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The great disconnect: Stephen Harper's platform and what Canadians really want

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There is a yawning gap between the platform Stephen Harper is presenting to the Canadian people and what Canadians tell pollsters are their major concerns. The dangerous disconnect between what the people want and the plans of those who control the state is all too clear in our fraying democracy.

Canadians list health care and jobs as their top priorities. Harper's leading issues are: corporate tax cuts, crime, jet fighters, deficit reduction, and income splitting. A Fortress North America security deal with the United States is very much on his to-do list. Further down the list is the privatization of CBC television and a much-expanded role for religious organizations in the delivery of social policy.

It's not that Harper will do nothing on the questions of health care and jobs, the top concerns of Canadians.

On health care, Harper will readily go along with provincial initiatives to increase the private delivery of services. He will not defend the Canada Health Act, which embodies principles he has always detested. Yes, he'll act on health care, but in ways that are exactly contrary to what Canadians want.

On jobs, Harper will freeze the size of the federal public service, along with freezing the salaries of those who work for the federal government. Harper and his ministers will contribute to the culture of loathing for public sector employees which is now sharply on the rise in Britain, where employees who have been laid off as a consequence of government cutbacks can't get jobs in the private sector because their work in the public sector shows up on their CVs.

Harper's advice to young people looking for jobs will be to act eager, be polite, wish your customers a nice day, smile and don't worry too much about the pay. (The Harper government actually has no job creation strategy, apart from lower corporate taxes. Their stimulus program -- forced on them by the opposition -- has expired. Now their strategy is to sell oil sands oil to the Americans and pray for economic recovery south of the border. Prayer is undoubtedly good for the soul, but only in business schools is it regarded as an economic policy.)

The above scenario depends, of course, on Harper's Conservatives winning a majority of seats in the House of Commons on May 2. That is not bound to happen. Canadians hold the power to prevent it.

On the other hand, Harper only needs about forty per cent of the votes, distributed effectively, to achieve his goal. To stop Harper, about sixty-two per cent of voters will have to cast their ballots for parties other than the Conservatives.

A substantial majority of voters will definitely reject Harper -- nobody disputes that. Will that majority be substantial enough? We'll only know on the evening of May 2.

Meanwhile if Harper gets his forty per cent of the vote and a majority of seats, he will insist that Canadians have given him a mandate to govern and to implement his policies.

And on Thursday evenings on soon-to-be-privatized CBC television, the panelists will tell Peter Mansbridge that during his watch Stephen Harper has transformed Canada into a more "conservative" country. In reality, the basic values and priorities of Canadians have changed very little over the Harper years. Neo-cons, including Harper, have always regarded Canadians as a stubbornly intractable lot.

A few pearls from the compiled wisdom of Stephen Harper before he became prime minister convey the contempt: "Canada is a Northern European welfare state in the worst sense of the term, and very proud of it... Canada appears content to become a second-tier socialistic country... The rest of the country has responded in no uncertain terms that we [Albertans] do not share their Canadian values... Let us build a society on Alberta values."

Dealing with a beast -- the Canadian people -- for whom one has such little respect requires a sharp stick to keep the dullard moving in the right direction.

If the Conservatives get their majority, the first two years of untrammelled Harper power will be very sharp indeed. The Conservatives will act on the theory that you front-load the nastiness so that a semblance of calm can be restored during the run-up to the subsequent election.

"You voted for this," Canadians will be told, by those in the pay of our right-wing mainstream media, by the cynical members of the punditry (pretty much the same group), and by those who profit from a society with an ever-wider gap between the rich and the rest.

The fact that most Canadians will actually have voted against this will receive short shrift. In 1988, 53 per cent of Canadians voted for parties that opposed the free trade deal with the U.S., but the deal was implemented because the Conservatives won a majority of seats with 43 per cent of the votes.

A Harper majority need not befall us. We have the time and the means to stop the Sheriff of Nottingham from gaining control of the castle.

This article was originally published on James Laxer's blog.

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