Sunday, September 30, 2012

The Hidden vs the Not-So Hidden Agenda

This past week the House of Commons voted on a controversial motion which proposed a study on when human life begins. Motion 312, tabled by Conservative MP Stephen Woodworth, was defeated 203-91.

The main talking point coming out of the vote was the fact that among the ranks of the 91 MPs who supported the motion were a number of Cabinet Ministers, including Rona Ambrose (Minister for the Status of Women), Jason Kenney (Immigration) and Peter Van Loan (Government House Leader).

For opponents of the motion, they saw it as an attempt to re-open debate on Canada's abortion laws. Those who voted against it did so either because they are in agreement with those laws, or (in the case of some Conservative MPs) because they were adhering to the Prime Minister's pledge that his government would not be opening up a debate on abortion.

Notwithstanding the motion's defeat, there remain many who feel that the Harper government continues to favour a social conservative agenda. Part of the evidence - the number of Conservative Cabinet Ministers who supported the motion.

Is this proof of a hidden agenda? No.


The accusation of a hidden agenda has dogged the Conservatives (and before them the Canadian Alliance and the Reform Party) from day one. It is an accusation that was used to great effect by the Liberals, particularly when Stockwell Day was the Leader of the Official Opposition, but also in the dying days of the campaign that gave Paul Martin his minority.

However, the governing record of the Conservatives does not show evidence of such an agenda. Yes, one can point to the successive minorities to suggest that the government was not in position to advance such a social conservative agenda.

But now, 16 months into its "strong, stable minority", the Conservatives are still far from any credible suggestion that they are about to spring a sea change in social policy on Canadians.


1. Power. Mr. Harper is well-aware that the majority of Canadians are not supportive of the very social policies so many of his supporters favour. Even when factoring in the (generally) socially conservative immigrant population that is increasingly important to Conservative fortunes, the evidence still suggests that on balance, Canadians are more centrist in terms of social policy (if not liberal).

Recognizing this reality, Mr. Harper will stay away from any debate that could imperil his chances in an election, or allow his opponents to more successfully frame a social conservative narrative against him.

2. Priorities. While Mr. Harper may have catered to the more socially conservative members of his caucus and base over the years in terms of rhetoric, he would have done so for one reason - keep them engaged and mobilized. Rhetoric feeds coffers and keeps a base energized and ready to act.

Mr. Harper's focus has always been on something else. He has consistently adhered to an agenda which, far from being hidden, has been out in the open.

That priority is a fundamental re-shaping of the economic principles upon which the federation has existed for decades. The adoption of a social conservative agenda would simply serve as a distraction away from this priority.


Look at areas like tax policy, equalization or the division of powers. Look at areas that boil down to the role of government - in terms of policy, regulation and environmental stewardship.

In the vast majority of cases, we see an agenda that is focused on re-defining the relationship between the federal and provincial governments, between the government and business, and between the government and individuals.

There is no room in this agenda for an ongoing debate on issues like abortion or gay marriage, for example. While they may be "meat for the base", they are not the prize as far as Mr. Harper is concerned.

What they can do, unfortunately, is distract people from what is happening. In this regard, I suspect a small part of Mr. Harper is pleased to see people get exorcized about policies he would never implement, while at the same not paying as much attention to those that he will.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Have a comment?

Canadian Blogosphere