulroney, whose party Mr. Harper so disliked. More ominous for Mr. Harper, the number of Canadians who prefer the Conservatives as their second choice is very, very low. The party's growth potential is limited.

There is no chance of this government changing either its focus – this was set in Mr. Harper's mind a long time ago – or the way it does politics, namely governing in permanent campaign mode. It is far too late to change either.

Follow related topics

Report an error Editorial code of conduct
Due to technical reasons, we have temporarily removed commenting from our articles. We hope to have this fixed soon. Thank you for your patience. If you are looking to give feedback on our new site, please send it along to feedback@globeandmail.com. If you want to write a letter to the editor, please forward to letters@globeandmail.com.

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff. Non-subscribers can read and sort comments but will not be able to engage with them in any way. Click here to subscribe.

If you would like to write a letter to the editor, please forward it to letters@globeandmail.com. Readers can also interact with The Globe on Facebook and Twitter .

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff. Non-subscribers can read and sort comments but will not be able to engage with them in any way. Click here to subscribe.

If you would like to write a letter to the editor, please forward it to letters@globeandmail.com. Readers can also interact with The Globe on Facebook and Twitter .

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff.

We aim to create a safe and valuable space for discussion and debate. That means:

  • Treat others as you wish to be treated
  • Criticize ideas, not people
  • Stay on topic
  • Avoid the use of toxic and offensive language
  • Flag bad behaviour

Comments that violate our community guidelines will be removed.

Read our community guidelines here

Discussion loading ...

To view this site properly, enable cookies in your browser. Read our privacy policy to learn more.
How to enable cookies