Mark Steyn

Steyn on Canada and the Commonwealth

Cold Fish in an Indian Summer

UPDATE! With the polls closed coast to coast, it turns out to be not the Tories but M Trudeau's Liberals who've made fools of the pollsters. The actual votes were way ahead of anything the data predicted. On balance I would have preferred Mr Mulcair to dethrone Mr Harper, if only because, vis-Ă -vis Clinton vs Bush south of the border, with Justin at 24 Sussex Drive I will no longer be able to use my line that say what you want about constitutional monarchy but at least you get a non-hereditary political class.

It is an appalling defeat for Canadian Tories. As I say below, unlike British Tories in 1997, there is no sense of losing to a tamed and reformed opponent forced to meet you halfway. Justin Trudeau's ministry will govern as if Stephen Harper never existed.

One other thought: Let's go back to six-week campaigns.


Election Day dawns in Canada. For non-Canadians, at a time when what's left of "the west" is represented by Obama, Merkel, Hollande and Cameron, the fall of Stephen Harper, following the eviction last month of Tony Abbott, would be a setback for what's left of sanity and reality on the world stage. Israel, in particular, will miss Harper at a time when John Kerry deplores the way these intransigent Jews have caused Palestinians to become so "frustrated" they're stabbing random Israelis and running them over in their cars. You have to be really "frustrated" to do that. In foreign affairs, the Canadian Prime Minister is one of the few remaining western leaders who doesn't talk total bollocks.

Is the fall of Harper inevitable? Over the weekend, the last major polling organization still insisting it was all too close to call claimed to have detected a last-minute "surge" driven by seniors returning to the comforting bosom of the Liberal Party. So the pollsters are agreed that by the end of the night the Grits will be the largest party in Parliament.

We shall see. But, to end the day still in government, the Conservative Party of Canada would now have to pull off as big a "Screw you!" to the pollsters as David Cameron's Tories did in May. You'll recall that five months ago UK election-eve polls showed the Conservatives would win between 273 and 286 seats. They wound up with 330.

That's the kind of poll/vote differential Canadian Tories are looking for. So it's do-able. But can Harper's Tories do it?

On the one hand, Canadian Cincinnatus:

Stephen Harper has chosen to live life incrementally – taking a lot of small steps, but all in the right direction.

The reason why he has done so was explained to me by top Conservative strategists at a party event held a few weeks after Stephen Harper's first win in 2006 against Liberal Paul Martin. After losing to Paul Martin in 2004, Harper realized that the most important obstacle to overcome was the Liberal meme - repeated ceaselessly since 1993 - that Conservatives (and their Reform predecessors) are too extreme for Canada. Harper's solution was to move forward incrementally without making any moves that could trigger the Liberals to say, Ahah! See I told you. Until now, this strategy has been successful.

Unfortunately, it has a defect. It leaves some conservatives frustrated because they fail to see the steady progress Stephen Harper has made to date.

It has another defect, too: You get damned as extremist anyway. No serving prime minister has been portrayed as a totalitarian megalomaniac on the scale Harper has - not even Pierre Trudeau, who would have enjoyed it.

So, on the other hand, Conrad Black:

As I wrote in my history of Canada (Rise to Greatness) last year, Harper ranks now with Louis St. Laurent, Lester Pearson and Brian Mulroney as an important prime minister, just one level below John A. Macdonald, Wilfrid Laurier, William Lyon Mackenzie King and Pierre Trudeau. He had to put two quarrelling parties together to become a challenger for that office, and he led his reunified party to steadily better results in four straight elections up to 2011. (No other democratic leader has done this — not even Franklin D. Roosevelt, who was elected U.S. president four times, but not with increasing pluralities.)

These are remarkable achievements, and it was an honour to have been of some assistance to him in the earlier stages of his progress. It was partly to help reunite the Conservatives and promote an alternative to what had almost been one-party Liberal rule for a century (73 of the 103 previous years) that Ken Whyte and I founded the National Post in 1999, and I tangibly supported Harper as head of the National Citizens' Coalition, the Canadian Alliance and the reunified Conservatives for many years.

On the other side of the ledger as we approach this election, his government has, with a parliamentary majority, become sclerotically rigid, media-inaccessible, authoritarian and peevish. Strong ministers such as John Baird and the late Jim Flaherty have not been properly replaced, and there is no discernible policy goal or imagination: only the relentless pursuit of extended incumbency. It is a humourless and often paranoid regime where all spontaneity in cabinet or in the governing caucus in Parliament is stifled and punished.

Conrad actually makes a rather better case for Harper than the pro-Harper piece from Canadian Cincinnatus - before deciding it's time to take a flyer on Justin. My old boss has (entirely legitimate) grievances against the Prime Minister that most of his critics do not. In recent weeks, two prominent conservative figures in the Canadian commentariat have remarked to me on Harper's "coldness" even with friendly media types. That's true, certainly when compared to his delightful and friendly missus, or to, say, the bonhomous Jason Kenney or Lisa Raitt, who manage to give the impression they enjoy even hostile interviews. Harper is a cold fish, and the coldness isn't just a social affect. Last year, Harper had Conrad expelled from the Privy Council, as cold-hearted an act as one could devise to humiliate a man who played a crucial role in the glory days of The National Post in both the creation of the new Conservative Party and the rise of Harper to lead it. It was not merely unjust but unnecessary, coming years after Conrad's stitch-up in a corrupt US court for a "crime" that does not exist in any other western nation. I have no idea why Harper felt he had to do it, and, all things considered, Conrad is extremely generous to him in his column. But I do wonder how many lesser known, broadly conservative persons are nursing various grievances against Harper this morning. That never helps in a close election.

In democratic societies, when a long governing party loses to its principal rival, it's because the rival has been forced, in the interests of electoral viability, to meet you halfway - to steal at least some your clothes. Mrs Thatcher forced the Labour Party to change, and thus enabled it to anoint Tony Blair and return to power shorn of its worst impulses. Likewise, the Reagan-Bush years led to Bill Clinton and the "New Democrats". Even in Canada, Brian Mulroney tamped down the Trudeaupian excesses of the Liberals and enabled Jean Chrétien to succeed as head of a Nafta-supporting, debt-reducing ministry. Should tonight go badly, there will be no such consolations for Stephen Harper: Justin Trudeau, in all his shallow modish twerpery, represents everything he despises.

That kind of contempt can make you complacent. When I was in Ottawa last year to address the Manning Conference, I did a little bit of Patrick Brazeau shtick, as the Senator had just been evicted from Parliament and taken a new job as day manager of a strip club. And a couple of cabinet honchos remarked to me en passant that, with hindsight, the Brazeau/Trudeau boxing match broadcast by Sun News had turned out to be a rather consequential moment in Canadian affairs. The bruiser, you'll recall, was supposed to flatten the pretty boy. But as Michael van Tandt concludes:

Since before the boxing match with Senator Patrick Brazeau on March 29, 2012, which effectively launched his ascent, Trudeau has been belittled and under-estimated by his opponents. "I don't think he's one who can take a punch," Brazeau told me that evening, blithely overconfident, a couple of hours before he got knocked out. On election eve, Harper and Mulcair appear to have made a similar mistake.

As to what awaits us if the Liberals win, on an issue dear to my heart, Peter Frost writes of "The End of Indian Summer":

Until three years ago, Canada's human rights commissions had the power to prosecute and convict individuals for "hate speech." This power was taken away after two high-profile cases: one against the magazine Maclean's for printing an excerpt from Mark Steyn's book America Alone; and the other against the journalist Ezra Levant for publishing Denmark's satirical cartoons of the prophet Mohammed. Both cases were eventually dismissed, largely because the accused were well known and popular. As Mark Steyn observed:

'[...] they didn't like the heat they were getting under this case. Life was chugging along just fine, chastising non-entities nobody had ever heard about, piling up a lot of cockamamie jurisprudence that inverts the principles of common law, and nobody paid any attention to it. Once they got the glare of publicity from the Maclean's case, the kangaroos decided to jump for the exit. I've grown tired of the number of Canadian members of Parliament who've said to me over the last best part of a year now, "Oh, well of course I fully support you, I'm fully behind you, but I'd just be grateful if you didn't mention my name in public."' (Brean, 2008)

My case put the army of statist hacks opposed to free speech on the defensive, and eventually the Canadian Parliament repealed Section 13, under which Maclean's was dragged into court. But those who value identity-group rights over individual liberty fell quiet, bided their time, and are looking forward to enforcing ideological compliance once again:

Today, our Indian summer is coming to an end. In Alberta, the human rights commission is pushing to see how far it can go, and Ezra Levant is again being prosecuted... Last month in Quebec, the government passed a bill that greatly expands the powers of its human rights commission to prosecute "hate."

Bill 59, introduced by Quebec Premier Philippe Couillard's Liberal government, would make it illegal to promote hate speech in Quebec, without defining what hate speech is. Despite this, it would expand the definition of hate speech to include "political convictions" for any speech deemed by Quebec's human rights bureaucracy to promote "fear of the other", an absurdly vague term which could easily lead to prosecutorial abuses...

How did this piece of legislation come to be? It had been sold to the public as a means to fight Islamist terrorism and, as such, gained the support of many people, including right-wing politicians who thought its "ant-hate" language was just window dressing to make it more palatable. In its final form, however, there are no references at all to Islamism or terrorism... So it isn't surprising that only two groups to date have supported the bill: The Canadian Muslim Forum and the Muslim Council of Montreal. (Marcotte, 2015)

As Joanne Marcotte notes ironically, this bill was pushed through by a center-right government that claims to believe in individual freedom...

After a brief lull, a new offensive has begun against "hate speech" in Canada.

Climb into your niqab and vote early and often.

~Later today I'll be south of the border talking US politics with New England radio colossus Howie Carr on Boston's WRKO.

from Steyn on Canada, October 19, 2015


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