Wednesday, October 11, 2006

Harper and The TheoCons - Part I

Related Articles:

Harper and the TheoCons - Part II

The Walrus: Stephen Harper and The TheoCons - October 2006
(8/4/08: Link to Walrus Archives added due to restructuring of their website breaking some links in this post)

This is the first part of my impressions and thoughts on the article in the October, 2006 issue of The Walrus entitled "Harper and The TheoCons".

The article itself is a lengthy expose of the connections betweens the Harper-led Conservatives and the theologically-oriented conservative movement in Canada.

Elsewhere in this blog, I've speculated that what Harper was presenting to Canadian voters during the last election was something quite separate from what he intends to do, especially should he achieve a majority government. Much of this this article tends to underscore that.

Three years ago, in a speech to the annual Conservative think-fest, Civitas, he [Harper] outlined plans for a broad new party coalition that would ensure a lasting hold on power. The only rout, he argued, was to focus not on the tired wish list of economic conservatives or "neo-cons," as they'd become known, but on what he called "theo-cons" - those social conservatives who care passionately about hot-button issues that turn on family, crime and defence.

- Oct 06 Walrus, P. 50

This reinforces what I argued in December of 2005 - that Harper was at the time presenting something to the people of Canada that was considerably at odds with what he actually believes and represents.

What I find fascinating are some of the other connections in this article. We find Preston Manning and his "Manning Centre For Building Democracy" showing up as a primary background force in trying to rein in the more extreme members of the party and attempting to create a "moderate" face for the party.

Now Manning is doing his part to ensure that his spiritual protege and the estimated seventy evangelicals in the Conservative caucus - however well muzzled - don't suffer the same fate. [ed. as Stockwell Day] Last year he set up the Manning Centre for Building Democracy, a $10 million Calgary-based non-profit aimed at training Conservatives how to run ridings and campaigns, then staff MPs' offices. He calls it a"a school of practical politics," but one of the centre's main preoccupations is tutoring the Christian evangelicals now flooding into Ottawa on how to survive the perilous waters of public life. Oct. 06 Walrus P. 50-51

Well, so far, my experience with this particular aspect of the CPoC has been an MP who refuses to answer communications that aren't ideologically correct for him. (But my personal experiences with my MP predate the creation of the Manning Centre, but not Manning himself).

There's a few things that this article points out about how Harper has organized his cabinet that are deeply worrisome for those of us who actually believe that Canada is based on a plurality of religions, and that no particular religious belief should hold sway.

Borrowing a page from Bush's White House, which boasts a deputy responsible for "Christian Outreach", Harper has installed a point man for the religious right, among other groups in his government, under the title "director of stakeholder relations"

Oct. 06 Walrus P. 50

This is quite an eyeopener. Among other things, I find it something of a slap in the face to Canadians as a whole. We are all stakeholders in our government. To create a position that is clearly focused upon keeping a specific - and rather noisy - group of stakeholders "happy" is very disturbing. (Especially when one considers the kind of agenda some of those "stakeholders" actually pursue.

But evangelical activists know that a more direct route to the prime minister is through his parliamentary secretary, Jasone Kenney. After the election, many in the Ottawa press corps were astonished when the Calgary loyalist who served as a critic in every recent Reform/Alliance shadow cabinet didn't win a portfolio. But these days, Kenney may have more clout than any minister, playing emissary to groups with whom Harper doesn't wish to leave prime ministerial fingerprints, above all on the religious right.

Oct. 06 Walrus P. 50

I wasn't entirely surprised when Kenney wasn't appointed to a ministerial portfolio. I suspected back then that his role needed less accountability than being a minister would oblige him to accept. (And believe me, the man amazingly deft at making sure he's nowhere near anything that would make him "accountable" for anything.

I think the underlying point, so far, is that the Harper government is about one thing - gaining power at all costs. They are trying desperately to do so without the Canadian public twigging to what they would really be electing. Their own actions to date have been intriguing. On one hand, they have tried to stick to "five key points" legislatively, and on the other hand, their "spending cuts" speak to a much different agenda than what they ran on.

To this point, I have but scratched the surface. Although Harper has clearly kept most of his extremists well zippered (Perhaps with the exception of Maurice Vellacott), it is quite clear that the "TheoCons" are not merely a "faction" within the party, but a very powerful one. As someone who watched the Reform/Alliance party grow in Alberta, this comes as little surprise. In its early days the Reform party quickly became a roost for the extreme religious movement, and they have never to my knowledge left the party - even after the "merger" with the former "Progressive Conservative" party.

Next, I will begin to examine just who some of the "background" lobbyists that the Walrus talks about and what they represent.

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