Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Harper's Concern is Not the Economy But How to Keep From Blinking

In the introduction to her book, Hard Right Turn; Brooke Jeffrey describes being in Toronto in the 1990's; stuck in traffic, because thousands of protesters were blocking the streets. She asked the cab driver what the problem was and he said "Mike Harris (Ontario Premier for 1995-2002). Who wouldn't be upset with this guy?"

A few months later Ms Jeffrey was in Edmonton, where she witnessed similar protests, which like those in Toronto, were orchestrated by teachers, nurses, municipal workers and other concerned citizens. "All of them were furious with the Klein (Ralph Klein. Premier of Alberta 1992-2006) government's cutbacks. The premier and his controversial treasurer, Stockwell Day, were adamant the cuts would go forward as planned."

"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 ... I, like most people thought Klein's reputation as a folksy populist was established. Mike Harris admitted his 'Common Sense Revolution' took it's inspiration from the Klein government's neo-conservative agenda, but he failed to mention an authoritarian attitude was also part of the package." (Hard Right Turn: The New Face of Neo-Conservatism in Canada, Brooke Jeffrey, Harper-Collins, 1999, ISBN: 0-00 255762-2, Pg. 2)

After spending time in Ottawa with Progressive Conservative MP James Hawkes, Stephen Harper came home frustrated, complaining that Brian Mulroney was incapable of making the 'tough choices'. He had already been inspired by the neo-conservative movement, and the goals of the National Citizens Coalition, which was to dismantle the 'welfare state' and pave the way for top-down commercialism.

So we know that Harper, Harris and Klein share common views, but how do they relate to the video above? One of the men in that video, Sir Roger Douglas, former finance minister of New Zealand, created the same kind of civil unrest as Klein and Harris, as part of a government that made the rich richer and the rest of his country poor.

Stephen Harper has yet to win a majority, so he won't be able to make his 'tough' choices until then, although he has managed to anger many of us several times.

Roger Douglas and Canada's Neo-Conservative Revolution

"Both Klein and Harris continue to emulate the B Movie slogan of Sir Roger Douglas, the architect of of New Zealand's harsh experiment in program-slashing: 'I ain't gonna blink.' In 1994 Ralph Klein accepted the Fraser Institute's annual prize for 'the best fiscal performance' of any North American government. 'Alberta stands alone as the only government that refuses to take the easy way out, the brainless way out, and that is to raise taxes," Klein toast... ' (Slumming it at the Rodeo: The Cultural Roots of Canada's Right-Wing Revolution, Gordon Laird, 1998, Douglas & McIntyre, ISBN: 1-55054 627-9, pg. 66)

Jeffrey states:

"Apart from the neo-conservative writings on Thatcherism and Reagonomics provided by his friends in the 'Klein Gang', and the advice offered by the business community through the Red Deer round table, the premier also called on the services ... of former New Zealand finance minister, Sir Roger Douglas, who was peddling the wares of restraint and cutbacks. Having turned New Zealand's economy around and its society inside out ... Sir Roger was now touring the world, urging others to heed the call and take the same drastic action. This new messenger of change was actually invited to speak to the Conservative caucus, where he put forward the view that change must be significant and it must be instituted quickly if the liberal consensus were to be broken and the state removed from the marketplace. The government that blinked would fail.

"Unfinished Business by Sir Roger Douglas of New Zealand, is credited with having provided the vocabulary of the 'Red Deer' budget round table. Terms such as 'hit the wall' and 'don't blink,' for example, made their debut at this event, and have now passed into the common parlance of all Canadian neo-conservatives." (Jeffrey, 1999, pg. 93)

"Ralph Klein paid attention. As late as 1997 he told reporter Kenneth Whyte he still worried about losing the political will and falling off the fiscal wagon. In an interview for Saturday Night, he said, 'It's never far from my mind. I keep asking my caucus are we blinking, and they say no, we're not blinking, we're still on track." (Jeffrey, 1999, Pg. 112)

So what prompted Ralph Klein and Mike Harris to adopt that authoritarian and combative style of governing?

"New Zealand's slash and burn pioneer, Sir Roger Douglas, an occasional consultant to Ralph Klein's government, promoted the strategy of 'retroactive consensus' at the Reform Party's 1991 assembly): the idea the governments should ruthlessly and quickly force change to minimize the effectiveness of opposition, building consensus only after all the decisions had been carried out." (Laird, 1998, Pg. 163 )

Preston Manning describes Roger Douglas's presentation: 'The Politics of Structural Reform'

"Roger Douglas who led a major effort by Labour government to reduce public spending, personifies the fact that changing times and conditions the world over are breaking down the old categories of left and right in politics. His short list of ten guidelines for implementing structural reforms, particularly in the area of financial and economic policy, could help with the transition from Old Canada to New Canada.

1. Quality decisions start with quality people placed in strategic positions.

2. Implement reforms by quantum leaps. Moving step by step lets invested interests mobilize.

3. Speed is essential. It is impossible to move too fast.

4. Once your momentum starts, never let it stop. Set your own goals and deadlines.

5. Credibility is crucial. It is hard to win and you can lose it overnight.

6. Make your goals clear. Adjustment is impossible if people don't know where you are going.

7. Stop selling the public short. Voters need and want politicians with a vision and guts to create a better future.

8. Don't blink or wobble. Get the decisions right the first time.

9. Opportunity, incentive, and choice mobilize the energy of the people to achieve successful change.

10. When in doubt, ask yourself, 'Why am I a Politician?' (Preston Manning: The New Canada, By: Preston Manning, MacMillan Canada,ISBN: 0-7715-9150-0, pg. 276)

Murray Dobbin describes the Reform Party's infatuation with Sir Roger Douglas and why it was not only bad for New Zealand but will be devastating for us.

"Douglas was introduced by Preston Manning, the only assembly speaker to be so honoured. And Manning told the delegates: There are three basic reasons why we have invited Sir Roger Douglas to be with us ... and three reasons why Reformers should pay close attention to what he has to say ... Sir Roger is an authority in fiscal reform and has advocated and promoted many of the fiscal reforms necessary to deal with the fiscal crisis that is facing our country ..

"Secondly ... he has been in a position to actively implement those reforms. He is not only a reformer in word, he is a reformer in deed. Sir Roger deregulated the financial sector, phased down agricultural and other subsidies .. phased out import controls and drastically reduced tariffs levels. He instituted a 10% flat rate consumption tax (GST), with virtually no exemptions. Thirdly, Sir Roger accomplished all these things as a minister of a labour party in government.

"What Preston Manning and Roger Douglas did not tell their audience was the story of the impact of Douglas's policies on the people of New Zealand. Saskatchewan political economist, Dr. John Warnock, travelled to New Zealand to study the effects of what New Zealanders dubbed 'Rogernomics.' The figures tell a story of devastation - a word used by New Zealand's own agricultural minister to describe the state of agriculture in four years after the 'reforms': A 40 per cent drop in farm income; a 50 per cent drop in the value of farm land; a policy of paying 3,000 farmers incentives of $ 45,000 to leave and the suggestion that another 15,000 (out of 79,000) should follow them. Unemployment, which had been at 4 per cent before Douglas's reforms, jumped to over 12 per cent in just over a year and is still increasing.

"Douglas completely eliminated regional development grants and subsidies to rural services. Says Warnock, 'They had things like subsidized petroleum - regardless of where you were the price was the same - subsidized train service, bus service, airport service. They privatized all these things and the prices immediately skyrocketed.' A massive de-population of the countryside resulted, and approximately 40,000 New Zealanders per year have since left the country for Australia to find work since 'restructuring' took effect. (Preston Manning and the Reform Party. Author: Murray Dobbin Goodread Biographies/Formac Publishing 1992 ISBN: 0-88780-161-7, pg. 113-114)

So why does Stephen Harper have such an interest in failed economists? It's not because they were successful at fixing the economy, but they were successful at dismantling the social safety net, paving the way for the wealthy to become wealthier.

Margaret Thatcher: "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 ... 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 (Roger Dougals said the goal was to have; the state removed from the marketplace) ..." (Jeffrey, 1999, Pg. 10-12)

"What I want to see above all is that this remains a country where someone can always gets rich" - Ronald Reagan

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.

A Harper majority and a record deficit would create a perfect storm. Stephen Harper once said that when he got through with Canada we wouldn't recognize it?

And we can be sure of one thing: HE WILL NEVER BLINK!


  1. Short term pain, long term gain.

    The farms and industries were in as much of a mess before the reforms as they were afterwards, it was just hidden by all the subsidies they received from the government.

    Removing the subsidies forced them to shape up, and now NZ's agriculture sector is world-leading.

    Same with all the facts and figures that you point to (without actually listing or sourcing, i'll point out).

    Unemployment was low beforehand because if you didn't have a job you got paid to hang out doing nothing in the railways.

    Reform moved people from make-work jobs into unemployment in the short term, and then long term the unemployment rate came down as the reforms fixed up the economy.

    Any questions?

  2. Actually, I did provide the source. Murray Dobbins book, including the ISBN number, and his source was Saskatchewan political economist, Dr. John Warnock, who travelled to New Zealand himself.

    Short term pain, long term gain? We are still feeling the pain from Mike Harris and his hatchet men.

    The 'welfare state' was created because it was felt that if a nation was expected to go to war they should be protected during peace time.

    We need that social safety net and if Stephen Harper manages to dismantle it, it will be devastating, not only for our the vulnerable Canadians, but for everyone.

    The wealthy might win in the short term, but see how fast the crime rate goes up. And whose stuff do you think they'll be going after?