Monday, September 28, 2009

Why Stephen Harper's Economic Plans Will Fail

I've said several times before that as an economist Stephen Harper makes a great shoe salesman. He apparently has a masters in economics, but has never worked as an economist, so why would we believe that he is the best choice to lead us out of this crisis? We can't.

One of the problems in studying Harper's past, is that his heroes; the ones who slash and burn their way through social programs, and sell off everything of value, have failed. Ronald Reagan, Margaret Thatcher, Mike Harris.

Instead of learning from their mistakes, he is doomed to repeat them. He once told a professor that he was concerned that Canada's massive debt and deficit under Mulroney, could cause a run on the Canadian dollar. What does he think now?

If he had a majority with a 56 billion dollar and counting, we would have nothing left.

Brooke Jeffrey in her book Hard Right Turn, discusses the situation a decade ago. Mike Harris was the Ontario Premier, Ralph Klein was Alberta's, and the Reform Party were the Official Opposition on Parliament Hill.

She opens her book by saying that in Toronto there were rallies and demonstrations at Queens Park because of Mike Harris' cuts to health care, education and social services. Her cab driver volunteered the information that he had been fooled into voting for Mike Harris' "Common Sense Revolution", which he learned made no sense at all. "I didn't expect them to pick on blind people and little old ladies."

Not long after she was in Alberta and found the same demonstrations and rallies targeting Ralph Klein. "The premier and his controversial treasurer, Stockwell Day, were adamant the cuts would go forward as planned." They didn't need to, because Alberta was in the middle of an oil boom and had money to burn.

"The striking thing about Klein's comments was his choice of language. It was almost identical in tone and content to arguments Mike Harris had used to defend his actions in Ontario a few months earlier. Klein's refusal to consult in any meaningful way with the affected groups was equally firm.

"The success of Ralph Klein in Alberta in 1993 was dismissed by many as a regional fluke, but the election of Mike Harris in 1995 in Ontario raised serious concerns about the direction the country seemed to be taking. Neo-conservative politicians ... were now in power in two of Canada's richest and most important provinces.

"Concern turned to disbelief when the upstart Reform party of Preston Manning became the Official Opposition, after the 1997 federal election. Conventional wisdom said that the party was just another Western protest movement. Founded in white hot anger, it would soon fizzle and collapse ... I was less surprised than most observers ... but probably more distressed. My in-depth knowledge of Reform's extreme positions and unprecedented rejection of basic liberal values made me more inclined to take them seriously than most mainstream politicians, and I worried about the potential damage they could inflict on the fabric of Canadian society if they succeeded in becoming a force to be reckoned with."

"... Were we on a slippery slope, with even more right-wing governments in other parts of the country? Had there actually been a major shift in public opinion from the traditional centre-left majority? Were many Canadians abandoning their well-known compassion and tolerance for the politics of self-interest, anger and resentment, and if so why?

"...Both premiers (Harris and Klein) believed the protests and civil unrest were inevitable. The visceral opposition to their plans had nothing to do with the draconian measures they adopted to implement their radical agenda, or their steadfast refusal to consult with stakeholders.

"If Canada is to avoid the fate of Britain and the United States, now struggling to repair the damage caused by their decade of right-wing excesses (for the U.S. they suffered another horrible 8 years of George Bush), the very real and disturbing consequences of the neo-conservative agenda must be clearly understood by all Canadians." (Hard Right Turn: The New Face of Neo-Conservatism in Canada, Brooke Jeffrey, Harper-Collins, 1999, ISBN: 0-00 255762-2, Pg. 1-6)

What we have learned since then, is the reason why Mike Harris, Ralph Klein and now Stephen Harper, are following the same path; is because all three men were brought to power by the Fraser Institute, the National Citizens Coalition and Conrad Black. (Black also helped with the career of Margaret Thatcher). Ironically Klein, Harris and Thatcher were all forced into retirement by their own parties. Dare we dream?

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