Stephen Harper has always been a fan of slash and burn leaders and politicians, including Margaret Thatcher. She and others became the driving force behind his Reform Party's financial policies, which fit in well with their plans to tear down the 'welfare state' and foil what they deemed to be a 'socialist conspiracy'.
Like Thatcher, he was a devotee of Friedrich Hayek, the libertarian economist who believed that free-market capitalism was the best defense against socialist and collectivist thought.
However, the Reform Party also brought fundamentalist Christian dogma into their party platform, not simply because they firmly believed in theocracy, but knew that they could tap into religious fervour which would naturally gain them votes. Many policies were intentionally ambiguous to appease both the moderates and the extremists.
So when they said that issues on things like abortion and same-sex marriage would be determined in a 'free vote', the extremists heard that they would be abolished, while the moderates felt good that the people would decide. However, to Preston Manning 'free vote' only meant the free vote of his caucus, not the grassroots, on contentious issues.
However, from Ernest Manning's Socreds, to Preston Manning's Reformers, to Harper's Reform-Alliance- Conservatives - Northern Foundation - National Citizens Coalition; the ultimate goal is the abolishment of the welfare state in favour of free-market capitalism; with an evangelical twist. And they were going to do it, whether we liked it or not.
Ernest Manning stated that "The will of the people is bound to come into conflict with the will of God" and according to Murray Dobbin: "Throughout his political career, Ernest Manning was motivated by religion, and more specifically, by anti-Socialism: 'Socialism, to Manning, is a system which largely prevents the individual from attaining the state of grace and hence salvation ... Giving to the individual societal benefits such as free medical care ... breeds idleness... causing a break down in his relationship with God'."Manning argued that 'where the state imposed a monopoly on a service ... the sinful philosophy of state collectivism scored a victory'. (Preston Manning and the Reform Party. Author: Murray Dobbin Goodread Biographies/Formac Publishing 1992 ISBN: 0-88780-161-7, pg. 9)
Preston Manning stated when he was a member of the Youth wing of the Social Credit Party; "We (socreds) believe that Canada is drifting towards socialism even when the majority of Canadians are opposed to collectivism and the welfare state..." (Dobbin, 1992, Pg. 24-25)
And of course Stephen Harper weighed in: "Canada is a Northern European welfare state in the worst sense of the term, and very proud of it."
Margaret Thatcher and the Welfare State
"There is no such thing as society" - Margaret Thatcher
"Harper asked Weissenberger to dig up the Conservative Party manifestos under which Margaret Thatcher had fought ... They admired the clarity with which she nailed her theses to the wall. 'No one who has lived in this country during the last five years can fail to be aware of how the balance of our society has been increasingly tilted in favour of the State at the expense of individual freedom.'" (Stephen Harper and the Future of Canada by William Johnson ISBN 0-7710 4350-3, 2005, Pg. 49)
Like Harper and all his various parties, lobby groups and think tanks; Ms Thatcher believed that all economic problems are a result of social programs, that created the welfare state.
This term was actually used to describe a series of programs aimed at reducing the hardships of the entire population, by providing services such as national health care, pensions and social assistance; with a redistribution of wealth. There was also a strong feeling after WWII, that if a nation was asked to sacrifice at a time of war, they should be taken care of during a time of peace.
But Margaret Thatcher was having none of it, and with traits which have often been used to describe our current PM; "... one of her (Thatcher's) own supporters described her as having 'a certain impatience with subtlety of feeling, a lack of sympathy with people unlike her..." (Hard Right Turn: The New Face of Neo-Conservatism in Canada, Brooke Jeffrey, Harper-Collins, 1999, ISBN: 0-00 255762-2, Pg. 8)
She arrived on the scene at a time when Britain was experiencing growing deficits and slow economic recovery, so her promises to turn the country's economy around were welcomed at first.
"The 'crisis' of the welfare state provided Margaret Thatcher with her opportunity to seize control of the political agenda and take the Conservative Party sharply to the right. In doing so she altered the course of British politics for decades and influenced political development in many other Western democracies .... she was crystallizing her thinking, largely through intensive reading of the works of Friedrich von Hayek .... with high unemployment and inflation fuelling the anxiety of Britain's middle class, Thatcher was ready to present her ideas for public consumption in a Conservative party policy document entitled 'Right Thinking.'
"This was not a manifesto for the faint of heart ... What Thatcher was proposing was nothing less than the dismantling of much of the infrastructure of the modern liberal democratic state. Government was the enemy (Harper feels the same way) ... The woman ... wanted to privatize, deregulate and otherwise reduce state intervention in the economy ... Most of all, she wanted to break the power of the unions, whom she loathed." (Jeffrey, 1999, Pg. 10-12)
Those in her own cabinet who opposed her revolutionary style, she referred to as 'wets' and one of her MPs, Julian Critchley once said "She cannot see an institution without hitting it with her handbag." From then on her demolition of the British system was referred to as 'handbagging.'
"In addition to the middle class, luck was on her side ... Many of her most drastic measures were implemented during the economic recovery, minimizing their impact in the short term . When she got into difficulties with the electorate and her party ... it was as much for her imperious leadership style as her draconian policies. There were many direct and violent confrontations with labour, and various groups whom the prime minister dismissed as 'special interest'. Society became visibly more polarized as the winners and losers of Thatcehrism emerged.' (Jeffrey, 1999, Pg. 14)
We have to remember that Thatcherism failed. She privatized everything, and since profit was now the trigger, it resulted in higher costs and less services. While these enterprises were raking in record profits, unemployment rose, resulting in the select few making significant gains at expense of the majority. We've seen the same thing under George Bush, resulting in one of the worst economic crises in recent history.
And of course her removable of controls left citizens vulnerable to health risks. The same thing happened under Mike Harris, when he reduced the number of water inspectors: Walkerton. Stephen Harper allowed the meat industry to inspect their own plants: Listeriosis.
We have to think long and hard before we give this man a majority. In fact we should think even longer and harder about giving him another mandate at all. With the size of Canada's debt and deficit, he will be able to implement the failed economic policies of Margaret Thatcher, fulfilling his career dream of dismantling the government of Canada.