It's interesting researching Harper's Reform Party roots. Though it's been more than 20 years since he helped the National Citizens Coalition and a group of wealthy executives start the radical movement, much of what took place back then we still see today.
Since 1967, Ernest Manning, and his son Preston, had a vision for uniting the right, as a formidable force against what they believed was rising socialism, that threatened their path to eternal salvation.
Harper and the NCC's main goal however, was to dismantle the Canadian government, eradicate the 'welfare state', and create a complete free-market political system. Their wealthy backers said that money was no object, so they fired up the bulldozers and we've been under attack ever since.
However, what's interesting, is that the economic theories they emulated, have been complete and utter failures. Mind you, they only failed their country's citizens, while the chosen few continually achieved greater wealth.
This part of Stephen Harper's story deals with his repackaging of Preston Manning, in the image of Ronald Reagan, but with the ... hmm ... balls of Margaret Thatcher.
'The Life of Ronald Reagan' Starring Preston Manning
"What I want to see above all is that this remains a country where someone can always gets rich" - Ronald Reagan
Stephen Harper was openly critical of Brian Mulroney for not reining in the deficit, and failing to make the tough choices required to do so. As an economics student, he was influenced by Margaret Thatcher and Roger Douglas, who both adopted a slash and burn style, come hell or high water. He had his friend John Weissenberger, research Ms Thatcher's successful election platforms to determine how she was able to sell her ideological plans to the voting public.
But to really package his boss, Preston Manning; he needed more than 'get tough' rhetoric. For the next step in his strategy he turned to then U.S. President, Ronald Reagan. Though Reagan was clearly on the side of the corporate elite, his handlers had been able to package him as a 'folksy' caricature who would have mass appeal to a discouraged nation.
"As many people have remarked, Reagan was the perfect man for the times, a media star for the emerging phenomenon of the media based election ... Reagan's stint in Hollywood seemed more relevant by the minute as the Great Communicator demonstrated how to reach millions of viewers and manipulate the broadcast media to suit his purposes .. Reagan kept his message simple and his look sincere. His homey style and genuine conviction touched a chord with the viewing public, so much so that, for some, the message hardly mattered." (Hard Right Turn: The New Face of Neo-Conservatism in Canada, Brooke Jeffrey, Harper-Collins, 1999, ISBN: 0-00 255762-2, Pg. 19-20)
But Preston Manning was no Ronald Reagan. For one thing he was an intellectual, with a background in physics, who had spent a great deal of time engaged in top secret research for several agencies, including the U.S. military. Ronald Reagan was never anything more than 'B' movie actor, who had just landed his biggest role.
"This representation of Reagan as a citizen leader reluctantly performing his civic duty and not a professional politician .. has been the fundamental stock line for more than twenty years" (Jeffreys, 1999, Pg. 20)
Manning's squeaky voice and country preacher demeanour, seemed perfectly suited to attract the discontented masses in the West, who had been let down by the Tories under Mulroney. Riding the anger of the National Energy Program and a growing feeling of alienation from Ottawa; Manning arrived on the political stage at just the right time.
He was able to convince his followers that he was one of them, despite the fact that he had grown up extremely wealthy and in the limelight of Alberta politics. His father had been Premier for 25 years and the Manning name was very well known, and highly respected.
So despite the fact that this was clearly not a populist party, and Preston Manning clearly not a non-political figure, he was able to convince his flock that they were his leaders, while what became dubbed the 'Calgary Clique' (which included Stephen Harper) made all the important decisions.
However, there was something else that Harper and the Reform Party learned from the Reagan team. How to harness the energies of anger and religious fervor, and turn it into votes. At the Reform Party assembly they voted in favour of allowing extremists into the party, even Doug Christie.
But the Reagan campaign team, was able to bring it to a science and some of the following strategies they devised, are still being used by Harper's Reform-Conservatives today. From Hard Right Turn:
"As the percentage of Americans who voted in federal elections continued to decline to dangerously low levels in the 1970's, it was possible for the Republican strategists to separate voters into categories, and then target those whom they believed would not only buy their message, but go to the polling booth and support them" (pg. 22)
Despite the fact that Stephen Harper claims that he is not a social conservative, and has no problem with homosexuality, this video shows how he is able to whip a crowd into a frenzy, pretending that he will put an end to same-sex marriage if they can get him a majority. I'd be willing to bet that everyone there that day, voted, and everyone there that day, voted Reform-Conservative.
The constant attack ads that the Reformers launch today, are driving Canadians away from the polls. Last election we saw the lowest turnout in this country's history, yet they continue to poison the well.
"With Reagan's outspoken opposition to the Civil Rights Act in 1964, Republican strategists knew that they would have to write off the black vote. But although 90 per cent of black voters cast their ballots for the democrats, only 30 percent of eligible black Americans voted"
Republican strategist Paul Weyrich stated "I don't want everyone to vote ... our leverage in the election quite candidly goes up as the voting populace goes down. We have no moral responsibility to turn out our opposition." (pg. 22)
"According to one analysis; 'by appealing to married women, and especially those between the ages of 45 and 65, on a pro-family platform, Reagan maximized the electoral value of gender politics'. The issue for the Republicans was not the female vote, but the female voter." (pg. 23)
Reagan also exploited the Religious Right, who were "... anxious to reinsert religion and 'family values' into the public education system."
Like Margaret Thatcher, Reagan's policies were a disaster. The rich got richer and the poor got poorer and his administration created the largest number of homeless people in the nation's history.
Something to think about before we hand Stephen Harper a majority.