Stephen Harper’s support is starting to ebb.
Too little, too late, perhaps, but maybe just enough to save the country from a Conservative majority.
The guy has run a good campaign, almost flawless. Until earlier this week.
That’s when — heady with his imminent victory — he dropped his guard and tried to sooth undecided voters, suggesting the Liberal-appointed judiciary, bureaucracy and Senate would serve as emergency brakes on his reformist tendencies in the event of a majority.
The remark was extraordinary, and damaging, as it reminded people of the pre-makeover Harper.
It was also goofy coming from a former Reform Party foot soldier. The Senate? A curb on power?
Furthermore, Harper’s contempt for civil service and judiciary reminded us of remarks Preston Manning made in 2000.
Back then, at Whitehorse’s Gold Rush Inn, Manning likened a then-Canadian Reform-Conservative Alliance win to a hostile takeover of government.
And he openly mused about declaring a one-year state of emergency — suspending government services for a year — to get control of the civil service.
“You’ve got a short window of opportunity where the public expects change,” said Manning back then. “They will put up with even a disruption of services for a year if that is what’s going to get change.”
The civil service would be purged, and contracts cancelled.
It was a frightening admission, raising questions about how Canada’s economy would fare in the face of such federal bedlam.
Asked how this could be accomplished, while maintaining government services and cutting taxes by $100 billion, Manning told reporters to call Monte Solberg, Reform’s Finance critic.
Solberg is now the Conservative finance guru.
So, while the leader has changed, the foundation remains solid, and unchanged.
Guided by Solberg, Harper has pledged families $1,200 for every child younger than six. It’s to offset day-care expenses.
But the Conservative benefit will be considered taxable income. So the net benefit to a two-parent family earning $30,000 a year — those who arguably most need help — is about $450 a year, according to the Caledon Institute of Social Policy, a Canadian think tank.
As well, the institute notes the Conservative plan would do little to build a national child-care system. So that important piece of national infrastructure, which will take years to build, will probably languish during a Conservative rein.
So, why are Conservatives offering Canadians $1,200 a child instead of building a national child-care system.
Well, many Christians — traditional supporters of the old Reform Party — don’t believe in institutional child care.
Deathly afraid of breakdown of societal values, and believing them tied to a rupture in family values, they want parents to look after their own kids.
Problem is, in modern Canadian society most parents work. Most of them have to.
And $450 a year, per child, won’t fix that.
Harper has done a good job powdering over these Reform wrinkles.
But just because they don’t show doesn’t mean they don’t exist.
This week, Harper finally deviated from the playbook.
And it might have sapped his momentum enough to deny the Conservatives a majority.
That would be positive for Canada. (RM)