It is heartening for the conservative brand elsewhere that a Canadian Conservative could win an outright majority after being in power during the capitalist collapse of 2008 and through the global recession it precipitated. However, US Republicans have to stop being radicals if they think any of conservatism’s shine in Canada will rub off on them.
Pundit Michael Barone said in his column “What the GOP can learn from Canada’s Conservatives:”
“The Conservatives' triumph offers a couple of lessons that may be relevant to U.S. Republicans. One is that smaller-government policies, far from being political poison, are actually vote winners.”
If anyone in US politics should be consoled by Harper’s re-election it should be fellow incumbent, fellow auto industry nationalizer and fellow Keynesian recession fighter Barack Obama.
Harper did present himself in the election as a reluctant spender and put “affordable” in front of every spending promise he made. Furthermore, as a constitutional federalist, he persistently reminded the public that major reforms and service extensions in health and social services are primarily the responsibility of the provinces.
Nevertheless, his musings on the limits of federal government programming did not include unwinding—or even shrinking—the social infrastructure of 20th century Canada. The moderate or, if you wish, un-frightening implications of his conservative temperament has been established by five years of substantial increases in social spending.
It’s one thing to insist that there are limits in the abstract. Harper talked about limits after delivering the necessary cash—and promising to increase health financing transfers by 6% annually in a new multi-year agreement with the provinces.
Harper has finally established a broad level of trust that he will uphold universal mandatory health insurance in Canada.
Canadian Conservatives are skeptical about the efficiency and affordability of introducing further universal social programs at the federal level. However, they support using federal revenues to help the provinces provide health, education and social services at comparable levels across the country.
Clearly, the conservative message that the government should do less than what progressives would like to try to do next won broad support across most of Canada. However, there’s no comfort in that for those Republicans who claim that Obama’s health insurance plan is unconstitutional and propose to turn national health insurance for seniors into an annual voucher.
On the economic front, where Republicans still have a chance, Harper again isn’t much help. His path to a balanced budget entails a 5% annual productivity saving in discretionary spending. It doesn’t include the elimination of federal departments of energy, regional development, industry or environment. It doesn’t include further across the board tax cuts before the budget is balanced. Furthermore, his government has provided financial incentives to the provinces to actually expand their sales tax bases (the Harmonized Sales Tax.)