Then there is the Canadian conservative movement, which seems capable of convincing itself of any number of conflicting ideas without visible discomfort of any kind. Nowhere is this particular case of cognitive dissonance on better display than at the annual Manning Networking Conference, where the movement’s core gathers every year to congratulate itself on two things: the rightness of its beliefs, and the greatness of the government of Stephen Harper.
It seems to me a health psyche requires one to choose between the two (or indeed neither). But to spend the better part of a weekend reiterating your profound faith in the policies of conservatism, all the while roaring your approval for the government that has repudiated them at every turn, would seem evidence of some sort of pathology.
Oh, there was the odd sign of unease. At a question-and-answer session with Jason Kenney and Maxime Bernier, a woman went to the microphone to ask the two ministers why their government, with the national debt now in excess of $600-billion, was still spending more than any government in our history. (Which is true. Program spending had only once exceeded $6,500 per capita, in constant 2012 dollars, in all the years before the Conservatives came to power. It has averaged nearly $6,900 over the last seven years.) The ministers gave non-committal answers, though Bernier restated his heretical belief that spending should be frozen at current levels.
But soon she was replaced at the microphone by a young man who wondered how to “break through” to those on the left who persisted in the belief that massive deficits were the appropriate response to an economic slump. The ministers nodded sympathetically. Yes, they averred, that was a problem.
There are other problems
Well, no. But it is significant that he neglected to mention “free market conservatives.” Once upon a time these were considered central to the definition of conservatism. Perhaps this was Manning’s concession to reality, for whatever else the Harper government may pretend to believe in, it does not even pretend any more to believe in the free market. The addition of $150-billion to the national debt might have been put down to the exigencies of politics, but the announcements of recent weeks — hundreds of millions of dollars for the auto industry, hundreds of millions more for the venture-capital sector (“venture” apparently has acquired a different meaning lately), billions in loan guarantees to a Newfoundland hydro project, plus that wholesale plunge into 1970s-style industrial policy via defence procurement — all too clearly reflect this government’s most sincere convictions.
As I have said many times before, Stephen Harper’s Conservatives aren’t conservatives. I am not sure what to label them but conservative is not that label.