BY STEVE PATTEN
Socialist Studies / Études socialistes 8 (1)
Martin, Lawrence. 2010. Harperland: The Politics of Control. Toronto: Viking Canada. ISBN 978-0-670-06517-2. Hardcover: 35.00 CAD. Pages: 301.
Nadeau, Christian. 2011. Rogue in Power: Why Stephen Harper is Remaking Canada by Stealth. Toronto: Lorimer. ISBN 978-1-55277-730-5. Paperback: 22.95 CAD. Pages: 159
A lot has been written about Stephen Harper over the years. He first caught the attention of followers of Canadian politics when he was Chief Policy Officer for the fledgling Reform Party of Canada. He subsequently served as a Reform MP from 1993 to 1997, before stepping aside from partisan politics to head the uncompromisingly right wing National Citizens Coalition. When Harper returned to politics in 2002 it was to lead the Canadian Alliance. But, a little over a year later he was at the helm of the newly unified Conservative Party of Canada. The Harper Conservatives unseated Canada’s Liberal government in 2006, and for the next five years Stephen Harper was the successful head of a minority Conservative government. Then, in May 2011, Harper and the Conservatives won a majority of seats in the House of Commons, and today Stephen Harper governs with the absolute sense of political security that our parliamentary system affords majority governments. It is now more important than ever that Canadians understand Harper, his motivations, goals and approach to governance.
The popular press and most of the books about Stephen Harper portray him as a reasonably pragmatic right-of-centre politician whose values speak to a significant and growing minority of Canadians.1 To be sure, Harper’s desire to control political messaging has been criticized, he was condemned for using prorogation to skirt the will of Parliament, and his refusal to accept and respond to expert opinion on law and order issues is regularly put in a negative light. But, until recently, the most widely read books on Harper tempered their criticism; in those volumes his politics were seldom characterized as ideologically extreme or overly undemocratic.
Two recent books paint harsher portraits of Stephen Harper. Lawrence Martin’s Harperland and Christian Nadeau’s Rogue in Power suggest Harper is a radical right wing social conservative, an aggressive partisan, deeply authoritarian, secretive, and aiming to bring fundamental social and political change to Canada. This essay takes a look at these books, their analysis of Harper’s social conservatism, his partisan and authoritarian character, and his efforts to entrench a new politics of Conservative dominance.
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