Tuesday, February 19, 2013
Stephen Harper's Very, Very , Very Revealing Comments About Europe
"Canada is a Northern European welfare state in the worst sense of the term, and very proud of it." - Stephen Harper to a conservative American lobby group, in 1997.
When Canadian Stephen Harper set out to become Prime Minister, he justified his heroic quest with reference to a stereotypical enemy: the dreaded 27-toed sloth known as the European welfare state, which, according to Harper, Canada was beginning to resemble. Conservatism to the rescue! (In order to make such obese generalizations, it helped that Harper had never been to Europe in 1997, and had only left Canada once before becoming PM).
Notice the gigantic irony: the Conservative revolution was supposed to happen because Canada was suffering from socialism and the people were looking for an escape from stagnation. This couldn't be further from the truth. The Tories came to power in 2006 because of a couple of spending scandals (the most prominent being the Quebec Sponsorship Scandal) and because of the deal made between Harper as leader of the Canadian Alliance and Progressive Conservative leader Peter McKay to unify the right. There was virtually no shift to the right whatsoever in the realm of public opinion about political values. Furthermore, the Conservatives' first budget betrayed an interest in financial deregulation and things like sub-prime mortgages--a clear indication that if anything, their ideological predilections were leading us into trouble, not out of it. After all, conservatism was the root cause of the financial crisis, and not the solution.
Such ignorance also came in handy when came to interpreting the meaning of the euro crisis. (An underlying construction flaw of the EU is a monetary union which lacks the requisite political regulatory political capacities at federal level. It seems that one can't have it both ways--i.e. one can't have monetary union without fiscal union.) Notice that Harper likes to blame the European welfare state--not the way blind faith in market integration raced ahead of the European welfare state--for the crisis. European leaders have sharply--and correctly-- replied that if it had been the debt incurred by high tax-and-spend welfare state that were to blame, Germany and Sweden would be in crisis and the less taxed and less regulated economies of Greece and Ireland would be bailing them out! Harper and Flaherty like to pretend that their fiscal austerity saved the day in Canada and serves as the model for the world. The truth is very different. What the world needs is more of the stability of the banking system, to which conservatives in Canada constituted the biggest existential threat.