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Wednesday, July 17 2024 @ 08:41 MDT

History repeating

Canadian PoliticsOr is Stephen Harper about to channel R.B. Bennett? The parallels are actually quite striking.

Both were Conservative Prime Ministers. Both represented Alberta ridings, though neither was born in the province. Both held office during major economic downturns. Both felt that laissez-faire was the way to stop the economic downturn. In the end both had to change their mind and use government intervention to ease the problems of the economy on the citizens of Canada. Bennett because he saw the writing on the wall (and the Americans were doing it too), Harper because in a minority situation he had no choice with the opposition forcing him to do so.

Of course now, with the world economy balanced on the precipice for a second dip into major recession, Harper has no such check on his actions. He is now free to use his purely ideological framework to handle the next recession (which I'm sure he'll claim no one saw coming). Only this time instead of shovelling money out the door into Conservative ridings, he'll simply cut taxes on business and the wealthy and cut benefits to those out of work, since after all EI is a disincentive to work.

We can see some of this already, the Harper government, desperate to eliminate the social safety net has removed the mandatory retirement age, so that those lazy pensioners can go look for work when Harper and his government eliminate OAS and CPP - need to balance the budget you know. No doubt American medical insurance companies are salivating over the merest hint that Harper will gut the Canada Health Act, again as an austerity measure.

Would Harper do all this? Well it is in his DNA as a neo-con to try. The purposeful creation of a structural deficit by his government is merely the first step on the way to the elimination of our health care and social safety net. A recession would give him the excuse to do it. Harper and his supporters have no problem throwing thousands if not millions of Canadians under the bus in the name of ideological purity.

What would this mean to Canada? Well apart from some very lean years, if Harper does follow the do-nothing path he was looking at taking during the first dip of the recession, it will damage the Conservative brand outside of the West. If and when the next dip happens, no amount of lies sent through the Sun by the government will convince the unemployed that they don't exist. The problem is that people will start to believe their own lying eyes rather than the likes of Harper and his supporters. In the end, like Bennett, the Harper and the Conservatives will be consigned to the opposition benches again, their only hope is that it won't be for the 23 or so years that happened after Bennett's defeat.

So like the world, the Harper Tories are also on the precipice. Follow their ideology blindly and a deep prolonged recession (one their ideology would allow to continue longer and more painfully than necessary) will damage their brand and they will find themselves in the political wilderness for possibly decades. Their other alternative is to turn into their worst enemy, the Liberal Party, and they might stand a chance. It will be interesting to see which they choose.

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