sábado, 18 de octubre de 2008

Stephen Harper: Bible-basher, philistine, conservative and divisive, apart from that OK

Canada has traditionally been perceived as a quiet, prosperous and welcoming country. Perhaps that's why there aren't many Canada watchers. Not that there's nothing to watch, but there's not an awful lot to criticise. Personally, I feel grateful to a number of Canadian clerics who founded and run my high-school and were my teachers, and I always felt that it was a faraway place but close at the same time.

Having said that, I fear things are changing fast, an for worse. Indignation sparked in Chile when we saw our footballers beaten up by the Toronto police. Not that Chilean police are exemplary, but the brutality was excessive and disproportionateeven for Chilean standards. The use of billy clubs, pepper gas and other devices, banned in the civilised world, amounted to extreme anger when the whole country saw their footballers physically damaged and needing medical attention weeks after the incident, which left some players out of work for months. The behaviour of the Chilean footballers was wrong. The passion that football ignites is beyond anyone's understanding, even more so when it comes to playing with Argentina. Chilean footballers have a sad record of trashing hotel rooms after games and drunken incidents. The incident also divided Chilean public opinion. As expected, the ultra-conservatives/Pinochet nostalgic thought it was OK because police are supposed to be tough. Chilean players wanted to sign autographs to their fans after a heated game, and the police didn't let them, and a fight broke up. What really struck me was to see such brutality in Canada, of all places. I would expect to see the Chileans apologising for wrongdoing, or brutality in some ex communist nation, but you don't expect the police services of Canada being singled out for excessive use of force. Enraged Chilean residents in Canada then told another story: Canada may not be the quiet, peaceful and welcoming place we once thought. The article Policing in Canada published in The Economist in july 2008 has actually confirmed some of these fears.

At the root of all this, probably, lies what I describe as the greatest economic evil: the welfare state. What's the conection? A country that decidedly need immigrants to populate their vast lands can't attract workers if there's a welfare state in place because that means that some make a living off other people's work, which only generates resentment and social agitation. If you work hard and you realise that for four or five months of the year your hard-earned money goes straight to he tax collector, and you notice that scores of people live off your money, you have reasons to get angry. Some time ago, someone told me that in Canda you only need a medical card to have 'free' medical care, and apparently it is a 'very good thing', even an 'example' for countries like the US or Chile for that matter. First of all, it doesn't matter how many times I repeat this but here we go again: there's no such thing as a free lunch. No, in Canada health care is not free, it's paid, by everyone and not at the point of delivery, but it is paid. Second, if people are paying, why can't they pay it to a private insurer of their choice which can design a customised health plan for each individual, potentially making it cheaper and more effective? It is sad to see that conservatives are the only ones to note the problem and offer a solution, but once you put them in government they start promoting their values. The stereotype of the Canadian Conservatives, quoted from someone mentioned in The Economist (see article), is as follows: “Philistines from the west, sweeping out of the prairies towards the outposts of civilisation in Toronto and Montreal".

Stephen Harper, the re-elected Canada's prime minister, has a record in office not quite impressive. I have checked with some of my friends and he's divisive and linked to Christian orthodoxies (abortion and same-sex marriage are not only opposed by him, but he intends to prohibit it to others too). On the other hand, he's pushing to curb the welfare state, which is necessary for many reasons, but crucial to keep the immigration process working smoothly by attracting people intersted in making a living by joining the economy, and not living off the state. A welfare state is funded by heavy taxation, and taxes distort the economy making it less efficient, and where there's no efficiency there's no economy.

Though in favour of free trade, Harper will have to review the terms of NAFTA, where Chile has also joined. It's shocking to learn that senator Obama wants to revisit it. Free trade is the key to development and growth. With the credit-crunch crisis possibly getting worse before it gets better, a market skeptic like Obama can be a serious disruption, and potentially lethal. US Democrats will surely also control Congress and further government spending (remember Obama's universal healthcare plan) and reviewing free trade agreements is definitely going down a dangerous road. But just like McCain turned his candidacy an unpalatble option by naming religious freak Sarah Palin as his running mate, it's the silly things that make Canada's Stephen Harper a bad choice for liberal free-marketeers. Harper may be in favour of NAFTA. That's a good thing. Although we still need to ask ourselves if we can call free trade a treaty of over 8000 pages of regulations. But why do Conservatives insist in free trade but not free minds to marry or terminate a pregnancy? His socially conservative stance has receded, and he's won, fair and square, although in a low turnout election.

Canada's Liberals are only themselves to blame. If Liberals are not willing to promote a free market agenda, they become a less attractive choice. The most attractive policy of Canada's Liberals was their support of a carbon tax, something that has made this blog an unpopular one among the most extreme sections of the libertarian opinion. I know taxation isas described by John Stuart Milla mild form of robbery. But again in line with The Economist's pragmatic stance, it has become necessary to punish polluters to prevent the climate change catastrophe. Lacking arguments, Conservatives and orthodox libetarians regard climate change a mere conspiracy. This is wrong, inadequate, stupid and dangerous. Quebecker Stépehan Dion was right to push for a carbon tax. Sadly, his party slumped in this week election and needs a new leader to revive an alternative to the current Conservatives. Stephen Harper may be OK for now, but soon Canadians will need to get rid of him.

Canada is increasingly becoming a multicultural place, and that's praiseworthy. The key of evolution is inclusion, not exclusion. The question now is how to prevent ghetto and riots like we saw in the French banlieu, or radicalised religious fanatics willing to bomb their own country fellows, like we saw in London. Let the market attract brave, flexible, enthusiast and open-minded immigrants, and don't let the welfare state get in the way.

The following is The Economist's political endorsement for Stephen Harper (my highlights).

Canada's general election
The fear factor

Oct 9th 2008

Why Stephen Harper does not deserve to be dumped

IT IS not easy to be a successful Conservative in Canada. Perhaps it is the effect of living next to the United States. Perhaps it is because the country was founded on the collectivist principles of “peace, order and good government” rather than the individualist “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness” of its neighbour. Perhaps it is because the things that Canadians most value about their country are its publicly run health service, its European-style welfare state and its tolerance. All are associated with the Liberals, who have been the natural party of government in Canada for the past century. To cap it all, conservative ideas of deregulation and unfettered free-market capitalism have been brought into disrepute by the financial turmoil south of the border.

So perhaps it is not surprising that the hopes of Stephen Harper, Canada’s Conservative prime minister, of endowing his minority government with a parliamentary majority at a general election on October 14th may end up being dashed. At first his decision to call the election looked shrewd, as the Conservatives raced to a lead of 15 percentage points in the opinion polls. Then the Wall Street panic got going. Canadians began to worry that Mr Harper was not doing enough to protect them. His poll lead has been cut by almost half. Unless he bucks the trend he could even lose power.

That would be unwarranted. It was a surprise when Mr Harper won the last election in January 2006, ending a dozen years of Liberal rule. Few pundits imagined that he would survive longer than a year. That he has governed for 32 months is a tribute to the political skills of an underestimated man. He does not offer a soaring vision of radical change. Canadians have not warmed to him: he comes over as a bloodless control freak. But he is hardworking, and a skilled parliamentary tactician. He governs a rather successful country that needs incremental improvement, not a revolution.

Mr Harper promised Canadians some modest measures. Some of these were sensible. Others, such as the cut in the sales tax, were not. But he got most of them done. He patched up Canada’s relations with the United States, which had deteriorated. His decision to keep Canadian troops fighting in Afghanistan was unpopular, but he was careful to ensure that it was backed by leading Liberals. He has increased defence spending, which shows realism in a country that lays claim to a large chunk of the disputed Arctic.

Mr Harper’s political home is in the west, in oil-rich Alberta where they like their politicians in the carnivorous mould of Sarah Palin. In office he has tried to woo eastern Canada, dropping his previous opposition to abortion and gay marriage, and recognising French-speaking Quebec as a “nation within a united Canada”. But his inner oilman has won out when it comes to the environment, an important issue in a country that is both a heavy carbon-emitter and especially vulnerable to climate change. Stéphane Dion, the Liberal leader, bravely proposes a carbon tax, which he claims would be revenue-neutral. Simply to rubbish this as a “crazy” idea that would “screw everybody”, as Mr Harper has done, shows a disappointing lack of leadership, and is grounds enough to deny the Conservatives a majority. In fact another minority Conservative government would not be a bad result for Canada: neither of the main party leaders has done enough to persuade Canadians that they deserve untrammelled power.

The first credit-crunch election
If the voters go further and eject Mr Harper, that, sadly, will not be because they have been convinced by the cerebral Mr Dion’s worthy carbon tax. It will be because the opposition—a gang of four, comprising the socialist New Democrats, the separatist Bloc Québécois and the rising Green Party as well as the Liberals—has succeeded in panicking the voters on the economy. And yet, in a sinking world, Canada is something of a cork. Its well-regulated banks are solid. Growth has slowed but not stopped. The big worry is the fear that an American recession will drag Canada down with it.

Mr Harper says, rightly enough, that his government has taken prudent measures to help Canada weather a storm it cannot duck: he has offered tax cuts and selective aid to help vulnerable manufacturing towns. But it is his seeming non-reaction to what is so far a non-crisis that looks likely to deny him the majority he was seeking, and could even let in the opposition. In what is the first credit-crunch election in a big Western country, Mr Harper’s ejection would set a dispiriting precedent that panic plays better politically than prudence.

5 comentarios:

Anónimo dijo...

Hello, it's Emilia again. I'm happy to be the first to comment on this article, especially as I'm Canadian myself.

First off, I didn't vote in this election. I look at voting as I do marriage: I won't engage in it unless I'm 100% sure of the person I'm either voting for or marrying. So in this election I didn't vote because I wasn't 100% sure of any particular candidate or party.

On the other hand, I'm not too upset that Harper won, though I'm happy he did not obtain a majority government (nothing particularly against him; I have always been wary of majority governments because I think there should always be a check and balance system, so to speak).

In Harper's favour, I must say, and this might not be from the goodness of his heart but from political pragmatism, he's managed to distance himself from the more socially conservative factions of his Party. For example, after a vote in support of it, he agreed not to change Canada's law on same-sex marriage. Similarly he's said publicly he does not intend to change Canada's abortion law.

On the other hand, the various Liberal leaders (Stephane Dion and former Prime Minister Paul Martin) haven't done their fair share in distancing themselves from some of the more left-wing trends in their Party. For example, some Liberal Senators have attempted to introduce legislation that would interfere in parents' decisions about their children. Neither Dion nor Martin have spoken against these initiatives, whereas Stephen Harper has made it clear he does not intend to pursue an anti-abortion or anti-gay marriage agenda.

Therefore maybe Canadians have decided it's better to vote for the devil you know, so to speak!

socióblogo dijo...

Semi off-topic: I'm not sure abour Obama being a market-sceptic. He teached law in Chicago University.
Also, even if he is, he has a far better record than McCain in respecting and promoting civil liberties according to the index published by the ACLU. By my standards, he's the best candidate for promoting a liberal (not in the american sense) agenda.
Later I'll post you some links about Obama's economic thought and civil liberties compromise.

Anónimo dijo...

I agree that NAFTA needs to be revisited, not to impose unreasonable regulations but to lift them. American farming subsidies are enormous and are crippling Mexican agriculture - and as with any form of government interference, there will be some deadweight lost. Consider it state sponsorship of unproductive activities. NAFTA is meant to be about wealth creation, not government mandated wealth redistribution, which is the unfortunate and immoral effect that massive agricultural subsidies are having. Come on over to Mexico if you want to see how millions of these farmers are getting screwed over because they are locked into a treaty which does nothing to regulate US subsidies.

Chile Liberal dijo...

@Emilia: I think when it comes to voting, for me is the exact opposite. I usually trade off and have to go for the lesser evil, I don't really find many candidates I like.

If Harper is somewhat centrist in his Conservative stance, as you describe, then I think he's OK. I like pragmatism (I define myself a consequentialist libertarian, or a pragmatic).

When you mention the Liberals' legislation that would interfere in parents' decisions about their children, do you mean anything related to spanking children? A similar bill was passed here and I supported it, but I have to say now that I withdraw my support and I'm willing to admit to my mistake.

I agree with you on the 'lesser evil'. If you read carefully what The Economist think, you will see that they regard a good sign that the Canadian electorate is not all panicky and preferred to stay with the devil they know. It's good to remain calm, so good for Canadians. The turnout was low so Mt Harper should not get too cocky.

@Socióblogo: I disagree. Obama has clearly stated (check out here in the presidential debate - min 4:22)that he's planning to tax companies outsourcing jobs outside the US. If that's not call protectionism, then what is it? Let companies profit and be more efficient, so they can create more skilled jobs in America. You can read The dangerous protectionism of Barack Obama. Obama wants not only to revisit NAFTA, but wants to freeze other free trade agreements. He's been talking (as in the last debate) of tax cuts for 95% of Americans. He's misleading the public, he's not cutting taxes, but he's planning tax rebates, and he label it tax cut. I'm amazed that McCain didn't question this. His state funded health plan is anything but 'classical liberalism'.

Post the links you have but I doubt we can call Obama a liberal in the classical sense of the word.

@Anonymous: US subsidies are terrible. NAFTA totally needs to be revised, I agree, but to make it a proper free trade agreement and to create a real free trade area in The Americas.

Anónimo dijo...

Generally, when I've voted, it's been for either the Liberals or Conservatives. There is another party called the NDP (New Democratic Party) which is even more to the left than the Liberals (they call themselves social democratic). I don't agree with most of the NDP's philosophy, but I respect them to the extent that they have the courage of their convictions.

I think Stephen Harper is trying to present himself as an economic rather than social conservative. In fact, some social conservatives have been disappointed in him because, for example, he hasn't tried to tighten Canada's abortion law. But perhaps in steering clear of social issues but making sure the economy is on the right track, he's gained the favour of the Canadian public.

Yes, the Liberal legislation I was talking about had to do with spanking children. I think there should be legislation to deal with child abuse, but if you look at Sweden, where corporal punishment was abolished in the late 1970s, it really hasn't seen any corresponding drop in child abuse but instead seen children taken away from their families (which I think is a necessary step if, for instance, the children are being abused).

I think perhaps one area Harper could pay more attention to is the environment. Mind you, I'm not an environmental radical, and I don't agree with all the proposed solutions of hardcore environmentalists, but Canada's a relatively prosperous country, so it won't hurt us to care for our surroundings.