Some days, it seems that Canada’s reputation for moderate and temperate discourse amounts to little more than the fact that Canadian street protesters and academic wise men often use the same extravagant language, and that we note meticulously paranoid language across the border and tip toe around similar outbursts at home.
This month, the Canadian Literary Review—a vibrant carefully edited magazine of opinion and commentary by distinguished and rising Canadian thinkers—published a post-election essay by Stephen Clarkson, University of Toronto political scientist, author of some fifteen books over forty years, and Order of Canada recipient. He fit the assignment nicely. He wrote biographies of Pierre Trudeau, the most successful modern leader of the displaced centrist Liberal Party, and has written extensively on North American relations and politics.
Here’s his take in his essay "Has the Centre Vanished?” on Canada’s latest majority prime minister, Stephen Harper:
We do not need to find out what the prime minister will do with his now absolute control of Parliament in order to admit to ourselves Canada’s nasty new reality. Stephen Harper has moved Canadian politics into an extreme mode that is driven by three factors. It is guided by his personal, if no longer articulated, extremism. It is buttressed by the significant public support for radical-right populism, expressed municipally with Rob Ford’s mayoralty success in Toronto and, provincially, with the Wildrose Party’s strong poll numbers in Alberta. And it is connected ideationally to such foreign manifestations of neo-fascist resurgence as the nearby Tea Party movement’s flirting with violence in the United States and further away in the Hungarian Jobbik Party’s call to bring back chain gangs for convicts—a policy idea that Tim Hudak picked up in Ontario.
Nothing parochial about this insight, eh?
In one fleeting October, Stephen Harper can be the first Canadian Prime Minister to use a transparent Parliamentary process to appoint two Supreme Court Justices, be the first Canadian Prime Minister to try once more to surrender to the people of Canada his power to appoint Senators, be the only leader in the present Parliament unequivocally committed to legislation to align seats in the House of Commons strictly according to population—and be the first prime minister, in the first year of his first majority, to be called a neo fascist fellow traveler by a Canadian scholar.
Stephen Harper is fond of Canada’s Queen and many Tea Partiers like to dress up in 18th century costumes. He also looks like a cold suburban WASP. However, there is nothing fascist about Harper or the Tea Party’s appreciation of America’s founding constitution or its place in the West. Harper is clearly a small-r republican in his vision of popular sovereignty and, therefore, is a threat to the centralist vision of that has dominated Canadian politics since the Forties.
In a matter of days, Harper will conclude another agreement with Barack Obama. Professor Clarkson, will that make Obama a neo fascist, twice removed, or just a dupe?