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Natural government need not be shifted October 7, 2008

Posted by tomflesher in Canada.
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It’s Tory Tuesday!

A number of commentators have discussed Stephen Harper’s attempt to move the government of Canada rightward as well as fill a niche as the “natural governing party” of Canada. That seems at odds to me – I would think that the natural government is a party of the radical centre, and that attempting to fill that niche would require a step centreward by a given party rather than an attempt to move the country.

My conjecture: Harper’s ideal of Canadian government does not match that of the average Canadian citizen. I’ll take a look at an editorial and a specific case, then make a prediction, after the jump.

Harper’s goal, says Michael Adams, is to gain control of the government and move it to the right through a series of incremental steps. The first issue is Harper’s definition of conservative: shrinking government and shrinking taxes as fiscal policy, traditionalism as social policy. As the leader of the government, he has the ability to enforce those ideals through party discipline – he act positively, by cutting taxes, or negatively, by refusing to raise taxes to allocate funds for programs. In the case of the continuing debate on the arts, in fact, both aims are served by a single act of refusal to fund – an artist categorized as nontraditional may be refused funding, lowering federal spending and preventing the spread of subversive ideas.

Adams asserts, and I agree, that the average Canadian is not in line with Harper socially:

Public opinion and values research data reveal a population that is socially liberal: secular, tolerant of differences, profoundly committed to social equality. Canadians are proud of the equality measures that have been advanced by their courts and governments in recent decades; in this area, the dominant orientation is liberal. Canadians, moreover, have relatively little appetite for culture wars. So-called ordinary Canadians demonstrated this aversion recently when they declined an invitation to engage in some angry resentment of greedy, effete big-city artists.

Canadians are socially liberal in terms of equality. I wrote a research paper on Canadian jurisprudence as an undergrad political science student. I examined situations in which the United States and Canada both had Supreme Court cases on the same issue, and in which the Supreme Court of Canada had cited the Supreme Court of the United States, and found that in almost every case the Canadian case made decisions which had significant marginal social liberalism. I did not have the tools at the time to correlate those cases with population data, and I’ll leave that exercise for another day. I will, however, proceed along the assumption that jurisprudence roughly reflects population ideals. (Project idea: rank significant rights cases on a scale from socially liberal to socially conservatism, and correlate that data with polling data on similar issues. Null hypothesis: no correlation.)

A Globe and Mail editorial notes, as an instance of Harper’s incrementalism, his introduction of a bill to replace the young offender law struck down by the McLachlin Court. After the Supreme Court struck down a statute presuming adult penalties for young offenders under certain circumstances, the Harper government introduced a bill simply making young-offender penalties similar to adult-offender penalties. Whether this is a useful method of assessing penalties is a question for the government, as well as for the Courts under any reasonable construction of Section 12 of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. However, it is also a question for the Canadian populace, which may find the Harper government’s insistence that young offenders be treated in a manner equivalent to adult offenders distasteful. It certainly represents the Conservative government’s decision to try to shift the administration of the country rightward.

As promised, a prediction: the election will proceed as a referendum on the incremental shifts and the Tories as the natural governing party of Canada. Because there is a divided left, one cannot evaluate the referendum based solely on the number of seats won by each party in the House of Commons. The Tories will almost surely win a plurality government. Rather, my hypothesis is that the Tories will have a plurality, but not a majority, of the national popular vote. Further, a significant number of ridings won by the Tories will be won by plurality and not by majority. That is, votes for leftist parties (Greens + NDP + Liberals) will outnumber votes for the Conservatives.

(Note to self: construct statistical model to correct for the NDP’s drainage of Liberal voters.)

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