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If Harper Isn't Reducing Debt, What Is He Doing?

05/03/2012 03:03 EDT | Updated 07/02/2012 05:12 EDT

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I've got a bit of a theory. Bear with me here.

Certain political commentators in Canada have put forward the proposition that the Harper government has at times resorted to unethical practices because the ends justify the means. The Tories supposedly believe that the ends justify the means because -- according to them -- the media, bureaucracy and judiciary are all stacked against them and hence they have to take "short cuts" in order to achieve their fundamental goals.

Question, however: What are these ends? Are they policy-related?

My sense is that they once were. In 2003 as leader of the Canadian Alliance, Stephen Harper clearly outlined his fiscally and socially conservative goals for Canada. However, Harper eventually realized that those goals were out of step with the centre of Canada's political spectrum.

In order to win power, Harper had to compromise on some of his major principles. Remember, his Reform Party (and its successors, the Canadian Alliance and the Conservative Party) was a party that was formed specifically to bring about smaller government. Its founders were fed up with Brian Mulroney's inability to balance the books and with his obsession with attempting to appease Quebec at the expense of tackling fiscal and economic challenges.

Compromising meant not only attempts to weed out the radical fringe -- a fringe whose outspokenness cost Harper the 2004 election -- but also moving away from fiscal conservatism. Once in power, the Harper government increased spending by 19 per cent before jolting it up by $37 billion in a single year. He also grew the public service by more than 30,000 members, an increase of 13 per cent.

Harper has been constantly at pains to prove to Canadians that he isn't the right-wing radical that that the Liberals had said he was in the 1990s and early 2000s. The attacks have stuck.

The abandonment of fiscal conservatism by the Tories -- leaving behind many of their core principles and values in the process -- was accompanied by the assurance that all these evils could be undone once they had won a majority. A foreign takeover of Potash Corp. was blocked -- not exactly conservative-friendly policy -- in order to ensure that Saskatchewan voters would remain in the Tory fold.

The problem is that this has become a self-perpetuating process. In the past, non-conservative policy was adopted in the hopes of keeping the chances of winning a majority alive. Today, non-conservative policy is continually adopted in order to hold on to power. After increasing the spending rate by a whopping $70 billion, this year's "legacy" budget promises only a cut of $5.2 billion over three years.

Of course, from a conservative perspective, it hasn't all been bad. The Tories will continue to throw red meat at their base on issues that are not strictly economic, such as crime and public safety legislation. And Harper's government has laid out an ambitious trade agenda as well as minimal attempts to reform Old Age Security and our immigration system.

But it's about time we all admit what the primary goal of the Harper government is. It isn't to deliver smaller government. Rather, it is to destroy the Liberal Party. The over-reaching goal of this government is political, not policy-oriented. Even if he doesn't deliver conservative government, he will forever be remembered as a saint in Conservative circles if he becomes the man who laid the Liberals to rest.

We can get into the reasons of why Stephen Harper is the first prime minister in the history of Canada who has made the destruction of another political party his goal another time. What should be more concerning -- particularly to conservatives -- is that by 2016, this Conservative government will have added $150 billion to the national debt and will still be spending at a rate higher than the Chrétien-Martin Liberals, even after inflation and adjusting for population growth.

In other words, Canada in the years ahead may not be on as solid fiscal footing as it would like to be when it is faced with a demographic crisis that will drive the cost of many services through the roof, to say nothing of the other monumental challenges that our country will be facing. That is something that should be of concern to all of us.

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