In the 1990s, Canada was ruled by the Liberal party that, despite the efforts of its many courageous pro-life members, actively promoted a radical social agenda. There was no real alternative to this party; the other side of the aisle was split between regional interests and Red Tories.
Stephen Harper promised to “unite the right” and, although he showed no personal interest in social issues, he gave pro-life Canadians a reason to hope: since both Chrétien and Martin were so vociferously committed to abortion and same-sex “marriage,” perhaps a new political party for small-c conservatives would condemn the ongoing horror of pre-natal infanticide and protect the traditional definition of marriage. At first, the Canadian Alliance, and later the Conservative Party of Canada, offered hope to social conservatives and, despite setbacks and silences, this hope lingered with the creation of the new party. The 2008 federal election, however, gave an unambiguous rebuke to this faint, misplaced hope: the Conservative party is not a socially conservative party. On Sept. 29, Harper was asked by reporters whether he would re-open the abortion issue and he responded: “I’ve been clear throughout my entire political career. I don’t intend to open the abortion issue. I haven’t in the past. I’m not going to in the future … I simply have no intention of ever making … the abortion question a focus of my political career.”
It was a classic example of political cunning. The CPC seemed to be a natural home for those who oppose abortion and who object to the re-definition of marriage. But, for all of its political maneuvering, the party managed to outmaneuver itself. In a failed attempt to win pro-abortion voters, Harper silenced his party’s pro-life members and softened their message out of existence.
Stephen Harper has failed to learn the only lesson the Liberal years had to offer: that political corruption begins with power sought for its own sake. Harper first ran against the Liberals as an advocate of disciplined, well-run government. But a disciplined, well-run government without a message – without meaning – is like the well-swept house of the parable in St Matthew’s Gospel: the Liberals of Chrétien and Martin, mired in corruption, were cast out, but what has taken their place? As Christ said, “The last state … will be worse than the first.”
Harper’s hollow “victory” this year is as unimpressive as it is disappointing. By alienating pro-life Canadians, he has re-opened the rift in his new party that he had supposedly healed, for the sake of a few more seats. Harper’s position – to preserve the intolerable status quo on abortion – is a pathetic form of moral appeasement. In an attempt to reach left-wing voters, Harper betrayed the deepest principles of many who joined his party, seeking protection for the unborn. And who was convinced by Harper’s entreaty? What friends did he make in (supposedly) liberal Toronto and Quebec? Had Harper been able to win supporters of abortion with his drastic alienation of social conservatives, he would likely have his majority today.
Harper did not win this election – the Liberals simply lost. And, as soon as they put forward a credible national candidate, Canadians will return Harper’s moderate, meaningless, unprincipled party to the opposition benches. For all his seeming success, Harper has single-handedly reopened the wounds he claimed to have healed. So, it is back to the future with a Conservative party that is “progressive” once more – and not in a good way.