The latest entry in the swelling ranks of books about the problems with Prime Minister Stephen Harper is Concordia University political science professor Brook Jeffrey’s Dismantling Canada. Like other titles in this category, Jeffrey’s book catalogues in great detail the many policies and actions of the prime minister and his government that have upset the opposition over the years. But what makes this book different is Jeffrey’s conclusion: despite his best efforts, Harper has been unable to fundamentally shift Canada’s political culture to the right.
To her credit, Jeffrey – who has also worked for the federal Liberal party – is exhaustive in explicating her problems with Harper’s agenda. She conveys them in prose that is not necessarily sparkling, but more readable than most academic writing. That said, 370 pages (plus endnotes) seems like a lot to say essentially that this very conservative prime minister has done things liberal Canadians disapprove of.
Jeffrey writes, “Harper knew full well that his political vision of Canada was not shared by most Canadians,” adding that he has acted stealthily, ignoring conventions and rules to implement his agenda. The latter may well be true – and that is a matter of grave concern – but the former is the essence of politics. The job of any politician is to implement an agenda, even when public opinion may be amassed against it. Harper has done a masterful job of this, even if you think his policies are wrongheaded.
As to Jeffrey’s argument that Harper has not succeeded in changing the political culture of the country, the jury is still out. It certainly seems premature to make that claim in advance of this fall’s scheduled election. Harper’s Conservatives have earned a plurality in the popular vote in each of their last three trips to the polls, and their share of the vote has grown in each – a rare accomplishment in Canadian politics for a party in power.
Dismantling Canada seems to underestimate the effects of Harper’s regime at the same time as it shows how wide-ranging the changes initiated during his term in office have been. Downplaying Harper’s political abilities and the influence and popularity of his policies are what helped get him into the Prime Minister’s Office in the first place, and could help to keep him there after this October.