In 2002, Peter Mandelson of the Labour Party famously declared that "we are all Thatcherites now," making reference to the enduring legacy of the former British Prime Minister. On March 25, 2012, one might be tempted to make a similar statement about the Canadian political context: "We are all Haperites now."
Rightly or wrongly, with the election of Thomas Mulcair as the NDP's new leader, it appears as if we are witnessing a not-so-subtle recognition of the power of the Stephen Harper political model, and, even further, a desire to replicate and institutionalize it. To be sure, Thomas Mulcair is not Stephen Harper. But there are also intriguing similarities between the politicians that suggest a significant change in the political climate of the country, the implications of which are currently ambiguous.
For example, Thomas Mulcair is perhaps a rarer breed of NDP politician who believes rather strongly in Haper-lite versions of fiscal conservatism, lean government, and the power of the private sector. Like Harper, Mulcair is also a politician whose greatest currency is his leadership over a strong regional base, which is believed to be scalable. Like Harper, Mulcair is also not considered the warmest guy, possibly due to a highly combative, polarizing, but ultimately successful approach to political strategy.
Mulcair, like Harper, has been chosen partially because of his appeal to the coveted middle-class Ontario voters, who see value in forceful political leadership packaged in pithy communications. And Mulcair, throughout his career, has also displayed the Harper-esque confidence, stubbornness, and vitriol that can allow a supposed underdog to keep fighting until he wins -- as Harper did.
Again, Thomas Mulcair is not Stephen Harper. But, he may just be the closest thing the NDP has ever had to him.
Jean Chretien's fears of a changed Canada, therefore, may be coming true, although in a slightly different way than he would of imagined. In the new political Canada, the NDP bets big on a beat-him-at-his-own-game strategy in its quest to dethrone Harper. In a new political Canada, the NDP choose a leader like Harper. In a new Canada, the NDP vow to attack like Harper. In a new Canada, the NDP believes they can win like Harper. In a new Canada, Stephen Harper politics may no longer be considered surprising, impolite, and harsh, but actually best-practice and predictably Canadian.
So the question now becomes: Is what was good for Mulcair and the NDP good for Canadian politics and Canada? Is this the kind of shift Canadians want to see? Do we really all want to be Harperites now?