As we enjoy, if that’s the word, the second summer of the Harper majority, I’m pleased to say The Plan is working. The Plan, of course, is the one I hatched back when I was working at Alberta Report in the 1980s. AR, some of you will know, was the conservative newsweekly that first cheer-led for the Reform Party, and in particular such principals of it as Preston Manning and Tom Flanagan and Stephen Harper, and so set in motion the bandwagon that is your federal government today.
You may have noticed that backofthebook.ca takes a pretty lefty view of things, and particularly of that government. That’s because, as its editor, I am trying to aright my karma. Wish me luck.
At the time, working in the bowels of Canadian proto-conservatism, I formed the idea that Canada would have to go through a period of enduring something very like the current Harper government before it could emerge, on the other side, a better country. I had already reckoned with the shortcomings of those forming Reform — their fanaticism, their (largely) circumscribed world view, their limited intellectual curiosity (limited mostly by the fact that everything could ultimately be explained with one word: “God”), their meanness, and the fact that, confronted with facts and ideas that contradicted their own views, their final resort was usually to stick their fingers in their ears and sing “La-la-la.” It wasn’t pretty.
But I also firmly believed that the nation’s regional imbalances needed fixing, and that the only people who were likely to do so were the shitkickers from Calgary. Hence, The Plan: They would take Ottawa, disassemble the country in its current form — the one that, among other things, kept westerners at the margins — and then eventually crash-and-burn, as all governments eventually do. At which point they would be succeeded by a party on the left, or at least a less radical one, but in a reformulated federation. That part of “reform” I could get into.
I probably don’t need to point out that my Plan was shared by no one and required nothing of me other than to sit back and watch it supposedly unfold. And I can’t say that it is working out one hundred per cent. But I can say it is working out quite a bit better, and much more quickly, than I imagined.
Here we are, just 14 months into the Harper majority, with the Conservatives’ poll numbers way down everywhere except Alberta (natch), and the NDP turning out not to be just Jack’s party, particularly on the surprising strength of its numbers in Newfoundland and Labrador. Excellent work, everyone-except-Alberta!
And this isn’t just because of the Conservatives’ ineptitude, but because at the same time they — or at least the PMO — have also been impressively adept, ramming through the omnibus Bill C-30, which caused Canadians across the country to finally take stock of what they are up to, and react accordingly.
It’s true that they have not exactly deconstructed the federal apparatus in the way I had hoped for. Indeed, once the standard-bearer for Senate reform, the Prime Minister has more recently become a lusty proponent of its partisan potential. (I was going to call him a “Senate whore,” but that would be crass.) But he does still have plans to overhaul it sub-rosa. He has devolved some significant powers to the provinces, especially in health care. And, for the ultimate realization of The Plan — which is that these guys be chased from office once they’ve done as much as they can to decentralize Canada — it doesn’t matter if they’re really tearing the country to pieces; it only matters that people think they are. (What they’re really tearing apart are certain longstanding social covenants. But those can be reconstituted.)
So, as I say, things are coming along nicely. What I didn’t anticipate back in the day, however (and certainly nobody else would have either, had I actually discussed The Plan with anyone), was that it would be the NDP, not the Liberals, waiting in the wings to form the next government. Back then, the idea of the NDP taking power in Ottawa was just something that pleasurably interrupted the sleep of a handful of social democrats. Now it’s a real possibility. And the Liberals, god bless ’em, are doing their bit by actually considering Justin Trudeau to lead their party — an idea which, in its reckless desperation, brings back memories of Kim Clark and the destruction of the old-school Tories.
The more things change, the better they get. It would be nice, however, if the NDP didn’t screw up The Plan between now and 2015. So in part deux of this post, and before backofthebook goes on its usual summer hiatus, I’ll explain the various ways in which they might.